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Mar 17

Autism is a Silver Car: The Story of Steve Jobs

Maybe, for me, learning that I am autistic was like buying a new car. A few years ago, I acquired a silver car. Suddenly, silver cars were everywhere! I never realized there were so many on the road until I tried to find mine in a parking lot.

I have come to think of autism as not just a diagnosis, but as a way of being in the world. Now that I understand the essence of being autistic, I see autistic people everywhere. People who are, or have been, in my life. Public figures. Historical figures.

When Steve Jobs died, there was, as you know, a great deal of press, most of it quite favorable. As I followed the tributes and the recounting of his life and accomplishments, I began to identify strongly with many of his attributes and experiences. Not that I had lived a life like his in terms of interests and accomplishments, but what struck me was the way he lived his life. I felt his challenges deep within my soul, and I saw that the way he dealt with them was the same way I might have, had I been in his shoes.

This post is a follow-up on my earlier one about Steve Jobs. In that post, I asked the question, “Was Steve Jobs Autistic?” — in this one, I provide the beginning of my assessment that the answer is: “Yes!”

I am reading the new (2011) eponymous biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, published by Simon & Schuster. I have just started this 576-page book, and so far, I have found it to be engaging and well-written. As I read more, I will write additional posts, and when I am finished with the book, I will circle back and write a summary. So, for now, this series is a reader’s journal, with observations about passages that I encounter and thoughts that I have along the way. As always, your comments are welcome and invited.

This is the first of a series, some of which I have already written, and many more (I suspect) that will be inspired by later sections of the book that I have not yet read. If you have the time and patience to follow along, I think you will enjoy my exploration.

Introduction

This is a book about the roller-coaster life and searingly intense personality of a creative entrepreneur whose passion for perfection and ferocious drive revolutionized six industries…

So writes Isaacson toward the end of his introduction. I know that leading a “roller-coaster life” is not a diagnostic criterion for autism. I am also fully aware that one need not be autistic to have had such a life. And, although this phrase certainly describes my own life experience, I do not presume to speak for all autistic people when I attribute that phenomenon to my autism. Despite all of these caveats, my belief is that when nearly every defining aspect of a person’s behavior and personality seems to match my own understanding and intuition about the essence of what it means to be autistic, Occam’s razor can most assuredly be invoked to say that the simplest explanation for all of these varied qualities is that the person is autistic. Such a person, I believe, is identified in the life story of Steve Jobs.

Caveat City: I comment on this from my perspective as an autistic adult, as I will do on many passages that appear later in the book. I have no formal training in neurology, psychology, or any of the other ologies that bear on becoming a good diagnostician. (My background is in investments and economics.) What I do have is a lifetime of experience as an autistic person. In the past several years, I have read widely, attended countless conferences, and talked extensively with many people who are trained in this field, and have also come to know and befriend many people who are, like me, autistic.

Again, I am aware that having a “searingly intense personality” will not appear on any of the checklists that clinicians use to diagnose autism. Nor will the phrases appear that include the likes of “creative” or “passion for perfection” or “ferocious drive” – yet these words have (accurately, I believe) been used to describe me. Now, granted, I did not create the world’s most valuable company, but I have had successes of many kinds. As have many of my autistic friends. My good friend John Robison, for example, wrote a book that haunted me as I read it, because his life story is eerily similar to mine. His career focused on electronics and things mechanical, whereas I worked in the realm of financial theory and investment strategies and products, but our experiences were strikingly similar.

A few more quotations from the book’s introduction, then on to Chapter One. I offer these without further comment, other than to say that all of the qualities mentioned here are, to me, part and parcel of the autistic personality. Not that every autistic person has all of these traits (and, of course, many a non-autistic person has some or even all of these). Still, if it walks like a duck… I will have more to say about these individual qualities in future posts, I’m sure.

This is also, I hope, a book about innovation.

Jobs stands as the ultimate icon of inventiveness, imagination, and sustained innovation. … He and his colleagues at Apple were able to think differently…

Driven by demons, he could drive those around him to fury and despair.

Shakespeare’s Henry V … begins with the exhortation “O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend / The brightest heaven of invention.”

Next: Chapter One: Childood

3 comments

3 pings

  1. Lucy

    Love it. A very skilled explanation of where you’re coming from as a diagnostician. Let’s meet for a drink soon in Caveat City.

  2. Michael Forbes Wilcox

    Lucy, you’re a dear! If you don’t mind a shady place on a hill, I know this great venue in Caveat City!

  3. Lucy

    Any time!

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