Stop thinking you’ll get by on your high I.Q.

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My son’s I.Q. is in the top .05% of all preschoolers, but he attended preschool in a special education classroom. He has Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism typified by a distinctly high I.Q. and a notable lack of emotional intelligence. Asperger’s is thought to be genetic, and it is surging among kids in places like Silicon Valley, that attract math and tech geniuses who often have sub-par social skills.

We know one boy with Asperger’s who taught himself to read books when he was two years old. Scientists surmise that learning to read books so fast consumes the part of his brain that should be learning to read social cues.

My son’s special education classroom was full of kids like that one — who used to pass through the education system labeled eccentric geniuses, only to graduate having never learned social skills and consequently falter in adulthood.

Today, educators take a child’s lack of social skills seriously. Parents should also. For educators, any nonverbal learning disability (like not being able to tell if someone cares about what you are talking about) is treated as significantly as a verbal learning disability (like not being able to speak.) Yet I am stunned by how many parents brush aside recommendations from educators to get help for their children by saying to themselves, “My child is so smart.”

Smart is not an endgame. Even in a toddler.

To understand why, look to the workplace. After where you go to school, social skills are the most important factor in whether you succeed or fail. I link to this research all the time, but frankly, if you need research to understand that the people who are best at office politics succeed at the office, then you are missing basic social cues already.

But here’s more evidence: Nine out of ten business schools consider communication and interpersonal skills “highly underrated as a differentiating factor for students,” according to CareerJournal. And Jeff Puzas at PRTM echos a cacophony of workplace voices when he says, “Most of what I do every day as a management consultant has to do with interpersonal skills, not my I.Q.”

And when you think about someone finding his way to success in the real world, consider the Wall St. Journal’s list of the traits that recruiters look for in business school candidates:

Communication and interpersonal skills

Original and visionary thinking

Leadership potential

Ability to work well within a team

Analytical and problem-solving skills

Notice that most of these skills are independent of intelligence. Smart is even less of an endgame for adults than children-and the standard for ability to work well with others is only getting higher, not lower: Generation Y is more team-oriented than prior generations.

So, it’s time for us to stop making excuses for poor social skills and start taking the problem as seriously as educators do. It’s painful for both children and adults who cannot navigate social settings. Kids sit on the sidelines on the playground; adults can’t maintain close relationships. It’s a limited life and it’s limited in the area where people have an inherent need to thrive.

I sense that people are going to argue with me here, but please consider that all the positive psychology research points to the fact that work does not make people happy. Relationships do. But we see the history of people with Asperger’s – Einstein, Mozart, John Forbes Nash – they did amazing work but could not maintain stable, intimate relationships.

Parents: Stop pretending that your child’s I.Q. matters more than their social skills. Get treatment for your child as soon as a professional recommends it. Respect that the risk of not being able to transition to the work world is significant, and so is the risk of waiting to see if your child will fail despite being brilliant.

Human beings learn social skills best at a very young age, when their brain is still forming. So celebrate that the government provides free training for children lacking social skills by using it. Start studying the playground. Respect what often seems insignificant to parents with small children-diagnoses of speech delay or disorder, and diagnoses of sensory integration, for example. Those issues threaten future development of social skills.

As an adult, one of the hardest parts of having low emotional intelligence is that you don’t realize it. People who are missing the cues have no idea they are missing them. So the most unable often have the least understanding of where they fall in the spectrum.

I’m going to tell you something harsh: If your career is stuck, it’s probably because of poor social skills. People who don’t know what they want to do with themselves but have good social skills don’t feel stuck, they feel unsure. People who are lacking social skills feel like they have nowhere to go.

Lost people feel possibilities. Stuck people do not feel possibilities. Ask yourself which you are. And if you feel suck, stop looking outside yourself to solve the problem. You need to change how you interact with people.

Another idea for how to figure out where you fall in the social skills spectrum is to take a self-diagnostic test. Here is one at Wired magazine about Aperger’s, and here is one about emotional intelligence. Or give a test to the people you work with – a 360-degree review will tell you in no uncertain terms if you are being held back because people don’t like you.

Hold it. Did you just say, “If people don’t like me maybe it’s their fault!” Forget it. People with good social skills can get along with just about everyone.

So help your kids to form intimate relationships with peers, and help yourself, too. In fact, as an adult you can learn how to compensate for lack of social skills by watching how schools are teaching the kids to do it.

Pay attention. Because when it comes to our job – no matter what our job is – it’s the relationships that make us happy, not the work. That’s why I.Q. doesn’t matter.

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  1. dawn
    dawn says:

    This is a great post. I just wrote an article about a curriculum (second step) that helps teach children empathy and have been thinking about it a lot. I see so many parents pushing their kids to be brilliant when they’re forgetting that there’s a whole of other stuff children need to learn to make their way in the world.

  2. JC
    JC says:

    Great article. Social skill is the most important thing to have in any area of life. It helps you to move up in the company, get friends and relationships, get a job, and so on.

    Maybe schools should teach kids–especially those with low social skills–ways to improve that skill. They can have art of conversation classes, empathy classes, and so on.

    * * * * * *

    This is a great idea, and some schools are already doing it. You can actually use this as one way to judge how well a school district is doing in the social skills arena by whether or not the district has identified kids who need this kind of help and formed the groups to provide the help.

    In some cities there are private social skills groups as well that parents coordinate independently with therapists.

    I often think that companies should identify people who are not succeeding becuse of social skills and then create a social skills learning group for adults. But, really, adults are not nearly as willing to learn as kids are…


  3. James Parr
    James Parr says:

    This post is right on the money as ever. In a previous job recruiting technical pros (very high level, high ability pros) I would see this all the time. The best of the best were severely lacking in social skills (to the point that phone screening becomes painful). It could really hinder them; my clients would often hire the less talented, less intelligent applicant (lower ability and IQ scores etc) just because they came across as more personable. No better at the job (worse in fact sometimes) but far better at lunch or the xmas party. Almost sounds counter-intuitive but it’s how the world works.

    On the theme, and maybe of interest in case you’ve not seen it, is Mark Earls blog, about how the human species is definitely a ‘Herd’ animal:

    * * * * * *

    Great comment, James. It means a lot to see how things are working in the real world, with specific examples. So thanks for that. And thanks for the link – love it.

    One reason I love this link is because I’m always looking for stuff to support the idea that people want friends and want to be a part of something. The other reason I love the link is that it’s such a quirky blog topic, and it should provide blogging inspiration for everyone. This is a great example of a blog topic that is irresistable: Quirky, universal, and it’s surrpising and interesting to see someone who sticking to this topic every day.


  4. Jeremy
    Jeremy says:

    Fascinating stuff, and I mostly agree with your analysis here, but two things jumped out as being problematic.

    First, schools and educators have traditionally failed these kids, and the vast majority of schools are probably doing more harm than good. I realize you’re referencing some progressive, successful examples of school-based programs that are on the right track — and I hope that trend continues — but I think in general, very bright (but socially difficult) kids are neglected in school unless they’re disruptive. The idea that we should somehow be emulating what’s going on in school (most schools) requires a caveat. That said, I sat in on my daughter’s gifted class last week, and the program is amazing for these kids — helping them focus their mental energy, letting them spend time with other kids like them, and engaging their minds on a more appropriate level. Let’s hope other schools and districts follow these leads and extend these kinds of services to more kids (why shouldn’t every kid get a individual education plan every year?).

