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Although the causes for autism are not known, it’s common to think that the condition is genetic, and therefore lifelong. For higher functioning autistics – like those with Asperger’s – the symptoms can be dealt with by learning coping strategies. This doesn’t mean we’re no longer Aspies, it just means we adapt to the impairment in the same way an amputee might learn to chop vegetables with their foot.

Today, I read an article that reported on scientific research which seemed to indicate that, in some cases, autism could diminish over time to such an extent that the diagnosis can be reversed. In other words, some people can grow out of it. Does this mean autism has nothing to do with our genes? Is it really not as fixed as we thought?

Our rich tapestry

I’ve also been reading about epigenetics – a relatively new way of looking at the interplay between genes and the environment. The previously held conviction that ‘genes are fixed’ is falling down and they have been shown to be affected by environmental factors such as diet and parenting. So, even if autism is controlled partly or primarily by our genes, it shouldn’t surprise us to find out that the outcome can change.

Equally, since autism is experienced as a spectrum ‘disorder’, it doesn’t take a great stretch of imagination to think that there are some people who are very close to the highest end of that spectrum, and that it might be possible to make a leap into the land of the neurotypical.

For those lower down the spectrum, those who struggle more with the basics of life such as having a career and living independently, the picture seems less hopeful. But becoming neurotypical shouldn’t be a goal for anyone. Life isn’t just hard for those on the spectrum – everybody gets tested and everybody has problems to deal with.

If we all coped the same way and followed the same patterns then what would be the point?

Forget normal

I don’t care that it might be possible to one day fall out of autism and into ‘normal’. What matters to me is knowing that I can cope with what I have and that others on the spectrum can also make improvements and change their lives for the better. Not with the aim of becoming normal, but simply to live their lives in a way that makes them happy.

Further reading

You can read the news article on growing out of autism here.

For more information on epigenetics, the book I’m reading is this.

For more on what I think about ‘normal’, check out why normal can eat my shorts.

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If you read the last post you’ll probably be stunned to see that I made it to the other side (if there really is such a definitive thing as the other side). My meeting went really well, an event I attended also went well, and the ebook is nearly finished.

With the absence of immediate danger I’m feeling pretty relaxed about the whole ‘new client/gaining notoriety’ thing. There are now only a couple of small challenges to get out of the way (this evening and Monday) and then I can get back to my old habits. Picking up the work I had to drop a few weeks ago when my whirlwind started, and enjoying more ‘down time’.

To complete the analogy I started in the title (even though I don’t surf) I’m near the shore, the wave is much smaller now, but I haven’t fallen off yet. I’m looking forward to getting out of my wet suit and going inside for a hot chocolate.

Hopefully that’ll also mean I can get back to writing more varied blog posts, instead of harping on about stress, not being able to do everything I need to do, and being tired.

In the meantime I’d like to thank the people who’ve commented on and liked recent posts. Even for Aspies, a little online engagement is always gratifying.

There are two big reasons why humans are social animals. One is because if we didn’t socialise the race would die out pretty quickly. The other is that we all have different skills which tend to work well in tandem. Skills can be learned and practiced but some people will be naturally better at certain things than others, so, we need a variety of people with different personalities and skills.

In a work environment it’s the employer’s goal to create a team that possesses all the skills and character traits needed to make a product or provide a service.

Aspies may struggle to find suitable employment because their personality doesn’t automatically fit and their social skills make it hard to work confidently as part of a team. Nonetheless we have lots to offer potential employers and team mates.

Often, it is simply a case of finding the right role and proceeding with confidence. We don’t need to be confident about our social abilities but we do need to have confidence in the skills, perspective and experience we have to offer.

Objectivity and perspective

Although we can get bogged down in personal worries Aspies are often good at taking a detached view of a work problem.

I’m logically minded and I spot things that don’t make sense, inefficiencies, discrepancies and other problems and I can come up with solutions. Often these solutions may seem like a harsh approach to a non-Aspie but they are based on logic and they are valuable for solving problems and making improvements.

This kind of objectivity can make a positive difference to the bottom line of any type of business.

Creativity

Some people think Aspies aren’t creative but that’s not true. I can solve problems using creative thinking and I can write articles, blog posts, tweets and other social media updates using my creativity to keep them interesting and useful. I can create content plans and devise strategies for coping with new and stressful situations. All of these things rely on creativity.

