Geek? Nerd? Autistic?

Geek? Nerd? Autistic?

Are you autistic because you’re a geek? Or are you a geek because you’re autistic? Would you even mention it during an internship interview?

I’ve been asked numerous times if my interest in technology is somehow connected to having an “autistic” brain. However, I’m reasonably certain no one had asked if technology made me autistic. Yet, the question was asked last week.

Now, I can’t really argue the point too much. I’m a techie or geek or whatever you want to call me. I’ve loved computers since I first sat down at an Atari 800. Asking a diagnosed autistic programmer about a trend among programmers? I’m not sure I can be objective.

Seeking to clarify, the programmer asked me if there was now a somewhat nonchalant, or reckless, impulse to think of all “geeks” as autistic. He described self-diagnosed Aspergers as “trendy” among some of the young programmers he has interviewed in the last year or so.

It’s as if coding turns you into an “Aspie” somehow. It seems like these kids are linking programming and autism. You can be good programmer and just be a good programmer.

Understand, he wasn’t being mean and certainly isn’t ignorant about autism. His point was that for some reason the “Geek Syndrome” is being mentioned by young programmers during job interviews. One even told him, “I have Aspergers, so you should hire me.”

I asked if this wasn’t a bit of hyperbole. I was assured it wasn’t, and that the hiring committee at this company has been a bit taken aback by the situation.

We’re all a little different, at least in the development side of the building. We sit in our offices and don’t always realize the rest of the building has headed home. Yeah, we’re different. But none of us ever thought we had a disorder.

I’m fairly certain that a greater percentage of programmers, engineers, scientists, and mathematicians do have “autistic” traits. I’m not alone in that assumption.

Here is a quote from Temple Grandin:

“Is there a connection between Asperger’s and IT? We wouldn’t even have any computers if we didn’t have Asperger’s,” she declares. “All these labels — ‘geek’ and ‘nerd’ and ‘mild Asperger’s’ — are all getting at the same thing. … The Asperger’s brain is interested in things rather than people, and people who are interested in things have given us the computer you’re working on right now.”
— ComputerWorld (2 April 2008)

So, in the end, I don’t know what this trend means. Maybe more of the programmer’s colleagues have autistic traits than he realizes? Or maybe “Aspie” is a trendy way to describe the traits that have long made programmers different?

I can safely state that the computer itself and coding has not made me “more autistic” than anything else in life. If I didn’t focus my energy on computers, I’d focus on something else.

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