    Second, and I think James’ comment above touches on this, it is important to remember that many people have no interest in climbing the various corporate ladders that define “success” for others. It’s more important to find a good match for your strengths and weaknesses — not that working on weaknesses (bad social skills, in this case) is a bad thing, but I think most intelligent grown-ups are looking to find situations that make them comfortable and let them do work they find meaningful, rather than trying to mold themselves into something they’re not. For the ultra-intelligent, getting them into the right environment and role is probably more fruitful than trying to “fix” them with training in social skills. I’m skeptical that such a thing could work, and the goal may be wrong to begin with.

    * * * * * *

    Not all super-smart kids have poor social skills. But the ones who do have poor social skills will not likely find a place for themsevles. We can talk about playing to peoples’ strenghts, but that only works to the degree that companies have a need for those strengths.

    The super smart are generally number crunchers and fact-mavens. But a computer can do that today. And any problem that needs solving in a room with the door closed does not need to be solved for high U.S. salaries – the job can be offshored. I think it’s a big mistake to think that whatever our strengths and weaknesses are there is a place for us in this world. It just isn’t true. Most of us need to be able to hold down a job that supports us. And we all want to be in a healthy, intimate relationship with someone. Not all strrenghts and weaknesses allow for this, and if they don’t, we need to change.

    Some of us need to change a bit in order to fit in. It’s the truth about being inherently social beings. That’s why I loved the link above, about herd behavior.


  5. Kathryn
    Kathryn says:

    This post hit home particularly because I have a sibling with Asperger’s. My parents were very diligent in helping seeking treatment from the time of the diagnosis at age 8. Learning about the condition, seeking therapy and, yes, medication have made a world of difference in our lives.

    I admit that I get so nervous for my sibling, especially since this May will mark high school graduation and moving on to college. I know s/he will face obstacles that I have not had to deal with, and I hope that the more widespread awareness, diagnosis and treatment becomes, the more easily s/he will be able to lead a fulfilling life, complete with a dream career. Thanks for encouraging people to get educated about the condition, for the sake of their children’s future.

    Also just wanted to say that I love your blog!

  6. Norcross
    Norcross says:

    Fantastic post. As someone who suffered through diagnosed, yet untreated ADD until recently (at age 26), I can see where my condition was overlooked due to my IQ and overall school success. I can also see where it fueled many of the difficult issues in my life, and certain negative ways I attempted to compensate for the lack of social skills and empathy (mainly alcohol). Since I began treatment, I've been able to accomplish more than I ever thought possible.

    * * * * * *
    I'm so touched by the comments here from people who have related experienced to what I talk about in the post. I want to say that using alcohol to cope with this type of problem is so common. And it's so meaningful that people are coming foward and letting the world know. Maybe fewer people will have so much pain.


  7. Anton Chuvakin
    Anton Chuvakin says:

    Well, if it is a pendulum kinda thing (i.e. more attention was paid to IQ in the past, now EQ, next IQ, etc), then maybe … There is little more annoying than a sociable but dumb person, who keeps making noise, but says/does nothing of substance or interest. Is he/she a product of “EQ backlash”? I suspect so.

    However, progress in many areas requires smart people (not large group of perfectly cooperating, sociable, dumb people – sorry! :-)) and thus if society’s attention will shift fully away from IQ – we WILL be in trouble in the future.

  8. Alyson Bradely
    Alyson Bradely says:

    This is a great because just like my older son it would be so easy for him to pass through the education system and no one realizing that he was any different, except maybe a little odd at times and not so good in social situations.

    It seems so much harder to have your child diagnosed, be believed if they are intelligent. The response is he is doing well and is fine, so their is no problem. But with out the support and understanding he may need, would not reach his true potential
    Even know their may be no real support or funding for these children in most cases, its vital that they are diagnosed so that not only they can be understood be others, but can understand there differences and learn to deal with their differences as needed.

    I would never of realized any difference in my children, had I not been diagnosed recently myself, in my 40’s and this was having time to search and find myself, after a life time of knowing I was different, but never knowing why!

    Not being diagnosed when younger, has caused me so many unnecessary problems, for the first time in my life its like I haver found my true self. I truly feel no other child should have to suffer as I had too growing up. It was like I always had some dark shadow over my shoulder, but never knew why!
    Aspergers Parallel Planet

  9. Jon Morrow
    Jon Morrow says:

    One of my friends got straight C’s through college and wasn’t interested in doing anything except hanging out and making friends. If you had polled the student body, he probably would have been voted “Least Likely to Succeed, ” both because everyone knew him and no one thought he was that bright.

    Fast-forward about four years, and he’s directed several movies, founded his own studio, and he is going to the most prestigious doctoral program in animation in Japan. Did he get smarter? No, he’s the same old guy. It’s just that, everyone knows him and enjoys working with him. I imagine he’ll be successful for his entire life.

    I suffered from the opposite problem. I got straight A’s in school and was actually awarded funding to start my own company my sophomore year. I left, expecting to astonish the world with my brilliance, only to find out that communication skills mattered a lot more than smarts. No one will ever know how revolutionary your ideas are unless you learn how to express them in a way that grabs their attention and makes them remember.

    Eventually, the company crashed and burned because I couldn’t get a meeting with anyone influential, much less a sale. Realizing that I had a problem with social skills, I went back to college, changed my degree from computer science to English literature and volunteered to work for the Student Government Association, an organization where you’re with people every second of every day. I constructed an environment that would force me to develop social skills.

    And it did. By the time I graduated, I was probably the second most well-known student at the University, right behind Clay Aiken. I also left with 14 job offers, two of them for six figures. But that’s another story :-)

  10. Eileen
    Eileen says:

    Interesting read. I was a straight A student and high school valedictorian, voted most likely to succeed, but now I definitely feel stuck partly because of social skills. I don’t have the social skills to schmooze, move up in a company, or lead people. I work in IT, but my technical skills are only mediocre, and I don’t like the field enough to spend my free time improving or pursuing higher education. Even if I improved my social skills and were able to get a corporate job and move up the ladder, or if I were able to get funding for my own venture, I would still feel stuck because neither work nor family is what I want out of life, though money is part of what I want.

  11. David Christiansen
    David Christiansen says:

    I think this post is accurate in terms of the need to pay attention to the development of social skills in young kids and the need to take problems in that development seriously.

    I don’t buy two other aspects of this article. First, the broad generalization of “Gen Y” don’t jive with my on-the-streets impression of Gen Y workers. They don’t seem to be any more “team-oriented” as a general rule than workers from other “generations” I’ve worked with, at least not in an observable way.

    The second aspect that I don’t buy is the closing statement that IQ doesn’t matter. I hope you are simply taking an extreme position as a means of countering an unhealthy bias (that IQ is ALL that matters), but the fact is that position is also not true. Social skills alone will not create a successful engineer, physicist, pilot, doctor, lawyer, writer, or professional volleyball player. Similarly, powerful intimate relationships will not make you GOOD at something for which you have no talent.

    I do agree that an abundance of good relationships can swing the pendulum in your favor in life, but acquiring and developing those relationships is not entirely dependent on good social skills either. As you’ve pointed out on this blog in the past, those relationships are often a result of being physically attractive or other factors, such as being in a position of power, etc.

