Thursday, June 23, 2011

Discrimination




The continuing discussion about my thoughts on discrimination and accommodation got me to thinking . . .

I am absolutely in favor of laws that make it illegal to fire people for being gay, Jewish, black, or anything else except incompetent.  That’s discrimination, and it’s wrong.

I do my best to live that way, myself.  That means I do my best to treat every person who walks in the door of my company the same way, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, or whatever.  I really don’t care about those things.  If someone is nice, I try to be nice.  If they are nasty, I throw them out. 

I suspect my own Asperger’s makes me oblivious to many of the differences in people that are allegedly the basis for discrimination elsewhere.  Therefore it would be more accurate to say I have no idea if a person is gay or straight (unless they say so) than it would be to say I treated them the same because they were one way or the other.  However, I don’t know if I would be any different even if I knew.  The differences ethnic/racial/sexual differences others may remark on generally do not matter much to me.

But that’s just me.  I think other people have a right to their opinions, even if I disagree with them.

For example, I also believe in an employer’s right to let someone go if he does not fit in with that person’s team.  That, to me, is the essence of what we call employment at will, a management tenant which prevails in the USA.  In a small group, everyone has to fit together, and you inevitably have situations where one person does not fit, even though they may be technically competent.

I don’t think it’s wrong to let someone go, in that circumstance.  My company is small, with a dozen employees.  One person with a bad attitude can drag everyone down in a little place, and I think it’s wrong to force us to tolerate the person.

So what if the reason the person doesn’t fit is that they have autism?  That makes it a hard question.  I don’t know if a blanket answer for that circumstance exists, at least for me.

Being a large white heterosexual male, I am (at least superficially) one of the least likely sorts to suffer discrimination.  The only time I really felt discriminated against was when I worked briefly in a Japanese-run company, where it was made abundantly clear that people like me were lesser animals.  Finding that attitude among engineers was shocking at the time, but I know many other folks experience the same thing every day.

So what did I do?  I left.

Could I have been discriminated against because my Asperger's caused me to act in unexpected ways, and I was therefore excluded from a group I might otherwise have been welcomed into?  Sure, that has undoubtedly happened, but I would not necessarily even know.  If they didn't want me, that is enough for me.  I don't want to be there either.  I am very sensitive to that.

As much as I favor laws against discrimination, I am realistic enough to know laws don’t change how people feel.  If my co-workers don’t like me for some reason, I have never been inclined to force my fit in an organization.  I don’t want to be where I am not wanted.

I feel like fighting discrimination often places the fighter in the role of being a victim.  That is the essence of the thing . . . someone done me wrong, and I want to change the world so they cannot do it again.  In that role, one is powerless, and hoping to gain power.  While discrimination fighters have accomplished great things, I feel like I want to act in a more immediately positive way in my own life.  That means I support the fight against discrimination but I choose a path where I am accepted, because that make me feel ok right now.

In my world view, when someone does me wrong, I change the circumstances of my life so they cannot do it again.  My focus is on me, and what I can change in myself or my life circumstances.  Those are the only things really under my control

When I express this view, some autistic people say it’s easy for me, because I have always been able to find work.  That’s true.  I am lucky that way.  What do I say to someone who stays in a job where they are disliked for being who they are, yet they are terrified they cannot find another job?

I don’t know what to say to that.  I have always been so stubborn that I have not been able to stay.  Even when I had no place to land, I always jumped.  I did that in music, cars, electronics jobs, and even publishing.  It’s always worked.  By worked, I mean I have always been able to find a new and better direction.

One consequence of my recent essays is that I’ve been criticized for suggesting that people in a minority group (like autistics, 1% of the population) are more likely to achieve success in nypical society if they make certain changes to fit in.

I think I’ve made it clear how we may change to fit in while still being true to ourselves and out values. 

That does not mean I think society should not be more accepting.  Of course I favor greater acceptance.  I’m just trying to be realistic.  I can’t make other people change.  I can only change myself.  So that’s what I advocate.

I’d be interested in other views on this.

23 comments:

9767847e-9e1e-11e0-895c-000bcdcb8a73 said...

"Being a large white heterosexual male, I am one of the least likely sorts to suffer discrimination. The only time I really felt discriminated against was..."

This comes as a surprise to me. My husband has AS and has been discriminated against as long as I have known him. And because I am married to him, I am discriminated against too. Friends have abandoned us. Neighbors avoid or snub us. And since he has no "gaydar", he has also been accused of being gay for hanging out with the gay men down the street. People are uncomfortable around him and therefore don't want to be around him.

Since there are no laws for discrimination outside of employment such as in real life, I see this as a real problem.

Have you experienced this kind of discrimination? And how do you deal with it?

Catsidhe said...

It's a hard question.

