To Sue or Not to Sue, that Is the Question!

Getting into fights with employers about your rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act may cause more problems than it solves. The legal route is the last resort. Getting into a nasty lawsuit with an employer may get you branded as a troublemaker. There are some situations when a lawsuit is justified, such as being fired after the boss lied to her superiors and told them that you failed to do your job even though you had good performance reviews. Just remember, if you choose to fight, even if you win the battle with an employer, others may be reluctant to hire you. You will be forced to choose between the lawsuit or a career.
–Temple Grandin and Kate Duffy. Developing Talents: Careers for Individuals with Asperger Syndrome and High-Functioning Autism. Appendix. pg 146

While on the one hand this is good advice from a purely personal perspective, this also creates the conditions for continued open discrimination such as I have experienced. Having a child makes one more future-minded, and I hate to have to imagine my son going through what I’ve gone through.

Whether the battle is worth it depends on what war you’re waging. If you’re simply trying to get back at the company, it’s probably not worth it. It will cost you a lot to get very little. But if you intend to make the lawsuit into a public discussion of discrimination against autism–a discussion that certainly needs to take place–then you should go forward with it.

No one has ever accused those with autism of having a great deal of “public-spiritedness” or of being particularly communitarian, but the fact of the matter is that we need to stand up for ourselves and speak out on our own behalf. I know that this is essentially saying, “Introverts of the world, unite!” but discrimination against us will continue until and unless we do. While I will certainly do as much as I can sitting here at this computer, I am also willing to go out there and give talks and do other social things that will get done what needs to get done. Even if it makes me uncomfortable, as much of it certainly does.

I’ve already been without a career of any real sort for a long time now. And it is because people have been discriminating against me because of my Asperger’s. This was true before I knew I was on the spectrum, and it has proven itself explicitly true since I learned and have made the choice several times to disclose. Each time I have found myself without a job. I could only surmise, of course, that my disclosure affected the decision to not keep me around. At least, until the last time it happened. When you are told, “We have no intention of accommodating you” there is little left to the imagination. And that’s when it may be time to sue.

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Our Autism Talk at the University of Texas at Dallas

In April 2016, Anna and I gave a presentation to a graduate class at the University of Texas at Dallas on our family’s experience with autism. We talked about our discovery that Daniel had autism, and the reasons I didn’t think there was anything wrong with Daniel–at least until it was clear he had a speech delay. The reasons, of course, were that I behaved much like he was behaving, and I of course was behaving that way because I, too, am on the spectrum.

One of the great things about our discussion with the graduate class is that we aren’t a one-trick pony. You can find people who can talk about their family experience with autism, and you can find people who can talk about the scientific aspects of autism, but how many people can do both? Other than Temple Grandin, of course.

You can see that mixture on this blog. I talk about the latest research I found, but I also talk about personal things, like little things Daniel has done. I think it’s important to both understand the underlying genetics/neurobiology as well as particular expressions that result. Of course, those particular expressions can range from meltdowns to taking things literally to various obsessions to (in my case) writing poetry and plays.

While everyone wants to hear about the problems, we also think it’s important to talk about the positive things. More, I am of the view that autism is a structural difference that gives rise to a different kind of thinking and a different kind of mind. And I try to communicate that as much as possible. I also try to talk about job-related issues. And, with Daniel, school-related issues.

Indeed, we talked about some of the problems I have had with finding and keeping employment. And we talked about some of the issues we have had with the school. The good news on that front is that Daniel has a fantastic Kindergarten teacher at Arapaho Classical Magnet here in Richardson, and the support staff all seem to like Daniel and think he’s sweet.

We hope that we can talk to more groups about autism in the future. We have given a talk at The Warren Center and to a graduate class at UT-Dallas. We are will hoping that these are just the beginning.

Autism and Group Selection

There is a theory of evolution out there that applies to social groups called group selection. It’s an idea that arose, been discredited, and re-arose. The economist F.A. Hayek supported it in his theory of spontaneous orders, arguing that large social groups would undergo selection for the best social orders if let free to do so (the benefit, as he understood is, is that people were both free to leave and to change society so that only the society “died off” rather than the individuals–thus could we experiment in ways of living), and E.O. Wilson is now an advocate.

There was an article that came out last year that argued that the presence of autism could be important for the health of groups and thus would arise through group selection. This argument is not dissimilar to observations I have made here and here. The bottom line is that neurodiversity is vital for the health of any society. There have to be a large majority (around 80%) who act to stabilize the system, and there have to be a small group (around 20%) who destabilize the system through creativity and innovation.

The article makes this point as well. Those groups that tolerated autistics seem to be those better able to survive. Of course, creative innovators, those who challenged the status quo in technology or culture, have always been at best “tolerated.” But the more tolerant a culture has been to such people, the more innovative and wealthier that culture has been.

Which should worry you, because our culture does not much tolerate such people outside of programming. Indeed, we are finding continued wealth in the IT sector of our economy, while the rest of the economy seems stagnant at best.

