Here, Zarembo approaches a valid question: if autism is not a contemporary epidemic, where was it in the past? He addresses the issue of people misdiagnosed with schizophrenia or intellectual disabilities. In his introduction, he describes an older, undiagnosed generation as living “wherever social misfits are clustered.” He notes that society has “absorbed the emotional and financial toll” of autism without acknowledging that anyone has ever gained from an autistic life. The engineer in “Finally, an Explanation” fulfilled a useful role in his community and was married for years. Witting is autistic, but who can ascribe pathology? Society has absorbed no toll. It gained. Teufel, whose deficits are are played up in the next section, has strengths. He “makes the contraptions used in [magic] tricks,” a complex task. His good qualities have won affection, whether platonic or romantic, from the woman who lives with him. He may not have maximized his potential, but he contributes something worthwhile within a community of people who share his interests and works.
McBroom in “Dealing with Curveballs” is more like Witting. He worked a respectable, blue-collar job. He was competent enough to keep it as long as his company existed. He found a church that has given him friends and helped him weather hard times. His life has not been ideal. He has lived in substandard housing and wanted to date without ever being able to do so. As many of his peers did in the recession, he has struggled to find work since the loss of his job. Nothing about McBroom’s successes and failures seems particularly abnormal. He has lived an ordinary life. He was not more “unhinged” by the loss of his job in 2003 than other members of his generation were in 2008. It is hard to change careers in middle age.
While it is true that autistic people value consistency and routine, no real expert on the diverse and varied spectrum would make rash generalizations about all autistics. Some problem-solve better than others. No one on the spectrum likes change, especially when it is unexpected, but different autistic people react in different ways. Those whose executive functioning deficits make them unsuitable for some jobs or whose lack of social skills complicate interviews may be especially shaken by a shift that involves finding employment. That does not mean unemployability. Even Duquette could work in the supportive environment. If she can wash dishes, she can hold down a job. If she is a burden to society, it is because society has never given her the chance to be anything else.