The Technical Savant Myth
Oh Rainman, you have a lot to answer for! 27 years after its release, this film’s influence lingers like an onion-flavored fart in an elevator. Perhaps no other single piece of media has so informed the public perception of autism; that people on the spectrum have superhuman mathematical abilities, yet are hopeless at pretty much everything else. In more recent years, this has evolved to into the stereotype of the autistic computer wizard.
Now, I don’t mean to devalue those who do have these skills; I know people with autism who can calculate immense numbers, or who can solve a Rubik’s Cube in less than forty seconds, and that’s pretty freaking awesome.
But on the other hand, I also know plenty of others whose talents lie elsewhere. Me, I’m like a tiger shark out of water when it comes to maths and infotech. Writing is what revs my engine. Similarly, my friends and acquaintances on the spectrum have strengths ranging from music, to dance, to drawing, to speaking multiple languages.
When I look a lot of the programs out there which aim to find employment for people on the spectrum, these less “technical” skills tend to be overlooked. The focus is usually on infotech and number-crunching, because it’s just assumed that this is what people with autism are good at.
Not only does this perpetuate a view that ignores the remarkable diversity of the autism spectrum, it also leaves those who don’t fit the archetypal pigeonhole out in the cold, their talents overlooked and untapped.
To bring it back to sharks, (yes, I like sharks) if you only look for the awesome ferocity found in Great Whites or Bull Sharks, you’ll miss the gentle dignity of the Whale Shark or the Basking Shark. Just as there’s more to sharks than being fearsome, there’s more to autism than being crash hot at numbers and computers. 😉