Autism spectrumLEE KYOUNG-HEE
The author is the head of the Innovation Lab of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a type of neurodevelopmental disorder. It includes severe autism, where one is completely trapped in one’s own world, a relatively functional autism with the ability to communicate with their parents, and Asperger’s syndrome, which shows low empathy.
As the name “spectrum” suggests, there are many different types. Those with ASD often have intellectual or learning disabilities. But in some cases, they have superb memory in a specific area. Some even display genius in certain field, which is called Savant Syndrome.
According to a book by Hideo Honda, president of the Japan Autism Association, the typical characteristic of autism is “poor, improvised interpersonal skills and a strong, instinctive orientation to prioritize maintaining one’s interests, methods and pace.” The author estimates that 10 percent of the population fall into the autism spectrum, including those who have not reached a level of disability. He admitted he is also on the autism spectrum.
“Extraordinary Attorney Woo,” a popular drama series on Channel ENA, is gaining popularity. The protagonist is a lawyer with autism. She cannot make eye contact and finds it hard to go through a revolving door. She only eats gimbap because she can see the ingredients. She is obsessed with sperm whales. For her, it is nearly impossible to live a daily life without the help of kind people. But the genius lawyer with an IQ of 164 does not forget the legal code she read only once.
It sounds like a fantasy only possible on TV. But there are socially successful people with autism in real life. The most notable case is Tesla CEO Elon Musk. When he appeared on “Saturday Night Live,” he confessed he has Asperger’s Syndrome. He sometimes says and posts strange things because that’s how his brain works.
Honda emphasizes that it is important to recognize people with autism spectrum as a “minority who should be supported” rather than a tribe who needs support. He recommends listening to them first, reaching agreements by making suggestions rather than commands, providing specific information and displaying trust with consistent words and actions. It seems that it is an attitude needed when dealing with anyone, not just people with autism.