Monday, February 21, 2011

Temple Grandin: autistics asset to workplace?

I see that Temple Grandin is once againgiving commentary about autistics in the workplace. I still think of my own personal struggles in the workplace and my forced retirement at age 51 after years of effort. I was interested to see Grandin's figure of 3% employment among autistics. This is a far cry from Joseph of the natural variation blog's 30% rate of employment among autistics which he neglected to cite a source for and could not do so when I asked him. It is an even further cry from Joseph's assertion based on the UK prevalence study with questionable methodology that found 1% of the adult population in the UK in private households had autism and that they were employed in the same manner as non-handicapped people. I am still curious as to where Grandin gets this figure or where thereare any documentable figures or studies of employment rates among autistics anywhere. I have tried to find them myself on Google. Possibly due to my own ineptitude I was not able to find any. Of course if Grandin's figure is accurate I can take some solace in the fact that at various times in my life I was in the 97th percentile in terms of employability among ASD persons.

Though her call for more autistics in the workplace is commendable, it is dubious that a company will lose out as she says or that autistics as a group (particularly when you look at the entire spectrum) will provide an asset to any company. Though I don't like saying it I believe it is the sad and unpleasant truth.

I'm convinced that this group is one of the most untapped pools poolsof talent we have," said Best Buy's Webteam vice president Cindy Holker

Assuming this statement is true, I wonder where are the examples of all of the autistics who are employed by Best Buy and why we have not heard of them.

People with mild autism or Asperger's syndrome are basically "geeks," Grandin said. They have tremendous skills that can help corporations solve problems, grow sales and program a company's ways to greatness, she said.

If this is true why does not Grandin give any examples besides Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. I believed that I have debunked the non-clinician Grandin's (who likely never met Gates) arguments in my essay undiagnosing Gates, Jefferson and Einstein, which the interested reader can link to from this blog. There is no evidence that Zuckerberg has autism and again this trivializes my horrible disability (and others' disability as well)

Silicon Valley, Hollywood, corporate labs and IT departments are often "loaded" with well-paid individuals who live somewhere on the spectrum of autism, Grandin insisted.
Many just haven't been diagnosed yet, she said, and so don't carry the label of the illness, which is typically characterized by heightened intellect, awkward social skills, black-and-white, literal reasoning, an intolerance of noise and the inability to read facial cues or body language.

Again, no real examples, and one wonders why these people have not been diagnosed. Perhaps it is because they had no real impairments in their life that a legitimately diagnosed individual has had. So, they would not present to a doctor or psychologist for diagnosis and a comparison between these people and someone actually diagnosed with an ASD is likely not apt.

Grandin emphasizes that social skills can be taught to ASD'ers in the workplace. I question the validity of this approach, given the consideration that voice volume and other behavioral quirks might not be easily controlled. Also, it assumes that life is not spontaneous and follows a script where every variable in the workplace can be accounted for. However, I do laud Grandin for acknowledging that social skills are necessary to obtain and maintain employment. This is in stark contrast to the never employed (excepting his patronage government job at the NDC) Ari Ne'eman, who has stated that an autistic's lack of social skills should be completely overlooked in the workplace.

Gradin has assertedthat half of the silicone valley has something you would call Asperger's. I find it hard to believe she has even met one tenth of 1% of the people employed in the Silicone valley so I believe this is rather a stretch.

Though Grandin's accomplishments and the obstacles she had to overcome to obtain them are laudable I do not believe that it is helpful for her to trivialize the employment problems of persons with autism.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Will ASTEP be a misstep?

As a person with high functioning autism who has not worked in over four years and has been fired from approximately 20 jobs or more, as well as having significant problems on others where I was forced to resign, I was interested in hearing from my friend, Stephen Shore, about a newly formed organization whose purpose is to help persons on the spectrum find and keep employment. Steve serves on the advisory board of this organization.

This organization has the cute acronym ASTEP, which stands for Asperger's syndrome training and employment partnership.