It’s not just about writing like Tolkein or painting like Van Gogh. Creativity and problem solving go hand in hand.

Attention to detail

For as long as I can recall people have used the ‘p’ word to describe me, yes, I’m a pedant. So are lots of Aspies. We’re not specifically looking for ways to insult your work, we just notice things.

I’m good at proofreading with words and numbers.

My first job was as a data entry clerk and although it was tedious going through thousands of records every day I was impressed with the number of discrepancies I could spot and rectify. My employer’s liked it too.

Professionalism

This is something that has been grossly undervalued in many offices I’ve worked in. There is a pervasive culture of slacking and socialising that I first noticed at school.

At my school I was a boffin. I paid attention, did my work and didn’t stand about gossiping about stupid things like what I did at the weekend or who was a bitch and why. At work I continued in this vein, only to discover that it wasn’t what people wanted. Or maybe it just wasn’t what they expected.

  • I didn’t make small talk during work hours.
  • I didn’t go for drinks with the team after work.
  • I didn’t make or accept personal phone calls.
  • I came in for overtime, even at weekends.
  • I was punctual.
  • I didn’t overrun my lunch break.

Sounds like the model employee, right? Some places do appreciate these qualities. Our ability to focus on the task in hand and to separate our work and personal spheres is one that I admire. Not all employers do but they should.

Fitting in

With experience came the realisation that some small talk is hard to avoid if you want to have friendly working relationships with the people around you. This has never been my forte but there are two stock questions which are my friends.

“Did you have a good weekend/evening?”

“How’s that client/project of yours going?”

Another good one is

“Would you like a cup of tea?”

This may sound dumb but you only really need a small amount of conversation to help you fit in. This allows you to feel like a proper member of the team rather than the only child left outside the sweet shop. You may find you can get on very well with some of your team mates and others not so much. That’s OK. It’s not a test. Neither is it a playground where you’re looked down on if you have fewer than five friends.

Remember:

  • Everyone in your office has a different personality – being different doesn’t automatically mean ‘freak’.
  • You have natural skills and abilities that are useful to employers and to fulfilling specific roles.
  • Don’t feel you have to join in with ‘water cooler gossip’. A bit of friendly conversation is beneficial but there’s no need to compromise your professionalism or integrity.
  • An awkward silence or a difficult relationship is a shared responsibility.

Talking skills

My list of common Aspie skills probably isn’t exhaustive and I’d love it if you could suggest more that would be useful and make us stand out to prospective employers!

Job interviews. Ick, ick, ick!

Imagine, someone with aspergers, not socially confident and fully aware of their shortcomings, competing alongside tens or hundreds of others. These others will mostly not have aspergers. They may have other issues but the vast majority will be ‘neurotypical’ and that means stronger social skills and perhaps even a ‘bubbly’ personality.

In my experience employers like bubbly people. They like socially confident individuals.

So many times I smiled, nodded and tried to persuade people that I loved working as part of a team and was great with customers. It was complete rubbish and most of the time they either saw right through me or just weren’t wowed by my attempt at social confidence.

It has taken me a while to discover what jobs are actually suited to my skills and personality. It’s important to try and match the job with your actual personality – not the personality you want or the one you think you should have! But let’s assume the job and company are just the ticket. What next?

Interview Tips

Shaking hands won’t come naturally but it’s easy to get it right. The tricky parts of interview body language are maintaining eye contact and avoiding what I call ‘face freeze’.

Eye contact

  • I don’t use direct eye contact. I stare at a point between the interviewer’s eyes which makes it look as though I’m meeting their gaze.
  • Don’t stare but try not to let your eyes roll all over the room as the interviewer will find it evasive.

Face Freeze

It’s hard to always know how your face is supposed to look. People expect your expression to react to what they say and to what you say but this doesn’t always come naturally either – hence the face freeze.

  • Nod, smile, raise eyebrows – not all at once!
  • Practice your reactions in front of the mirror (imagining your interview is happening), or practice with a friend to see what they think.

It may sound as if I’m advising you mimic the ‘neurotypicals’ and deny your true self. The idea is to reassure the interviewer that you’re capable of communicating and listening – which is true.

