WORKERS WITH AUTISM
It is encouraging to see more discussion, as in the article “Autism Grows Up,” by Jennifer Richler, of the issues surrounding autism in the workplace. Anyone on the spectrum over a certain age will likely not have received any support at any stage of his or her life and may not have school qualifications commensurate with his or her level of intelligence. Assistance in turning a special interest into a career, at any age and with or without a formal qualification, would definitely be useful to such persons.

Although organizations such as Aspire may be doing valuable work in teaching social skills, it must be borne in mind that particularly for those on the higher-functioning end of the spectrum, the issues they face most likely are far more subtle than realizing that it is inappropriate to lie down in a ship bunk on a day out. A far more likely scenario might be not understanding when the boss doesn't want to be disturbed versus making the judgment call in situations where the boss would indeed want to be interrupted for something important, even if he or she is busy.

In the absence of being able to fully “read” each situation as it occurs, the Aspie would tend to operate off of prior experience or instructions. Having been snapped at a few times for “interrupting,” the next time the person might hesitate to knock on the boss's door, unless specifically briefed in advance that the boss was expecting an urgent message. Unfortunately, this uncertainty can easily be interpreted by the boss as a passive or reactive working style and over time can be framed by the organization as a “performance issue.”

The solution is educating organizations in the communication style and preferred working methods of people who are on the spectrum rather than throwing the onus onto the individuals to spell out to their workplace what their needs are—until specific situations arise, they may not actually know or be able to articulate them.

Whereas governments can legislate under disability protection laws to prevent unlawful discrimination, organizations can always find ways around them on the grounds of “cultural fit,” “attitude,” “personality,” and other subjective recruitment or appraisal criteria. It can be very difficult in such circumstances to prove that discrimination has actually taken place.

A better approach would be to educate employers on the strengths of people on the spectrum so that these can be positively sought out by organizations as highly desirable attributes in an employee.

Gwyneth Rolph
via e-mail

BE MINDFUL OF EMOTIONS
How to Control Your Feelings—And Live Happily Ever After,” by Steve Ayan, sets up a false dichotomy: when a strong emotion arises, we can let it take over and determine our actions, or we can suppress it or distract ourselves from feeling it. Limiting our options to these two sets up a vicious cycle because the more we try to suppress something in us, the more it will tend to pop up again in an extreme manner. A third way will reliably produce a better outcome, which is to fully experience the emotion while understanding that our actions need not be determined by it, an approach that is commonly called mindfulness. Therapies that recognize subpersonalities, such as the Internal Family Systems model, provide a powerful framework for achieving this aim. By relating to the emotional reaction as a “part,” we provide the witnessing that it needs, avoiding the negative consequences of suppressing feelings while retaining choice over how we act in the world. If we use a car as a metaphor for life, parts such as anger, addictive impulses or fear should not be ejected from the car, nor should they be allowed in the driver's seat. They can be quite happy riding in the car while the “self” effectively drives.

Ted Riskin
via e-mail

INSIGHTS FROM ANOMALIES
I was thrilled by these two articles, back to back: “The Advantages of Dyslexia,” by Matthew H. Schneps [Perspectives], and “The Face as Entryway to the Self,” by Christof Koch [Consciousness Redux].

I have always had difficulties reading with any speed. To survive college, I had to develop a scanning approach to getting enough information out of my textbooks to succeed in my classes. After I became a high school teacher, I worked with one of the leading dyslexia counselors in our district and discovered that I have two predominant anomalies: auditory dyslexia and visual cross dominance. (I found out about the cross dominance from the U.S. Army rifle range. Although I am right-handed, they had me sight the rifle with my left eye. It made the position of my chest perfect for hot shell casings to go down my shirt: very entertaining for drill sergeants!)

I believe that having these anomalies gave me insight into how to teach kids who were not ideally suited for typical school approaches.

I loved the dyslexia article; I had lots of epiphanies. But here's a possible epiphany for you: in Koch's article about faces, I tried doing the 3-D trick on page 27. When I followed the directions correctly, I got Clinton on the right side (instead of the left, as is supposed to happen). I suspect that this picture could be used to determine cross dominance.

David B. Hanley
Bakersfield, Calif.

I have a degree in special education, so when my son was diagnosed as having a learning disability, I started paying attention to the idea that visual-spatial learning can complement more traditional language-based learning. It makes no sense that children who grow up to be the world's finest artists, authors, entrepreneurs, inventors or scientists are thought to be “slow” and incapable of learning when young. And now it seems we are drugging them and putting them in special classes to a greater degree, which is just scary. How can we move forward with only half of the brain being used? What are the disadvantages of language-based learning that we are glossing over while making millions of dyslexics miserable?

I love the idea of the types of learning being complementary, not antagonistic. We need better teaching methods for all children, not just those with learning disabilities.

“rosabw”
Commenting online at Mind.ScientificAmerican.com

THAT SEVEN-YEAR ITCH
Regarding “Is there a biological basis for the famous seven-year itch?” [Ask the Brains], I have a different theory, which also has an evolutionary basis. My belief is that there is an initial “in love” feeling with associated physical passion for four to seven years, which serves to maximize the chances of having children. After that, the “roaring fire” diminishes to a warmly glowing ember that occasionally bursts into flame. The second phase is intended to allow humans to spend their time raising children, a task that takes a lot more time than creating them.

“rwebber”
Commenting online at Mind.ScientificAmerican.com

We don't need to avoid the four- to seven-year itch. We just need to avoid splitting up because of it. My life partner and I hit the four-year-itch mark in 1965, about when our first child was born. Instead of splitting up or forsaking all others, we spent two years talking honestly about what we wanted and adopted what is now called polyamory. We both took other lovers, many of whom became lifelong friends and still play important parts in our lives. Polyamory is growing and becoming more visible. Search online for “polyamory” and your city or state, and you will get a huge number of links.

“Silenus7”
Commenting online at Mind.ScientificAmerican.com