Sunday, January 19, 2014

Learning to Act Human, Part 2

When I learned my son had autism, I went out and learned as much about autism as possible. I did this to try to help my son as much as possible. Little did I know I would be discovering a great deal about myself as well.

I have been writing about this for almost a month now, both about my son and about myself. But since I learned that I probably have Asperger's Syndrome (according to someone who has AS who read my post about learning to act human, in contradiction to my first -- chronologically - posting on myself), I have actually taken it upon myself to read some things that might help me.

One book I have come across is the Asperger's Syndrome Workplaces Survival Guide. The first page and a half pretty much described my work history: problems keeping a job over the long term, problems with the fact that I actually want to get my work done and don't want to be bothered with all this nonsense that seems to fill the work day and prevent me from getting anything done, problems with the fact that I'm not all that social, problems with the fact that (until I became aware of it) I would sometimes say inappropriate things. The author asks the question all with AS or outright autism ask: "What is more important: chatting in the lunch room or getting your work done?" People with AS and autism (apparently mistakenly) think it is the latter. Worse, those with AS can appear to be rude, hard to get along with, or bullheaded, when in fact none of these are true. Those with AS don't have the same internal censors -- we have to learn those. We are easy to get along with; we may just not understand social cues we haven't consciously learned yet. We aren't bullheaded; we are open-minded and adjust what we believe based on facts and information -- we just insist you provide facts and information.

The book is all about helping those with AS understand what is expected of them, to learn how to navigate the workplace. One could ask, "Why is it I have to do all the adjusting?" Well, because the neurotypicals offer most of the jobs available. More, even if you are entrepreneurial, you will still have to interact with neurotypical people. At the same time, a very high percentage of people with AS have college degrees, including graduate degrees. Businesses are missing out on a huge pool of talent because they are excluding a lot of people just because they "don't get along" with others -- when in fact it's not that they don't get along, but rather that they just want to get their work done. Businesses are too often getting second best people because the first best don't have great social skills. And -- as I can certainly attest -- those with AS are as a result misallocated human resources.

Another book I ran across is The Partner's Guide to Asperger's Syndrome. I read the Foreword, and (though I subscribe to the Intense World Theory of AS and autism -- at least for my son and I -- rather than the less-competent Theory of Mind model presented in the book) I recognized a great deal about me as a husband and father there. In short, everything I read about AS behavior and the social consequences of those behaviors has been a mirror. There is practically no doubt in my mind now that I have AS. It explains many of my actions, my thinking, my social interactions, my attitudes, etc. The good thing is that in knowing this about me, I can actually know what to do to fit in better. I have done so over time as it is, without knowing I have AS. When people are bold enough (or asshole enough, depending on their attitudes) to point out my eyes won't focus on them or that I primarily look at their mouths when I talk to them (leading me to working on looking people in the eyes -- a real cognitive effort, I assure you) or that I cannot engage in small talk or that I sometimes say inappropriate things (which I have gotten much better about, being made conscious of it), I can change those things.

So now you know why I've acted weird around you, if you've ever gotten to interact with me personally. Just remember: if I'm working, for the love of God, don't interrupt me! :-)
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