a companion discussion area for blog.codinghorror.com

Software Developers and Asperger's Syndrome


#44

I violently disagree with your premise that “Developers I know have autistic traits, so it must be a requirement to be a good developer”.

It’s often been said tech jobs require somewhat autistic traits. But what is this based on? Just the fact that many succesfull engineers have autistic traits? That not proof so stop using it as proof. Instead you should ask if a totally emotional person can be just as succesful as an engineer.

I happen to have a female collegue who is emotional and loves to joke around with the boys. Is she struggeling? No, she’s performing great, even though she has none of the autistic traits you think are important.

Also do you remember Alan Turing? He was gay and when they sent him to prison as an example that even a war hero could not be gay, he committed suicide. Talk about being emo! Yet he was one of the best engineers ever and his work will always remain important.

@neillalonde edit:
These are just examples to show that you don’t have to be autistic to be a good engineer. I don’t mean to say gays and women are always emotional (or even more than straight men).


#45

A scoop of Dunning-Kruger, sprinkled with a little Asperger’s and topped with ADD syrup makes for a good banana boat


#46

To sum up what you’re saying: straight men are emotionless robots, while women and gay men are “totally emotional”. :angry: That kind of world view is part of the problem of the topic of the day. Ridiculous.


#47

To sum up what you’re saying: straight men are emotionless robots, while women and gay men are “totally emotional”. angry That kind of world view is part of the problem of the topic of the day. Ridiculous.

No, I’m responding to an assumption.

The assumption is that in order to be a good engineer you have to be emotionless and therefore gays and women are excluded.

I tried to combat this assumption mentioning two examples of emotional and good engineers.


#48

I saw, in another post, a parenthetical observation to the effect that Asperger Syndrome is a “spectrum”, and that the “more severe” it is, the closer it is to “autism”. This is not really correct.

I feel I should be briefly pedantic (FWIW, I’m autistic):

“Spectrum” is not “continuum”. It’s not “more severe asperger syndrome is closer to autism”. In fact, the distinction between them was artificial and has been dropped from the more modern diagnostic criteria.

The thing the word “spectrum” is intended to communicate is that there’s a large number of possible manifestations, symptoms, traits, or whatever, and that they aren’t particularly strongly connected. You don’t necessarily have “more” of all of them or “less” of all of them. One person I know who is a fairly clear and insightful writer and makes a living as a programmer happens not to be able to speak. She can write clearly and lucidly, she’s totally fluent in English and in a few programming languages, but she can’t make noises with her mouth that sound like words. I talk cheerfully and fluently. But that doesn’t mean she’s necessarily “more” autistic than I am; just differently.

It is perhaps also worth noting that, by and large, the social problems you were talking about (feigned surprise, etc.) are usually social problems that autistics tend to resist and mitigate, for a number of reasons. For one thing, things like feigned surprise just seem weird. Of course, there might be more inclination to express surprise without bothering to conceal it, but then we’re also usually assuming the other party will take the information at face value. Also, going through life being very good at some things and very bad at others makes you a lot more inclined to be tolerant when other people are better or worse than you expect at a particular task. I remember being unable to do single-digit arithmetic reliably (I still can’t, I might add), so I flunked third-grade math, because one of the requirements was being able to do a page with 100 single-digit multiplication problems without errors. So you might think I’m bad at math. Well, maybe, but at the same time I was learning calculus successfully. It does not surprise me all that much when people find some things easier than I do, and other things harder.

Mostly just wanted to point out that “severe” is probably the wrong axis on which to consider autism-spectrum things. There’s a lot of subtleties to the variance there.

I also feel I should point out that autism doesn’t imply lack of emotion; autistics do, however, tend to express emotion differently from other people, which can result in people failing to perceive it.


#49

I know some of these responses are kind of old, but the amount of vitriol aimed at those of us with Asperger’s/Autism is saddening. I’m glad that some that have responded are more understanding and/or accepting.

@Chris - People like you are the reason a great many of us on the Spectrum have a hard time keeping jobs, despite not being disabled enough to qualify for social aid programs. People like you bully us out of otherwise good positions, because you can’t fathom the idea that someone might just not be capable of handling the office politics (and yet, it’s us who supposedly have no “theory of mind” or ability to put ourselves in others’ shoes).

There is, in fact, a major difference between just being “socially inept” in the manner you’re talking about, and being essentially blind to various social cues. Most of the non-verbal subtexts and inferences the people convey in everyday conversation are registered and processed subconsciously by the neurotypical brain. You don’t have to consciously think about whether the person is getting bored with what you’re talking about, or whether they even want to talk to you (or like you), or even when it’s your turn to talk. Those things became subconscious for you when you were a young child. That is not the case for me and others like me. And no, it’s not for lack of practice.

Do you really believe that spending 6-8 hours a day, five days a week, for nine months out of the year for fifteen years, surrounded by upwards of 40 people wouldn’t provide us with sufficient practice to be at least basically socially literate? Do you really believe that then spending countless hours on a college campus and in a corporate workplace wouldn’t provide those opportunities (or rather, force such “opportunities”) to gain even basic social skills? Do you really think such environments are anything but “outside of our comfort zones” for those of us for whom our way of thinking, perceiving, and processing the world has made such environments a hell of sensory overload?

