Autism, Math, Engineering & the Computer Industry

"You may be a geek, you may have geek written all over you; you should aim to be one geek they'll never forget. Don't aim to be civilized. Don't hope that straight people will keep you on as some kind of pet. To hell with them; they put you here. You should fully realize what society has made of you and take a terrible revenge. Get weird. Get way weird. Get dangerously weird. Get sophisticatedly, thoroughly weird and don't do it halfway, put every ounce of horsepower you have behind it."

Bruce Sterling

Internet Resources

Big demands on planning ability causes problems for aspies. This is because aspies lack the hardware timer most operating systems have. Too many planned actions also causes inefficiency in a real-time operating system.
In a nation of eight million socially impaired Rain Mans unable to make human connections, at least everyone involved can boast they're a very good driver.
rotten dot com
The challenge we all be increasingly confronted with, on-line and off, is, to look at ourselves differently than we have before, that is, to accept neurological diversity. NT is only one way to be.
Harvey Blume
The study reported here tests a prediction that autism should occur more often in families of individuals whose occupation requires advanced folk physics but with no requirement of good folk psychology. Physics, engineering, and mathematics are paradigm examples of such occupations. Students in Cambridge University, studying one of these 3 subjects, were screened for cases of autism in their families. Relative to a control group of students studying literature, autism occurred significantly more often in families of students in the fields of physics, engineering, and mathematics.
Simon Baron-Cohen, Patrick Bolton, Sally Wheelwright, Short, Mead, Smith, V. Scahill
Autistic adults' special ways of thinking make them quite well-suited for jobs in programming and computer graphics. Autism often leaves those with poor social and communication skills while bestowing gifts of extraordinary concentration and creativity.
Gary Anthes
They say they require employers who understand and respect their social limitations; they need quiet, stable and predictable work environments; and they must be given very clear goals and objectives. Teamwork and management aren't appropriate.
Gary Anthes
The final word however should go to a thought-to-be AS; Bill Gates: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one.
Joseph Leech
Geeks see nongeeks as trivial and self-serving. They certainly don't strive to be like you. They see your kind as pop-star wannabes comprised of more style than substance.
Steve Lange
With insights such as provided by successful Autistic citizens, others who are affected by this disease can find hope for the future.
Floyd Tilton
Test Anxiety Inventory, in connection with a research project, Affective and academic results of computer programming experience.
John Mueller
Aspies typically have an almost obsessional approach to solving problems and are often oblivious to their peers' view that a given problem is 'unsolvable'. Both are often prerequisites to becoming an elite-end hacker.
Suelette Dreyfus
The need to align with the business forced most CIOs to change from geek to chic - jettisoning their old school mentality toward IT and swapping their Dockers for Hugo Boss in the process. But convincing the rest of the IT department to follow suit may prove to be a much tougher job . . .
Sue Bushell, CIO
Sources suggest richest human/supreme nerdly being Bill Gates may even be a victim given the Microsoft honcho's proclivity to rock to and fro, throw tantrums and neglect his appearance.
1 in 8 of the fathers of children with autism is an engineer, whilst only 1 in 20 fathers of non-autistic children is an engineer. Considering the number of occupations available for them to go into, 1 in 8 seems to us to be a very high rate...
Simon Baron-Cohen, Sally Wheelwright, Stott, Patrick Bolton, I. Goodyer
Summary of Australian Broadcasting Corporation interview with Simon Baron-Cohen
Getting into other people's heads requires empathy, a virtue that sometimes does not come naturally to engineers. Our profession tends toward the opposing mental disposition, called systemizing, which attends mainly to rule-based systems, such as those that govern machinery. The author of the theory, Simon Baron-Cohen, a professor of developmental psycho­pathology at the University of Cambridge, argues that in generations past, engineers, mathematicians, and other systemizers had little opportunity to meet potential spouses who thought as they did. Now, however, schools and professions sort both sexes by psychological types, raising the chances that people of like minds will marry and bear children. Baron-Cohen, cousin to comic actor Sacha Baron ?Cohen, says that such “assortative mating” is concentrating the genes that predispose to systemizing thought. That, in turn, ought to be increasing the likelihood of having a child with the most extreme systemizing: autism.
IEEE Spectrum
To the surprise of many people, and the dismay of some computer professionals, the formerly derogatory labels geek and nerd are now being used with pride--or at least resignation--by a growing number of young computer experts.
Gary Chapman
Autism - and its milder cousin Asperger's syndrome - is surging among the children of Silicon Valley. Are math-and-tech genes to blame?
Steve Silberman
We're a loose collection of geeks from around the world that just happen to enjoy what we do, be it computers, amateur radio, or any other thing most people would consider a geeky hobby.
As he described it, (Mitnick) realized, 'Wow, that sounds like me.' The more I thought about it, it seemed to describe people I know who are into hacking.
M.J. Zuckerman
Hackers has repeatedly been pathologically defined as isolated young men, but Jordan and Taylor repudiate this claim since they see hacker community as one of lively information exchange through computer-mediated communication, publication of papers and hacker conventions.
Stig-Lennart Sørensen
The following report, annotated by summarises leaked US Government documents on the feasibility of replacing ludicrously expensive supercomputing facilities with comparatively cheap savants.
Enabling technology should be just that: enabling. It should not disadvantage a student nor frustrate the teaching staff.
Gerry Kennedy
The physically disabled have made considerable progress in the workforce. But despite record unemployment and a critical shortage of skilled IT workers, those with mental or intellectual disabilities remain largely invisible to employers.
Gary Anthes
We believe that the mental apparatus to perform 'lightning fast' integer, arithmetic calculations, such as multiplication and division, resides in us all, even though it is not normally accessible.
Allan W. Snyder, D. John Mitchell
