Why did the Asperger’s engineer cross the road - Because there were fewer people on the other side.
I have Asperger’s - and you might be wondering what it’s like to live with Asperger’s, or you might be seeking advice or support for yourself or someone you care about. Whatever the reason, I hope you find this blog post helpful.
Let me start by telling you a bit about Asperger’s. It is a form of autism (in fact, it is no longer recognised as a diagnosis in itself but as part of a wider range autism spectrum disorders or ASDs), and people with Asperger’s have difficulties with social interactions, communication, and repetitive behaviors. It is a spectrum disorder - symptoms can range from mild to severe. For me, it affects many aspects of my life, but it also has its strengths, which I’ll talk about later in this post. What I have is essentially a “high-functioning” type of ASD.
One of the most challenging things about having Asperger’s is dealing with social situations. I get very nervous in social situations, especially when I have to interact with a large group of people (more on this later).
Giving a speech in front of a large audience can be incredibly overwhelming for me. My heart races, my palms sweat, my feet are cold and I feel like everyone is staring at me. Over the years I developed a few ways to cope with it. If you are facing a similar problem, here are some strategies that have helped me over the years:
Prepare thoroughly: Take the time to plan and practice your speech ahead of time. This will help you to become familiar with the material and to feel more confident when it comes time to deliver your speech.
Focus on your strengths: When giving a speech, focus on your strengths and what makes you unique. This could be your expertise on a particular subject, your passion for a cause (or technology!), or your personal experiences.
Interact with the audience: Engage the audience by asking them questions or inviting them to participate in discussions. This can help to build a connection with the audience and to make you feel more at ease.
Use humour: Incorporating humour into your speech can help to break the ice and make you and the audience more relaxed. Just make sure the humour is appropriate and relevant to your topic. Dad (read cringe) jokes are a specialty of mine. I do this more with my team at work. I am hoping to get more comfortable so that I can do it everywhere.
I’ve learned to adapt to these situations over time. I also practice my speech several times (duh!), and I make sure that I know exactly what I want to say. I also make sure to take deep breaths (which I often forget) and remind myself that it’s okay to make mistakes.
Another adaptation technique that I use in general is to seek out people who are supportive and understanding. My close friends and family make me feel less nervous in social situations and help me feel more confident.
Asperger’s also affects my relationships. It takes me a long time to trust people, and I can be very protective of my relationships. With close friends and family, I have to be sure that they understand and accept my Asperger’s before I can let my guard down and become vulnerable. I have found that communication is key in these relationships, and my partner and I make sure to have open and honest conversations about our feelings and needs.
The bright side
One of the strengths of having Asperger’s is that I’m very focused and detail-oriented, which is great for my job. As an engineering leader, I’m able to concentrate for long periods of time and pay close attention to detail. I have a strong sense of logic, and I’m able to solve problems quickly and efficiently.
Another strength is that I’m very protective. I have a strong sense of empathy (it’s an unfortunate stigma around Asperger’s that suggests otherwise), and I always try to put myself in others’ shoes. I’m also very protective of my family and friends, and I will do anything to keep them safe.
My Asperger’s makes me a highly organized, detail-oriented, and focused individual. I have the ability to zero in on important details and to maintain a level of focus. Because of these traits, I’ve been able to develop systems and processes that help me and my team to be more efficient and productive.
I also have a strong sense of ethics, which is a crucial characteristic for any business leader (I push back on clauses in legal contracts if I find them too broad and cannot honour; even when they are unlikely to ever be triggered).
In addition, my Asperger’s also gives me a unique perspective on problem-solving. I tend to approach problems from a different angle, which often leads to creative solutions. My colleagues appreciate my unconventional way of thinking and often turn to me for ideas when they’re facing a challenge.
As a leader, I’ve found that my Asperger’s helps me to establish clear boundaries and expectations for those I work with. I have a direct communication style, and I’m able to clearly articulate my goals and objectives. This helps my team to understand what I expect from them and what they can expect from me. As a result, we’re able to work together effectively and efficiently.
Furthermore, I can be empathetic and compassionate, which helps me to understand and connect with my team members on a deeper level.
Another advantage of my Asperger’s is that I take my commitments very seriously. I believe in doing what I say I’m going to do, and I hold myself accountable for my actions. This sets a positive example for my team and helps to establish a culture of trust and reliability in the workplace.
In my personal life, my Asperger’s has also helped me to develop a strong sense of independence and self-reliance. I enjoy alone time, which allows me to recharge and focus on my personal goals and interests. I’ve found that this helps me to be a better partner, friend, and family member, as I’m able to bring my best self to these relationships.
Additionally, my Asperger’s has made me highly protective of those I care about. I’m very attentive to the needs of others. This has helped me to build strong and meaningful relationships with those closest to me.
Having Asperger’s has been a positive experience for me in general. I’ve been able to turn my perceived “disadvantages” into advantages in both my personal and professional life. I’m a highly organized, detail-oriented, and focused individual with a unique perspective on problem-solving. I’m also empathetic, compassionate, and take my commitments seriously, which has helped me to be a successful leader and build meaningful relationships with those closest to me.
Loving my own company and pushing boundaries
Alone time is super important for me. And I need time to recharge - to be alone with my thoughts. I find that I can be more productive and creative when I have time to myself, and I’m able to relax and recharge.
This also means that there are some everyday scenarios that can be difficult for me. For example, going to a crowded shopping centre can be overwhelming, and I might avoid it altogether. I also find it difficult to make small talk (I have a mental list of items I go through), and I sometimes avoid social situations because I don’t know what to say. However, I’ve learned to adapt to these situations and to find strategies that work for me.
Some of the following might sound a bit odd, however they help me manage my anxiety. Try them for yourself and see if they are helpful:
Prepare for social situations: Before attending a social gathering, take some time to think about what to expect and how you want to present yourself. This could include thinking about what topics you would like to discuss, and what to say in response to different social cues.
Focus on your interests: When attending social gatherings, find opportunities to talk about your interests. This could help to build a connection with others and make the conversation more enjoyable for you.
Embrace your individuality: Don’t try to be someone you’re not, embrace your individuality. People are attracted to authenticity and originality.
Learn from others: Observe others in social situations to learn about their body language, social cues, and conversation techniques. Try to incorporate what you learn into your own interactions. When I mentioned this to my partner, she told me she is convinced that I am a robot (I fell in love with her sense of humour).
Take breaks: If you feel overwhelmed in social situations, it’s okay to take a break and step away for a few minutes (To be candid, I struggle with this - I feel pressured to stay and I need to work on pushing back on that fear). This can help you to recharge and refocus.
More importantly - Be patient with yourself: Improving social skills takes time and practice. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t see immediate results. With patience and persistence, you can become more confident and comfortable in social situations.
Living with Asperger’s is challenging, but it also has its strengths. So, to all my fellow Aspies out there, embrace your differences and never underestimate your potential for success!