This week’s series: How to deal with Asperger Syndrome at work

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People often tell me that I should write career advice for people with Asperger Syndrome. This is because I am surrounded by people who have Asperger's, and I have it myself. Please, do not tell me I don't have it. First of all, it looks very different in men and women, and most of you have experience with men. Second, I'm way more weird in person than I am on the blog. And surely you thought it was the other way around.

So, anyway, the reason I'm good at giving career advice is because I had to learn things systematically, which helps me break it down for everyone else.

For example, I had to learn that a candy dish on someone's desk means “I like to talk with people.” Other people read this cue instinctively. It makes for a good blog post but an annoying co-worker if I don't teach myself stuff quickly.

I don't really do career coaching. I don't have patience. But often career coaches send people with Asperger's to me, because mostly, these people are extremely difficult to coach.

They are difficult to coach because the biggest problem is that non-verbal cues that are obvious to everyone else are totally lost on people with Asperger's. For example, you can tell when you are boring someone, but someone with Asperger's cannot—we just keep talking.

Here is a link about how important it is to be well liked. I write about this need all the time. It's obvious to people who are well liked, and impossible to understand if you are someone who is not well liked. That's precisely why you're not well liked. And this is the problem with Asperger's.

Note that the person who sent me this link is Sarah Kunst, (event manager at The biggest difference between men with Asperger's and women is that women get help from other women, and men don't. So women with Asperger's are generally more high-functioning than men.

Sarah is a great example of a helper. I met her through my blog. Then I met her in NYC. She recognized me as someone who has trouble knowing what to wear, and what to do. So she gave me tips. Unsolicited, really. First makeup, then no cap sleeves, then a whole wardrobe. Men don't get this kind of help unless it's from a spouse who is desperate to keep the marriage together.

Note to parents: the most painful part of being an adult with Asperger's is not the lack of relationships. Really. I have a lack and I want to care, but I don't. And most people with Asperger's will tell you that the painful part of having Asperger's is not being able to work successfully.

So, this is an introduction post to this week's series: How to succeed at work with Asperger Syndrome. Stay tuned tomorrow for the next installment.

(And, hat tip to Virginia, another friend who helps me navigate the world, and emails me good links!)

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  1. Laura
    Laura says:

    It’s interesting you say that Asperger’s looks different in men vs. women. This article theorizes how autism looks different between boys and girls. It says that the autism gene may manifest itself as anorexia in girls, which is why fewer girls are diagnosed as autistic:,8599,1904999,00.html

    As for me, I’ve sometimes wondered if I have Aspergers. I can read people pretty well, just don’t know how to connect…

    • Donald Page
      Donald Page says:

      Reading people can be learned. ASs learn to read people in order to “survive”. Connecting is much harder to learn and happens without effort for NTs – so I understand.

  2. Bonnie
    Bonnie says:

    I love to read about this topic. It’s fascinating to me to learn how different kinds of brains work. I had cleverly realized that my ex-boyfriend had Asperger’s. Until I read a trend piece about ev-er-y-one thinking their boyfriends have Asperger’s…

    I don’t know you in person, but I am very surprised to learn this about you. Some things that come through in your writing that I don’t associate with Asperger’s are: your romantic passion, your urge to help others, your (positive) thriving on attention, and your enjoyment of the social aspects of work. I look forward to a better understanding. I probably make assumptions, plus, some of this sounds like learned behavior on your part.

    • Claire Caterer
      Claire Caterer says:

      My 15-year-old daughter has AS and also has romantic passion and a deep-seated need to help others and make the world a better place. I’m heartened to hear that women help women–that does make sense, though I feel for the Aspie men out there. I’ve not found nearly enough info on AS in women/girls, so I’m very glad to have found this series of posts. I will stress that my daughter desperately does want friendships, though probably not on the same scale or in the same way as other girls. Online communities help a great deal in this regard. Thanks for posting.

    • Teri
      Teri says:

      That’s where you’ve got us wrong. We are not completely inhuman, we just don’t communicate or interact that well. We say the wrong things but not out of callousness.

    • Ylanne Sorrows
      Ylanne Sorrows says:

      Actually, Asperger’s is not characterized by a lack of empathy. A recent study (a few months ago, actually) showed that persons with Asperger’s exhibit the same amount of empathy as persons without it, and sometimes even more than typicals. The problem is that because we are unable to read body language or facial expressions – nonverbal communication, that is – we may not be able to identify a person as upset in the immediate situation.

      Persons with Asperger’s may be very passionate, may possess an incredible amount of empathy or desire to change society for the better. But if we can’t read others’ expressions, how are we to express it ourselves? The answer: we have to learn it. Intellectualize it. Because reading and responding nonverbally and in a non-explicit manner is not intuitive.

      As a woman with Asperger’s, I love being able to socialize with friends who understand my difficulties in this area – because I enjoy being with my friends. I am very passionate about many things, and I have a great deal of empathy, especially for those who are oppressed or persecuted or otherwise treated unfairly or unjustly. Functioning in social situations is learned behavior. Empathizing with others is natural – expressing that is not. Passion is natural – identifying it and acting on it is not.

      If you ever want another perspective, feel free to send me a message at (just don’t send attachments).

  3. froggyprager
    froggyprager says:

    I am glad you are writing about this topic. My daughter has Asperger’s and I wonder what she will be like as an adult and how we can help her now to be successful in the future. I would be curious if you find good blogs or books on the topic. I really liked John Elder Robison's "Look Me In the Eye", it reminds me that it is not all bad and you can have a sense of humor as we deal with this.