Both fathers and grandfathers of children with autism were found more than twice as often in the field of engineering, compared to fathers and grandfathers of other children.
Simon Baron-Cohen, Sally Wheelwright, Stott, Patrick Bolton, I. Goodyer
Our more recent studies suggest the link is with a family of such fields: physics, engineering, computer science, and mathematics. We suspect that the features this family of fields share include being factual, exact, and highly rule-governed.
S. Wheelwright, Simon Baron-Cohen
Professor Borcherds' work is concerned with a purely mathematical and unimaginable object that lives in 196,883 dimensions. It's called the Monster.
Dominic Hughes
'If somebody is really passionate about mathematics and really brilliant and insightful and talented, this overrides any peculiarities,' says Robinson. 'I love that about mathematics and mathematicians.'
Ayala Ochert
We describe 3 cases of very high functioning individuals with Asperger Syndrome, two of whom are university students (in physics and computer science, respectively), and the third a professor of mathematics, and winner of the Field Medal (equivalent to the Nobel Prize). The interest in these cases is whether there is a social-cognitive deficit, given their self-evident academic achievements. Such cases provide a rare opportunity to test for dissociations of cognitive skills, since these cases possess exceptionally high ability. These 3 individuals were given one test of folk psychology, one test of folk physics, and one test of executive function. All three cases showed deficits on the adult level 'theory of mind' (folk psychology) test involving reading mental states from photographs of the eyes, whilst showing no deficits on a control task of judging gender from the same photographs. In addition, all 3 cases were at ceiling on the test of folk physics, and on the most complex test of executive function (the Tower of Hanoi). 14 control subjects clarified normative performance on the folk psychology and folk physics tests. These results strongly suggest theory of mind (folk psychology) is independent of both IQ, executive function, and reasoning about the physical world.
Simon Baron-Cohen, Sally Wheelwright, V. Stone, Rutherford
In this study, expert programmers were directly questioned regarding the nature of their mental representations while they were engaged in a design task.
Marian Petre, Alan Blackwell
A change in attitude might confer a new and special esteem on those who, like William Hamilton, have arguably contributed the most of lasting worth to our species as a whole through their work in engineering, technology, and science.
Christopher Badcock
Programmer Sara R. S. Miller can detect flaws in software almost at a glance by spotting irregularities in coding patterns. She can help clients with programs she hasn't seen in years by displaying a printout'' of the source code in her mind.
Gary Anthes
Stallman, an American, believes that it is immoral to copyright software, and that every program a computer needs to run should be free. He has spent 15 years trying to fulfill this vision, and this has made him one of the most influential programmers.
Andrew Brown
The purpose of this site is to recapture, explore and celebrate the Art of Computer Programming. By so doing we hope to help the reader either become a better programmer, understand what less experienced programmers are struggling with, or communicate more effectively with other experienced programmers.
Alan and Colston
The Internet can be a social paradise for high-functioning autistic people and people with Asperger's syndrome. Here, the nonverbal niceties of social interaction that they find so perplexing don't apply. People who might strike others as gauche in person often fit in perfectly well on Internet message boards. A Web link to an autism screening test posted recently on, a tech news site, generated hundreds of comments from users. Many self-described computer geeks took the online test, for which a score of 16 is considered average, and a score of 32 or higher suggests autism. "Twenty. Not autistic, just plain geek," one user commented. "Thirty-eight, definitely 38. Time for Judge Wapner," wrote another, a reference to a TV show watched obsessively by an autistic character in the 1988 movie Rain Man.
My hypothesis is that the 'abnormal' condition known as Asperger's syndrome is remarkably similar to the 'normal' functioning of an engineer's mind.
Brian R. Hughes
Programmers usually do have a longer attention span and a greater ability to concentrate than the majority of the population, and these two things can cause the appearance of introversion.
Writing code is an act of creativity. It isn't science and it isn't engineering, although programmers are happy to apply science and engineering to the creative process, when possible. Therefore to be a programmer one has to be highly creative.
Bryan Dollery
Hackers have relatively little ability to identify emotionally with other people. This may be because hackers generally aren't much like `other people'.
Eric Raymond
Groundbreaking research in the controversial field of behavioral genetics suggests that the factors leading an individual to pursue any occupation, including engineering, cannot be explained as a simple tug of war between "nature" and "nurture." The researchers are finding that vocational interests are primarily the products of genetics and unique, or nonshared, environmental factors, with shared family experiences holding less sway. The research may indicate why some individuals are predisposed to careers in engineering. It might also explain the high occurrence of autism in the families of engineers.
Debra Schiff, EE Times
Groundbreaking research in the controversial field of behavioral genetics suggests that the factors leading an individual to pursue any occupation, including engineering, cannot be explained as a simple tug of war between "nature" and "nurture." The researchers are finding that vocational interests are primarily the products of genetics and unique, or nonshared, environmental factors, with shared family experiences holding less sway. The research may indicate why some individuals are predisposed to careers in engineering. It might also explain the high occurrence of autism in the families of engineers.
Debra Schiff
Among the children of engineers, autism and related conditions are found twice as often as in the general population, according to British studies, and are unusually common even in the grandchildren of engineers. Anecdotally, hot spots of autism have been reported in major centers of engineering, including Silicon Valley; Austin, Texas; and Boston's Route 128 technology ring.
Philip E. Ross, IEEE Spectrum
Because attention shifting is slowed, autistic people experience life as a series of freeze frames. Thus, they have trouble perceiving the whole. But they are far better than normal people at perceiving the parts.
Norman Doidge

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