Asperger syndrome in the office: How I deal with sensory integration dysfunction

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A lot of people ask me how I manage to keep a job when I have Asperger syndrome. So I’m doing a series this week on the topic, because it's true that most people with Asperger's are not doing well at work. The work place rewards social skills, and people with Asperger's have a social skill disorder.

I will never have great social skills, but I make them better by ensuring that I'm in my best social environment for work. For most people with Asperger's, inadequate social skills are exacerbated by sensory integration disorder, which is a tendency to be overwhelmed by outside stimuli. This frequently overwhelmed feeling makes one unable to concentrate on social skills.

Here are the ways I compensate for sensory integration disorder so that I can focus on having social skills that will make people want to work with me.

1. Establish routines to limit input.
Food is a problem for me. I hate variety. I hate that I don't know what is coming. My effort to control food got so extreme that I landed in a mental ward with an eating disorder. Today, I try to never go out for a meal. If I have to, I order salmon. Everywhere. And just looking for the salmon I get overwhelmed reading the menu. Too many details about food.

Given a choice, I eat a Power Bar for every meal and snack, (two= a meal, one= a snack,) and I hate if the store is out of both peanut butter and vanilla. I don't like variety, even in Power Bars.

2. Find people who believe in you, and then reveal deficits.
I often tell people I'm booked for lunch or dinner, and suggest coffee. That way people only expect me to get a skim latte. The foam always varies, which is annoying, but I like that I always control the sugar.

Like most problems related to Asperger's, when people know me, I am more forthcoming about the problem. This is the only way I can get help from people. For example, one of my favorite board members takes me out for breakfast each week. At first it was to control the company's cash flow. Now it is to control for my eccentricities. He understands that I add a lot of value to the company, and he understands that I don't eat breakfast when we go out for breakfast.

3. Assume that your most severe deficits relate to Asperger's; you'll understand them better.
I have math dyslexia. I don't think people knew it existed when I was a kid. People said if I'd just do the homework then I'd be able to follow in class. But I couldn't do the homework. Even with a tutor. By the end of high school I was in honors everything but remedial math, and still failing.

I also do not know left from right. Please, do not tell me your tricks. I know them all. For example, your left hand makes an L with your thumb and forefinger. The issue is that I don't understand the concept of left and right: How can my left not change when I turn? How do you know my right? How can I tell which is right on the truck to my left? It all feels like a math problem to me.

4. Find people who are willing to help.
The first company I founded was, ironically, a community for math teachers. And I got killed on the financials because I didn't ask for enough help. So with my second company, I hired a controller right away, and I spent two hours a day with her so that I'd always have a good handle on the numbers.

When I founded Brazen Careerist, I was very careful about who I partnered with because I know the gaps in my skills. Ryan Healy has a degree in finance and an ability to run numbers in his head that looks like magic to me. The first thing we did after we got our seed funding was to establish that Ryan is in charge of all the money.

Ryan Paugh has a core kindness and patience that makes me feel comfortable asking him for help in areas other people would not put up with. So, for example, I cannot read a map and I can't follow GPS directions, so Ryan is on the phone with me all the time helping me drive to where I'm going. (“Turn to the driver's side. The side your body is on. That side. Turn now.”) He has dealt with me crying because I turned the wrong way, even with those directions, and he has dealt with me being lost six blocks from where I grew up. Really.

5. Watch the words people use in order to see where you are distasteful.
I was always great at sports. In grade school, I was the only girl the boys let play kickball. In middle school, I was a regional figure skating champion. After college, I played professional volleyball.

But if I'm not focusing on the sport at hand, I lose track of my body. I bump into so many things that I almost always have bruises on my thighs, shins, and shoulders. This happens so routinely to me that it wasn't until the past few years that I realized that not everyone bumps into each other, and people think I'm being inconsiderate.

I also find that I physically cut people off. Like, I jump in front of them in a way that startles them, or I walk so close to them they stop to let me pass. I can't see how offensive I am until they are already saying “Hey! Excuse me!” but I know they mean “you are so rude.”

6. Pay more attention at work, where the judgement is most likely.
I try very hard at work to not invade peoples’ personal space. This means consciously slowing down to watch where everyone's body is before I move my own. Sometimes, if there are a lot of people moving at once, I just wait until there are fewer people moving before I move.