    • Kathryn
      Kathryn says:

      I have advice for you for helping a teenage girl with aspergers, as I was once one. She feels, or I did anyways and this was perhaps due to my being undiagnosed, and having parents that really gave me no emotional support whatsoever, isolated…alone, alien. I felt very different than other girls, I felt immature… tom-boyish, although I’ve always been rather feminine… I didn’t understand the catty nature of other girls… I tried to fit in by being a goofball, and this worked really well for me, except it didn’t improve my feeling of disconnection with other people.

      Girls with aspergers mimic, its a survival tactic that we are very good at. I got so good at it, that I lost myself several times. Anyways, my advice to you, and what I would have done had I been the parent of myself, is to encourage her to be herself… let her know that she is different, and that being different is a good thing. Tell her she is amazing, and stress her unique qualities as I am sure she has a ton. Help her understand social situations the best you can, and she may never truly comprehend some of them, but it will intrigue her none the less. If she loves the arts then FOR THE LOVE OF GOD keep her in the arts… , my guitar, poetry and drawing, were the only way as a teen that I had any success in identifying my own feelings and still sometimes it is my only means for communicating my feelings to others… and figuring out my feeling for others.

      Does she like animals? And it doesn’t have to be a dog or cat, as I am not a big fan of house pets, but I found the company (dont laugh) of chickens to be very soothing. People with aspergers are often burdened with high levels of anxiety. I can remember having panic attacks at night in my bed when I was 4 years old.
      We see the world different, and we don’t always understand things that come naturally to other people. Don’t let her mimic so much, that she loses herself because it can be deadly for aspies. Suicide rates are high for people on the spectrum (And I am not mentioning this to set you in a panic, but so that you are well aware of the true depth the pain of isolation can create in an Aspie). You know her better than anyone else, and you have the most power pull over how she feels about herself and how she fits into the world. And if you are having problems reaching her… which is gonna happen because she can’t always express things to you… not because she isn’t trying desperately, but because it wont come out… there is a block… an invisible, but very real block. She can’t get past it, and one day she will develop her own way of getting past this block, but it will always be a challenge. OH, and when she does manage to get past that block and express her feelings for you make sure and acknowledge that her feelings have been communicated and well recieved. Encourage her to talk to you in what ever language she can, which may be unconventional, but important. But maybe the most important thing is to always let her know you love her, even if you don’t think she is comfortable with your expressing it (What teen is?)… and she may not be, but she needs to know this, and your expression will teach her ways she can express herself…

      Don’t STRESS OUT because She and You are going to be just fine. I am 33 yrs old, have a degree in biology, 2 kids, and work as an environmental consultant. My successes didn’t occur over night, but they might have come easier if I had had a mother who cares as much as you obviously do.
      One more thing, I felt less alone when I started talking to other people with aspergers, as we can identify with each others weird quirks and obsessions… and this was very enlightening for me, a revelation really… and a huge comfort. I hope that helps. Best Wishes to you both.

  4. Jak
    Jak says:

    Asperger Syndrome is just a different way of thinking and I disagree with anyone who believes it makes you less capable than other people. Do not ask me to play sports but I have still managed to attain a “normal” life of marriage, fatherhood, regular exercise, a graduate degree and a good job. It does complicates things but everyone should just use experience to devise a few techniques to survive daily interactions relatively intact. For me, the most difficult thing is that I am usually unable to filter multiple conversations so I avoid crowded areas to keep from getting overwhelmed.

  5. linz
    linz says:

    Do you think there are certain careers that are better suited to people with Asperger’s? Or is that a limiting way to think about it? Is it different if I pose it like this: are people with Asperger’s better suited to certain careers?

    My running coach has Asperger’s, and though it can be frustrating to communicate with him at times, the same qualities that sometimes frustrate me about him seem to make him an excellent coach.

    • John Hobson
      John Hobson says:

      I have AS, as did my father (and apparently his father), as does my twin brother and his daughter, as does my youngest son.

      Each of us has done quite well in various technical fields. My grandfather was a lawyer, specializing in the British law of local government (he literally wrote the book on the subject). My father was an engineer, specializing in fuels and lubricants. I am a computer programmer/Unix system administrator/technical writer (I wrote my own book on Unix security), my brother is an economist (he used to work for the US Treasury until he disagreed with then Treasury Secretary Larry Summers to his face on deregulation of the financial industry. According to him, he ran into Summers in 2010 and said “I fucking told you so!”)

      So, think of technical jobs which you can do essentially by yourself.

  6. Kathleen
    Kathleen says:

    I have to say this; I am uncomfortable describing myself as “having” Asperger’s so Penelope’s expression reflects her own perspectives (if you’ve met one autie, you’ve met one autie). I prefer to say I am autistic. I am autistic in the same way that I am human and female. “Having” asperger’s sounds too much like an appendage, implied temporal as tho it were something velcro-ed on. It is not something that can be detracted from my self with effort or even a bit of blood letting.

    Froggy, she’ll find a place for herself. Maybe not what you wanted or planned for nor along the trajectory you had envisioned. If this is any hint, I’m doing the same thing today that I was doing in elementary school. I’ve made a life of it. Not always easily but I’ve been successfully self employed for 14 years -and in the fashion industry no less. Fashion isn’t typically presumed to be aspie territory but I’ve worked alongside plenty of other auties in production. In fact, for some jobs, I wouldn’t hire anyone who wasn’t autistic but that’s just my opinion.

