Autism: A Wonder Misunderstood

Rahman Mohamed

In a radio interview last year (2013), Calgary Eyeopener spoke to Michael D’Souza from Meticulon, an IT company, about hiring people with autism.  This story was later broadcast on CBC’s The National on January 8.  Through unconventional interviews, or assessments, Meticulon found out how fit a person with autism was for the workplace.  This meant evaluating the person’s cooperation and compromise skills, communication skills, but not using a face-to-face interview; further assessments were conducted to find out if these persons with autism were fit for their position in a business (not a charity) aiming to make a profit.

What is autism?

According to Autism Canada it’s a neurobiological disorder that may affect normal functioning of the gastrointestinal, immune, hepatic, endocrine and nervous systems, impacting normal brain development and leaving individuals with communication problems, difficulty social interactions and a tendency to repeat behaviour patterns.

Individuals with autism also have a restricted range interest and activities.  Autism lies on a spectrum, its symptoms varying from patient to patient; the further a person lies on the autism spectrum the more extreme the symptoms.

Communication is a vital skill in the interview process, the final stage before one obtains employment.  Individuals with autism are often unemployed, though they may have skills that outstrip others.

Anyone who’s seen the Big Bang Theory has seen autism in action: Sheldon Cooper.

There he is exhibiting strengths and weaknesses of autism.  He might not exhibit all of them (or say he does) because not all autistic patients do, but he does show a lot.

Autistic Strengths

-non-verbal reasoning skills (Sheldon talks the least and uses visual aids; Season 4, Episode 7, when an FBI agent is interviewing him for a background check on Howard)
-reading skills
-perceptual motor skills
-drawing skills
-computer interests and skills (if you touch his laptop you’re a goner; Season 3, Episode 13)
-exceptional memory (he’s a physicist in a university but he still remembers every moment of his childhood, including the fact that his mother sang “Soft Kitty, Warm Kitty” to him when he was sick)
-Visual Spatial abilities
-Music skills

Autistic Weaknesses

-Impairment in Social relationships (Leonard, Sheldon and Penny always have trouble getting along)
-Deficits in communication/language (Penny and Sheldon always have trouble communicating)
-Preseveration on interests and activities (unless it’s replaced with Dungeons and Dragons, a comic book he likes, or Star Trek, you can’t draw Sheldon away from physics, even when he’s in his apartment)
-Dependence on routine (just ask Leonard, he signed the contract; they have to follow a bathroom timing; and don’t forget the couch)
-Abnormal responses to sensory stimulation (Amy and Sheldon – they talk but have never kissed)
-Behaviour problems (Season 4, Episode 23; Sheldon locks himself in his room because he’s scared of “the germs that will kill me”)
-Variability of intellectual functioning (he’s a genius)
-Uneven development profile (he finished university before Leonard started)
-Difficulties in sleeping, toileting and eating
-Immune irregularities
-Nutritional deficiencies
-Gastrointestinal problems

If you haven’t seen the Big Bang Theory you’ve probably seen someone who’s not an actor with autism.  It might be hard to talk to them but they can work wonders.

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