    Good social skills are part of the equation. So is IQ (to the extent that it really is an indication of intelligence), physical appearance, mastery of the language, understanding of customs, hygiene, education, etc.

  12. Charlie
    Charlie says:

    Asperger’s is getting a lot of exposure RIGHT NOW on America’s Next Top Model. One of the current contestants, Heather, has it. It is very interesting to watch how it affects her interactions with the other models in the house and with the judges.

    Someone told me recently that Toastmasters is great for developing confidence in social situations, beyond just public speaking. That might be the most widely available way for adults to improve social skills.

  13. Chris Yeh
    Chris Yeh says:

    As a former child prodigy/valedictorian/honors graduate, I can definitely say that intelligence is necessary but not sufficient.

    Certainly some of my “success” in life can be traced to raw intelligence–being able to read, write, and comprehend things faster than others is a major advantage. But the main reason that folks pick up the phone when I call, or call me, is because I know how to listen, be supportive, and connect people to the right resources.

    As Henry Ford said, during the libel trial over being called an ignoramus, “I may not know the answers to your questions, but I can get someone on the phone who does in about 30 seconds.” Ford was right about that, though come to think of it, also displayed many of the characteristics of Aspergers.

    Moreover, I grew up as a prototypical “brain,” confused by the motivations and actions of others. Had I taken one of those self-diagnostic tests at age 13, I most assuredly would have diagnosed myself as possessing an ASD. Yet being forced to interact with many people in college eventually helped me develop my skills to the point where I am known today as a master networker (though I always point out that being married with children disqualifies me from true Keith Ferrazzi-style mastery).

  14. Sarah Stokely
    Sarah Stokely says:

    Thanks for this post. As someone who’s had a close friendship and shared house with someone with Aspergers, I know first hand how difficult social interactions can be for people with this syndrome.
    I also know of at least one family whose primary school age child had been diagnosed but they weren’t taking it seriously enough to start getting him treated. That appalled me.
    I hope your post gets out to the people who need to read it. Thanks again. :)

  15. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Terrific post.

    Small quibble.

    I disagree with below quote. At least in my business experience (marketing/advertising for larger corporations), where you went to school has, at best, small correlation with success in the company. Learning on the job, and being able to work and communicate with others (as you mention) is number one.

    I've worked with Harvard B-school grads, and people who didn't attend university – and those in between. I've seen all levels of "education" achieve success – regardless of where or if they went to university.

    After where you go to school, social skills are the most important factor in whether you succeed or fail.

    * * * * * *
    Hi, Stuart. This is not my opinion. I'm just quoting the research. I should have been more clear.

    In terms of predicting someone's income level, where they went to school is the best indicator, and the quality of the person's mentors is the second most accurate indicator. Finding and keeping mentors is directly related to one's social skills and, after you are done with school, it becomes the number-one way you can affect your earning power.

    Not that earning power is the absolute measure of success. This is just a way to figure out what is a big factor in people getting what they want in life.

    Here are links to some research:

    – €“Penelope

  16. Bloggrrl
    Bloggrrl says:

    At the alternative school where I work, teaching social skills is right up there with the academic material. We start with some pretty basic things, such as making eye contact and how to shake someone’s hand. Usually it’s not a learning disability, but a cultural attitude that certain social skills (ones that will help one obtain a job, for example) are undesirable. We work on it… ;-)

  17. Norah
    Norah says:

    There needs to be help too for kids who maybe aren’t diagnosable with AS or autism but still might have social problems (social anxiety disorder, for instance.) From what I hear now, unless the child has a diagnosis on the autism spectrum, they will not get help with social skills training in school. So for kids who maybe aren’t autistic but need help, their parents either have to find a doctor to agree they’re autistic (a label they will then have for life, and maybe one not justified) or else get no help and maybe become more socially anxious until by adulthood they are functioning worse socially than many people with mild AS.

  18. Norah
    Norah says:

    I just read Jon Morrow’s post above and it helps prove my point. Obviously Mr. Morrow is not autistic or Asperger’s, or he wouldn’t have learned the social skills so quickly when he forced himself into social situations. Probably an introverted but non-autistic person. But he could no doubt have benefited from some help socially in elementary school, without being diagnosed autistic when he so obviously isn’t.

  19. Norah
    Norah says:

    One more thing. Mental health is also important. A person could have a high IQ and excellent social skills, but if they develop, say, depression and are unable to get the proper treatment, they will still not reach the success they want to in either relationships or careers. Access to affordable mental health treatment and lack of stigma if someone does get treatment are very important.

    And **no**, it’s not only people with poor social skills and who are on the autism spectrum who are subject to depression or mental illness, no matter that Asperger’s is the big bad bugaboo nowdays.

  20. Erin - ExpectingExecutive
    Erin - ExpectingExecutive says:

    Penelope I so understand your post. My step-brother is on the autistic side of the Asperger's Syndrome spectrum. My step-brother absolutely matches every “stereotype” that you might expect. My amazing step-mother (who I love & admire) has some amazing resources that I would love to share with you if you are interested.

    Speaking in generalities, it always breaks my heart just a little bit when I hear people (especially educators) say “he/she is just not living up to their full potential”. Information, behavior and education are dynamic and do not fit the mostly rote learning applications in today’s classrooms.

    I can’t ever remember “people skills” being introduced to me in high school or college. People skills training was provided to me as a part of the many sales training programs that I was required to take at different points in my sales career.

    Interesting post. Thank you.

  21. +DJ FunkyGrrL+
    +DJ FunkyGrrL+ says:

    In my experince, it’s always about who one knows, moreso than degrees (unless it’s ivy league).
    Still that is no guarantee one will acquire a good job. There are many news reporters with degrees from Harvard that still have to run and go get coffee. My girlfriend became a doctor last year received her medical degree from Yale but decided to work in Buffalo (Gawd why?)

  22. Benjamin Strong
    Benjamin Strong says:


    This was a really interesting post. As the father of a four year old with a unique type of Down syndrome I see many of these issues surface at his school as well. It's interesting because my son with delayed cognitive ability has incredible social skills. My wife and I were adamant that our son learn simple skills first, like saying please and thank you. He smiles at his peers, teachers and therapists. They love him. They don't pity him because he has Down syndrome and, at least I hope, they don't "like" him because he is reminiscent of Chris Burke on Life Goes On (they are way to young to remember his character Corky) but they like him and accept him because he has great social skills.

    Interestingly enough there is another little girl in his class with Down syndrome. She does not have the same social skills and does not garner the same positive attention my son does. My wife and I are fascinated by this and can really see how having even the most basic social skills can get you ahead, even in pre-school.

    Thank you for sharing the research Penelope. I can say, from personal experience, it hits the nail on the head.

  23. Gretchen Neels
    Gretchen Neels says:

    Great post!

    As a former corporate recruiter, I know how important social skills (aka “soft skills”) are when it comes to edging out the competition in the job market. Often, managers ask “among these candidates, whom will fit in best with our culture?”

    I teach soft skills to students, new professionals (Gen Y) and seasoned veterans, and am amazed at how a little training can build awareness and improve confidence, which leads to better communication. I wrote “Business Etiquette 101 – 30 Absolutely, Never Evers For Business, Dining and First Impressions” as a basic how-to for those who never got a can of hairspray thrown at them by a mother who wouldn’t tolerate back-talk, rudeness or sloppy table manners.

