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.


Anonymous said...

Jonathan, you should be happy. How many times in your life have you been in the 97th percentile?

By the way, Joseph of Natural Variation is another self diagnosed person. Like Meg Evans, Joseph led the world to believe he had a diagnosis for many years.

jonathan said...

Actually if i remember correctly Joseph's son's psychiatrist just said that Joseph had some autistic like traits and offered to do an evaluation which Joseph declined as it was not worth it for him to get a diagnosis. Joseph never claimed to have a diagnosis from a doctor, but was satisfied that he was enough like an autistic to have some traits, but did not know he was ever claiming to be a diagnosed autistic or on the spectrum himself.

However, this did not stop Morton Gernsbacher from giving Joseph as an example of an autistic person in one of her essays.

Anonymous said...

You didn't know Joseph claimed to be autistic? You clearly didn't read his blog or his comments strewn throughout the internet very often.

Did you notice that his blog was listed under "autistic member" on the Autism Hub?

Socrates said...

The NAS in the UK has done various surveys on employment of autistics and found something like 85% are unemployed.

Autistic Traits do not equal autism. (See the DSM).

SM69 said...

The ASD adult study you are referring to that claims ASD is found is 1% of the adult population is very flawed as you rightly pointed out.

The screen used online-self assessment using the Autism Quotient screen AQ-20, designed by Simon Baron-Cohen. The screen asked questions such as do you prefer to go to the library or to a party… hardly picking up on the real autism, or even the real hard core Asperger for that matter.

The screen targets Asperger and not ASD as a whole group, and the 19 individuals found as having ASD based on ADOS-4 (a module designed for verbal ASD adults) were too few to reach any solid conclusion.

Please note that A MINUTE proportion of severe adults with autism were identified by proxy in this very large sample population.
p30 “If the selected respondent was not capable of undertaking the interview alone for reason of mental or physical incapacity, the option was available for a proxy interview conducted with another member of the family... The information collected was not sufficient for selection probabilities to be calculated, and therefore selected respondents interviewed via proxy respondent were not eligible for a phase 2 interview”.

It was reported that 58 interviews were conducted by proxy from an initial screen of 13,171 addresses... These 58 cases may represent the rest of the spectrum, excluding Asperger Syndrome (as these individuals can answer the AQ phase I survey). They may also include other types of disability, it is unknown. These data would therefore suggest that at most, there is 0.4% of the addresses (that exclude communal or institutional settings) with a level of autism that is more severe to that of Asperger. Does this population reflect the ASD population we have today with children and young people?.. I don't think so...

The issue of whether undiagnosed computer geeks are Asperger or not is important, but when I was taught how to administer and score an ADOS assessment, it was made clear that the goal is not to pathologize a person. In other words, we may pick up things yes, but if these are traits that do not interfere with functioning, there is no reason to come up with a diagnosis.

The changes proposed with the DSM-V will probably help in clarifying these issues. A diagnosis refer to a disability not to personality traits.

jonathan said...

A diagnosis refer to a disability not to personality traits.

Tell that to Ari Ne'eman and perhaps other ND's who have claimed in the past (or who are claiming now) that autism is not a disability and are saying that it should be removed from the DSM V because homosexuality was.

SM69 said...

One paper from Gillberg looks somewhat at employment in AS.

J. Autism Dev Disorder (2008) 38:72-85.

I have posted the paper here:

76 cases with AS participated to the longitudinal study. A series of evaluations were made on the outcomes based on IQ levels etc. What was found is that Males with AS had worse outcomes than expected given normal to high IQ. However, outcome was considerably better than for the comparison group of individuals with autism.

The employment situation was noted and used to define a good outcome see criteria.

Good outcome: (a) being employed or in "higher" (age and IQ-appropriate (‘‘normal’’)) education or voca- tional training,and, (b) if 23 years of age or older, living independently, or if 22 years or younger, having two or more friends/a steady relationship.

27% of the AS population was seen with having a good outcome as defined with these criteria.

I will look for some more in case there are other papers.

Please note other longitudinal studies included on the script web site that shows that Autism is far from being a personality trait and is instead a serious disability.

SM69 said...

Tell that to Ari Ne'eman and perhaps other ND's who have claimed in the past (or who are claiming now) that autism is not a disability and are saying that it should be removed from the DSM V because homosexuality was.

Facts and evidence speak for themselves. If Ari does not see this, he will be very unlikely to listen to anyone's opinion.

I might forgive him for not having read for example the adult longitudinal studies from Gillberg which I gave the link of in my previous post, but what I cannot forgive, from someone who pretends to be an autism advocate, is to fail to be in touch and to listen to his people.

Evidence of profound disability abound on the Internet, regressive autism, health issues and more. We are not talking about individual cases or families, but a much wider issue. I am going through the Scottish Gov own statistic data at the moment, from 2003 to 2010 and I can tell you, the situation is highly concerning. You'll hear more about it soon.

