6 Things That CEOs Will Use to Weed Out an Autistic Candidate

I would like to use this wonderful list of 9 Things That CEOs Look For In a Job Candidate to demonstrate the problems we on the spectrum have with even getting a job.

  1. Intelligence This is usually not a problem with people on the spectrum who can look for a job. Here we’re good.
  2. Attitude — Oftentimes people on the spectrum come across as negative. Or over-enthusiastic. Or both. We very often come across as having some sort of “attitude problem.” We don’t, but we also don’t necessarily know how to appropriately communicate our actual attitude.
  3. Motivation — One certainly wishes that this were gotten to in interviews, because the motivation of pretty much every autistic person is to work. We are dedicated, focused to the point of obsession, hard workers. We have a great deal of intrinsic motivation.
  4. Experience — We often don’t have a lot of experience because nobody will hire us.
  5. Cultural fit — Unless the culture is “autism,” we almost certainly won’t fit into your current culture. But there’s a good chance that we will change that culture. Or get fired because of it. We want to work, not fit into a social environment.
  6. Commitment — Hire us and you won’t get rid of us.
  7. Personality — There’s a good chance that we won’t be particularly likable in a first impression, and there’s a good chance you won’t get our sense of humor–or experience it in the interview. If you experience mine, it’s because I’m nervous. Let’s face it, we on the spectrum don’t come across as amiable people, and our personalities can be off-putting.
  8. Good references — If the references are from teachers, especially graduate school professors, we’ll probably do well. If it is from co-workers or former employees, we probably won’t.
  9. Ability to admit failures — Hire us so we can have some failures to learn from. Further, our failures tend to come from external sources and don’t involve our work. Or our failures stem from things we literally cannot help and which we necessarily will repeat over and over and over again.

We’re good on 1, 3, and 6. Two-thirds of the list will result in our never getting hired. Notice how many of these involve social considerations. 5 and 7 are pretty much purely social considerations. Nobody on the spectrum is ever going to be able to get through this list and be hired. As our insanely high unemployment rate shows.

This of course is how you get hired through the front door. And it’s why if you want a job, you ought to stop bothering with the front door. Get to know people doing what you want to do, then impress them. Sooner or later, one of them will offer you a job. The back door, the side door, the roof–any entrance but the front door is how you will find work. In other words, autistics will only get hired if they network. But that requires social skills . . .

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Food

I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone with an autistic child whose child wasn’t picky when it comes to food. In that sense, we’re somewhat lucky in that Daniel isn’t all that picky. In fact, our 11 -year-old daughter is the pickiest one. It’s for her that we have to often make “other meals” than the main one.

That being said, there are two people in this household who are gluten-free, and it’s the two who have been diagnosed ASD–Daniel and me. We are gluten-free because anything with wheat in it causes us to get severe stomach aches, and has more than once caused Daniel to throw up (usually, it’s a combination of birthday cake and driving home from the birthday party). Daniel won’t even ask for cake anyplace else any more.

There’s also some Type-2 diabetes in the house, so there’s an increasing avoidance of anything with carbs.

But we can’t just get rid of carbs, because our daughter won’t eat anything except bread, tortillas, spaghetti, butter, cheese, milk, cereal, bacon, fried eggs, or pepperoni pizza (how is the taste of everything else too strong, but not pepperonis, which she’ll eat plain?). If we got rid of carbs, she’d starve.

To round things out, Dylan will at least eat almost anything.

Most of my pickiness comes out of certain textures being “wrong.” And Daniel seems to go back and forth on some things, like fried eggs. I made him over-easy eggs, but he wouldn’t eat the yolks. So I started making him fried egg whites. Then he said he didn’t want, “baby eggs,” meaning he wanted yolks. He ate over-easy eggs with yolks for a few weeks, but this past weekend he ate only the whites again. My guess is he’s torn between the slimy yolk texture and the desire to not be eating “baby eggs.”