In my own experience, I have not experienced what I would call discrimination. I have not been fired because I am an Aspie. I have been fired because my (unknown at the time) Asperger's made me incapable of keeping up with what turned out to have been a horrible darwinian hothouse of politics, backstabbing, paranoia and blame culture. In retrospect, I was far, far better off a long way away from that place, and accellerating. But at the time, I didn't know better than to accept it. I didn't know that this wasn't normal. I had no way, at the time, of stepping back and being able to tell the difference between my struggling from being trapped in a toxic stew of a workplace, and my struggling because I simply wasn't a competent functioning human being. No-one else seemed to be having difficulties, so by logical extension, the fault was mine.

Which sapped at my self-confidence, so that I couldn't bring myself to leave: if I sucked so hard at this job, why would I not suck at the next one, and not have such lovingkindness and patience bestowed upon me?

And that's been the pattern since. When I'm functioning, when I'm able to cope and have a little capacity to spare, then things are going so well, relative to at the other side of the depressive cycle, that it doesn't seem to bad: everything might just work out. But when I'm depressed, and anxious, and stressed, and overloaded, and just not coping, then I can't bear the thought of the added stress of moving job and changing circumstance.

As it is, I've been lucky. I fell into a job which has given me friends, mentors and support, and after several years, they helped me get a secondment and a kick up the career ladder.

I'm a sysad, which is seems a perfect job for an Aspie: most of my interaction is with machines, and when I get pedantic with users, it's for a point. I am expected to be at least a little bit Aspie, and some of the better traits are deliberately emulated by the better NT sysads, here and all around the net. (Pedantry, focus, deep study, that sort of thing.)

cont ...

Catsidhe said...

... cont

And yet... I work in a cube farm. There is lots of action behind me where I can't see, which makes me nervous. The lights are bright, which makes me feel exposed and make me squint all day. Those who surround me are loud, chatty, people-people.

I, and many in my team, don't socialise with the rest of these people much. And we can get away with it because we have that reputation, and we have earned that right.

But what of the situation where the social demands aren't reasonable, and aren't negotiable? It's not that you don't socialise with the guys at all, but that you can't bear eating lunch with them every day, don't want to go to the pub after work, don't see the point in going to their family barbecues on the weekend. It's not that you're not friendly, but that they've set the bar really high, until the effort of being that sociable all the time is exhausting.

Personally, while you're right about our not being able to get special dispensation for being jerks (and nor should we, either -- as I like to say, my Asperger's is an explanation, not an excuse), surely there is a case that we could plead for some accommodation. Not a license to be an unpleasant bastard, but a reason to go to lunch with them only once a week, instead of every day, to have the lights turned down in your corner of the office if it's possible (which for me it is, alas, not really).

It's not as severe a need as for a wheelchair ramp, and partially for that reason we're less likely to get it: it's not as clearly obvious a need. Partially also, our very AS gets in the way of getting this accommodation: social anxiety gets in the way of asking in the first place, and the usual social deficits get in the way of being effectively political/diplomatic in the process. Not all of us can be lucky enough to have helpful advocates in our bosses.

Mike T said...

Well said. Thank you for your insight. I agree that you cannot expect society to change to accommodate one's every need.

Any individual needs to adjust to their surroundings regardless of any inherent limitation. Common sense should prevail and society should just ensure that additional obstacles are not established to make it harder for any individual to fit in.

newnoz said...

As hard as it is for me to say this i think if you have not walked in the shoes of those who can't find jobs it is hard to understand how it is. Mostly i find you right on IMHO but not this.

As to employers having to employ jerks or disruptive people they are not. If a non disabled person isn't fitting in you let him go, same with a disabled. Now some disabled people may try and make an issue out of it. In reality it is VERY few who do even if the discrimination is blatant. Some say they will in a fit of temper but decide not to later.

No matter your disability you can be fired if you do not suit the employers needs. Better yet just take care in hiring.

One of the problems is that a employee who was seen as a good employee comes to his boss and says I have Aspergers I need an accommodation. The boss now see the employee as a trouble making disabled person and fires him or her. That is discrimination. The silly part is that if the employer would reserve judgment he /she usually finds out that the Aspergers is more of an asset than a disability. Then they look for Aspergers people to hire for their non social jobs.

Most of the problem with hiring Aspergers people is the fact that once they think you are in any way different they won't try you out. I think a try out period is the norm in most jobs. I would work as a volunteer but even that idea makes me look odd and discourages them from hiring me.

Did you know that if a blind person uses a guide dog and that dog bites someone it is OK to refuse that person service when they are in the company of that dog? The laws are not so extreme as you think they are to employers. Perhaps the real problem is ignorance on the part of both employers and employees. Ignorance can be fixed if we are all willing.

Izgad said...