    Thanks Mom, and thank you, Penelope, for bringing up such a crucial point of discussion.

  24. Norah
    Norah says:

    That’s right, make it harder for people with AS to get along by pointing out how bad social skills make people unsuccessful, validating everyone who bullies them or fires them for this. many people with AS KNOW they have bad social skills and are tryng to do better, and do the best they can, but all the social skills training in the world isn’t going to bring them to the level of a non-autistic person, not that they shouldn’t keep trying. Especially if they nothing was known about AS and they didn’t receive the training in childhood, back in the day when no one knew about it.

    Even now the kids with AS who get the social skills training have social skills that are a little “off”. Are you saying that all they can expect is to be out of work most of their lives, and proably alone?

    And what about Bill Gates? Would someone please tell me how someone with obvious AS managed to get to where he is?

    • Jill
      Jill says:

      Good post. Using Asperger’s as a proxy for ‘too smart’ is at least mildly offensive. It verges on making fun of people who have a disorder that is not self-manageable.

      • late_forties
        late_forties says:

        Also, judging from the content of the rest of the blog, the author hasn’t really managed to “learn” many social skills other than the idea of constantly asking others. That’s fine — if you happen to be in an environment that fosters that. Most people with AS are not.

        You can “teach” skills but you can’t change a person’s brain.

  25. Dale
    Dale says:


    I absolutely agree on the early intervention advice, for both children, and aspiring careerists. But I have a peeve to air.

    Everyone talks about early intervention, but there are so few avenues statewide, and none federally funded that I know of, for obtaining these services that I consider the powers that be who advise early intervention to be hypocritical! Try being a lower income earning caregiver, living in an underfunded school district, and you will see what I mean. My son was diagnosed PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified) at three – because of my wife’s diligence.

    His pediatrician kept telling her there was nothing to worry about, but of course mothers can see things that no one else can, especially since he has 4 older siblings and a very different twin to serve as his benchmarks, so she persisted. Now at 4, it is very apparent that “something is up with him” as a friend indicated, but my insurance is reluctant to pay for treatment, our former school system had no facilities for him, and the state has limited funding for the seemingly endless incidence of cases being called to its attention.

    Thankfully you can learn so much online about these types of disorders that you can begin working on your kids yourself otherwise it would almost be hopeless.

    The one thing that really gets my goat is when some professional says, “Why didn’t you get him help sooner?” In the condesending, or socially persumptive way that “professionals” speak to obviously lower income or foreign or non-white and non-asian or under-educated clients. (Yes, we must have been off doing drugs and partying while our children languished at home!)
    There, I’ve gotten it off my chest.

    But when all is said and done, be prepared to fight relentlessly for your child. Get help as soon as is possible, because the adage is true, early intervention is crucial to successful mitigation of this type of disorder, both for children and careerists.

  26. Dale
    Dale says:


    Don’t kill the messenger!!

    Knowledge is power and sticking our collective heads in the sand will do us no good. In fact, this post is more inclined to make those of us who read it more understanding of those with AS. As we all acknowledge, they have enough going against them already.

  27. Norah
    Norah says:

    Also, someone mentioned Einstein, successful as he was, had bad relationships because of his Asperger’s. What about people who are successful and have good social skills, but also have a lot of problems staying in a relationship??

    Even non-autistic people with good social skills can have trouble in long term relationships, for a variety of reasons. Choosing the wrong kind of person, mental illness, substance abuse (Oh come on, please don’t tell me it’s only Aspies who abuse substances), and many other things. Quit making it sound like it’s only lack of obvious social skills, such as one would find in AS, that causes poor relationships and job loss.

    And why did this even have to be brought up now? Isn’t there enough awareness of this subject out there right now, with someone on America’s Next Top Model iwth AS, plus at least one character on a TV show (Jerry on Boston Legal) and publicity everywhere with kids being diagnosed and parents seeking to get help for them???

    10 years ago this was news. Now it just seems to single out Aspies (people with AS) and make them feel bad, and also give employers permission to discriminate against someone with poorer social skills, and co-workers permission to bully them. And it doesn’t really help anything because with all this awareness of AS, most people with the syndrome or anywhere near the syndrome are fully aware that they’re different and people don’t like them, and they need to work on this.

    It didn’t do me ONE BIT of good to learn about AS, let me tell you. I thought I had social anxiety disorder and was working on that and thought I was making progress. After I learned about AS and thought I had that, I became even more socially anxious to the point that I had to quit my job and not work for awhile. There is so much conflicting crap out there about AS that I don’t know if Aspies can learn to become even 1/10 as socially skilled as non-Aspies, and it’s just discouraging and awful. There’s also the phenomenon of kind, well-meaning non-autistic people hearing about autism or AS and telling the socially awkward person how they think they must have AS, and if the socially awkward person is at all resistant, they’re in denial. This has scared me so much that I’ve been to 9 doctors trying to get diagnosed with AS, to no avail.

    Now after reading this article and feeling even worse about my social skills in general, guess what–I’d like to just call in sick today to work. I already have a bad attendance record so I won’t, but I wish I could. But I’ll probably hide at my desk today and not talk to anyone unless strictly work-related, instead of being somewhat friendly, lest I offend anyone with my poor social skills.

    Thanks a lot, Penelope, for pointing out what we Aspies already are painfully aware of in ourselves!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  28. Norah
    Norah says:

    Oh and also, before AS was known, Aspies were always being told to work on their social skills, but in many cases it was never good enough. It’d be just like picking on some guy on the street with poor sports skills, and telling him he needed to learn to play baseball like Alex Rodriguez. It ain’t gonna happen.

  29. Norah
    Norah says:

    Dale–do you actually have AS yourself? Then you don’t know what you’re talking about. **AS knowledge is everywhere now*****
    Did you see my other post? Check out this site:

    **Aspies know they are Aspies!!!************ We have already got the message loud and clear over all of our lives!!!!!!!!! WE don’t need someone giving employers and others permission to fire us!!!!! We already got the damn message!!! This is at least 10 years too late!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  30. Norah
    Norah says:

    And in case you’re thinking this is just another example of my Aspie lack of social skills, usually I don’t post comments to articles like this, and IRL such as on the job I’m usually very quiet and polite. But I just get tired of non-autistic people thinking we should have some big epiphany about our AS when we already probably know we lack the social skills and are working on it, or have given it up as we still never get anywhere.

    Also I’ve heard that some Aspies don’t care if they’re not in relationships, or don’t have many friends, so quit trying to make people want something they don’t just because you do, Penelope!!!!!!!!!!!

    * * * * * * * * * *

    So, at this point, Nora has commented eight times. I don’t usually let someone comment more than twice on a post. But this is an exception. I woke up today and saw these comments and, while I am not a doctor, I do have incredibly broad and deep experience with Asperger’s at all ages. And I have to say that Nora’s comments are absolutely representative of a typical adult with Aspergers. Especially the part where Nora writes about people not caring about not having friends. This is very typical – a child with Asperberger’s does not sound like this, but a teen typically does, and so does an adult. Also, the tone of Nora’s emails is typical of an adult with Asperger’s.

    Read Nora’s comments carefully. As a group, Nora’s comments surely will contribute a lot to everyone’s understanding of the issues at hand.