  7. Anna
    Anna says:

    Oh gosh – the links nailed my childhood and teenager traumas. I absorb in things and don’t have the instinct for the read-between-lines in offline communications.
    Learning to read (or guess) verbal cues from a book of gestures and their meanings has helped a bit, but I’ve failed as a kid or teen in so many levels that it’s funny when seen now. That would require a long long entry to cover even a few of them…
    I’ll definitely look forward to the new series of entries :)

  8. Mitch
    Mitch says:

    Penelope, I’m curious… and pardon me if you answered this in the past — I haven’t been reading you for too long, but were you diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome or is it a conclusion you’ve come to on your own based on your own research? I ask because you said “Please, do not tell me I don't have it.”

    I’d be interested to know if you have seen the movie “Adam” which is about a fellow with Asperger that is forming a relationship with a neurotypical. Excellent story, very realisitic, and worth seeing if you haven’t. After seeing it with my wife, one of her first comments was — “Are you sure you don’t have Asperger’s?” I instinctively said that I was pretty sure, but it did raise a doubt in my mind.

  9. KateNonymous
    KateNonymous says:

    I like this post because it is specific, but its underlying theme can be applied more broadly. Who among us can’t benefit from finding people we trust and paying attention to what we can learn from them? I’m interested to see the future posts in this series.

  10. Anthony
    Anthony says:

    I really appreciated this post–it’s an issue not a lot of people discuss or even think to discuss. And I think it highlights the fact that we often complain about or get angry with co-workers who operate differently than us and we don’t stop think that some people really are just different. We often expect everyone to act in the exact same way and by the same standards that we have for ourselves, and that’s stifling for many reasons.

  11. Professional Resume Writer
    Professional Resume Writer says:

    I am glad you are writing about this topic, because as much as I hear more and more about it, I’m still not that clear on what it is–and what the person with Asberger’s is feeling, how they think/relate to things, how they adjust their lives to the rest of the world, etc.

    Glad you brought this up.

    Erin Kennedy
    Professional Resume Services

    • Sam
      Sam says:

      Speaking for myself, I would describe it as excellent analytical skills, but many of the basic facts (for example about social situations that most people take for granted) are simply missing and impossible to infer without someone helping you.

      Assuming someone (perhaps a spouse) tells you about these basic facts, it is possible to infer what people are feeling and act accordingly in social situations. I would describe this as pattern matching: I have a large database of situations and their suitable actions in my head that I match everything that happens against. This requires a lot of thinking so I’m probably perceived as slow in many situations. If there is nothing that matches the current situation well enough I don’t really know what to do. I usually analyze the situation afterwards and ask my wife about it so that the next time I end up in a similar situation I know what to do.

      I seem to have been gifted with a near perfect photographic memory, which helps to store all this information. Considering that I’m constantly collecting new situations and their appropriate actions things are getting better for every year.

      As for feelings, there aren’t that many of them for me; things are the way they are and I don’t feel much about that. This probably helps the analytical part to do its work as well: if you aren’t overwhelmed by your emotions it is easier to remain focused and rational.

      Since I’m not Penelope this is probably far from she is experiencing, I’m a pretty clear INTJ on the Briggs-Meyers scale.

  12. Ashley
    Ashley says:

    This post just confirms for me that folks who share these labels (“on the spectrum” and such) – have incredible talents that (dare I say) might tip the scales, giving y’all somewhat of an unfair advantage on the rest of us.

    The only “difference” I’ve ever picked up on, when comparing your writing to others that I follow, is that you have balls (and I mean that in the best possible way).

    And last I checked that wasn’t symptomatic of anything other than courage and a spot-on sense of humor.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Everyone who is happy that I’m writing these posts should thank this guy — jrandom42. He’s been bugging me continuously for more than a year.

      So maybe the message is that I read all my emails and I pay attention to special requests :)


  13. Alyson Bradley
    Alyson Bradley says:

    As much as we are all unique on or off the autism spectrum, having aspergers and other neurological differences I can relate to what you say and wish to add with understanding, comes acceptance and then all we need do is allow, sounds simply far from it. If only we could simply stop worrying about our own characteristics we can not change and all allow ourselves our differences and do what we as individuals need to do to so that life works for us..

    So much more education and real awareness from those of us with lived experience needed so that those of us on the spectrum simply can be. I feel we can all learn from each other and that we should celerbrate diversity and difference not stress over it, with understanding comes awareness, comes acceptance…

    My take on the work situation:

  14. Kevin
    Kevin says:

    Very interesting; my wife has a sister who just recently was “diagnosed” with Asperbergers, or a form of it, and if she has Aspergers, then you all who are writing here are NORMAL!! That’s not to say I’m yankin’ your chain(s), but I have known my wife’s sister for nearly 20 years, and unless her diagnosis it total BS (And believe me, I don’t for a minute doubt that it is not BS; we believe she has a worse disease) then I believe anyone who can cope with computers, technology, the workforce, changing jobs, changing relationships, et-al….. cannot possibly have Aspergers. The person I know who I am told has Aspergers can barely take care of themselves (Actually, they cannot and live at home and do nothing for themselves) and only have a job outside the home (Grocery bagger) because parents (80 yrs+ in age) still take her there. Before she was diagnosed, she got bad reviews becuase she was/is/still is not normal. When my wife and I met some 20 years ago and I met her sister, I told her up front: Your sister is the “Rain Woman” (Movie reference……..) and it wasn’t until a year ago that she was finally diagnosed, but they just called it Aspergers, and I’m pretty sure it’s a bit more than just that, if some of you are saying you are diagnosed with that…….. that’s all I’m saying.