As I suspect I am not the only person with autism and/or Asperger's syndrome who has had problems in the workplace, this interests me greatly. This is light of the fact that the Obama administration has appointed to various government policy posts a never employed 22 year old who states that a solution for unemployment among persons with autism is to eliminate social pleasantry as a criteria for hiring and evaluating people's job performance. Also it is rumored that a person high up in his advocacy organization is the retired neurodiversity blogger "the autistic bitch from hell" who has stated that those of us with ASD's on/or applying to be on the dole are nothing but lazy loafers who don't want to take responsibility for our lives so we spend time interfering with the noble individuals of this advocacy organization who are trying to do something about job discrimination against autistic persons.

We also have autism speaks who promotes an autism in the workplace dog and pony show yet has never, to the best of my knowledge, hired an autistic person to work for their organization even as a minimum wage janitor or file clerk with a job coach or contributed to the employment of an autistic individual in any way. The exception to this could be their giving money to that Robin Hood-in-reverse, John Elder Robison, to help pay for the costs of his son's film making endeavors, in exchange for lending his celebrity to their organization by serving on an advisory board. In Gadfly's opinion, this is not much different than Warren Buffett serving as an advisor on an organization designed to help the homeless then giving him money.

So, on superficial analysis, it would seem that ASTEP might be a noble cause and this newly found organization might be something that could do some good, if they were able to help autistic people find and keep work. However, it would seem unclear to me on exactly how this is done. The photo on their homepage shows persons working in what would appear to be prestigious, highly skilled work such as in a science laboratory or computer job. I have to wonder, how many persons on the spectrum are capable of receiving the training for doing this job and how realistic is this. I am also curious where these photos were obtained and if any of these people at all have Asperger's or autism.

One intriguing item is apparently there are government subsidies for hiring people with disabilities. One of the things that I attempted when I was struggling to make a living was going to this organization ADEPT (I don't remember what the acronym stood for) which I don't think is any longer in existence. The jobs that I applied for, for the most part did not want to hire me and make an agreement with ADEPT. The one job I got that made an agreement with ADEPT, transcribing some radiology reports, fired me after a month. After this I got another job where they declined to make an agreement with ADEPT and I held this job for more than two years.

They also apparently talk about disclosure of the diagnosis as part of the basis of their plan for helping those on the spectrum and giving counseling to their clients and prospective employers about accommodations that could be made. What exactly these accommodations are and how they could help persons on the spectrum be employed, I don't know. I have not read everything on the site, yet, so perhaps, there is something I missed. I just know that part of ADEPTs strategy was this sort of thing, disclosure and subsidizing the persons did not work out for me.

I don't believe that disclosure is tremendously helpful based on my own personal experiences. It would likely result in someone not being hired, or if they were hired, if the employer did not like them for some reason, or they had bad behavior on the job or problems with work performance, it would not dissuade them from firing that person.

Another red flag is their citing various offices of state departments of rehabilitation around the country and apparently part of their strategy is to have an alliance with these government organizations. I would only recommend the services of the California state department of rehabilitation to my most mortal enemies and that might be cruel even to these people.

About two years ago I wrote a blog post about my bad experiences with California's state rehab department so the interested reader can link to this and read about them to see what is wrong with this approach.

Another reason to be wary of ASTEP is the citing of Temple Grandin's books and work, where she implies that most autistic people have special talents and gives the solution of having mentors and claiming that obsessions can be channeled into work careers, yet neglecting to give any specific examples of these besides herself. The sad story of Darius McCollum is certainly one example where this approach would not be workable. Grandin also gives examples of good jobs and bad jobs for autistic people. Medical transcription, which I did on and off in various places was given as a bad job for persons with autism. Though I was not able to succeed in this field well enough to continue working in it, there is the old cliche' about the glass being half full rather than half empty. I was more successful and made more money doing this than anything else and there were a variety of transcription jobs I was able to keep for reasonably lengthy periods of time, one of them more than nine years.

Perhaps the biggest eyeroll of all is the executive director of the program, one Michael John Carley. Carley, who is married and has two children and received an AS diagnosis in his mid 30s after his son was diagnosed has claimed that there is a universal feeling among autistics that "we" don't want to be cured. As most readers of this blog can guess, I take umbrage to this.