  31. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    This is a great article. I am forwarding it on to all my co-workers. I assist people with disabilities in finding jobs in the community. We have recently started to specialize in Asperger’s. Although these people are intelligent they can’t really use it to their benefit and end up in jobs that will not meet their potential. Locally we have a support group for Asperger’s and it has really benefited our clients. I have always said my kids can be on the low intelligence end as long as they have social skills. I have a cousin whose children can’t even get along well with family members where as my kids are chatting away with the others as if they saw them everyday, and not once or twice a year. What I really wish is that employers could open their eyes to see potential with a willingness to do something different. However, in my line of work being work focused most employers see limitations rather then thinking out of the box. Sorry for the rambling but this article hit close to home.

  32. Alice Bachini-Smith
    Alice Bachini-Smith says:

    I sense that people are going to argue with me here, but please consider that all the positive psychology research points to the fact that work does not make people happy. Relationships do. But we see the history of people with Asperger's – Einstein, Mozart, John Forbes Nash – they did amazing work but could not maintain stable, intimate relationships.

    This is weird, I thought that Aspeger’s people were rather good at intimate relationships, and tended to value their families more highly than average and be very involved with them.

    Social skills for work, for meeting spouses and for maintaining family life are not all the same. There is a stereotype of the Asperger’s nerd who can’t get a girlfriend, but I don’t know if that’s really the majority or just the standard prejudice against bespectacled boffins.

    If that is so, and if work isn’t what makes you happy, learning social skills for the purpose of doing better at work seems reasonable if you’re not happy at work (or not getting off the ground), but unnecessary if you’re doing something humble but satisfying, say.

    I think there’s another big problem here: Asperger’s people being givern the false expectation at school that due to their high IQ they must/will be successful in the career world.

    Then we feel like crap for actually preferring being mail delivery people or bus drivers while reading stacks of astrophysics books in our spare time, and having a happy family and two astrophysics hobbyist friends.

  33. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    If anyone gets a chance, read up on Temple Grandin. She is an amazing person and I saw her speak once. She is dynamic even with Asperger’s.
    Norah, it is obvious that you have experienced a lot of pain related to your aspergers, please remember this article is very important to people who have not been effected by a disability. When I want to be evil toward someone who is being close minded and mean toward someone with a disability I ask God to allow this person’s life to be touched by disability if only for a short time so they can experience their own rath. I have to agree about the y generation. I would think with all of the “publicity” and mainstreaming that is happening that Gen Y would be more open to disabilities but I have not seen it yet and definitely not seen the team player thing. I think they lack socials skills since they never communicate becuase of their IMing and iPod wearing.

    * * * * * * *

    Temple Grandin is a great read. Thanks for recommending this. I do want to add a word of caution, though. And that is that the picture Alice paints, just above this comment, is more typical of what happens to someone with Asperger’s. Temple is incredibly lucky that she found a lucrative, in-demand niche for herself in finding better ways to kill cattle. Most people with Asperger’s end up in a job that Alice describes- one that is menial and repetitive because that’s what feels comfortable given the choice of that or, say, navigating the incredibly complicated politics of most offices.


  34. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    I think this is an important post though I’m slightly concerned you seem to be conflating autism and poor social skills (despite having a kid with Asperger’s syndrome). Most people can learn better social skills, even in adult life. But I’m not sure that autism can be “cured” or even that most people with autism would want to be, despite the truth in what you say that it might help them in their career.

    In terms of the Wall Street Journal list, it’s true that “most” of the traits are about interpersonal skills. That’s interesting but to be more specific it’s three out of five skills on the list. Both “original and visionary thinking” and “analytical and problem solving skills” are directly to do with intelligence. If they had included just one more thing on the list, it would have been 50-50.

    What might be really helpful is if you could write a post on how adults can improve their social skills. Instead of just saying that they should do it, or that they should have acquired these skills when they were a kid, what about some really practical advice? There are actually a good number of adults who know they have poor social skills of some kind and would like to work on it but the support is not there. The term “poor social skills” covers a multitude of sins, from shyness to arrogance, and not everyone is unaware of their weaknesses. Recognising your weaknesses and trying to be more self aware is a start but what next? What else can people do?

    • Lisa
      Lisa says:


      Bless you. This is where I feel that I am in life. I’m content. I’m not pulling in six figures. I’m in a secure government job as a supervisor where the benefits are ‘to die for.’ I have an absolutely awesome team and, while it’s taken seven years, I have developed a sense of cameraderie with my peers. It may help that I work in an Engineering division where folks with Asperger’s just might outnumber those without. My office is also far-removed geographically from the rest of the division and I supervise field staff who are gone all day long- which usually keeps my interactions with other humans at a bearable level; the bulk of my time is spent working alone. For now, I’m happy in my little niche and happily married. I read grad-level college textbooks on finance, economics and investing to entertain myself in my spare time. My job has nothing to do with finance. Probably 75% of my spare time is devoted to these topics. Were it not for the fact that we have to eat and vacuum and do the laundry it would probably be 95%. I don’t feel compelled at this point to run out tomorrow and become the next Warren Buffett. I have a modest, happy job and am comfortable in my eccentricities.


  35. Alice Bachini-Smith
    Alice Bachini-Smith says:

    I understand what you’re saying there, Penelope. I may have been romanticising the idea of the perfectly happy Asperger’s person with an unimpressive job. But is it impossible for Aspergers people to satisfy their intellects largely outside their jobs, while having *happy* jobs that are quite modest?

    For instance, I think a fascination with science plus some fairly basic social skills could provide a great career as a science teacher in secondary school. But one might not be at all interested in furthering that career by managing the whole department of science teachers.

    I’m trying to suggest that Asperger’s people might sometimes do really well in modest, satisfying careers, in a low-key way. Being a postman because you genuinely enjoy walking round the neighbourhood, not because it’s easy and menial.

    Social skills are so important and very learnable, and it can truly destroy lives when people don’t realise that and don’t take them seriously enough.

  36. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    I’m going to make a second comment, if I may.

    It would be helpful to have separate conversations about people with Asperger’s Syndrome and people who simply have under-developed social skills. I think the two issues are very separate. They might lead to similar results in the workplace but the causes and the solutions are quite different.

    I believe it’s a good thing teachers identify students who need help and spend more time with them to help them improve on their weaknesses, whether that be social skills, physical coordination, reading or maths. I also agree that schools should teach social skills, both formally and informally. However, I am slightly wary of the notion that students with poor social skills should be rounded into a group and given special treatment. Firstly, this will mean putting in people with autism and people without autism into the one group, which is not helpful, as I said above. Secondly I think there is a very big risk of social stigma that could lead to bullying and further ostracisation by the “herd”, thus actually making the problem worse. Development of social skills is a two-way feedback loop; it’s not something wholly initiated by the kid with poor social skills. Once you are marked as a “loser” in the school yard it’s very hard to change that perception, no matter your future behaviour.

    That brings me on to the final point, which is that when schools teach social skills they should also be diagnosing the bullies. These people may hang with the popular crowd but they have problems of their own and not only that, they can cause problems for lots of other people who may have otherwise turned out fine.

    I very much agree with David Christiansen above when he argues that IQ is still important and that “social skills alone will not create a successful engineer, physicist, pilot, doctor, lawyer, writer, or professional volleyball player”. I suspect that what the WSJ list leaves off is that those attributes are the common theme between lots of different organisations recruiting for lots of different jobs. Each job will ALSO require hard skills and a general aptitude for the job.

