“Who do you think made the first stone spears? The Asperger guy. If you were to get rid of all the autism genetics, there would be no more Silicon Valley.” Temple Grandin
Much has been written about the increase in autism diagnosis. Abundance of ASD individuals in technology development regions (Silicon Valley, for example), and speculation which technology leaders are undiagnosed autistics. Many of the articles have centered on the curiosity of what seems rather obvious. It is of no surprise technology development centers attract those on the autism spectrum.
Autism is a condition where an individual tends to have strengths with focus, visualization, literal conclusions, drive for answers, singularity, high intelligence, high cognitive abilities, structural strengths, tendency toward perfectionism, and so forth. The conclusion is one would expect those on the spectrum to be drawn into the world of technology.
Steve Silberman wrote and interesting article for Wired.com about autism. In this article Mr. Silberman cites scientific research, statistics, and other resources to discuss the proliferation of autism within certain epicenters. In a 2014 follow-up Mr. Silberman concludes autism is a different type of intellect.
The question is would technology thrive and grow in the same way it has if autism was not involved?
Do autism and Asperger’s contribute to the exponential growth and diversity of technology?
Could technology continue its trajectory without the contribution of those with autism or Asperger’s?
The answer is probably not; at least not in its present form and speed of development.
Microsoft, for example, and Bill Gates changed computing and set a course for how computers and technology are used today. Prior to Microsoft everything was done in DOS. For those who do not know, DOS is not pretty, not user-friendly, not warm and fuzzy, and not for the general population. Along comes Microsoft and the look, use, presentation, and power of computing is changed.
Fast forward and computers are everywhere – in the classroom, cell phones, tablets, cars, even watches. All because an individual, speculated to be on the spectrum, created a technology that no one had envisioned.
The Symbiotic Relationship of Technology and Autism
[sim-bee-ot-ik, -bahy-] Show IPA
living in symbiosis, or having an interdependent relationship: Many people feel the relationship between humans and dogs is symbiotic.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014
One cannot deny the contributions of the spectrum developers to the advancements of technology. However, those on the spectrum, who struggle with social graces, social interactions, humor, and communication are partially responsible for the development of social media, gaming, and social networking used by millions across the globe.
Are technology and autism symbiotic? Technology does not exist for autism nor does autism exist for technology.
Looking at the definition of symbiotic one could argue the two do have a mutually beneficial relationship that is positive and rewarding.
Those on the spectrum who work in technology find a positive outlet for his or her talents while technology continues to grow and become more intelligent. The global community benefits from this relationship through the new advancements, capabilities, and yes, social outlets.
In addition, today technology is rapidly being developed to assist those on the spectrum. Autistics using their talents through technology to help fellow autistics. They also find positive social outlets in gaming, social media, and online contact.
The Next Generation of Technology Developers
In past generations, methods for diagnosing autism were undeveloped. The result is today there is no measurement or statistical information as to how many visionaries, inventors, scientists, or advancements are attributed to the spectrum. Today society has a generation of maturing, diagnosed individuals on the spectrum and a method of measurement for their contributions is available.
Gone are the days of calling a different thinker “geek”, “nerd”, or worse. Today we can easily honor these individuals as visionaries.