Where are all the autistic academics? Part 2

In summary: No one knows!

You have high-levels of self-disclosure of disability (including autism) among students both under- and post-graduate. And then the numbers of autists fall off the cliff when you look at academics. Did they figure they didn’t fit in and leave? Did they get pushed out? Did universities object to their lack of interpersonal skills, small talk and interview techniques, and refuse to hire them? The statistic that 60% of autistic students fail to complete their degrees won’t help. A fair number of the oldest who somehow succeeded against the odds and actually got sufficient numbers of degrees to even qualify as an academic probably don’t even realise they are autistic. When I was a child, autistics were male and like Dustin Hoffman’s Rain Man, and despite Hans Asperger infamously doing his work in Nazi Germany, only American schoolboys were being diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome.

And then there’s the Sheldon Cooper problem. As in every physicist is basically an aspie and a genius. Or sometimes: every aspie is a physicist and a genius. (Which winds up all the autists working in the humanities or mental health or anthropology or whatever else is their special interest. ) Actually, I suspect that very few physicists are autistic. Simon Baron-Cohen did a study when developing his famous AQ-50 that found that the average AQ-50 score of undergraduate physics students at Cambridge University was 19.6. While the AQ-50 is not diagnostic, if you score as low as 19.6 you can effectively rule out autism. You are not autistic. Neither of my children scored as low as 19. The threshold for “you may wish to pursue a diagnosis” is 26, which both my children exceed comfortably – one wants to study classics, the other psychology. Anyway, I’ve digressed massively, but the point is by assuming that high-functioning autists are geniuses, there is an expectation that universities are a natural environment for them all and they don’t need supports – which is ludicrous when you look at the dropped-out/kicked-out rate.

And all this infuriated me recently when I was deciding what Exclusion, Diversity and Inclusion training to attend for some CPD next month and there was no “supporting autistic students” option. How can this be?

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