I did a piece on this topic last year after I lost my job at a school. http://izgad.blogspot.com/2010/05/asperger-discrimination.html

Personally I would want to get rid of discrimination laws as applied to private businesses. One of my reasons is that I recognize that in practice those laws will never be applied to protect me. I therefore do not want to be in a situation where I could be harmed by these laws. Let us make it an even playing field for all minorities, blacks, gays and autistics.

M said...

there should also be laws that prevent depressive aspies from hating themselves.

i don't know what one would call that, in order to warrant legal restrictions. auto-descrimination? i'll contact my state representative, give it a test run.

D.E. Moore said...

What about discrimination against a super sensitivity to the energy (positive, negative and everything in between) others give out every moment of the day?

I have the ability to sense what others are feeling and unfortunately I am a nice person who will try and make others feel better, if possible.

Believe me...I've gotten into so much trouble just being myself. I've been told I must change and that this ability that is my nature must be suppressed. If that discrimination? It is to me!

Chinatours said...

Deep thought of discrimination indeed, enjoy reading through it and it also make me ponder! Greetings from China.

daverickmershatesgoogle said...
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Unknown said...

Your company is so small it cannot be used as an example of much of anything. Most of us have to work at bigger places. There is something called "reasonable accommodation" that requires employers explore alternate arrangements if a disability is causing trouble. There are also workplace rules that make it illegal to discuss certain matters in a professional environment. I am a total social retard. If I am required to pretend to know something about dirty jokes I will embarrass myself and be instantly branded a weirdo. A professional environment where sexual matters are not discussed on the shop floor is the law. A company can get in trouble for allowing a hostile work environment on such grounds.

Unknown said...
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Sensory Mom said...

That is the problem with society.. it always wants you to change, in order to conform with "the rest" of society.. "Change so others are not uncomfortable." We are taught at a young age to "fit in," "be normal," "act normal" and the like. The truly empowered aspie individual will celebrate that within him/her which is different. So unique, so different from the norm, he or she can see, understand, and view things from a completely new and refreshing insight, which this world would do well to celebrate, rather than ostracize. Some of us become self-employed, because the "being" with others, particularly individuals UNLIKE ourselves, is not really pleasurable. It doesn't really have a purpose, other than information gathering. It can be at times, boring. When one is self-employed, we can pick and choose when we work, how often, get lost in our craft without having to "fit in" to the standard workplace. I feel if you care about what others think about you, be it in society or at the workplace, then you truly are not living a free asperger life. By giving others the power to change who you are, you are giving up the one thing that makes you really special... you!

newnoz said...

Every day i look for a new blog from you and every day i don't see one. I wonder if this has broken your furry little heart (that is how i see warm and caring people's hearts in my head) I wonder if you feel you have had enough of Aspie anger and angst to last a lifetime. I would not blame you.

I hope you are just busy catching up with your RL (real life)

May i ponder why there are so many angry responses. I believe ( and perhaps i am putting my feelings on others but i am not sure) that many of us view work as a salve to the soul and in many ways and answer to many of our problems. To NTs it is something you do. To Aspies it is structure, money, exploration, a chance to really get into our skills and interest and actually get paid for improving ourselves.

I go to a place called Clubhouse for people with psych disabilities ( this scares people off because the media has portrayed mentally ill as gun toting fools which is 180 degrees from true in my experience) it is meant to take people back into the mainstream after and episode of mental illness as they have problems with reintegration and many times end up living on disability all their days which no one wants but until Clubhouse everyone seemed to do.

Yesterday I was madly working at a small task which, as usual i accomplished in record time with better than hoped for style and the director came and thanked me. I said something about wishing i could get paid for it and he asked me if i wanted a job. I said yes (that is one of the main things Clubhouse does - find jobs for their members) He said to give him a year and he would do it. I suspect he needed a year because finding a suitable job is so hard with an Aspie. And that is part of the reason we can't find employment. I rather wish there was a Clubhouse for Aspies. It is hard to find an employment agency that places Aspies who are just entering the workforce. It plays to our weak suites in the extreme.

I am almost done with your latest read I was interrupted by books from the library (reserved) but i will soon return to it for the blazing conclusion

Bless you for doing this blog. I miss your wisdom.

Sue said...

I really like your balance on this. I'm a NT but my partner is an Aspie. Wanting and working towards greater acceptance while at the same time realising the reality of the situation right now is a good tightrope balancing, I think. Because ultimately, I guess everybody feels that they are having to conform, or to lop off or minimise certain elements of their personalities on some level in order to enter into that shared interacting space. Just some more than others, unfortunately :(

A. Lee Firth said...

I'm male and white too; I don't know about discrimination, but I'm verbally abused on a weekly basis. I agree with your point that you can't force people to employ you, or accept you, or like you though.