    • Alyson Bradley
      Alyson Bradley says:

      Most individuals with autism, aspergers can cope with life to a point, being exposed to society and having to do things on their terms continually other impacts many of us…. of course many on the spectrum just like those not on the spectrum often have other associated conditions /co-morbids, which can vary greatly learning, mental some brain damage can be very complex and more than simply neurological.

      Each one of us on the spectrum are different just like everyone on this planet, but believe you me its not easy living with a difference so often misunderstood some may say I have sensory, neurological, learning and mental disabilities… myself I do not see myself self as disabled but society unintentional or not disables me because of lack of real awareness or simply ignorance unfortunatelly far to often.

      It not about comparing who is worst or not, each one of us have our own stories and that can differ greatly.

      • Mark W.
        Mark W. says:

        ” … but society unintentional or not disables me because of lack of real awareness or simply ignorance unfortunatelly far to often.”
        Yes, and I will add a lack of tolerance and patience. This world could be a much better place if we could all somehow manage to accommodate each other better.

        A quote attributed to Robert E. Sherwood (playwright, editor, and screenwriter) I came across yesterday (thanks Kelly) – “We all come from our own little planets. That's why we're all different. That's what makes life interesting.”
        You might already know about this quote based on your comment above and your web site.

    • katinka
      katinka says:

      Autism is a very severe disorder, which can leave people unable to even talk, or handle any change in schedule.

      High functioning autism, aka asperger’s, is those people who have a lot of the characteristics of autism, but with enough intelligence to not only talk, but have a conversation, write stuff, navigate in a shop and perhaps take care of themselves.

      That’s why it’s called an autism spectrum: there are people with very severe problems that leave them unable to take care of themselves and in 24 hour a day need of help. Others will end up, with the help of a few friends, being able to take care of themselves to the extent that we would not notice.

      In other words: just because someone is barely able to take care of themselves is called autistic, with enough intelligence to be seen as an aspie, doesn’t mean someone else isn’t also an aspie. Even if that second person is so intelligent that they can function decently in society and take care of themselves in most ways that count.

  15. Summer
    Summer says:

    I look forward to reading these – and passing them on to my brother.

    I grew up dealing with him, and I still catch myself using some of the picked up behaviors. My partners have had vary levels as well… I think I found it easier to cope with because of my brother.

    Thank you for sharing, I look forward to hearing more about it from the female perspective!

  16. biting tongue
    biting tongue says:

    Great post — a topic that needs to be explored.

    If I’m ever in Madison, I look forward to meeting you so we can be awkward, together, in person.

    I find that it is often easier to interact with Aspies and Autistics than the neurotypicals. I suspect this is because I’m probably an Aspie and find the patterned behavioral stimulus-response consistency of Aspies and Autistics easier to understand than what I perceive to be the randomness of the NTs. Have you found a similar pattern?


  17. Sarah Sears
    Sarah Sears says:

    I work with clients with ASD – I even run a group for adults with ASD, and it can be challenging as a neurotypical person to coach social skills. The more insight I have and the more I can gain insight into the Aspie paradigm, the better I am at suggesting strategies for navigating the NT world. So thank you for your post! From my experience, I agree that what is very painful for some people with ASD is not feeling like they are a productive part of society though find a job or work. I hope that our work culture continues to grow towards being inclusive – there are many people with ASD and other disabilities, that have skills and abilities that could be very valuable to an employer.

  18. Laura
    Laura says:

    That’s so funny because the first thing I thought of when I read this post is jrandom42. Damn, you do read your emails. I just hope you’re being sincere, and this isn’t a card you’re playing to excuse yourself for being tone deaf. I look forward to future posts.

  19. Patt M
    Patt M says:

    Dead on about how AS is different in men vs. women….my 12 year old daughter has AS (mildly), but I know she gets it from me, my dad and my grandfather. The family jokes about how “odd” some of us are……not odd, just don’t get social clues.

    When Emily was first diagnosed and I was researching AS, it hit me like a ton of bricks….that was how I felt and acted. Who knew the reason why I never shut up!

    Thanks for bringing this to light. I think there are people out there that have autistic tendencies, but don’t meet the threshold for AS. It’s a fine line.

  20. Ruby
    Ruby says:

    I also live in Madison WI and have 5 kids – of whom 1 son is 17 and severely autistic, non-verbal…heavily medicated for aggression that can be random, otherwise he is like a big sweet teddy bear; my youngest son is 10 and was diagnosed with aspergers, dyslexia and OCD when he was 8. His situation came as a surprise because he has always been high-functioning albeit quirky. His aspergers has him do things like read (he learned to read) a book but be more engaged by making lists out of what he reads than the story itself…and then he has to repeat these lists endlessly (Mommy, you want to hear about all the names of all the teachers and all their pet peeves in that series….?) Anyone on the autism spectrum can have a personalized mix-and-match set of characteristics….where the OCD for my severely autistic son is quite simple – like having him straighten a rug as he walks by it or line up his fork 10 times before putting food on it, for my 10 year old the OCD is crippling (has had him writhing on the floor at times) and will be his biggest challenge. The most important thing is for people – especially parents of kids on the spectrum – to embrace how different these “disabilities” can be from one person to the next and to try to work through all of it with patience and support. For my husband and me and our other 3 children this will be our life’s work (along with just a little laundry and a few dishes)…endless….but rewarding…good luck to all of us!!!

