Sunday, June 15, 2008

Darius McCollum busted again

A recent New York Times article has come out about Darius McCollum being arrested for impersonating a New York City Transit system employee. McCollum is a man who is alleged to have Asperger's symptom and is absolutely obsessed by trains, in particular the New York City transit system. This is not the first time McCollum has been arrested. He has comitted this same crime before multiple times and has even spent time in prison.

As a boy, McCollum grew up near one of the subway stations and would hang out there all the time and became friendly with a lot of the city's transit workers. They showed him the ropes and he managed to learn more about the New York subways than any person alive. He apparently could not get a job working for the New York transit system. This was in spite of his intense desire to work there and considerable expertise. Instead he chose to impersonate an employee instead doing the job as well as a real worker could until he was discovered and busted.

Temple Grandin in one of her many simplistic notions about autism states that the OCD symptomatology of autistics is not a liability but is rather a gift. She states that problems autistics have with making a living can be easily solved. They can channel their obsessions into productive activities and be gainfully employed. The only real example that she gives is of herself and the fact that her obsession with livestock, cattle shoots and squeeze machines helped her to land her lucrative career as a slaughterhouse designer. She lauds her own success in her various books. In Emergence Labeled autistic she states that she shows that the behaviors of autism can be modified and controlled and that autistics can be a success. Many persons with autism no longer need to cry their tears of toasted snow because they are unable to make a living. In one article she wrote, she talks about a man who is obsessed with sliding doors and claims that this obsession could be channeled into helping this man with autism have a career in electronics. She claims that an autistic man who would commit a faux pas by asking women, "where are your earrings" due to an obsession with jewelry could have this obsession channeled into a career as a jeweler.

She gives an example of an autistic Ph.D. level mathematician who had not worked for years, because there were noise sensitivity issues that prevented him from being a math professor. She states a research job would have been more appropriate. If the research job is more appropriate then why couldn't he have gotten it? Could it be that Grandin's ideas are just simplistic solutions for those who cry tears of toasted snow? The prospective electronics specialist and jeweler are also conjecture on her part. There is no evidence that obsessions can be successfully turned into careers so that a person with autism would never have to worry about being on the dole again.

Darius McCollum is an example of someone whose obsession was not turned into a successful career. According to Grandin's logic his obsession with trains, subways and the NYC transit system should have easily landed him a job. This is particularly true in light of the fact that unlike the examples that Grandin gives in her conjecture of what could be turned into a career McCollum actually does have considerable expertise in the New York subway system. His Asperger's however did not help a career in this field to pan out.

News of McCollum's most recent arrest will not spark this issue to the forefront. People will continue to cry their tears of toasted snow, thinking there are easy quick fix solutions to the problems of autistics that so many persons propose. I believe the sad saga of Darius McCollum is an example to show that at least one of these quick fix solutions is in fact bogus.


concerned heart said...


Socrates said...

Has anyone ever even tried to get this guy a job working with trains? In the UK, the unemployment rate for autistics is around 90%. The National Autistic Society's "Prospects" employment scheme has achieved a 80% employment rate, many of those jobs are high-quality civil service posts.

jonathan said...

Hi petronius i don't mccollum's exact story, though if i remember correctly his OCD symptomatology prevented him from getting a job on the new york transit system even though he knew all about trains.

Civil service jobs as opposed to private sector jobs are always suspect with me.

Socrates said...

I did a bit of reading about him; I didn't see any sign of anyone actually doing anything to help. But the taking control of a loaded train is, erm... taking things just too far. I would've thought after 25 years and more than 20 convictions, someone would try something other than a criminal justice approach. I wonder what would be done with him in the UK.

jonathan said...

hi petroneus i can't speak of what would be done for him if he lived in the UK but I did a bit of reading on him too since answering your last post. According to Wikipedia (i don't have the link handy but i am sure you can find it, McCollum did apply for work at the New York Transit system many times and was always rejected. I am not sure why, but my best guess is his disability had something to do with it and in spite of his considerable expertise in the New York Transit system, they still felt him unsuited for the job which I believe disputes Grandin's logic and writings on the subject.

I also read that since his multiple arrests that people have suggested that the NYTS hire him in some capacity but that they are worried about liability and him doing something bad due to his Asperger's or OCD or whatever is wrong with him.

As you may know the United States is much more sue happy than Britain and people are rightfully afraid of lawsuits in this country.

jonathan said...

Oh and one last thing I forgot to add is that his parents have moved to North Carolina and they have requested that he move there out of New York so he won't be tempted by the train system there again.

The conditions of his parole, however, are that he is now allowed to leave New York City.

I guess that shows there are some problems in the American justice system.

Anonymous said...

You're not considering one question, Jon. Is he not given this job because he's inherently incompetent at it, or is it because of societal prejudice towards autistics? We don't know, but I think the latter is more likely.

jonathan said...

Well Joseph I really don't think either is the issue. My guess is McCollum in theory could be quite competent at the job in terms of his knowledge, this is in stark contrast to Temple Grandin's shining examples who would have obsessions with certain things but be too disabled or impaired to do the actual jobs she claims they would have an aptitude for.

Though McCollum probably does have considerable expertise, I don't think prejudice is the issue. The New York Transit system has every reason to fear liability and I don't think people who might use a quick way to make a buck in our litigation happy economy would be necessarily prejudiced against Darius.

I think Darius was first arrested when he was like 15 or 16 for taking one of the subway trains for a joyride. So he demonstrated manifestations of his illness before he would be old enough to apply for the job and this likely turned the New York transit system off assuming he applied for a job with them at age 18 or older.

Yes, Joseph, the sad truth is Darius is a very ill man though you and the rest of the neurodiversity crowd are in complete denial that autism could be any sort of illness (this is assuming Darius really is autistic or has asperger's which is questionable but he clearly has serious OCD issues). The fear of someone like this doing something irrational and the resultant liability the City of New York could incur are certainly realities and have nothing to do with bigotry.

There is nothing better than I would like than for Darius to be able to get a job with them, not have to go to prison and be a productive taxpaying member of society. I am certainly not prejudiced against the man if that is what you are implying. I have nothing but the greatest empathy for him as a fellow sufferer (that's right sufferer) of a neurobehavioral issue. you might have seen that post on Kristina Chew's blog that I wrote about that. Unfortunately, this notion, like most of those who follow neurodiversity are not realistic.

Anonymous said...

on second thought, someone at just said:

"...Responding to those who 'wouldn't want to ride a train driven by someone with Asperger's' - what makes you think you haven't already? Darius drove trains for years. He fixed electrical shorts, cleared tracks, cleaned buses, de-iced rails. He knew so much about the NY subway system, and was so good at every job, that most of the times he drove trains it was because NYCTA employees would call him at home and ask him to cover their shifts. Riders on his trains say he was courteous, professional, and extremely helpful. In interviews, he repeatedly expresses great pride in the care he takes for the safety of his passengers. He has hurt noone, and has helped many..."

Looks more like multitasking and people skills than like OCD and Asperger's or autism to me. After all, seems like he read social cues like

"Stop the bus, I want to get on"
"Stop the bus, I want to get off"
"Drive the train for me, I'm taking the day off"
"I want to cross the street, wait a bit longer at this light"

and who knows, maybe even

"help me get my wheelchair securely into place"

instead of single-mindedly focusing on just the vehicle or the schedule.

He was even encouraged by actual NYCTA drivers to do this stuff. His defense lawyer shouldn't be going all "he can't help it because he can't read social cues," that lawyer should be calling those drivers to the witness stand.