Ari lives on Ari Planet. I have never thought this person would make any difference to autism.

Ender said...

SM69, could you please find a more credible study then that. I get that longitudal studies are quite hard, but this study had several issues that were hard to ignore.

1) Who published it? Publish or parish is the saying in academics. An online publish house just doesn't seem to cut it, not even in this day and age.

2) 76% response rate of AS indiviuals is really really low. This is solely a problem of this method of finding canidates. While no mortaility helps this (though is a bit hard to believe) I must wonder if that 76% is at all different then the 24%.

3) No neurotypical controls. This part is probably the easiest thing to do, yet it wasn't done here. If you want to say that the good outcome is the average outcome for most of the population, you have to show it.

4) These people were diagnosed between 85-99. Things have changed a little bit in the education system in the past 25 years. I am currently an intern teacher at an average every day elementary school. Yet it is amazing how much sensory stuff this school has for just a few kids. Not to mention the fact that there is an SLP on staff who only meets with I think 20 or so kids a week. Jonathan, did you ever have an SLP?

5) 74% of aspies still did have either a good or fair result. That is well over 2 out of 3, and to quote Meatloaf, 2 out of 3 ain't bad. In fact without NT controls we can't say that is less than optimal as he seems too.

Seeing as how the autism population didn't do anywhere near as good, this just brings us back to how bad of an idea it is to combine various autism spectrum disorders for both sides.

I think that is enough issues for now.

SM69 said...


The main problem I see with this study is that the sample size is very small. However, Gillberg is an excellent autism researcher who in my mind has addressed many important issues in a very rigorous manner. And sorry but for your information, 76% response rate of AS indiviuals is really HIGH- I don't think you know how difficult it can be to get people to respond. More often the figure is under 50%.

Yes the study is not perfect, but what does bother you exactly? The results?

I don't think there are any current study that look at these issues- actually I'd love to run one like this.

If I'll come across something, I'll let you know.

Ender said...

Well overall there are a couple problems. First, 76% is still low which is probably why it hasn't been published. I could show this off to my research professor who run one of the largest journals in the country if you want and he would say the same thing and has before. Yes it is hard to get people to respond, but 76% is still not enough.

As for the results, 74% either have a fair or good result when many of them were educated over a decade ago. What is so bad about that? Even without SLPs, sensory education, or even adequate knowledge of Asperger's Syndrome in the school system, many did quite well.

Along with this, as the study was done in a different country, that has a far more developed welfare state and probably gives disabled people far more a month, the fair result might not be horrible. While we all want autistics to be out of the house and fully employed by the age of 18 and certainly 23, sometimes aspies need a bit more time to develop. Given that they can live on what they get far easier in Sweeden that makes it far more likely that they will take that time.

Along with that, I have no clue what the school system is like in Sweeden. Many times in European countries it is far more standardized, and offers far less in the way of special education. These last two facts make it really hard to compare two similiar populations from different countries.

This once again is where currentness comes into play. I know Jonathan hates this fact, but I work with a lot of aspies regularly. It sometimes amazes me how much the services they get help them achieve success. Simple things like SLP and transition planning can help out a lot. Right now I am working to get one of my younger aspie friends into a good college for robotic engineering. Its hard as he is no genius, but he will still make it just fine. BTW along with that he is 16 and already has a long term GF, even "neurotypical" me could never have said that ;).

The problem here is a longitudal study takes considerable amounts of time to develop as the kids have to grow into adults. Your study probably started in 1999 and lasted until maybe 2006 or 07 before it was written about in 08. Therefore no one will have a good idea what effects the current advancements have on autism until probably 2015 at least... by which point in time there will be new advancements.

SM69 said...


I am not sure why you said the study was not published, and to be honest I am confused about your comments. I am not too sure what we are talking about any more.

I was making reference to the Gillberg study that showed according to the criteria used that 27% of a sample of 76 AS individuals had a good outcome- this is published. J. Autism Dev Disorder (2008) 38:72-85.

The reasons why I mentioned this study is because there was mention of employment rate, to know about this does not require a longitudinal study- what Gillberg did was different, employment was one out of many factors he looked at. I am not aware of other publication that focus on employment in AS- all it would take is a survey, not a longitudinal study.

I have no doubt that AS people can be helped greatly, and LFA as well of course- but unlike what some AS supporters may say, it's not just by being accepting of a difference of being, like accepting homosexuality.

It's by accommodating needs within the work place, schools and community. There are many known effective strategies, but rarely these are put in place, due to lack of funds, and motivations, as well as knowledge of course. Advocating as Ari does will not make a huge difference at the end of the day because he is not comprehensive, inclusive and is rather unrealistic about the issues seen in Autism.