I also have to make two batches of chili, one with all the vegetables, one with just meat and beans. Melina won’t eat any chili, of course, but the boys will. And the boys will eat things that are hot and spicy, but complain if there are too many things like onions, chunks of peppers, or spinach/chard. Of course, part of this is simply that children simply refuse to eat their vegetables.

Our pickiest eater, though, is one who hasn’t been diagnosed with autism. She does have the pickiness and the clothes sensitivities (and fashion sense) that typically comes with autism, though. At least she doesn’t have the wheat allergy, though, or I don’t know what that girl would eat. As it is, with pickiness, gluten-free, and diabetes (and I have slightly low blood sugar, so I have to have carbs), I’m practically a short order cook when it comes to dinner. Doesn’t everyone make 3-4 different meals at dinner time?

The Autistic Brain is a Different Kind of Network

Scientific American has a blog post covering recent understandings about autism. The author points out that

Studies have found that long-range connections between different brain regions are weaker in people with ASD. Complex behaviors such social interaction and language depend on the precise coordination of distant brain regions. Some studies have found that people with ASD have enhanced short-range neural connections, which might explain why ASD can be associated with exceptional skills in specific domains, such as visual memory.

This would also go a long way to explain why concept-formation is slower and more bottom-up. If concept-formation requires connections among widely-separated areas of the brain, a strongly connected brain would make them more quickly, while a less connected brain would take longer. Processing would also take longer. But note that the short-range connections are stronger, which suggests why it is that the slower-processing autistic brain is also often a specialized and highly intelligent brain.

The autistic brain is thus less global and more local, with information spreading more slowly through the brain. It’s like having a city the size of Los Angeles without highways through it, but only city streets. Yes, you can get through LA, but slowly.

Hayao Miyazaki

The animated films of Hayao Miyazaki came highly recommended to me by one of my Ph.D. dissertation committee members, the philosopher-poet Frederick Turner. As a result, many years ago, before I even had children, I bought Ponyo. Ponyo is a retelling of The Little Mermaid, and when I showed it to Daniel, he became obsessed with the film. He has watched it probably dozens of times.

Because Daniel loves Ponyo, I decided to get him three more Miyazaki films for Christmas: Spirited Away, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, and Princess Mononoke. He likes the movies in exactly that order. He likes Princess Mononoke the least because, I think, there are neither clear-cut good guys nor bad guys; rather, practically everyone is somewhere in the gray, and the main character is primarily seeking to reconcile all parties. Daniel in no small part loves all the Star Wars movies precisely because there’s no question who the good guys and bad guys are (though he does love Darth Maul, Darth Vader, and Kylo Ren the most). Princess Mononoke doesn’t provide him with that kind of clarity. Nausicaa is much less ambiguous. There is a good princess and a bad princess–both warriors–and a clear set of problems. Spirited Away is a very complex film set in a fantastical world that drives Daniel to question, question, question.

Today Daniel is watching Nausicaa for the third time. Before I pushed play, Daniel said to me, “Please don’t tell any of my friends that I like a princess movie.”

I of course told him it’s okay to like a “princess movie.” But the fact that he’s even remotely concerned about how people might think of him is a significant development for him. Still, he’s not concerned enough to not want to watch it and to not like it. Which makes him quite different from his younger brother who, when it comes to things like “princess movies,” is a pretty hard-core chauvinist (he’s only 5, but we’re working on that). In that sense, Daniel is going to like whatever he likes. And let’s face it, that kind of freedom is one of the best things about being autistic.

Taste and Texture

Have you ever noticed that spaghetti and fettuccine taste different? Probably not. Unless, that is, you’re on the autism spectrum, in which case it’s not impossible that the differences in texture between spaghetti and fettuccine result in the experience of different flavors for those two otherwise completely identical foods. The result is that I love spaghetti with meat sauce, and I love fettuccine alfredo, but cannot stand spaghetti alfredo or fettuccine with meat sauce. They’re wrong.

Also, scrambled eggs are terrible, but boiled eggs or over-easy eggs are great. Texture makes all the difference among those ways of preparing eggs.