Sue G. said...

My almost 13 year old grandson was diagnosed with AS several years ago. His father thought it was a death sentence and has treated him differently than his younger brother since the diagnosis. As a loving grandmother I feel that he has always been a special child with quirky behavior but extremely smart. He makes me laugh, cry and all other spectrums of the universe and I wouldn't trade his personality for anything. He was diagnosed by an extremely wonderful group of therapists and they have done miraculous things with him. As he enters junior high school, they cried as they will miss him as he is handed off to the high school staff who deals with autistic kids. Fortunately, the school system he is in mainstreams all their autistic kids and treats them equally with the rest of the student body. My grandson's mannerisms, thought processes and general day to day life experiences are a joy. He can be difficult at times but I foresee him growing into a wonderful adult man with much to offer society.

Sue G. said...

My almost 13 yr. old grandson was diagnosed with AS several years. His father, whom my daughter was divorcing, felt that he was adnormal, defective, worthless and now treats him very differently than his younger brother. We were fortunate enough to be in a school district that employed a team of therapists who recognized his AS and have been working with until now when he getting ready to go to junior high. They mainstream all their autistic students and treat them like any other student. My grandson has always been an extremely intelligent young man who brings us much joy with the personality and many quirks. We laugh, cry and enjoy his personality and feel very lucky for the staff that have helped him. In turn, they are saddened at losing him to junior high school as he has become their favorite. But they turn him over to the another staff of people who will be caring for his needs in junior high and high school. I look at him and know that he will become a wonderful adult man who will be an asset to society and all who know him. It saddens me that his father looks at his AS as a death sentence and cannot see the forest for the trees for his future. After reading Look Me In The Eye, my daughter and I, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter (his older sister) can all relate to the many ocurrences in Mr. Robison's life that we have experienced with my grandson. He has aspirations of becoming either a veterinarian and working as a local vet or working with Sea World. We encourage him that he can do anything he puts his mind to and I plan on being on this planet long enough to see him realize his dreams.

Samantha Angel said...

This is really giving me food for thought. My young son has Asperger's and right now I am just trying to get him through school painlessly. I am always torn between not telling anyone and being an advocate. When he is an adult he can decide for himself whether he wants it to be known to his co-workers or boss.

I think People are a lot more accepting than many of you might think. Most times when you are invited to an outing, it is not to torture you, it is because if they invite everyone but you that would be extremely hurtful. It would be great if you could find one trustworthy person to be the buffer for you. Mostly people just want to know that you are not hostile, and if you say nothing or do not participate, it can be interpreted that way.

Companies have different cultures. It's common nowadays for people to seek out a company based on its culture. I know, one more thing to have to navigate as if it isn't hard enough to find a job in the first place!

Sue G. said...

Samantha - my grandson's therapists felt it a good idea to talk about what aspergars is and how it affects the person. They had discussions with my grandson out of the classroom so that they could understand and realize that just because he has different mannerisms and very many matter of fact attitudes they should not treat him any differently. The parents were sent information and all agreed wholeheartedly that it was a good idea to educate their kids as to why some students were a little different. It worked out well and no one treats him any different. Many this attitude needs to be adopted at a young age so that aspies are treated equally throughout their youth and into adulthood.

Bill S said...

John,

I tracked down your blog because I read your book, and want to talk with you about how to reach and help people on the Spectrum who are not so funny and talented as you.

You are already helping by taking AS out of the closet, but I can see from your posting that you are still struggling personally with the characteristics of the
Spectrum..."My focus is on me..." That idea won support in Alcoholics Anonymous, but I am not sure it's appropriate as a mantra for Aspies. This is, after all, why we suffer in the world of NT's.

I believe I was born (like all of us) at a certain segment of the Spectrum, and slowly fought my way upstream, as it were, with the patient help of friends, especially women, who told me carefully, for example," When someone says to you:'How are you?' after you answer, it is appropriate to say, 'How are YOU?'"

Learning this way is called, I believe, "compensation." We all can do it. I am still, needless to say, a work in progress.

When I learned that what was making me suffer had a name,(when I was in my 50's, about 10 years ago), I set to work, like a good compulsive, finding out as much as I could. There was very little back then. The info has exploded, now, and your input has been great.

I have done some writing on this, an essay called "The Wholespectrum."

I don't believe the discrimination by NT's against us can be settled by law. It must be a long process of consciousness-raising...on both ends of the Wholespectrum.


Bill S

Angela Felsted said...

I agree with you.

Darialan said...

I couldn't agree more. It's hard for me to fit in to the right extent. I've lost several jobs, just because I didn't work to their standards or wasn't good with other people. I honestly want work, but in reality working under someone with their expectations of me is very difficult to manage sensory wise. Being my own boss someday may, in fact, be the answer.