Carley, as reported by MJ, author of the autism jabberwocky blog has stated that proposed changes in the DSM are "hard for him to swallow because he does not want to be associated with head bangers and diaper wearers". Apparently, Carley would prefer fancying himself an Einstein or a Gates and claiming these two had Asperger's than a person who has had life impairments due to their ASD. One has to wonder how much sympathy Carley would have for those of us who have employment problems. Would he find being lumped in with us, 'hard to swallow'? This would reduce his credibility in my eyes as a director of an organization that seeks to help ASD persons with employment issues.

Interestingly, Carley at one time made a living as a diplomat for the United Nations. This seems rather ironic in light of the rather undiplomatic statements that he has made about persons with autism who do not function in the world as well as he does. I wonder whether the reason Carley is now doing work in autism related fields and is no longer a diplomat is because he worked in a profession he was so ill-suited for and had to leave it. If he can't even pick a job he has a good aptitude for,how can he help other persons?

I realize that this is a very new organization and perhaps I should heed the old saw, "don't judge a book by its cover" and maybe give ASTEP a chance and see if they are actually successful in helping those of us on the spectrum find and keep work.

Though I will withhold judgement until all the facts are in, I still can't help thinking that ASTEP might be a misstep.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Possible autistic short story collection

I have just received a tip about some people who are interested in putting together a short story collection by autistic authors. I have written 23 short stories, 14 of them have been published on my stories page. It has been a few years since I have written any stories, though at some point I might write more. I'm more interested in writing novels and technically I have now written two of those. Of course short stories can often be a novelist's baby steps. I have submitted my story, Guess who isn't coming to lunch to these people. I may submit one or two more to them. They have a 3,000 word limit so this would preclude a good number of my stories that are substantially longer than this but I have a number of others that do fall within this range.

At one time I believed that I was one of the few persons on the spectrum to have written fiction. After I wrote this on my home page of my stories website, various people countered this claim and I must concede that there are apparently more fiction authors on the spectrum than I previously had believed.

This seems like an exciting project, the fact that there could be a collection of short stories by autistic authors and that it could be published.

One of the problems with this project however is that these people are planning to submit the collection to Jessica Kingsley, probably the premiere publisher of autism-related books. I met Ms. Kingsley at an autism conference a few years ago or so, and she told me that as a general rule, she will not publish fiction books because they did publish one children's book that was fiction and it sold poorly. Though, I think such a project would be worthwhile, I understand that Ms. Kingsley is concerned with her company's bottom line. So, I am guessing the chances that this story collection would be published by JKP is certainly a longshot. If JKP declined to publish it, the chances of anyone else doing so are miniscule, as short story collections are only published by mainstream publishers when the author is an established writer who has had stories published in various magazines, anthologies etc.

If any other autistic authors who have written short stories are interested in this I guess they can follow the link to the wrong planet post and contact the parties concerned.

Friday, February 11, 2011

New law proposed in connecticut: what's the point?

I was interested to read about a new law being proposed by the Connecticut state legislature against bogus autism therapists. Apparently a woman who only had a high school education claimed to have advanced degrees and credentials as a professional autism therapist and bilked the hapless parents of some autistic children out of thousands of dollars.

I have to wonder what the point of this law is. I have already written about William Stillman who charges $100 an hour for a phone consultation in spite of not having any credentials and a self-diagnosis of Asperger's and presumes that autism is a new evolutionary development and in 5 to 10 years the prevalence will be 1 in 10.

I have also mentioned Valerie Paradiz in the past, who admittedly has a Ph.D. in German literature yet misleads people by flaunting her Ph.D., advertising herself as a paid autism consultant.

Interestingly enough, one of the person's pushing for this legislation seemed to be from autism speaks, who has John Elder Robison, a high school dropout, on their scientific advisory board amidst the M.D. and Ph.D. scientists, so it is rather strange that they care about these qualifications.

Additionally, federal special education law does not have a precedent where people are required to have credentials or training. This has been decided upon by the Supreme Court in the Shannon Carter case. The Carter decision also set the precedent for a New York court decision Malkowitz v. DeBuono which paved the way for uncredentialed, untrained Lovaas/ABA therapists to practice at taxpayer expense.

So I am wondering what is the point of this law?