Improving Executive Function

Tali Shenfield’s Child Psychology Blog has a post on improving executive function. I have written on executive function before (here and here and here and here) but this post goes into greater detail about all the things affected by executive function, including:

  • achieving goals we set
  • achieving goals others set for us
  • short term memory
  • planning
  • organization skills
  • emotional self-regulation

Shenfield also points out that executive functioning is on a gradient, meaning a 12 year old could have the emotional maturity of a 9 year old. Or, as I’ve told my wife, Daniel (8) has the emotional maturity of his brother, who is 5, while his cognitive abilities are much more advanced. But with executive functioning essentially making him “act 5,” most people don’t realize how advanced he is in many other ways.

I have issues with all of the above listed, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. At the same time, once I have all my ducks in a row and I have said I’m going to do something, you can take it to the bank that it will get done. In the end, I can achieve goals I set or other set for me because for me it’s a matter of integrity to do what I say. Deadlines loom large for me, and that helps me overcome at least that issue–when a clear deadline is actually set.

EEOC Ruling on My Discrimination Claim

Today I received a message on my phone from the EEOC saying, after three years of “investigation,” they found no fault with Lockton-Dunning in my claim Lockton discriminated against me for being autistic. Pretty much everything Lockton claimed was a lie–including that they had problems with my work from the beginning (which I’m sure is why they told me they were getting ready to give me more duties the Friday before they let me go) and that I was only going to be there part-time (it was admittedly a trial period, a part time to hire, but they lied that it was intended to be a full time position–meaning the EEOC believed Lockton over both me and the placement agency that told me it was part time to hire).

More, the EEOC said that it was apparently a problem that I hadn’t disclosed to Lockton that I had Asperger’s before they hired me. And apparently the EEOC isn’t familiar with its own laws which make it abundantly clear that I in fact don’t have to ever disclose my disability. They also said there was a problem with the fact that I hadn’t been officially diagnosed (something I have since taken care of), even though their own laws state that the company only has to believe I have a disability for them to discriminate against my having a disability. The people at the EEOC ought to know the laws they enforce better than this.

So the EEOC is now going to give me a release that will allow me to sue the company if I want. I’m sure I will have to disclose that the EEOC found no fault with the company. Which ought to bias everyone against me, because everyone just assumes that the EEOC is on the side of employees and not the employers.

More Work Opportunities

Finding work is a major problem for autistic people. While we have a great many strengths employers ought to find of great benefit, the fact of the matter is that our social differences are often too difficult for neurotypicals to overcome. This wouldn’t be so much of a problem except that most of the businesses are run by neurotypicals, so their deficits in dealing with social differences are a problem for us.

Fortunately a few businesses are recognizing there are benefits to hiring autistic employees. Of course, many of them, including Microsoft, are simply using the fact that autistics are particularly good at coding and computers in general. It would be nice if other opportunities would open up for those of us who are educated in areas other than computers, though.

What Is Executive Functioning?

You have probably read somewhere that one of the main features of autism is weak executive functioning. But how many of you really understand what executive functioning actually is? And how does it explain some of the features of autism?

The purpose of the executive functioning of the brain is to prevent all thoughts from coming to the surface and being expressed. As a result, a great many of your thoughts–perhaps most of your thoughts, never come to consciousness. Others sort of exist on the periphery, but never get expressed or said. Your executive function allows you to be social precisely to the degree that it censors you even before the thoughts are made conscious.

You can think of “thoughts” in the following ways: there are

  1. Thoughts you don’t have
  2. Thoughts you have but are censored by the executive functioning before they come to conscious awareness
  3. Thoughts you have but censor consciously
  4. Thoughts you say

If you are wondering what the difference is between 1. and 2., congratulations, you’re not autistic! The average person who doesn’t, say, think about cheating on his wife may either be experiencing 1. or 2., but will never know it. If an autistic man doesn’t think about cheating on his wife, it’s because he’s actually not having thoughts about cheating on his wife. It’s 1. or nothing. The weak executive functioning means unwanted thoughts will arise and intrude on one’s thoughts. So those of us on the spectrum who never think about cheating on our wives sleep with a clear conscience.

Now, the problem with having a weak executive function isn’t so much that you aren’t actively suppressing much if anything at all in your unconscious; no, the problem is that your head is full of a constant stream of thoughts, and with a weak censor, you’re bound to say more than a few of them. Many of us learn to run thoughts by ourselves before we speak, but that presupposes we aren’t being pressured to say something right now. If we’re delayed in speaking, it’s because we’re making sure what we plan to say is appropriate. Put us under any sort of pressure, make us uncomfortable, and you’re bound to hear what we really think. And that, of course, can be . . . awkward!

If there is anything good about a weak executive function, it’s that such “leakiness” tends to lead to rather creative thoughts. When writing a poem, play, or prose fiction, having a weak censor is actually a boon. All kinds of crazy thoughts come to mind, and many of them are quite interesting from an artistic perspective—or from the perspective of technological innovation. All those crazy thoughts are thoughts everyone is having—but only those on the spectrum aren’t censoring the overwhelming majority of them. If you wonder why I claimed autistics may be among the most creative, now you know why.