Asperger Syndrome: Meeting the World Halfway

April 15, 2010

By Dan Coulter

I’m convinced that, without knowing it, many of us are routinely interacting with people who have some form of Asperger Syndrome. We may think it’s something else. They may not recognize it themselves.

It’s not even a bad thing that we or they don’t know, unless their Asperger-driven behaviors interfere with their lives. Then, knowing can make a huge difference.

I was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome last year at the age of 59. This gave me the opportunity to look at the compensating mechanisms I’d developed in my career. But it also gave me a fresh perspective on people I encountered over the years. I worked at Bell Laboratories for a while. In some ways, Bell Labs was like Asperger-central. But accepting the quirks of brilliant scientists was actually a source of pride at “the Labs.”

In another job, I hired a person who was generally pleasant and a great individual performer, but turned out to lack management skills. He consistently made the people who worked for him angry at his seeming lack of sensitivity and tendency to micromanage. And he was genuinely surprised when confronted with his staff’s complaints. Luckily, we were able to put him on a performance plan to build his leadership skills and modify his job so that he made more solo contributions and had fewer supervisory duties.

I wonder about the number of people who lose jobs because of behaviors they’re not aware of and don’t know how to control.

It would be great if employers routinely worked with such people to improve their performance and modified jobs to keep them on the payroll. Too often, I fear, that’s the exception rather than the rule. If people have significant, neurobiological-based social deficits, their best hope for steady employment is to get diagnosed (with Asperger Syndrome or other appropriate diagnosis) and learn how their condition affects them. They can then use that knowledge to modify their behaviors and apply for jobs that are suited to them. And, when appropriate, disclose their condition to bosses, coworkers and others. Every person who discloses and helps educate others about Asperger Syndrome makes it easier for the next person.

We also need to help people see that Asperger Syndrome can affect people in very different ways. Hearing rigid definitions of Asperger Syndrome makes me shake my head. I read recently of someone who said you can’t have Asperger Syndrome if you want friends. Yes, some people with Asperger Syndrome like to be alone. But I know of many who yearn for friends, but have a hard time making them. I have great respect for those who persist and succeed.

My son, who has Asperger Syndrome, can have trouble reading other people. Knowing this, he compensates by working hard at it. He puts tremendous effort into considering what presents members of our family would like for birthdays or Christmas. As a result, he gives great gifts.

Again and again, I’ve seen people with Asperger Syndrome use their strengths to more than balance out their challenges.

We’re now raising a generation of children diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome. Many parents are working hard to help them understand their condition and improve social skill deficits or deal with other difficulties.

But the second, crucial half of the equation is to educate family, neighbors, teachers, classmates, employers, coworkers, and others to what Asperger Syndrome means in general, and what it uniquely means to each person. Awareness and understanding can help keep Asperger Syndrome from getting in the way.

I don’t really care whether or not every person I meet knows that I have Asperger Syndrome, as long as having Asperger Syndrome doesn’t keep that person from seeing me for who I am.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR -- Dan Coulter is the producer of ten DVDs about Asperger Syndrome and autism, including "Manners for the Real World: Basic Social Skills" and "Asperger Syndrome at Work.” You can find more articles on his website: coultervideo.com.

Copyright 2010 Dan Coulter All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.

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