  21. MJ
    MJ says:

    Well, heck, I might have the female version too. After all, I did MBTI test as an INTP, I have no idea how to dress (and don’t care! the work uniform solves that) and really only care about the work that I care about doing. Also have a lack and little interest in filling it. No idea where I got this from – certainly neither parent.

    But I kind of get candy bowls. Candy bowls are hilarious. I had one once, until one male coworker repeatedly came in, inhaled 5-6 pieces, and then handed me the wrappers to throw away for him. All without speaking. Classy. That pretty much ended it (now he does that to someone else…).

  22. dan
    dan says:

    I guess part of having aspergers is the ability to self diagnosis and be “weird”. I guess all those people who went to school for all of those years to receive training to diagnosis should have just looked for someone to say “i have aspergers” and I am weird. Bet theya ll would have liked to save money if they’d have known

  23. C Longmeyer
    C Longmeyer says:

    Ahhh. That answers some questions. I was just thinking yesterday that you need girlfriends. (you still do) You have thoughts and feelings that need to come out so they end up on twitter. Girlfriends would tell you “Be careful with the negligee thing. You just had a miscarriage, you need to make sure he wears a condom because your uterus isn’t completely closed yet and you could get an infection. And it’s been my experience that it’s easy for women our age to get pregnant, we just can’t carry the baby to term so statistics be damned.”

  24. Rob
    Rob says:

    Hey, saw your interview on CNN and you are awesome! Had to check out your blog after you stood up to that media pig claiming that somethings didn’t need to be announced to the general public, meanwhile it seems to be most of the waht the media does- airing celebrity dirty laundry or sordid detials. I respect your honesty and they way you stood up to his emtpy moralizing about his catholic upbringing. Abortion and miscarriages should be talked about and he can take his superstitions and shove them.

    Now to get back on topic of your post here, I am a very shy person and have been considering wether I have some form of autism or asbergers? Not sure how to get diagnosed or wether diagnosis would just lead me to make exscuses for my odd social behavior. I’ve read that maybe shy people have a little too mush “flight” in their flight or fight response make-up… which could be an evolutionary advantage at one point but now just serves to make sure I have no friends at work and have trouble conecting with people in general. Strange though, in the presence of other shy people I tend to overcompensate for their shyness by talking a lot. I didn’t even realize I was quiet until I was voted “most reserved” in grade school. I was kind of shocked and it hit me out of the blue. From then on it’s just been more shyness and then guilt and over examination of how shy I am being in every situation which just seems to make it worse. It’s hard to communicate to regular people how it effects your life… they say, “well, just be more outgoing then”, but I try to explain that it’s like telling someone in a wheelchair or who walks with crutches to just start running. I get along as best I can but sometimes it just seems overwheling the cards stacked against me.

  25. Gavin Bollard
    Gavin Bollard says:

    OMG… the candy dish means that… oops.

    I’ve often wondered why women with aspergers generally seem to be higher functioning than men, and your suggested answer certainly sounds like a major factor.

    I’m a male aspie and since I started working, I’ve never actually ever been out of a job. I’ve never been terribly social but I’m good at what I do – and I think that allows me to compensate.

  26. Jeffrey Deutsch
    Jeffrey Deutsch says:

    Hello Penelope,

    Speaking as a fellow Aspie, you make some very interesting points.

    In my work life-coaching Aspies (and NTs who want to understand us better), I’ve found that both work and personal relationships are important to many Aspies (and they have been to me too). On the other hand, some Aspies, like you, push relationships to one side.

    (And some others say they do, and on the surface feel like they do, but may change their minds if they decide that they can find and keep a good relationship. In the meantime, they figure there’s little percentage in pining over what you can’t have – same as most of us don’t spend a lot of time pining over Brad Pitt or Megan Fox.)

    Anyway, I’ve found that being an Aspie helps me in the ways that you mention: since I had to learn these social rules systematically (and I just learned from you today what a candy dish means, thank you), and since like many Aspies I put things into words easily, I can more easily help fellow Aspies and others with these things.

    (I’m sure NTs can orient Aspies as well – my NT wife is a prime example – and I don’t think it would be fair to write off NTs in that regard. Heck, a blind man has climbed Mount Everest. =|8-})

    Last but not least, tolerance and understanding need to go both ways. That’s especially important for Aspies, since (1) by nature we tend to be inflexible and (2) there are at least a hundred NTs for every one of us. We need to live and let live, such as when NTs put certain facts in indirect or softer form, ask to change plans on short notice or use very sparse terms to describe something.

    We put enough of a burden on the world when we ask for the accommodations we really need…let’s do whatever we can to meet NTs at least halfway.

    Keep up the good work,

    Jeff Deutsch

    • Debbie
      Debbie says:

      No. People who merely like candy keep it in their desks. A candy dish on one’s desk is a sign that the person is open to sharing, i.e., being social, i.e., talking.

  27. Carl
    Carl says:

    “For example, I had to learn that a candy dish on someone's desk means "I like to talk with people." Other people read this cue instinctively.”

    Probably about 1/2 the people I have worked with in engineering groups wouldn’t read this cue instinctively – it doesn’t mean they have aspergers.

    Why is it that a self-diagnosis of a mental disorder (aspergers, ADD, etc) is always someone wanting to get attention and/or to give an excuse for bad behavior? If you really think you have aspergers, you should see a competent mental health professional.