Do you tell a blind person that they just have to practice more at seeing? A wheelchair-bound person that they’re just not trying hard enough to walk?

It’s very similar for an Autistic person with social skills. Some of us can handle some social interactions some of the time, but at best, such things are usually very conscious and very exhausting. Conversations, especially face-to-face, require paying conscious attention to body language, “turn” cues, interpreting people’s speech – both the literal meaning and going through the mental data stores of potential hidden meanings (ie - we have to consciously and deliberately read between the lines) – and so on. This actually creates a sort of “processing delay,” not unlike the single-threaded applications where the UI would stop responding when a lengthy process was running. In fast-paced conversations, conversations among more than two people, or in environments with distractions (TV running, other conversations going, etc) this makes it extremely difficult, if not entirely impossible, to keep up in any kind of meaningful way.

This is further exacerbated by all of the seemingly (to Autistics, anyway) nonsensical and contradictory social rules. For example, we were always taught that it’s rude to interrupt, and, in fact, it’s often been enforced on us, drilled into our head like a jack-hammer. Yet, when we go out into the world, interrupting is often required in order to be able to voice anything. However, what makes it even more confusing is that there seems to be unspoken times when it’s “okay” to interrupt and when it’s not “okay,” and only neurotypicals instinctively know these times. When an Autistic tries to emulate the neurotypical behavior, they’re met with anger or some version of scorn at the fact that they interrupted, despite it looking to the Autistic that everyone else does it.

You’re right, this is a “social world,” it’s also a world built around straight, white, able-bodied men. It’s built for those who can see, and those who can walk. Yet people are or have moved away from “just deal with it,” and – at least for these obvious differences – toward accepting them and accommodating them where needed, with ramps, talking crosswalk signals, Braille signs, interpreter options, nursing rooms, and elevators, among other things.

Regarding promotions – honestly? Most of us just want financial security. We want to be able to work at a place where we’re valued as an asset for our ability to perform our job, instead of seen as a liability, because we can’t play the office politics game. We want to do what we love – be that fixing computers, writing software, pouring through medical research, crunching numbers, or painting – and get paid for it. Most of us could care less about “climbing the corporate ladder,” or being managers or Chief Whatever, and would be happy doing whatever it is we love doing. For many of us, we just want to work and support ourselves, and not be dependent on our country’s social aid programs.

It’s also people like you who keep diagnostic rates of not just Autism/Asperger’s diagnostic rates low (they’re actually abysmal for adults and often misunderstood as a “childhood disorder”), but also the diagnostic rates of other disorders (for lack of a better term), such as ADHD, Bipolar, Depression, and Anxiety, in the gutter. Such asinine responses make people ashamed and scared to get help or accommodations, for fear of being bullied out of their jobs or not being able to get a job, which is exactly what they need on top of trying to find a doctor (who, a lot of times, are just as clueless as you, so it’s very often a fight just to get tested) to help them, and even just trying to cope with their issues on a day-to-day basis.

@codinghorror - Thanks for posting this. It’s good to have people speaking out in favor of things like Asperger’s. I hope you can write a few other posts on such topics, or bring to light any you may have already written.


#50

You’re awful. Do you know what the rates of unemployment and suicide are among people with ASD? The high suicide rate is partially due to bullying, so you should think a little bit more before you say stupid things. Computing is one of the rare fields where people with AS can excel and earn respect in society.


#51

The trouble is, working with slightly autistic people can drive other people crazy mad. I know that autistic is not guilty and has biological reasons for how he acts. But, the whole “sometimes says inappropriate things” is euphemism for “constantly insults you, publicly mocks you every time you make a mistake and insist on telling you how superior he is every other interaction”. Eventually non-autistic get tired of being abused too. Bullying back is wrong solution obviously, but ranting on the internet or somewhere can be downright necessity.

It is that working with autistic puts a lot of limits on other people - he throws major temper tamtrum when you interrupt him or whenever plans change. He simply cant work when things are not exactly his way in many tiny details and will never compromise with other peoples ideas. The whole “struggle working with people” can be euphemism for “the team dynamic is getting increasingly toxic and they are large contributors to that - whether aware or not”. People do get to the point where they really want to punch them. Obviously correct solution is not to punch, but to put autistic on position where he does not have to cooperate.

Likewise “have trouble working to deadline” is euphemism for “refuses to implement minimal viable feature insisting in building cadillac instead - even when customer dont want cadillac”. It may mean insisting on non-essential refactoring few days before deadline. It may mean arguing with business over requirements despite not knowing much about business. Every time new requirements come.

There are ways how to manage the above problems, but “be more tolerant” is simply not it. That will just make you submissive to autistic and trust me, that position is pure hell. Quite the opposite, you need to assert boundaries very directly and very clearly - the way that you could not with non-autistic.


#52

Asperger here. I am very obsessed with programming. i have learned almost all mainstream programming languages by now. I have to say programming is happiness. It feels great to create something of your own and solving things alone for almost 14- 16 hours daily. It is amazing how far i have come in spite, i had no idea i have this syndrome until recently when i had continuous troubles with life. Now i can rest peacefully because i know why i am different.