  37. Jim C
    Jim C says:

    Caitlin and several other readers made an important point: There is a continuum. Some people have very good social skills, some are so-so, and some are very unskilled. Among the unskilled, some can learn to improve and some cannot. Some of those who cannot fit the definition of autistic.

    If you are like me (a scientist who has relatively poor social skills), the best thing to do is to find a job that suits your strengths. But not a mailroom clerk job, for goodness’ sake!

    (1) Get a job where your technical skills are in demand.
    (2) Stay away from highly politicized organizations. In particular, stay away from academe. (The college variety of office politics can be extremely vicious.)
    (3) Try to work with scientists and engineers. They are more interested in what you do and what you know. As a bonus, they also enjoy talking shop!
    (4) Stay away from marketing-intensive organizations such as consumer-product companies. People in marketing spend much of their effort working on emotion-based content. (Think of beer ads, for example.) Consequently they set a low value on factual subject matter and a high value on chit-chat.

    Finally don’t believe everything schoolteachers and learning specialists tell you about your kids. What you hear from them is shaped by the latest educationese fad. In two years the party line may change completely. So listen to the school faculty, but exercise your critical faculties too.

    * * * * * * *

    This is great career advice, Jim. Thanks for making my job easier :)

    I think number four is really important.


    • Oda 1024 Jensen
      Oda 1024 Jensen says:

      Thanks Jim, that is very useful advice. I suspected point 4, and can see where you are coming from with point 2.

      I was looking for advice like that. I struggle with workplace politics and employability and my career direction is, I think, problematic in relation to my personality, so I am looking for advice on where to go from here.

      I recognise the issue in the article although I do not have AS. I am considered quite smart and was as a kid seen as a fast learner, talented, and expected to continue into a high education and do well in the future… piece of cake. However, unfortunately I struggled so much with the social scene in primary school that I gave up on high school in advance.

      I have struggled most of my work life with the social aspects of just about anything but people don’t get it. I am a presentable, likeable and reasonable smart person, I just don’t seem to have the level of social drive & collective intuition that most people appear to have.

      Late in my 30’s my husband encouraged me to take a proper degree to lift myself out of a vicious circle of struggling with basic jobs that everybody can do – e.g got sacked because people complained behind my back, was always tired and stressed, and dreaded going to work. All that misery for low prestige, crap salary jobs… it wasn’t worth it.

      Even in very menial jobs such as cleaning, workplace politics can be a killer – in fact even more in menial jobs where complex intellectual abilities are not appreciated. Even in countryside jobs where solitaire tasks make up the bulk of the workdays, the social game is what determines opportunities and maybe even get you sacked or at least can get you very unhappy. I am not making this up, I worked in such jobs through many years. There is no running away from workplace politics.

      I now have a master degree within commerce/marketing with good results but I feel like an alien in the corporate world. I chose commerce to maximise my employability, improve my chance of getting scholarships for studies abroad, and because I actually didn’t have a full high school so I got into the degree through unusual compensations. It was also because I dreamed of one day work for myself, so I though commerce & marketing was useful.

      Almost any field of study can be interesting once you put your mind into it, and some of the subjects have changed my life and the way I think about the world: like sociology, statistics, and subjects about the global economy and its commercial constructs.

      However, after finalising studies I did realise that I have no idea about how to fit into the corporate world, particularly in a marketing role. I am quite frankly not interested in profit or exploiting people, it is not my call.

      I do not have technical & narrow interests like persons with AS and am in no way a tech or science genius (although quite tech savvy), but there is a gap between how I think and what I find interesting, and what most people consider “normal interests”.

      My “mental anchor”, the cluster of thoughts I somehow always circle around and return to is the concepts of space, life, human development, and the origins of life – and many related aspects such as sociology, confined group psychology for space missions, animal behaviour, science fiction, water, marine life, plant biology. I am not a science nerd, I am just very curious.

      Unfortunately, being a woman in my 40s, I am supposed to like shopping, chit-chatting, comparing feelings with other women, going out, food recipes, and similar things. I am supposed to be good at multitasking, phone conversations, chatting, workplace politics and attending to people’s needs. Not just in one particular workplace, but in any workplace??? Help…

      I need to find a job asap to pay the bills, however as much as I fear the bills I think I fear workplaces even more. Besides work politics & social expectations I struggle with a lack of ability to mentally filter background noise out. Busy open plan open offices with ringing phones, chatting people and a lot of things going on in the same time are like a nightmare. Same with shopping centres, dinners in noisy restaurants, train stations, parties, bowling halls… it just doesn’t work out.

      I resigned from my first office job ever in April after 2 years of misery, struggle and boredom. I was stuck in the bottom of the hierarchy with as the social outsider, was given almost only no-brain tasks, and I was desperate to grow and contribute in areas where I felt far more capable than anyone else in the company (technical dinosaurs). It wasn’t all bad but it was pretty depressing, overall.

      I finally resigned without having another job first, thinking that otherwise I would never get out. I must admit I have enjoyed the freedom, however it is important to be working, be a valued & acknowledged contributor to society. Importantly also, the bank and the landlord are breathing down our necks and obviously I need to pull my weight financially too.

      I have a lot to give as a worker: strong analytical abilities, well organised, strong written proficiency, creative, web & tech savvy, easy going with systems. I am friendly, professional and helpful, and a loyal team member. I like to contribute, lead & help… I just don’t like workplaces.

      Today I had an appointment with a job consultant in an employment agency. It was an open plan office, noisy, uncomfortable and confusing. I obviously didn’t mention I had any special issues. I was dressed up in a corporate outfit, very presentable and I am well articulated. My resume emphasises my top results from uni, major projects, awarded scholarships and other stand-outs. My office job experiences appear professional, and the job title sounds good too.

      The consultant looked at the resume and said: “my God… you are SO employable”. Then he said: “oh… now I understand. You are “Streamline 1 Limited”, you are not even supposed to be here”. I asked what that was, but he just kept repeating it as if I belonged to some sort of alien race. He went away to discuss it with his boss, and she came over and repeated that I was Streamline 1 Limited and shouldn’t be there. She ignored my questions as well. They told me to fill out a form and wait in the reception.

      Finally, after a long wait the receptionist gave in and explained that Streamline 1 Limited means that I am categorised as so employable so I don’t need their services, and can’t talk to a job consultant. It was a mistake that I had been given an appointment in the first place. They advised me to contact a recruitment agency who could help me to find a marketing job… easily.

      Back to the start …
      My husband suggested that academia may be the way to go for me, like doing research, but then when I look at your points I come to think that it probably won’t help. I would just struggle with academia politics instead of corporate politics.

      I wonder where to find Career advice for persons who do not have fantastic social skills, but who are not AS techie geniuses either.

      Besides of course working to improve social skills, which is an ongoing process.

  38. Amanda
    Amanda says:

    I would also add, stop thinking you’ll keep your high IQ.

    Because of my unusual pattern of skill development, I tested as having a gifted IQ when I was 5 years old. When I was 15 it was more like high-normal. When I was 22 it was low-normal to borderline. Some skills came online very early for me that looked exceedingly impressive at that age. But they came online almost fully formed, and only changed a little bit over time, so by the time I was an adult, combined with a movement disorder that made things more difficult along the way, they never looked as impressive again.