  28. Libby
    Libby says:

    I want to thank you for sharing your story, for being transparent with the world. You are an inspiration to many I am sure. My son is an Aspie and we are just now learning how to help him adjust and learn. He is 11, so since he will be choosing his career in no time, I was really excited to see your blog and had to sign up. He’s in a special school and is a blessing to his fellow aspies there. He feels comfortable there because he is understood. I am so thankful when I find leaders like yourself, who can be mentors to my son and others.

  29. fsilber
    fsilber says:

    “For example, I had to learn that a candy dish on someone's desk means "I like to talk with people." Other people read this cue instinctively.”

    Carl: “Probably about 1/2 the people I have worked with in engineering groups wouldn’t read this cue instinctively – €“ it doesn’t mean they have aspergers.”

    Probably half the people you have worked with in engineering groups suffer light asperger traits. That’s why many engineering students have the reputation of being “nerds without social skills who have trouble getting a date” (in contrast to, say, the kind of people who become successful salesmen).

    (Joke: When we want to say that something is doable, we say, “It’s not rocket science!” What do rocket scientists say in such situations? “It’s not like trying to talk to girls!”)

    Carl: “Why is it that a self-diagnosis of a mental disorder (aspergers, ADD, etc) is always someone wanting to get attention and/or to give an excuse for bad behavior?”

    Because it is indeed so difficult and enervating for people with such disorders to meet others’ expectations for us.

    Carl: “If you really think you have aspergers, you should see a competent mental health professional.”

    Why? There’s not a whole lot that even the most competent mental health professional can do about it. The brain is simply wired differently and has trouble doing (or trouble doing automatically without counscious effort) the kind of things that most people do automatically without even thinking about it. Telling them to just try harder to do things right is about as unhelpful as telling a tone deaf person that he should simply try harder to compose symphonies.

    • Carl
      Carl says:

      “If you really think you have aspergers, you should see a competent mental health professional.

      Why? There’s not a whole lot that even the most competent mental health professional can do about it. The brain is simply wired differently and has trouble doing (or trouble doing automatically without counscious effort) the kind of things that most people do automatically without even thinking about it. Telling them to just try harder to do things right is about as unhelpful as telling a tone deaf person that he should simply try harder to compose symphonies.”

      While there is no magic pill to treat aspergers (or other autism spectrum disorders) there can be help for severe symptoms. More useful can be cognitive behavioral therapy. Self diagnosis is not a substitute for expert medical attention.

      • fsilber
        fsilber says:

        I wonder what percentage of “competent mental health professionals” are competent at applying cognitive behavioral therapy to people with Aspergers. I suspect the percentage is very small.

        I’m currently reading Gaus’ _Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Adult Asperger Syndrome_. It’s pretty new, and seems to be the only book on the subject. (At least, it’s the only book about CBT and A.S. that I found on Amazon.)

  30. Libby
    Libby says:

    Aspergers is not a mental disorder, first of all. The medical community considers it a developmental disability. I’ve been told my some adults with Aspergers that psychotropic meds acutally caused some problems for them. Many times boys with Aspergers are mis-labeled and put in EBD/SEBD classrooms too, where such concepts as sensory integration dysfunction are many times not understood or accomodated. Aspergers is a neurological difference, and not always severely disabling. BTW, I am not an attorney or an M.D., so this is not legal/medical advice. I’m an advocate who is very happy to find adults with Aspergers who can mentor, or shed some light on what is so mysterious to N.T’s.

  31. Jeffrey Deutsch
    Jeffrey Deutsch says:


    Good one, fsilber!

    I hobnob with engineers and similar techies sometimes. They gave me this one:

    What’s the difference between an extrovert and an introvert?

    An extrovert looks at your shoes; an introvert looks at his own.

    You certainly have a point about we Aspies just being wired differently. One thing we can do is help each other. I coach fellow Aspies on how to better get along with NTs in their lives (and NTs on how to better understand the occasional Aspie in theirs).

    Libby, excellent point on misdiagnosed Aspies. The nasty thing about it is, Aspies tend to piss off teachers and other people in authority, so the less professional ones might not accommodate Aspies well, and it can become a vicious cycle.

    I’m glad your son is getting the help he needs, from the best parents and teachers he can have.

    Feel free to drop me a line if you want – perhaps we can compare notes!


    Jeff Deutsch

  32. Christopher Mahan
    Christopher Mahan says:

    “A candy bowl on your desk means you like to talk to people”

    Really? I thought it meant they felt uncomfortable with their weight and subconsciously wanted the people around them to get bigger so they themselves would feel better. Which, if you think about it, can’t possibly be too far off the mark because we all know eating candy throughout the day can’t be healthy, and we certainly want the best for our fellow human beings, especially those working with us to make our company achieve great things, right?

    People who like to talk socially are approachable: friendly, warm, good-natured.

    I am told by my wife I too have Asperger’s. True, I seem cold at times, and true, I bore people (her friends) when I talk. However, I don’t bore my friends, and I have enough of them to keep me busy. I also make lifelong friends, and our friendships are valuable because I don’t sugarcoat my comments to them, they don’t sugarcoat their comments to me, and we stay friends for years and years.

    I also have issues with work. I freaking cannot stand incompetence and ass-kissing. I also am frequently annoyed by office politics and I simply refuse to play their game, which of course does nothing for my career goals. I cannot stand busy-work, and I cannot deal with inefficiency. So many people think I’m a slacker and don’t want to do work. To some extent that’s true, but it’s because I don’t want to do boring work.

