Aspergians in Electrical Engineering

Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by tindel, May 12, 2013.

  1. tindel

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    Sep 16, 2012
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    I just finished reading John Elder Robison's 'look me in the eye'. Very good read. I devoured it in one weekend - something I've never done with any book - ever.

    I've always wondered about the people my wife works with (she works with children on the autism spectrum) and this book was the first book she brought home that piqued my interest because Mr. Robison was an electrical engineer that toured with KISS. Who wouldn't want to read that?!?!

    Also, I'm positive that I have worked with Aspergians in the past, and will in the future. This book gave me a glimps into their world, to understand (even if only shallowly) their logical though process and lack of emotion - the majority of which makes people see Aspergians as 'weird'.

    Two things stood out in the book - First, I certainly don't have Aspergers myself, but I do experience some of the traits. I can have a laser-like focus on my work - many times hours, weeks, and even months will slip by because I'm thinking continuously about the project I'm working on. I can only imagine that this is a common skill in electrical engineers that take their work seriously. I think the difference between Mr. Robison and myself is that I've had to work very hard to 'see' things in the circuits I look at. He sees it all in his head, including transfer functions, control loops, and signal flow. I know I see a lot of those things, but it has taken me 6 years of learning, and even then, I struggle to retain most of it. It sounds like Mr. Robison saw those things with very little effort.

    This leads to the other thing that stood out in the book, that he was a savant in his younger years designing amplifiers because when he goes back now and looks at his engineering he rarely knows what he was thinking or how to see the circuit. He lost his savant abilities in electronics. This thought is incredible to me, as I've always been under the impression that we gain long-term knowledge as we age. To that effect, Mr Robison believes that his brain has continued to evolved as he's aged, and suspects that all of our brains do this.

    All that said, I have many questions (probably most of which can't be answered at this time in history). But this book opened those questions to me and gave me an appreciation for the disorder and the work that my wife does to improve Aspergian quality of life.
     
  2. DerStrom8

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    Feb 20, 2011
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    Hi tindel.

    I have worked with "Aspergians" in the past as well. They are often very good with academics and work, but they tend to struggle in the social aspects of things. They are very smart, but are often unable to connect with other people on a personal level. This is why people tend to think they're "weird". But they are very bright.

    Something I have noticed is that many "Aspergians" I have known have gone into work with computers or electronics due to the fact that it doesn't require much in the way of social involvement. It's a field where they can work on their own without having to deal with other people as much. It's completely understandable.

    I'll have to read that book. It sounds very interesting, and I would be interested to see what Mr. Robinson has to say about the subject.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Matt
     
  3. JoeJester

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  4. Brownout

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    Also makes me think about the movie "A Beautiful Mind" that deals with someone coping with paranoid schizophrenia.

    Another interesting this I saw once, scientists were able to briefly induce savant like abilities in a young man by electrically "turning off" part of his brain and having him do an exercise, like making an illustration. By turning off a part of his brain, his abilities dramatically improved.

    PS: Just watched the trailer. I remember watching a story about her on 60 minutes a few years ago.
     
    Last edited: May 13, 2013
  5. atferrari

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    Wow!

    With all the autistic people I run across in the past (a lot), all little kids, my reaction was just to feel pity but never thought any further.

    BTW, I admire people with guts / patience to work continuously with them. I would be discuraged very soon.

    You got me thinking. Have to read that book.
     
  6. JoeJester

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    I liked the "beautiful mind" movie as well.
     
  7. ErnieM

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    HBO did an excellent biographical movie on Temple Grandin, forget the title.

    I still have several of my notebooks from college. It is written in my own hand with a penmanship I can no longer pretend to match. The lower case letter t, greek symbol tau, and the plus sign are all distinct and immediately recognizable.

    I cannot follow most of the math.
     
  8. JoeJester

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    The title was Temple Grandin. The trailer is in the post above.
     
  9. tindel

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    Sep 16, 2012
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    Joe Jester - I just ordered the movie from the library today - should be here in a day or two - thanks for the suggestion.
     
  10. JoeJester

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    Not a problem. I'll have to view it again myself, I have it in MPEG format. I hope you enjoy it.
     
  11. THE_RB

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    Temple Grandin was a good movie, excellent acting all round too.

    I have doubts about someone with Aspergers being a "good" engineer. To me a good engineer needs to be able to think outside the box, finding fast and clever "lateral" type solutions to problems.

    Someone with Aspergers might be able to do well enough in class and learn the "proper" ways to go engineering tasks, but would maybe be limited to more of a "competent" engineer that would steadfastly apply the standard solutions to the standard type problems. Someone that might do OK in an academic institution or large company. We all probably know someone a bit like that. ;)

    But as for being a "good" or "brilliant" engineer, coming up with new and fresh solutions that others have not tried, I really doubt it.
     
  12. JoeJester

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    Last edited: May 14, 2013
  13. THE_RB

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    Then we will have to disagree. :)

    I worked on a 3 man team with a programmer and an artist, and the programmer had some Aspergers type behaviour. There were times the artist and I would be brainstorming, quickly throwing off the wall ideas into the mix and churning them around to see what may be of use, and he would almost "sieze up" with worry and tension during that process. It was only when we have reached some type of conclusion as to a new feature etc that he would start to relax, and was keen to solidify the conclusion; "So that's what we are going to do now? Is that definite?" etc.

    People with that tendency, NEED to have stability and more clearly defined rule sets and that is a massive hindrance to brilliant off the wall type visualisation and lateral problem solving. Great for an accountant, OK for an engineer who does testing procedures etc, not so great for a creative or problem solving engineer.
     
  14. Brownout

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    I think Bob Wildlar exhibited very well some of the symptoms, and he was a brilliant engineer. His designs was consistently about 5 years ahead of the times.
     
  15. JoeJester

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    I certainly can accept the disagreement. The Autism spectrum is very wide and Aspergians is somewhere on the spectrum. Dr Grandin is listed as a High Level Autism.

    The medical definition is ...
    The medical definition of Autism
     
  16. THE_RB

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    Sounds like two different intensity points along the same line of disfunction to me. ;)
     
  17. GopherT

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    We have a family member with the symptoms you mention. His big hang-up, "seize up" is that he already has the best answer to the problem and there is no need to brainstorm. It becomes a huge effort to bring his co-workers back from their problems solving path and lead them down his problem solving path. Unfortunately, his path is usually a "lateral" solution instead of an incremental solution. Lateral solutions are sometimes difficult to "sell" to teammates, sometimes because of the risk, sometimes because the teammates just don't understand.

    Really, his biggest gap is being able to communicate his ideas, plans or instructions. He has no problem coming up with solutions, creative or otherwise.
     
  18. MrChips

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    I read somewhere that many of the men and women living and working in Silicon Valley fall into the same spectrum of human personalities. So when these people marry from a limited gene pool you get more of the same.
     
  19. THE_RB

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    Sure, but what you are describing seems to be someone of above-normal ability that is just not a great communicator, or simply might be a bit shy.

    What I was describign was Aspergers like behaviour; difficulty with choices, difficulty in a vibrant or chaotic situation, difficulty in taking on a new direction and quickly adapting and achieving in that new direction etc.

    Teehee! :D

    "Aspergers Valley"? ;)
     
  20. JoeJester

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