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.