Cooked peas are terrible–nasty squishy, poppy things. But peas in pea salad are fine. The texture gets improved with the boiled eggs and diced pickles. (My wife replaces the pickles with cheese, which is also texturally wrong, but tolerable.)

If you have a child (or significant other) who seems to be oddly picky about things that shouldn’t matter–“How can you like macaroni and cheese with elbow noodles, but not with spirals!”–the reason is almost certainly texture issues. The textures of foods matter as much as the textures of clothing on our skin. And you may not be able to tell any difference, but we most certainly can.

Keeping Up Appearances

I’ve read that autistics tend to not care about their appearance. I did. In a certain sense. In elementary school, I always made sure my hair was perfect. I would wake up–on my own–at 5:30 to take a shower every morning. I had to wear dress shoes because only those were all-leather and fitted with a Thomas heel, which was necessary because of my feet and hip problems, but I did not have to wear the dress slacks and button-down shirts I wore literally every day everywhere, including to school. That’s why I said, “In a certain sense.” After all, as you can perhaps well imagine, my classmates all thought I dressed ridiculously, and they made fun of me over it. Even my closest friend encouraged me quite often to wear jeans.

When I started high school in the mid-80s, I started wearing jeans. Acid-washed jeans, but not regular jeans, and certainly not any with holes in them (as was the other trend of the time). I did not change that look until I started trying to dress in a sort of “grunge fashion,” which I got all kinds of wrong by wearing regular button-down shirts (as opposed to flannels) unbuttoned over t-shirts. Now I mostly just try to be comfortable, wearing shorts when I can and t-shirts. I avoid long-sleeve shirts because I cannot stand for anything to touch my wrists.

I wonder to what degree autistics “don’t care” about their appearance vs. caring but being unaware of how their appearance looks to others. Perhaps people mean autistics are less likely to brush their hair or perhaps even their teeth. But has it occurred to anyone that someone who is sensitive to touch may find brushing their hair to be an activity that actually causes pain? Has it occurred to anyone that mint might be such an overwhelming flavor and feeling to someone who is autistic that they would avoid brushing their teeth? Given there are few non-mint toothpaste flavors out there (almost all for children, especially after the lemon and orange flavors disappeared from the shelves), and given the “hot” flavor of cinnamon toothpaste likely being a turnoff for many autistics, is it surprising there are autistics who avoid brushing their teeth?

So this issue is a more complex one than neurotypicals realize. As with many things, “not caring” is perhaps a neurotypical projection of neurotypical motivations onto autistic behaviors. That is, they look at an autistic person who is dressed a certain way or doesn’t brush their hair or doesn’t brush their teeth or doesn’t wear deodorant, and thinks, “Well, if I did/didn’t do those things, it would be because I didn’t care.” But that’s simply not true. It’s no more true than if an autistic were to say, “That person has nothing they are completely and totally obsessed about? Why, they must not care about anything at all!” (But that is what we autistics secretly think about all you neurotypicals! 😉 )

 

 

Social Cognitive Development Through Games: Do You Know Me?

Over a year ago, Anna and I overheard Melina playing a game with Daniel. She called it “Do You Know Me?” She was asking him questions like “What is my middle name?” and “What is my favorite superhero?” And he was answering.

Anna and I both realized at about the same time that what Melina was doing was absolutely brilliant. She had Daniel engaged through the use of a game format, and the same was a social game. By asking Daniel these kinds of questions, she was helping him learn about her, including aspects that that were similar in nature to his own interests. And by asking explicit questions, she was also giving him explicit answers, meaning she had him engaged in explicit learning of things that many children learn in more indirect ways, through more passive observation or social interactions.

She also expanded the questions beyond herself to include the rest of the family. For example, she asked him, “What is daddy’s middle name?”

It probably won’t surprise anyone that Daniel did quite poorly in correctly answering these questions. (When Melina asked, “What is my favorite superhero?” even I would have guessed “Super Girl,” and would have never in a million years guessed that it was “Black Widow.”) But these are the kinds of questions people on the spectrum ought to be asked so they can learn more about the people around them. Knowing a bunch of trivia about a you might even make an autistic person want to get to know you even better.