    I know many other autistic people who have similar stories with regards to standardized testing results. Many of us were classified as gifted as children, but score in the range of low-average, borderline, or even mildly intellectually disabled as adults. Not that I put huge stock in IQ tests as the measure of a person’s cognitive abilities, I just know a lot of people this has happened to.

    I also think it’s important to look at how social skills are taught, and whether or not autism is actually at root a social problem at all. Research is showing that autistic people’s perceptual and cognitive differences occur across both social and non-social situations. (See this paper for a summary of some of the research on this.)

    This would mean that social differences are quite possibly a product of one sort of cognitive/perceptual system clashing with another, and rather than having no social skills or social skills that are standard but delayed, autistic people often have different social skills.

    I’ve personally found being taught what most people call “social skills” not very useful. More useful is knowing the principle behind the social skills. Knowing why people want things done a certain way is important. Once that principle is deeply ingrained, then I can be better at fulfilling whatever the requirement is, my way, and at explaining what’s going on when I’m unable to fulfill the requirement.

    A good analogy is getting from Point A to Point B in a purely physical sense. A person could (depending on where Point A and Point B are, and the abilities of the person involved):

    * Walk unaided
    * Drive a car or get driven in a car
    * Operate a wheelchair (or be pushed in one)
    * Use a bicycle
    * Walk holding onto someone for support
    * Walk using a cane or crutches
    * Ride in a wagon
    * Use a skateboard
    * Take the bus
    * Some combination of these

    The central point in all of these activities is travel. There are many ways to travel from place to place. It doesn’t matter which one a person uses as long as it’s suited to the way their body works and their environment.

    What I see happen in a lot of social skills training, is a lot of emphasis on the equivalent of teaching someone unaided walking over and over and over and over again, but not showing what the main point is, which is travel, not walking. And also not showing all the other ways a person can get around if they can’t walk, or can’t walk certain distances, or can’t walk in certain environments, or can’t walk without severe pain, and so forth.

    My problem with social skills training ends up being that I can memorize all the things to do, but when the actual situations come up, one or more of the following is true:

    1. I am too busy absorbing information from the situation (or doing some other critical thing) to recall precisely what the social requirements of the situation are.

    2. I am physically incapable of doing whatever actions are “required” of me socially.

    3. If I do what is “required” of me socially, it will result in other forms of incapacitation in areas that are vital to navigating the situation.

    For instance, my culture puts a lot of emphasis on eye contact. If I make eye contact, which I have been extensively trained to do in “social skills training”, then I am unable to do much of anything else (including understand or produce language). I am also not always able to remember it, or to do it.

    But the function of eye contact in my culture is not the act itself, it’s to signal that you are paying attention to the other person. “Signal that you are paying attention” is the equivalent of “travel”. “Eye contact” is the equivalent of “walk unaided”.

    So then I can find other ways of signaling that I am paying attention. I can even let the person know in advance that while I don’t send out the standard signals of attention, I am definitely listening, and that in fact since I can’t look and hear at the same time, looking away is often a good signal that I am paying attention. If they are interested, then I might also let them know that it’s been found that even in non-autistic people, making eye contact reduces comprehension skills.

    I have not had too much trouble with this approach, but I would always have trouble if I were expected to simply mimic the standard non-autistic thing (and for that matter, sighted-person-thing) to do in my culture.

    I could go down a whole list of things there.

    I also think it’s important for jobs to be accessible to all people. Part of accessibility might mean allowing someone not to be social on the job. It does not take away from anyone else to be this way. (Although I should note that not all autistic people want to be non-social on the job. My brother for instance prefers roles where he is dealing with customers directly.)

    Also Asperger technically does not mean high-IQ autism. Asperger is a designation given to autistic people who have language develop in roughly the standard order and the standard time, without certain unusual characteristics. While the criteria technically say that the IQ has to be over 70 or something like that, there are reports of people with the diagnosis and an IQ slightly under 70.

    There are also autistic people with labels of autism, PDD-NOS, or Rett’s syndrome who have above-average IQ scores on standardized tests. (And when the proper tests are given, very few autistic people score in the range of people with intellectual disabilities.)

    Anyway, my particular label is autism, I’ve had a high IQ in the past although not recently, and most of the training in social skills I’ve got has not been very useful. However, I have learned a lot from using the talents I do have and putting those to use in dealing with social situations, rather than starting from my weakest point.

    I have true friends now and socialize a lot both online and offline. They don’t mind a person who is strange, in fact some of them like strange people.

    That is another thing that I think social skills training fails to take into account, in that it often trains people to act like one particular cultural standard when there are many others out there even within the same society. There are things I did that were well within my parents’ cultural standards but did not fit the cultural standards of the people who labeled my social skills (learned from my parents) defective and tried to teach me different ones. There are other things I have done for specific philosophical reasons (like refuse to shave facial hair) that have been blamed on me having poor social skills rather than on me having strong convictions about the horrid nature of certain standards being imposed on women. These things and many others become pathologized by people who assume that if I do something that does not conform it’s because I don’t know better.

    So there’s nothing all that simple about training in social skills. I think it’s important to know what the standards of the culture(s) you are living in are, but it’s also important to know how to fulfill the requirements of these standards without having to do them the exact same way as everyone else (“travel” vs. “walk”).

  39. Alyson Bradely
    Alyson Bradely says:

    Norah I know only too well how hard it can be for adults to be diagnosed. Have even heard stories where adults have been informed by doctors, that they do not diagnose adults, which is false of course. The one bit of advice I can give you, as being diagnosed myself in my 40’s, if have not already done, you need to write down a list of every difference you can think of not just as an adult, but back to when your were a child, go through the official AS criteria list and write down every little thing that relates to, or has in the past. Every little thing you can think of will help you to be diagnosed. Overload is good, the more information, lists of traits and reasons, will make it easier for the Clinical Psychologist.

    You can get referred to a clinical psychologist by a doctor or just make your own appointment if can not get a referral. I do have one on my forum where you can ask questions, and also have a list which may help you remember your differences as a child.
    My list of Characteristics of Children to Adolescences AS symptoms

    For Official Criteria list can view on many web sites and have on mine on main web site under AS symptoms, hope this all helps a little – as also in NZ can be differcult to be diagnosed.

    Also to mention any associated conditions here is a list some of them: NonVerbal Learning Disorder, dyspraxia (see an Occupational Therapist) aka poor co-rdination, clumsiness etc, eating problems including allergies, phobias about food, overeating, and ?anorexia (some cases), visual prbolems eg Irlens, Tourettes Syndrome, and other tic disorders, Attention Deficit Disorder, Depression, especially in adolescents, health problems due to high pain tolerance e.g. broken bones or appendicitis being ignored for a long time by the person, Anxiety Disorders such as phobias..

    When I was a child I had Clutters a speech Disorder, but do not have now. But things like this effect if you get diagnosed or not. Good luck in you search, unfortunately we usually have to diagnosed ourselves and then instead of getting the support we need, have to convince others…

  40. Alyson Bradely
    Alyson Bradely says:

    Quote:Author: Caitlin
    ” But I’m not sure that autism can be “cured” or even that most people with autism would want to be, despite the truth in what you say that it might help them in their career.”

    Totally agree with what you say. I’m an aspie and find a lot of NT’s could do with better social skills. Just thought I would quote 2 para’s from my web site:
    Our ‘symptoms’ are in fact ourselves, not some unfortunate illness we suffer. We are unique individuals which the so-called ‘normal’ world often despise and underestimate but don’t often try or want to understand. We have been made to believe in a stereotype of ‘normality’ for our children, and to panic, fear and react when our offspring don’t achieve.

