Programming the Asperger Brain

By Dan Coulter

We’re not computers. But comparing our brains to computers can help us understand and deal with some Asperger Syndrome behaviors. In elementary school, I could be so overwhelmed by my emotions that I couldn’t even speak. Especially if I was being taken advantage of or treated unfairly. Once I was sent to the principal’s office for reacting to being taunted by another child. I excelled at academics and rigidly stuck to the rules, so I was devastated that the teacher could think I was at fault. It was only after being diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome as an adult that I could understand what had been going on in my young brain. It was a matter of processing. The computer in my brain was working with software code that boosted me past many of my classmates in academics. But it was running “kludge” social/emotional code. Kludge code is not efficient. It’s needlessly complex and often inadequate. In learning to better deal with social and emotional situations, I was rewriting some of my brain’s code. Some people operate with elegant social/emotional software that produces great results with very few lines of code. You can think of it as taking up very little space in your brain’s central processing unit or CPU. By the time I’d reached college, I’d refined my code to the point that I was seen as routinely being very good at dealing with people. While some of this became second nature, I often had to make a real effort to say the right thing in the right situation. My senior year, I was assistant program director at a public radio station. One day our signal went off the air. My brain went into high gear. I issued orders to the staff to manage the crisis, including “dead rolling” a scheduled program so we could join it in progress at the right point when we got our transmitter working. Afterwards, my boss told me I’d taken exactly the right actions, but had barked orders in a way that wasn’t sensitive to the feelings of the staff. This surprised him, as he’d always seen me as “good with people.” Under stress, my logical “solve the problem” software took priority in my brain’s CPU, and my social/emotional code had been too large to run in the space not committed to the problem. I continued to rewrite that mental software and got better and better at dealing with difficult situations. By the time I was hired into the corporate world, being a crisis manager was seen as one of my strengths. Talking with children who have Asperger Syndrome about the reasons for their behaviors can help them understand they can change their lives for the better. Social skills training that involves practicing the actions and reactions others expect of them can help them refine their brain’s social/emotional software to keep it functioning when they’re under stress. Think of it as helping our children write their own elegant mental code. The sooner they start, and the sooner we help teachers and classmates understand this process, the sooner our children will begin to reap the benefits.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dan Coulter is the producer of the DVDs, “Manners for the Real World: Basic Social Skills” and “Intricate Minds: Understanding Classmates with Asperger Syndrome.” You can find more articles on his website at Copyright 2010 Dan Coulter All Rights Reserved Used by Permission

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