Thursday, February 24, 2011

Disability, Asperger's and software coding

I read a fascinating piece over at ZDNET asking this question: Does Asperger's make you a better software coder?

Adults with Asperger's, like adults with many kinds of disabilities, face discrimination in the job market. An interviewer may be turned off by a lack of eye contact or an inability to read social cues. And in office situations that call for a lot of group interaction, these may be real problems.

But what if you're interviewing for a job that requires profound attention to detail, and a methodical ability to follow exact guidelines? Then the personality traits associated with Asperger's might actually be a benefit. I don't know how this winds up working in real companies, but it's a good reminder that what is perceived as a disability is sometimes just a difference. None of us are normal, when you think about it.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm a software developer, and I agree that the best likely have Asperger's.

JP said...

Of course Asperger's is going to be a benefit in some jobs.

Being a mechanical robot would be of a benefit in some jobs. See Japan for further examples.

We still need to be figuring out how to cure it.

The only thing I care about Asperger's is:

1) Is it a biological error?

2) Can we fix it?

Anonymous said...

I'd love to be able to "fix" Asberger's and other autism spectrum disorders, simply because it would make life so much easier for the people who have it, but meanwhile, finding places where they can fit and even thrive is a good goal. And some of them are also intellectually gifted, which makes finding a fit even harder and even more important.

Anonymous said...

Back in middle school when I was diagnosed with Asperger's (which I've never believed I have) I tended to think it was invented to provide a way to stigmatize out the intellectually gifted and independent. I think my younger self did have a point, if not the whole point, and I still think some of the diagnostic criteria are based around arbitrarily normalizing a certain kind of mentality. (The one I remember is intense focus on a special interest, with fad-following specifically exempted -- apparently it's normal if you're obsessing over something because everyone else is, but doing something that interests you for its own sake is a sign of a disorder.)

@JP: What's a biological error? Is the fact that we can't produce our own vitamin C an error? Or the fact that cats must obtain taurine from raw meat? Nature doesn't recognize "error," only traits that are well or poorly adapted to an environment. And a negative adaptation for an individual in isolation may be positive for their group.

Evan Adams said...

Two things:

1. Aspergers is a disability, as are all autism spectrum disorders. However, since disability is largely a product of the world not being set up for how you do things, and because most adults on the spectrum don't *want* a cure, it doesn't make sense to make that a priority.

2. Any assessment of aspergers as an advantage in certain fields may be skewed by the fact that giftedness is also a form of neurodivergence with many of the same features, and current tests for aspergers aren't usually sensitive enough to differentiate it from being highly or profoundly gifted.