Relationships and Stereotypes
In fairness to both ComputerWorld and Mr. Tennant, this editorial was a response to comments expressing aspie supremacist opinions that were posted by a few readers of a previous ComputerWorld article, and it is possible that Mr. Tennant simply made a careless choice of words and did not intend to suggest that all autistics were incapable of engaging in meaningful human interaction. The previous article, which discussed the high number of autistic workers in information technology, expressed a very favorable view: it contained links to pro-neurodiversity websites and suggested that employers should do more to support and accommodate their autistic workers.
Regardless of how it might have been intended, Mr. Tennant's editorial gives an unreasonably literal interpretation to a previous commenter's wish to be left alone. Perhaps he imagines that all autistics, in the absence of "treatment," develop an irresistible compulsion to live as hermits in wilderness cabins with no human interaction whatsoever? It's a rather absurd stereotype.
When viewed in the context of an intolerant society that regards many forms of cognitive diversity as disorders in need of treatment, a request to be left alone simply reflects a wish to have one's right to self-determination respected. Among other things, it means that neither Don Tennant nor anyone else should presume to declare other people's neurological differences to be "a disorder that needs to be treated." As with any other difference or disability, whether any therapies may be desirable is a personal decision and should be left entirely up to the individual, in consultation with professionals and family members as appropriate.
There's also a broader point that needs to be made, which is that a person's ability to form relationships is highly dependent on social and cultural factors affecting his or her interaction with others. For example, when an autistic man does not have a girlfriend, people often assume that it is because he lacks the ability to develop romantic relationships with women in general. Indeed, after many rejections, he may even think so himself. This assumption, however, does not take into account the fact that autistics are a small minority group, widely scattered throughout the world and often misunderstood by others. Compatible mates are therefore hard to find. Historically, it was common for dispersed ethnic minority groups to rely on arranged marriages within their small communities, but most autistics do not have that option. Thus, an autistic man's lack of a romantic relationship is likely to be blamed on his personal failings, even if he has never had the opportunity to meet a compatible and unprejudiced woman.
Autistics also end up getting unfairly stereotyped as lacking social abilities in many other situations, such as employment interviews where managers often make hiring decisions based on such factors as whether an applicant's speech and body language appear to be "normal." Even today, there are many people who do not recognize this attitude as a form of prejudice and who blame the victims for their difficulty in finding work.
Whenever any group of people is widely regarded as lacking essential social characteristics (and autistics are by no means the first minority group so described), it creates a self-reinforcing negative loop. The majority population can easily justify its prejudices because exclusion and segregation are seen as the natural order of things. Befriending or hiring minorities is thought to be a futile effort because they are assumed to be incapable of proper human interaction. The more they are excluded from mainstream society, the more their culture and behavior necessarily diverge from it, and the resulting differences are cited as proof of their inferiority.
If we fail to understand this historical pattern, we surely will repeat it.