I have recently read an appaling article entitled ‘Helping People with Asperger’s Syndrome or Autism Find Work’ in Psychology Today written by Marty Nemko (click HERE to read the full article). Nemko holds a PhD in Educational Psychology and apparently is named the ‘Best Life Coach’ in San Francisco Bay Area. One may expect that a person with his credentials will be aware of the literature around a topic that he would wish to write about- he holds a doctorate, for crying out loud! In addition, one may also expect that writing about a sensitive issue requires awareness of people’s sensitivity and emotional responses about the topic.
But Marty has proven me wrong. His article was badly written and his insights and ideas were not based on research. For instance, why would he insist that most people with Asperger’s Syndrome prefer to be called ‘Aspies’? Where did he get that from? Even though a lot of people with AS prefer to be called Aspies, I still would not make the claim that Marty has made. He recently wrote an ‘update’ on his original article and claimed that he spoke to many experts, read articles on autism speaks.org and wikipedia. As an academic myself, I cannot help but scratch my head, laugh sarcastically and let out a loud sigh. Most people know about the unreliability nature of Wikipedia, right? It is also worth noting that although Autism Speaks is a big organisation with intentions of helping people in the Autism community, it has also been in the middle of controversies over the past few years.
Marty Nemko’s article has been written in an attempt to give advice to people with Autism and AS who are looking for work. However, his attempts failed miserably. All he did in his article was to highlight their inefficiencies and inadequecies:
“…some lack the wherewithal to get a bus pass, let alone adequately read social cues or the judgment to make timely decisions”
“…often off-putting, for example, long, fast-spoken, disjointed monologues without eye contact and unable to take the perspective of others other than their own, thus may too often offend them. Many are clumsy, with poor eye-hand coordination.They may have such mannerisms as odd posture, arm flapping, and body twisting. They can be socially naïve and unable to recognize humor. Some have unusual habits, for example, even scavenging through garbage cans to bring home used food scraps”
“Perhaps even more discouraging, it appears that even when employers are told that most of an Aspie’s salary would be paid by the taxpayer, many would rather pay full-freight for someone who doesn’t have Asperger’s.”
Instead of focusing on what people with Asperger’s Syndrome and Autism cannot do, he should have focused on what they could do. Articles such as Marty’s should never be written as it paints an extremely negative picture and hence could increase the stigma that surrounds Autsim. I urge everyone who are thinking of writing about any topic at all to be extra cautious. Research the topic and be sensitive.
I work very closely with people who are on the spectrum- in classrooms and in other settings. I have seen the range of abilities, interests and expertise that they have. Based on my experience, it is impossible to put them in one single category and hence offer a generic advice on how to help them. Just like people who are not on the spectrum, they need individualised support. Advice should be tailor-made to each individual’s situation. Oh, and one more thing: If nobody is asking for your advice, don’t give it especially if you’re going to put them down!