by Michael Bernick
Originally published: May 9, 2017
An Anthropologist on Mars is the title of Oliver Sacks’ 1993 influential essay on Temple Grandin — an essay that introduced Ms. Grandin and autism more generally to a broad audience. Sacks took the title from Ms. Grandin’s description of how she perceived daily social interactions. What would a non-autistic anthropologist today perceive if she or he were to study autism, and more specifically, autism employment? Is there an anthropology of autism employment, or more broadly, neurodiversity employment? Why should we care?
David Platzer, 34, is a doctoral student in medical anthropology at Johns Hopkins. For the past four years he has been immersed in these questions and others related to autism and neurodiversity employment (a term which indexes a range of other neurological differences that extend beyond autism). He has traveled throughout the United States, spent time in Bangalore, India, and has met with hundreds of adults on the autism spectrum and family members, as well as employers, job counselors and representatives of most of the major neurodiversity employment initiatives and prominent advocacy organizations like Autism Speaks and Specialisterne. He has conducted over 150 structured interviews and compiled an extensive archive of autistic employment histories.