Thursday, November 29, 2012

Autism: Asset?

On stage in "How To Eat Like a Child"
I always have mixed feelings when the next "big autism article" comes out. I just read Gareth Cook's "The Autism Advantage" in the NY Times.

When I started reading, I thought "Oh great, another article about an autistic kid's special superpowers that will make me feel bad that Theo doesn't appear to have any." Remember, I struggled with this topic a couple of years ago in "Theo, What Are You?"

But I'm glad I kept reading. Cook thoughtfully conveyed the spectrum of autism -- while many of those affected are suited to technical-but-tedious types of jobs, they aren't all, and nobody's running a charity (and in fact it would be a disservice to those with autism to employ them out of charity, when there is, as we are learning, a niche for many of them).

Some nights I can't sleep because I'm worrying about grown-up Theo. Other times, on glass-half-full days, I feel confident there are attributes of Theo's autism that will be assets in the workforce. While he's not robotic, he's likely to tolerate repetitive tasks as described in the article. He will be punctual, remember his duties, and adhere to rules. Incidentally, this will also make him a kickass husband.

But is there a place for him to thrive beyond rinse-and-repeat labor? When I attended a lecture by Temple Grandin, I asked her how to find that thing my son is good at. She essentially said to just keep trying everything and see what sticks.

Theo isn’t a savant; he has no knack for assembling legos or machines, nor does he play chess masterfully like the kid in the article. But he does have a beautiful (and often outrageous) imagination. We have found theatre to be a decent outlet for him; improv in particular allows him to shine. I don't know (yet) how that will translate into career skills, but at least it's something.

I almost didn't publish this post because, reading it through, I realize it sounds like I'm shortchanging Theo, and that is not my intention. There is a reason everyone is crazy about this kid. So I'll do a follow-up post on his many strengths. This post was solely based on my realistic fears about his employable skills.

It gives me chills to think of heroes of today who are impacting Theo's future; I'm pleased to see Thorkil's work showcased in the Times. His business model could open doors for those who were previously underestimated to use their skills, or mainstream the idea that people with autism have some use beyond entertaining the masses with their quirks. Gives me hope for my bug.

*If all else fails, the back-up plan is to exploit him as a model.


Judith said...

My 2 friends with aspy sons used to sound a lot like you do when they worried about whether their boys would be able to lead independent lives as adults. Both boys are now college grads, working and learning to deal with social interactions. Theo's time will come, too!

Anonymous said...

My son is three, recently diagnosed with PDD NOS. I too read the article. I depair that he'll end up penniless in subsidized housing after me and my husband are gone. I don't think my son is a savant, but I do think he's smart. He's moderately impaired. I have no idea what my son's adult life will look like, and that causes me heartache.

Elyse Orecchio said...

Hi, thanks for your comment. Theo was also diagnosed with PDD NOS at 3, we didn't hear the A word until 4. When he was 2 they weren't sure if he'd ever talk, and boy does he talk now. Hang in there, there is a world of difference between 3 and only gets better.

Let's hope by the time our boys are adults, opportunities for them will have greatly improved.