Readers of autism gadfly remember yesterday I posted about the neurodiverse economist, Tyler Cowen and linked to a recent essay he wrote in my last post. I could not find his book Creating Your own Economy at Border’s but found it today at Barnes and Noble. With some regrets, I purchased a copy. If anyone who is close to sharing my views of neurodiversity wishes to read this book, I suggest you do so only if you have a pretty strong stomach and have not eaten anything 18 hours prior to reading. From reading the blurbs, Cowen seemed to be implying that he somehow was akin to autistics in his thought processes and he was also a colleague of alleged Aspie Vernon Smith at George Mason University. Other than that, I was not sure how his interest in autism and neurodiversity came about. It turns out he has a blog, http://www.marginalrevolution.com/ , which was read by some persons with Asperger’s and he was advised that based on his writing style, he had an autistic way of thinking and he took this to heart. He emphasized that he believes that autistics have certain cognitive strengths and weakness and he wants to trivialize the problems of persons such as myself by stating that he is somehow akin to us. Even though he is a married Harvard trained Ph.D. in economics. He states the tired cliches of neurodiversity about how horrible it is that anyone would regard autism as a bad defect and how much it hurts the feelings of those with autism to think of themselves this way. He talks about the studies that I mentioned in my previous posts about the autistic strengths and weaknesses. I commented on the problems with his reasoning in my last post and won’t repeat that info here.
I was curious as to whether or not he would elaborate on the alleged autism of Economics nobel prize winner Vernon Smith, who as far as I could tell was only self-diagnosed by a Simon Baron Cohen AQ test which he took. Cowen concedes this in the book and so apparently Smith was never diagnosed as having AS by a clinician, though he is often given as an example of an autism success story by ND proponents. I also wondered about mathematician Richard Borcherds who is the other paragon of virtue extolled by club ND to prove autism can be a great gift. Apparently Borcherds, according to the book The Essential Difference, sought an ASD diagnosis from Simon Baron Cohen who would not give him one. Though Cowen mentions him in the shorter essay he is not at all mentioned in the book.
Cowen advocates schools teaching non-autistics, the "cognitive skills of autistics". One positive thing he cites are studies by researchers such as Deborah Fein who state that a substantial percentage of autistics may "recover spontaneously" or lose their diagnosis. This is an argument I have made against the costly and questionable autism treatments.
Michelle Dawson on one hand is described as a leading figure in autism research. He reports that growing up she had great difficulties learning how to speak meaningfully and cites her as an example of autistic cognitive strengths. Yet he states: Note that by most standards she would count as "very autistic" rather than as "mildly autistic" I can’t help wondering what Harold Doherty would think about this statement. If Dawson is very autistic, then who is mildly autistic? Where on the spectrum would Cowen put Conor Doherty or Sam Best or other nonverbal autistics?
He describes Amanda Baggs as not being able to talk yet writing more sharply than a ph.d., I can’t believe that Cowen does not know about the controversy surrounding Baggs diagnosis of autism yet he does not mention it in his book.
He makes out autistic persons he has encountered to be polite and the stereotypes of them being callous not true. I mean what planet is this guy on? Anyone who has seen the neurodiversity crowd on the internet that he writes about can see how cruel and nasty they are and what a bunch of vicious hatemongers exist within this group. He must know this, but conveniently omits this from his book.
One stereotype that I am glad that he debunks is autistics having no sense of humor. I believe I have a very good sense of humor and I enjoy jokes and comedy and such.
He writes about Sue Rubin (a person I am rather familiar with having met her and her parents), describing her as a highly intelligent autistic. He does not mention the fact that Sue is unable to speak and only communicates by using a keyboard, that at age 31 she is still going to Whittier college and is unable to work in any capacity. He trivializes her very severe autism by comparing it to the ordered thinking of Buddhists, stating that when Buddhists think the way Sue does, they are somehow enlightened but in Sue’s case, her similar modes of thinking and ordering things are pathological. I was flabbergasted to read that he was baffled as to why Sue Rubin was not given the same respect and put on the same pedestal as the Dalai Lama!!
He also states that autistic cognitive strengths can be utilized to help with unemployment and that there will be a demand for autistic employees based on these strengths in jobs such as niche jobs, math jobs and jobs requiring the stereotyped ability of attention to detail that autists have. If that is the case one must wonder about the reported 80% or so unemployment rate among autistics and others with similar disabilities.
Cowen also states the tired cliche that because autism is highly heritable and autistic traits have not died out they must have some sort of evolutionary advantage. While he may have considerable expertise in economics, the man shows his woeful ignorance of even the most rudimentary principals of genetics. The reason autism and autistic traits have stayed in the population is due to de novo mutations, not due to evolutionary advantage. (This ignorance is something he shares with fellow non-geneticists Temple Grandin and Simon Baron Cohen).
He also claims autistics will help with better political thinking, as certain studies by psychologist Rita Jordan have shown that autistics are less prone to stereotyping and rules of law. Well, my experiences are sure different than those described by Cowen in terms of the abuse and nasty discourse that I have constantly seen among anti-cure neurodiversity proponents over the several years that I have endured their barrage of insults on the internet. I do not believe autistics are more objective than nonautistics in spite of Cowen’s assertion. I do not agree with him that autistics are not prone to stereotyping. Based on my experiences with ND autistics, just the opposite would seem true.
Dr. Cowen: If you happen to read this post, I want to tell you that you are basing your observations about autism on stereotypes. On research using heavily skewed subject samples of autistics that are not representative of the population of autistics. The ND’s have disproportionate amounts of females and are a heavily skewed subset of autistics. You trivialize my very serious disability and my forced retirement in my early 50s and my inability to make a living in spite of your unfounded contentions that there are detail oriented jobs and math oriented jobs that autistics will just excel in. Your observations about autism are only that of an ivory tower/armchair expert. You want to trivialize the problems that at least some of us have by claiming to share a thought process similar to ours. You don’t know how lucky you are. Had you been autistic at a severity level that I have, you would not have been able to marry, have your children, become a college professor and publish all of your books. If you think that Michelle Dawson is an example of a "very autistic" person, then I must be an unfathomable basket case in your esteemed observation. I wonder who you would consider as having a mild case of autism. Something for you to think about.