Do Engineering and Autistic Culture Overlap?

Post from Jean Thilmany:

Jean Thilmany

Today’s blog post has been fairly easy to come up with. I got excited after reading this news story titled “How Autism is Changing the World for Everybody” on the blog Jezebel.

I’m in no way suggesting, by including the excerpt below, that I think there’s any correlation between engineers and autism. What I’m saying is that some can identify with the obsession surrounding building things and taking them apart—which the story’s author posits is part of the culture of autism.

And, as the main focus of the story is that those with autism are bringing the “maker culture” to the forefront, I’d wager that budding mechanical engineers could be said to owe a debt of gratitude to those making this culture more accessible to all.

The maker culture and the steam punk culture is certainly a great place for one-day mechanical engineers to get their footing and find their people. And, I confess, it offers a home for some of my very favorite friends and relatives.

Whether you agree with the article excerpted below or not, it’s certainly worth a read. Tell us what you think…

One area in which autistic people are making an impact is maker culture. “Many on the spectrum love to take apart and then rebuild or change or hack mechanical devices,” said Steve Silberman, a longtime contributing editor to Wired magazine. It’s resulted in a convergence of geeks and the popularization of tech culture.

Silberman is also at work on his upcoming book, Neurotribes: Thinking Smarter About People Who Think Differently.

A good example of those who rebuild mechanical devices is John Elder Robison, author of the book Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s. Robison is fascinated by both computers and mechanical devices. Once a guitar technician for Kiss, he now runs a very high-end body shop for sports cars.

“What you see is that kids with autism and Aspergers love this culture,” Silberman said. “It totally plays to their strengths.”

One young man who certainly qualifies for this camp is 15 year-old Joey Hudy, a talented young man with ADD, ADHD and Asperger’s. Struggling at school and finding it hard to make friends, Hudy credits maker culture with changing his life.

And since getting involved in maker culture, Joey hasn’t done badly at all. He recently returned from the White House, where he got to show off his Marshmallow Cannon to President Obama. He also has his very own maker kit on the market. And he’s subsequently developed talents for programming, soldering, building, and designing.

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The Editor

John G. Falcioni is Editor-in-Chief of Mechanical Engineering magazine, the flagship publication of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

August 2012
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