Priscilla Gilman in “Don’t Blame Autism for Newtown”:

This country needs to develop a better understanding of the complexities of various conditions and respect for the profound individuality of its children. We need to emphasize that being introverted doesn’t mean one has a developmental disorder, that a developmental disorder is not the same thing as a mental illness, and that most mental illnesses do not increase a person’s tendency toward outward-directed violence.

As I said yesterday, read Susan Cain’s book Quiet.[1] Here in the west, we’re roughly a hundred years into a romance with extroversion. The economic and social virtues of introversion, even autism, are only now audible for a society that’s been too loquacious to care since the late 19th century.

But the world is changing. Today, we desperately need people who not only want to turn away from stimulation to think deeply about problems, but have an innate passion to do so. We need noise-cancelers, not more noise.

As any species’ environment changes, certain genetic attributes can shift from liability to asset. That’s even true of autism, though the typical workplace—filled with incessant distractions and attention-needy coworkers—poses a significant barrier:

[The] emerging understanding of autism may change attitudes toward autistic workers. But intelligence, even superior intelligence, isn’t enough to get or keep a job. Modern office culture — with its unwritten rules of behavior, its fluid and socially demanding work spaces — can be hostile territory for autistic people, who do better in predictable environments and who tend to be clumsy at shaping their priorities around other people’s requirements.

  1. If reading books just isn’t your thing or you want a primer, watch her 2012 TED Talk. I was lucky enough to see her give a similar talk in person last October in Washington, D.C. Her talk is great, but the book goes far deeper.  ↩