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Thursday, December 7, 2017

Problematic Representations of Autism

In The Politics of Autism, I write about misperceptions of people on the spectrum:
Some may confuse autism with intellectual disability and subject their autistic students to what President Bush called the soft bigotry of low expectations. Others may believe in the “Rain Man” myth of savant abilities and conclude that poor performance on a math test can only mean laziness or defiance.
The same holds true in the working world.  Michael Bernick at Forbes:
David Platzer is an anthropologist of autism employment (profiled earlier this year) who is deeply involved in trying to create new employment opportunities for adults on the autism spectrum. Platzer explains:
"Pervasive popular culture representations of autism as entailing savant or savant-like skills, such as Atypical and The Good Doctor, can create real problems for those of us working to promote employment for folks across the autism spectrum. When employers or potential employers equate autism with genius and mild social eccentricity, they are not adequately prepared for the patience and dedication that working with a broader autistic population often entails. In many ways, the representations of autism we see in Hollywood are actually setting the community up for failure. And this is especially so for those who experience more significant challenges."
Platzer is spot on. In 2017, autism employment initiatives throughout the country have continued to grow in autism-focused small businesses, autism self-employment and internet-based creative collectives, and autism-targeted hiring efforts in major companies. But it has been a slow process this past year, in part as the reality of autism employment has conflicted with the idealized versions held by company officials.