Autism – Disorder or Valuable Difference?

Article in People Management “Business is still scared of autism” by 20 Nov 2014 which is subheaded:

HR departments don’t understand the value of candidates with autism spectrum disorder, say experts – and that could mean they are unintentionally discriminating”.

Employers certainly do appear to be fearful of employees with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD), but for no good reason, in my experience. And partly because of the generalisations made about Autism – such as “Rain-man” which is so extreme as to be completely irrelevant to the majority.

This makes me want to take great care in how we, at MPC Ltd, generalise the qualities of people who identify with ASD.

For a start, it is not true that ASD people cannot empathise, which has been studied by Henry and Kamila Markram of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne. They suggest that people with ASD feel too much, rather than feel too little, and that they can be overwhelmed by the experience of emotional empathy – causing them to withdraw (a natural response to being overwhelmed).

Being highly sensitive is not just an aspect of ASD but also of those with “high sensory processing sensitivity”, and rather than seeing this as a disability, we should be seeing it as a group survival mechanism.

We need some sensitive people, some focused people and some gregarious people to make a business and a community work well. That seems obvious, but when it comes to recruiting we can be blinded by our own bias to find someone who “looks and sounds just like me”!

Personally, I don’t like the term ASD because it includes the word “disorder”. Being different is not necessarily a disorder. And considering how highly functioning people with these characteristics can be perhaps we should be calling this Autistic Spectrum Traits.

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