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Working with Asperger's in tech: We're in this together

Practical approach to behaving, saying and doing

Comment Some time has passed since my first article on the subject of being an Aspie in the work world. So, I thought it may be time to cover a subject closer to my heart, namely being an Aspie in social settings. Work, after all, isn’t just about what you do – it’s how you interact with people as well.

First, let's start with my wife: I met her before I was given the news that I was “on the scale” to use the terminology. Fortunately, she knows a thing or two about Asperger's Syndrome because she is a nurse who specialises in learning disability (RNLD). Now before anyone kicks off ... yes, I know, Asperger’s is not a learning disability.

It is just the terms that are used within the medical field. Qualified RNLD’s duties often include managing people who have bigger issues but many clients also have Asperger’s as part of their diagnosis. This means that at times she knows me better than I know myself. Sometimes it drives me crazy!

Here we hope to impart some advice about co-existing in a peaceful home that we have found by intelligent experimentation. Some of what is discussed may apply, some of it not. Every Aspie is different.

This piece may also help NT (the neuro-typical or NT’s to use the lingo) people understand better how to interact with us, and dare I say “manage” us.

Clear and concise

This turned out to be one of our big things at home and in general settings. Frequently “when you get five minutes” was taken as a literal with regard to tasks and chores. I’d get moaned at (my perception of the interaction) because things weren’t done on a certain time scale.

It would end in tension and as a result I would go around with a bee in my bonnet so to speak for the rest of the day. The fix was actually easy enough to implement.

We found that when it comes to getting your Aspie partner/friend/acquaintance to get things done to a defined timescale, tell them it is: “Urgent: this needs to be done today.”

That way you both know that it isn’t an “anytime” task but an urgent task. This bit of advice also works with normal people as well. Given a deadline to work to and a specific task, people tend to stick to them as they can only put it off for so long! Try it. It is useful if you haven’t already put a time restriction on it and need it completing within a specific time frame.

Time planning

We Aspies love our routines. Indeed some are slaves to them, going so far as to have lots of lists that dictate how things are supposed to run. Most normal people have routines as well but ours tend to me more rigid.

Speaking as an Aspie at home there is a requirement for us to be more flexible and accommodating to other people but we get grumpier the more we deviate. It doesn’t mean we don’t need to try and adapt though.

Why do we do it? I have no idea. It is just what it is. Personally I recognise that things change but adapting to the change doesn’t come easy. Sometimes we lose track and a ten-minute job becomes two hours. We can be just as bad if we get engrossed in something. Putting a clearly defined stop time on something also seems to help.

For me it is more about the way we cope with unexpected changes. A silly little example is that if I am home and my wife comes home early it disturbs me.

There is nothing wrong with this happening but it changes my mood. Planning in advance is great and we live happier in the knowledge that we know what is coming up. Ambiguity is just the worst part for a lot of us. Taking planning further having a calendar is useful. It lets us both know what is coming up. Google calendar (or any other shared calendar system you use) works great for this purpose.

Tones of voices

This presents a major problem to most Aspies I have interacted with. I suffer from it, too. We tend to be exceptionally bad at noting and taking inferences from tones of voice. Sure, we get extremes of the verbal range but the subtleties will pretty much continue to evade us.

We find that if the tone is moderated it tends to be received in a more positive light. It requires a bit of practice but it adds to the harmony of the house.

Personal space is a human Aspie right

Most of us detest confined spaces or close proximity to people whom we don’t know. It freaks us out in a major style.

The same can be said for any confined space where there are lots of people around. As for the fix there isn’t one over-reaching one. Planning to do things at less busy times is a good example or going somewhere in off hours.

In a similar vein we are quite solitary people. We are very good at keeping our own company. Some people misconstrue this as us being rude or anti-social but our social quota is more easily filled than most.

Socialising is one of those things that we just suck at. There is a limited amount you can do to fix that because unfortunately flowing conversation is not something you can prepare for. We may well try but doing so is dooming ourselves to failure. Sure one or two topic starters or obvious questions are all good but don’t overdo it. Slowly slowly is the way forward. We may occasionally need rescuing from the conversation too!

All Aspies are different. It requires a bit of experimentation, but a lot of it comes from more understanding that sometimes it requires a bit more stating the obvious and honesty to try and get along at home and in the workplace.

It can work – both sides just need to work at it. Everyone has challenges in life. It’s about dealing with it as best we can. Sure we may occasionally put our foot in it or misconstrue something. But that happens to anybody. ®

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