    Every person is different, whether you have Aspergers/High Functioning Autism, Autism, Dyslexia, or whatever you're still human – €“ what is the norm, do you or anyone else have the right to dictate. Someone once said to me “if you had a chance of being normal, would you” and I replied “is there a normal, aren’t we all individuals in our own right, and to me thats like asking me to be someone else – so no I think I will keep me”..

    And your right when you say some Aspie do not feel they need a cure as Aspergers is not disease, not a disability and we do not need a cure. Just recognition, understanding and support. So for those of you who feel the need to prejudge us at less fine out what you do not know about or understand

  41. late_twentysomething
    late_twentysomething says:

    Despite being a mudslinger on another post, I’ll admit that I love your blog … :)

    Having said that —

    I work at a highly-regarded technical company (*but not higooglhely-regarded). I am surrounded by smart people.

    Per the linked emotional test and my own experience, I have somewhat above-average emotional intelligence. I am a chameleon; I adopt mannerisms and develop commonality with people. My last boss was a CEO of a small business and over the course of four years our relationship went from adversarial to fulfilling and very mutually profitable — in large part, I think, because I weathered the social storm.

    In my view social skills are paramount to even the technical workplace. Few people are so brilliant that their ideas “just work” without outside input. And highly-contrarian, brilliant people will battle each other for dominance. In my workplace this is common — people are often just outright dismissive of their peers when they disagree. Even if they are technically correct, there’s no regard for how the dismissed worker feels or will internalize the rejection.

    This attitude becomes institutional in technology companies. We develop processes that model artificial social interaction — frequent, mandatory “status” meetings — missing the point that great teams naturally want to let each other know what’s going on. In fact, they don’t have to — they’re working together closely already!

    As such, I often feel misplaced. Despite having been successful in the industry, I have trouble dealing with an environment that doesn’t regard social skills as most prominently useful.

    What I miss most about the brightest days of my technical work is the social interaction with my peers, the creative tension, the give-and-take from customers.

    Unfortunately these are not highly-valued attributes in the technical workforce and I feel, on some level, that’s why very often technical people lose out to the younger workforce as they age. Whereas I think technical skills are basically static and we’re born with them — fixed stars — emotional intelligence, soft skills, life experience, leadership, are all developed as we age and take in more people and more insight. Thus on the golf course grey hair is admired; in technology it is a burden; it doesn’t represent meaningful growth on an understood axis.

  42. peter van rooij
    peter van rooij says:

    I sense that people are going to argue with me here, but please consider that all the positive psychology research points to the fact that work does not make people happy. Relationships do. But we see the history of people with Asperger's – Einstein, Mozart, John Forbes Nash – they did amazing work but could not maintain stable, intimate relationships.


    Pay attention. Because when it comes to our job – no matter what our job is – it's the relationships that make us happy, not the work. That's why I.Q. doesn't matter.

    dear penelope,

    i’m an aspie. age 45. architect. HIQ >99.8 percentile.

    great article! but you failed to understand one crucial thing in what i quoted…

    the aspies you mention – like me – have or had work that make them happy! in fact more so than relationships… that’s why I.Q. matters!

  43. Ellen
    Ellen says:

    Everyone encourage your school and/or Board of Education in general to start forming “peer support groups”. I got the starter materials from OASIS, a major chatroom for Aspies and their families. My school recently approached my Aspie daughter’s history teacher who counsels kids interested in teaching someday to form such a group. She was reluctant as she is bogged down a bit, but teaching Hope convinced her this was a needed group so in about a week the first group will meet at a local Mexican restaurant.

    Basically the popular, EQ kids are recruited to spend time informally with Aspies, HFA, or kids with ADD who are socially deficient. Our group will probably meet three times a year or so as I told her this would be sufficient for now given her busy schedule. Me and another Mom will be helping as well in terms of transportation.

    The starter materials may or may not be important- our school hasn’t asked for them, but include only 1) standard letters home to parents for permission and 2)forms for the kids to fill out. Here’s the kicker: the so-called “normal” kids (I am NOT an autism curebie as they are called!)can list this experience on their college applications so it is a win/win for all.

    Prior to this I would simply ask other parents to have their children spend time with my little Aspie as appropriate or talk to her in the hall or at lunch. As I live in a small town this has worked out well.

    I pushed for this program a full year (in the press as well) before anything happened but I agree with Nora that such programs are a yardstick as to how saavy the Boards of Education are re these children.

    Ellen in South Carolina

  44. Joseph Miller
    Joseph Miller says:


    I think that what Stuart was objecting to, on November 20th, was not the credibility of your statement that the best indicator of success in the workplace is what school a professional attended but, rather, that you perpetuate that idea in the blog post.

    There are many professionals who did not have the same opportunities to attend those schools to which you refer. These professionals have worked hard to overcome elitist notions, and they have enough people out there using “research” to tell them that they are true.


  45. David Miner
    David Miner says:

    These are complicated issues. It is not easy to find consensus on anything that has been brought up. All of my life I have struggled with poor social skills, and with not having learned well in school. This was before special education, and I was left alone to make the best of it. I found out I could enlist in the Army when I turned 17, that I would be given waivers for being on probation and for dropping out. It seemed to be a better deal than running away or ending up in prison – even in the Army, I was still trying to do one or the other, it took another 10 years before I gained that self-control, and by then I was married, with a six month old daughter, and on my way to Vietnam.

    It was through luck, hard work, and intuitiveness, that I made it to 22 years and retirement pay. In the years since, there were two more divorces, and a series of menial jobs. But I was also engaged in what was more of a war for me than Vietnam: why was it like that for me as a kid, what had happened, and why. It is too simple to say that people do not know they are incompetent. At the end of it, for me, there were bitter losses and estrangement and no way to go back. It might seem odd that I had congenital unilateral deafness in the right ear, and so much came out of it. Odd because it seem simpler to take care of than Asperger's Syndrome.

    As an older adult, I am still working hard on improving my social skills, some of that is hard-wired, and some of it doesn't make any difference anymore. I have always been a reader, and just as I managed to make it through the Army, I managed to make it through college. So I've been lucky, I've traveled around the world, experienced more than I otherwise ever wold have, ended up with an income, and can sink into all the reading, studying and learning that I want to indulge in. I do not have strong ties to other people, or intimate relationships, but I am not depressed. I am healthy, and physically and mentally fit.

    There are many ways in which I don't think it would be any the easier for me now as a kid. I am not convinced that as much as there are smarter people, places, and programs in place now that I would have had a more successful life. My family, going back several generations, would have had to change. It is not easy to do that.

    David in Minneapolis

  46. Andreya
    Andreya says:

    Yeah, social skills are very important…

    About Sillicone Valley… Isn’t that place slightly toxic too? I wonder if the two could be correlated too…

    Certain chemicals & nutrition have been linked to cancer, mental health problems, ADD… I wonder if Asperger’s and such could be improved with nutrition/avoidance of chemicals too?

    Yup, a bunch of links pop up if you Google some…

  47. Andreya
    Andreya says:

    Oh, & it’s much easier to say something is ‘genetic’ – especially for governments & companies trying to save – or keep on earning – money ;)

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