    Wait? Am I hijacking this thread? Not at all: I thought perhaps my wife was right. I thought I was cold, unfeeling, with difficulty adjusting to social contexts. Then I discovered that these traits also happen to match my MyerBriggs profile: ENTP. For example, in an ENTP help thingy online titled “how to live happily in our world as an ENTP” I find: “Realize and accept that for you a satisfying relationship will require you to attend to the small details of life and show awareness of your partner’s feeling. You might find this difficult, but it will pay the biggest dividends in return for your effort.” What? I have to worry about people’s feelings? Oh and this one too: “When having a conversation with a friend or relative, spend at least half the time talking about them. Concentrate on really understanding where the person is coming from with their concerns. Ask questions.” Woah, I must be such a boring and unfeeling person!

    Ok, I admit it: I’m different. I personally think that I’m different in a good way, because I don’t blindly follow the sheep herd, think for myself, and educate myself. Imagine that.

    Don’t try to be a sheep when you’re not. It makes the other sheep uncomfortable and confuses the dogs.

    • Ali
      Ali says:

      I would strongly reccomend you read the book The Cult of Personality by Annie Murphy Paul. You will find that the MBTI is not all it’s cracked up to be, with no scientific validation from mainstream psychologists or doctors; the only validation it receives is from within its own community (it has its own journal and reviews), which is not the way good science is made. I’m glad your type has made you feel validated, but it’s a house of cards (how’s that for a real-life Aspie using a metaphor?).

      • fsilber
        fsilber says:

        I suspect that most psychotherapy is not validated scientifically by mainstream doctors or clinicians — even that which is practiced by mainstream doctors or clinicians.

        The MBTI is not a theory of mind; it is merely a collection of four orthogonal personal characteristics. I mean, do we really need scientific validation to know that some people are extroverts and some people are introverts, or somewhere in between? Or about whether a person is more logical or emotional? To say it’s not “scientifically validated” is like one person describing your looks a short-tall spectrum, a light/dark spectrum, a thick/thin spectrum, and dividing people into eight combinations — and then having someone challenge you to prove that these are valid trait-combinations!

    • CJ
      CJ says:

      The tone of this comment just floors me. It reminds me so much of the angry Aspie guys who only know how to succeed in their techie jobs, yet are more than aware of their own social deficits. So they hide behind a mask of arrogance, faux superiority, cynicism, and hostility toward NTs (often referred to as “sheep”) in order to elevate their own lagging self-esteem.
      As a mildly Aspie woman who has to deal with these guys in various AS forums on a daily basis, I was saddened to read this post in an otherwise constructive thread of comments. Sigh.

    • NT-dog
      NT-dog says:

      Ah, don’t worry Mahan, you are not a Aspie.
      My wife is a smart mild aspie who works hard to adjust to others and does not boast about it. You are probably one of those guys who claim to have a high IQ because you know something technical, egocentric, narrow mindend, you feel disrespected by your collegues and you overestimate yourself using your imagination. Thats not Aspie that’s Nerdy.But you should wonder if you still love your wife or finding another job might help.
      Although your last one liner is funny, I am an NT-dog setting you straight. Sorry to mention this but there are many sheep like you.

  33. fsilber
    fsilber says:

    Even when I was in elementary school I realized I had social deficits, even though I had no idea how severe they were. I remember being excited in third grade when I learned that we were going to have a _social_ studies textbook. I was really let down when I saw that all it had was a bunch of useless information about farming, commerce, industry and transportation. “What on earth does that have to do with a person’s _social_ life? How on earth am I supposed to know anything about how to behave with other people unless someone tells me?
    And why are all the other kids (apparently) being told, but not me?”

  34. fsilber
    fsilber says:

    I identified with comedian Emo Phillips’ rant about women:

    “Don’t talk to _me_ about women. I know all _about_ women. I learned about women the HARD way (…long pause..) from books.”

  35. Mouse
    Mouse says:

    Might as well add my voice to the chatter.

    For Carl: The major reason I don’t have an official diagnosis is that I cannot find a single, qualified person in my state who works with undiagnosed adults. There’s one clinic that is qualified to give medical diagnoses to children and some school districts are able to give educational diagnoses. My son is going through the process now, but we’ve already been told he matches the standard Asperger’s profile. My mother and I have both realized, thanks to the information we’ve waded through recently, just how strong a streak of Asperger’s there is in our family for many generations, but there are no resources here aimed at adults.

  36. Lioonilio
    Lioonilio says:

    Reading that article you linked to was like getting hit in the chest. I could hear my former boss complaining about my listening skills in the background. Ugh…. I didn’t realize that the candy dish meant you wanted to have people stay and talk. At my last job, I had a candy dish. I got it cuz my boss had a candy dish. I DID always end up with people I wished would shut up and let me finish working. I wish I had seen the connection then.

  37. Dawn
    Dawn says:

    Interesting comment that women tend to be more high functioning because other women help them and neurotypical men don’t help asperger men in the same way. It sounds reasonable as a woman who at the age of 40 (last year) was diagnosed with AS. I tend to seek out those that can help me and my female friends tend to be more the motherly type. However, I would be willing to bet that more Asperger men than women get married.

    • Andy
      Andy says:

      Im an Aspie guy. I grew up with a Mother, Stepmother, Grandmother, 5 sisters and 60-70% of my friends were female. I think it helped a lot. I really don’t get guys though :)

  38. Sara Ruth Kerr
    Sara Ruth Kerr says:

    I’m a little behind on my blog reading and just saw this. I would love more information on working with people with Aspergers. I worked with a girl whom I suspected had Aspergers, and I would love to know some tips on working with Aspergers from the other side.

