“Employers often seek people with a well-rounded education and a broad skill set, rather than those who have training in one field.” They may. But that doesn’t help me, or most other autistic people.
Well-rounded means equally good at a bunch things, when referenced to the norm of NT (neurotypical) abilities. Autistics are many things, but we are not NT.
We have things that are difficult or impossible to learn, but which are well within the grasp of most NTs (for me, recognizing someone’s face comes to mind). Yet other tasks are almost instinctual to us, such as those used in the hidden figure test.
If you took the average NT, you might draw her abilities as follows, both before and after she receives her well-rounded education:
That’s the goal of a well-rounded education – not just to focus on one area of life, but to focus on all of life. Of course students don’t start with perfectly average (even for NTs) abilities in every area – they have strengths and weaknesses even relative to other NTs. But stick with me and let me discuss the “average” NT. I’ll address natural variation later.
Of course Autistics are bad at some things compared to NTs and good at some things. Once again, two autistics are going to be different from each other, and may have different strengths and weaknesses. So I just drew an example of the natural ability of a hypothetical autistic. Note that this graph doesn’t actually represent true abilities or anything such, just a hypothetical individual compared to the NT norm:
So, this person in the hypothetical well-rounded education program where they teach face recognition, social skills, hidden figures, and classification would find themselves needing to do little or any hidden figure and classification homework to keep up with his peers – but would end up doing a lot of work on face recognition and social skills, compared to his NT peers. In some cases, no amount of work would be enough. Sure, I could run a mile faster if I trained weekly. But I’ll never be able to beat an Olympic gold medalist! We have different natural abilities.
Of course that’s not the only way to look at this – there’s another way. We can look at the “average” NT skills versus the hypothetical autistic’s skills. Let’s say our hypothetical autistic was seen as “normal” and the average NT was the exception:
Now, if the well-rounded education was based around our hypothetical autistic’s abilities, the NT would do little to improve their social skills and face recognition, areas of relative strength. But they would spend a lot of time worrying and practicing on hidden figure and classification subjects.
Would that make sense? The proponents of liberal arts education would say it doesn’t.
In today’s dynamic workplace, a liberal arts education is more desirable than ever before. Employers want individuals who can think logically and creatively, solve problems and adapt to change. Employers often seek people with a well-rounded education and a broad skill set, rather than those who have training in one field. (University of Idaho)
So, obviously, they would want the NT to improve their social skills above neurotypical norms. They also would want someone who improves other areas.
It makes no sense to ignore social skills in the NT, just because they are already better than the hypothetical autistics’ social skills. Likewise, however, it makes no sense to focus excessively on face recognition and social skills for the autistic who can also get better at classification and hidden figures.
Of course in the real world “face recognition”, “classification”, and “hidden figures” aren’t directly studied by most, plus there are plenty of NTs that are bad and good at specific things, and plenty of autistics who don’t fit the stereotype perfectly. But for those individuals, does it make sense to ignore the strengths and only focus on weaknesses? Of course not!
The autistic person, if they improve all areas of their ability, would have a lot of peaks and valleys compared to the well-rounded neurotypical ideal. They might be really good at some technical area, compared to most NTs, but really lousy, again compared to most NTs, at some so-called “soft-skill.” Is that bad? Not necessarily.
For me, my strengths keep me employed. I understand some key technologies used on the internet, and can utilize them to do what some people see as useful work. I can do this in a way that my employer feels I make him more money than I cost him – I have a market value, for whatever that’s worth (in my eyes, not much – financial value of an individual is very different than their worth to human kind, as some of the most financially valuable people are among the most worthless or even costly to society in non-financial senses and vise-versa). Of course not everyone’s strengths tie to employment, and not every autistic will have strengths in given areas compared to neurotypicals. But even for autistics without these things, it’s still worth improving their ability to do the things they do best, not just the things they do worst.
If my teachers said, “You’re technical skills are already well above those of most computer science graduates, and you’re a high school student,” I would never have learned the skills I need for employment. And, likewise, if I spent my time learning to recognize faces rather than becoming more technically skilled, I’d just end up with decent technical skills and still-lousy face recognition skills. That would not have helped me – even if I was twice as good at recognizing faces as I am now, I’d still be horrible at it! I’m never going to get a job or even personal enjoyment out of exercising great facial recognition skill.
Will every autistic be great in some technical field? Of course not. But not every NT is good socially, either (think about an asshole you know who is NT – assholism is not a good social skill!). And there are plenty of unemployed NTs. So, yes, some of us won’t ever be in a situation where we earn money. Some of us might struggle at seemingly everything (although as the hidden figure tests showed, there may be hidden skills that have gone unrecognized in some people). So I don’t mean or want to imply that this is the normal autistic experience. I don’t think any of us have a “normal” experience! But at the same time, even the person with the stereotypical autistic experience would benefit by growing in his strengths, not just his weaknesses.
Should I improve my ability to recognize my friends? Sure, to the extent possible and realistic. But I’m not going to worry too much about it – I don’t think I’m ever going to be great at that. So I’ll still spend my time learning the technologies that I enjoy using and which is valuable to my employer. Even if I’m much more pointy than round.