The natural tendencies of those with Aspergers syndrome are inclined to be misunderstood by those who don’t share our traits. That is why we need to adapt our behaviour, we need to translate and make efforts to avoid misrepresentation.

If you have any job interview tips aimed at aspies, or would like to offer an employers perspective, please add a comment!

Psst! What happens when you get the job?

When I was growing up, before I’d even heard of the condition, I spent a lot of time crying because I couldn’t relate to my peers. As you can imagine, this made dating rather tricky.

By the time I was of an age to date boys I was too afraid to talk to most of them. My less than amazing social skills had taught me to expect rejection, ridicule and stressful misunderstandings. Somehow I got from there to being happily married.

How I started dating

My first boyfriend was the friend of a friend. Our first meetings (and many of our dates) were the result of lots of alcohol. I can’t recommend alcohol as a solution to your social and dating nerves but it certainly helped me set the ball rolling.

What I found best for starting new romantic relationships was internet dating sites. My aspergers makes it easier to communicate in writing than in person, plus I hate the telephone! Emailing prospective partners was a great way to get to know them as I was able to assess their interests and education level by reading their emails.

First dates were still nerve racking but I didn’t have to endure the nightclub chat up routines!

Be warned: some sites are aimed at people seeking long term relationships and others seem to cater for more casual flings so if you’re thinking about dating this way make sure you pick the right type of site!

Learning from your mistakes

It’s hard to talk about feelings with someone you care about. The more I value someone’s opinion the more likely I am to want to clam up about things that really should be shared.

Something I learnt from my husband is that you cannot rely on your partner to understand your feelings unless you explain them. This is probably true for everyone but especially for relationships where one or more partners is an aspie.

One person’s logic is another person’s madness. Don’t take it for granted that your understanding of something is correct, or that it is the only valid interpretation.

This was a hard lesson to learn because there’s a lot of ‘normal’ behaviour I don’t get. However, since I started applying this rule the things I don’t understand haven’t been so stressful. Like a kid at school I just have to raise my hand and say “I don’t understand, what do you mean by…”

Some people might think I’m an idiot but luckily my husband isn’t one of them. If someone does think you’re an idiot that’s their problem.

If you read the ‘Who am I?’ post then you’ll realise I’m self-diagnosed. I’m aware this causes problems for some people but I feel I’ve read enough and tested enough online to feel certain. Plus I had enough of therapists and ‘sympathetic’ doctors when I was growing up so I really don’t want to go back to that.

Anyway, that’s not important. It’s just may way of explaining where this guide comes from. I’m not a doctor or therapist, I just have my own experience and research to rely on. Here goes:

Aspergers is on the Autism spectrum, which means it is a type of Autism. As I write this, there is a debate raging amongst the Aspie community because doctors are planning to stop using the name but I find it helpful so I’ll continue to use it.

People with the condition are lucky, because it is a high-functioning form of Autism. That means we can live relatively normal lives. We can live alone, make friends (albeit with some difficulty) and even have happy marriages.

Qualities vary considerably between people with Asperger’s but we often have a hobby or interest that borders on obsession. Other common traits include awkwardness in social situations, problems with stress and depression and a slowness to pick up on social conventions. We can talk and think just fine and we don’t lack empathy but picking up on social cues or following conversations in a busy or noisy environment is difficult.

One thing I’ve always struggled with is diplomacy. I say or write something, thinking it is reasonable and polite, only to discover that it offends someone or upsets them. Now, if I’m writing an important business email I ask my partner to check it before I send.

It’s hard to put it in a nutshell because there are lots of different aspects and it affects men and women differently.

If you’d like to learn more I can recommend The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome by Dr Tony Attwood.

The second question, following the initial, “why ‘acceptable face’?”, is surely, “Who are you?”.

Obviously, certain details like name, location, height, employer and personal Twitter handle may be best kept secret, since I’m trying to remain anonymous. But I can tell you about the real me – which has nothing to do with being 5 ft 6″ or living in the UK. Damn.

I’m a self-diagnosed aspie, with a penchant for looking on the bright side, ranting about poor standards in education, obsessing over food, reading voraciously and observing great British traditions like drinking tea to help me do almost anything.

I want to use this blog to talk about Apsergers, education, work, food, tea, literature and bananas*.

*Just kidding. I hate bananas.