    Love your blog. Thanks. Congrats on the engagement!

  39. Jeffrey Deutsch
    Jeffrey Deutsch says:

    Hello Sara Ruth Kerr,

    Congratulations on your work! Are you a professional coach or therapist?

    I specialize in helping Aspies (people with Asperger Syndrome) and NTs (neurotypicals, who are not on the autism spectrum) communicate better. Please feel free to drop me a line!

    Mouse, please also drop me a line (your blog doesn’t have any one-to-one contact information). I may be able to help you out.


    Jeff Deutsch

  40. Mervyish
    Mervyish says:

    My 18 year old son with Aspergers has been called anti-social by his peers as he has no desire to mix socially. His reply was well if not getting drunk, not smoking, not doing drugs, not spitting or swearing, not littering the park, not causing a nuisance to the neighbourhood is anti-social, then call me anti-social.

  41. Deborah
    Deborah says:

    My husband seems to have many of the symptoms of Aspberger’s. What I notice most is that he NEVER gets it when I’m upset. He just stares at me blankly. Even if something really big happens to me, he is not upset at all. I’m starting to doubt his ability to love in the way other people love a person. He is periodically embarassing in public when he says something unusual. All he really cares about is his hobby, although he can do other things too. He thinks very literally and cannot think philosophically at all. He is great as an engineer and makes a lot of money. He holds his fork like a caveman would and can’t snap out of it. He NEVER feels pain, even when he broke his wrist. It’s all so weird!

  42. anonymous
    anonymous says:

    i think people with aspergers are all INDIVIDUALS and although you may have certain qualities, not all people with aspergers will have those same qualities.

    for instance — i don’t have a problem dressing myself. i DO keep it very simple and i hate loose clothing (the cloth-touching-my-skin sensation is over-stimulating).

    Another thing is that I too have a lack of friends, but unlike you, i HATE it and i OBSESS over how sad it is. At the same time, I can’t be around people for very long or I get tired, worn out from my brain having to over-process everything. but i’m incredibly lonely — i don’t have children and have never had a boyfriend for very long (that’s another story). so maybe that’s why i’m a lot more lonely than you, but at the same time i recognize that i NEED friends so I TRY REALLY HARD to keep them.

    by you generalizing and saying “aspies do this, and aspies do that” just because YOU do it, doesn’t make it true for all aspies. you probably know this and it makes for better writing (from your own experiences), but maybe your readers don’t always understand that.

  43. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    There is a huge gender diagnosis gap for ADHD too. Girls are seen as naturally more “flighty” and “daydreamy”. As a girl who STRONGLY suffers from ADHD-INATTENTIVE SUBTYPE, but with very weak scoring on IMPULSE CONTROL, I don’t fit the cultural stereotype of someone who has ADHD, and feel awkward disclosing my disability, despite how much it affects me. My husband, 32, suffers extreme hyperactivity and impulse control problems, even though some doctors still think kids “grow out of it”. We are SO MUCH FUN sometimes (not very productive though) :D

    • Andy
      Andy says:

      It is generally believed there is 1 aspie female for every 4 aspie males. Dr. Tony Attwood in probably the top professional in the area believe it’s closer to 2 to 1. Mainly because other girls help out aspie girls. And apparently a lot of the girls/women that do get diagnosed don’t come in for it, they come in for depression, eating disorders ect. and it gets found that way. Also he’s a proponent of adding positive traits to the diagnostic criteara. 

  44. Dawn Livingston
    Dawn Livingston says:

    I read your comments and found myself nodding on several occasions, such as when you said others shouldn’t tell you you don’t have it, that it manifests itself differently in men and women and that women are generally more higher functioning because they get help from other women.
    I’m 42 and was just diagnosed within the last 2 years with AS. The things I mentioned above are things I’d come to realize since then. Also, the likelihood that boys having it 4/1 more than girls is probably wrong since females blend in better (less likely to act out), get help from other females, etc.

  45. Pastor B @ TLC
    Pastor B @ TLC says:

    One of the young men who attends my church has Asbergers. I’m not sure how to relate to him or how to help him. He has trouble making and keeping friends, and is often lonely. He argues constantly with his mother. He seems to be willing to work, but has a hard time keeping a job.

    Can you refer me to some reading material (Blogs are just not enough) that would be helpful in educating myself on the best ways to deal with men who have Asbergers?


    • Mados
      Mados says:

      Pastor B, it is very positive to hear that you care about your people and even do research to find out how to help a young man that can’t seem to fit in. The best way to help is probably to identify his strengths and build on them in a way so he becomes useful to the other people in the church community. Most people seem to think that conversations is the only way to communicate, but what really matters is to belong to a social group. Relentless small-talk is really just a bad habit many people have, and probably stressful & impossible for the young man. – What is he good at? What are his interests? Can they be converted into use for the community in a way that doesn’t overload him with complicated (=normal) social requirements? 
      Just think of him as being similar to a dog. You can’t have a meaningful conversation with a dog, but he can be trained to be useful to you and be an enjoyable part of your habits, and thereby get to feel like a valued member of the pack (= happy dog). Likewise, if a person with poor social skills is taught how he can contribute in ways that are valued by the community without requirements of complex (normal) socialising to go with it, then he can achieve respect and belonging without being stressed out and without people getting too annoyed with him.  

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