I've just read an interesting post on one of my favorite autism blogs, "M.J's" Autism Jabberwocky. MJ writes about an article that appeared online in Science Daily. Cognitive neuroscience Nilli Lavie has claimed that her recent study has demonstrated that autistics have superior perceptual processing capacity. She goes further in claiming that these strengths can be capitalized on and help autistics in their life activities and possibly be the stepping stone into a lucrative career in the IT industry. She goes further to claim that the findings of her research may demonstrate why so many persons with autism are successful computer programmers, network administrators, etc.
I haven't read the primary source, i.e. Lavie's actual article published in the journal of abnormal psychology, so I won't comment on the validity of her research or even whether or not it has the clinical applications that she's claiming. I'm still awaiting a single example of an autistic person who was helped by this type of research and any studies showing a benefit. This is particularly true of rogue physician and scientist Laurent Mottron who has made similar claims yet has provided no evidence of persons who have been helped by treatments based on this research, particularly an autist who made it in the IT biz. This is particularly germane given the fact this was the rationale given for Mottron's half a million dollar research grant from Autism Speaks.
I am curious as to exactly how many individuals with a bonafide autism diagnosis actually have been successful in careers in IT. I'd be willing to bet dollars to doughnuts that though there may actually be some individuals who fit the bill, they are very few and far between. I still remember my unsuccessful attempts to get into this profession, but more about that later.
One striking statement in the science daily article was that the numbers of autism diagnoses tripled in the silicone valley during the 1990s. The author of this article quotes Steve Silberman's wired piece as a source. As I said, I haven't read Lavie's article so I don't know if she herself wrote it to bolster her case and it's been a few years or more since I read Silberman's piece so I don't remember exactly what he said either. Even if there were significant increases in the rates of autism in the silicone valley, were they unique as compared to other parts of California. According to figures from the CDDS The answer would appear to be no. Though between July of 1992 and July of 2007 the number of autsitic clients the San Andreas regional center served increased from 213 to 1,798, a 8.4 fold increase, rates in some other parts of the state were no different or significantly larger. The Frank Lanterman center's number went from 209 to 1,962, a more than 9.3 fold increase. North Los Angeles Regional Center's numbers were 437 to 3,708-a fractionally greater increase than San Andreas. East Los Angeles, a relatively poor area with no IT industry went from 150 to 2,040 clients, a 13.6 fold increase. This is more than 1.5 times higher than San Andreas. Valley Mountain regional center went from 68 to 1,178 for a 17.3 fold increase or more than double San Andreas. It would appear, compared to other parts of the state the Silicone valley was hardly a bastion of growth due to IT genes or any other factor. I believe this sort of puts a gaping hole in the argument purported by those who want to use autism prevalence figures to argue for autism increases being caused by an aptitude for computer programming.
I still remember my own failed attempts to become a computer programmer. I took a variety of computer programming courses on and off in the 1980's and 1990s. Though I did learn a bit, it was nowhere near enough to become a professional programmer. Unlike the autistics in Dr. Lavie's and Mottron's studies, I was unable to concentrate or pay attention to details at anywhere near the level of a neurotypical person. Though I worked intermittently in other professions, I was fired from multiple jobs and had to quit working early on in my life.
Therefore, I don't think it's helpful for Drs. Lavie and Mottron to put up simplistic solutions to difficult problems such as that of the many autistics' inability to make a living.