No one notices this, I don't think. And when I'm very careful, I only end up bumping into people I work with once or twice a week. I don't think they know I'm doing it. I mean, they know I'm a little jerky in how I move, but they don't realize that I keep bumping into people.

I also try to notice if I'm standing too close to someone. And then I take some steps back. That means that people don't know me for invading their personal space, which I know I am prone to do if I do not pay attention.

The thing is that this takes tons of mental energy. So I do not pay attention to this at all outside of work because it's too exhausting.

7. Stick to one-on-one meetings, and use email a lot.
I don't like crowds. They are too loud for me, and if the acoustics are bad, and it's loud, I could actually end up in the bathroom crying from anxiety.

I can't read nonverbal cues of more than two people at once. I can't tell: Are they loud or quiet? Are they intimate? Are they anxious? Do they want to talk with me?

So if there are a lot of people, I either don't shut up (because then I don't have to do back and forth conversation) or I don't say anything (so no one knows I'm missing cues).

I rarely go to parties. The only time I do is for work, and I usually have someone there who is translating for me. (Here is a good example of that, at SXSW.)

I am not a good collaborator in group meetings because I have to work too hard at reading people to also come up with ideas. So in groups I am either the person leading the meeting, and it's informative rather than collaborative. I collaborate via email (finally, a good use of the “reply to all” button).

I spend most of my time one-on-one. Most people like me one-on-one because I am my most normal self. People who work with me accept that I am not my best self in big meetings and rarely invite me to them unless I'm leading them.

I know this is a lot of information for someone who is trying to deal with Asperger's. The two most important things to take away from this are:

1. Understand common deficits of people with Asperger's. You probably have them.

2. Surround yourself with people who will coach you through situations.

98 replies
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  1. Carol
    Carol says:

    Hmm. I’m hopeless in groups, can’t read body language to save myself, I’m very clumsy and I don’t know my right from left. I don’t think I have Aspergers at all – but it is useful to hear about some of your coping techniques for these issues.

    Exhausting to be that aware all the time though. Even though you say you only do it at work… No way I could, which is why IT is the best career for me. Everyone expects us techies to be a bit peculiar after all :-)

  2. Maggie McGary
    Maggie McGary says:

    Um, yikes–if I go by this post I think I might have Aspergers! I’d eat power bars for every meal if I could (I do at work), I can’t do math and can’t tell right from left. I hate crowds too and do better one-on-one.

    You need to write a book about Aspergers from a woman’s perspective–you say it’s different than Aspergian men–because right now my only context is Jon Elder Robison’s book and I don’t identify with him at all…but this post you just wrote is totally me.

  3. Michael
    Michael says:

    Excellent post.

    You’ve probably heard of the book “The Incident of the Dog In The Night Time”-I thought it was outstanding, and I feel like it gave me some insight into what non-neurotypicals are going through.

    My boss’ son is dealing with life somewhere on the spectrum, and I am constantly assuring her that he is going to be okay.

    Here’s hoping the world that boy grows up in will be even more accepting of Asperger’s than the current one.

  4. J (the regular poster one)
    J (the regular poster one) says:

    Very interesting P. I had no idea of all of the different ways your life could be affected by this; thanks for sharing.
    The math thing is especialy interesting to me because I had similar problems.

  5. Denis
    Denis says:

    Thanks for this post. I’ve spent years learning to cope with asperger like issues and it is comforting to hear other peoples similar strategies.

  6. Ivan
    Ivan says:

    #6 made me LOL. I do that too, everywhere. And I feel so awkward.

    It never occurred to me I might have Asperger’s… I got a 33 in an online test (16 is the control group)… this would actually explain a *lot* in my behavior.

    Now I feel much more at ease with myself. Thanks a lot!

    PS: Oh look, its 1:00, let me go re-align my keyboard perfectly parallel to the edge of the desk.

  7. Emily
    Emily says:

    I have math dyslexia or dyscalculia (good entry on wikipedia, not sure how to link in this comment post) I’m in my early 20s and want to pursue so many interests– most of the careers I am interested in involve math. I took statistics in college and it was a nightmare but I graduated. I’m worried about the future and how this math issue will come back to haunt me. I’m hoping to go to graduate school for business and wondering how to prepare myself or learn to cope with the math dyslexia issue. Do you have any advice?

          • paul isaac
            paul isaac says:

            Dude, you’re way out of line. You can think that all you want but don’t type it. Seriously, you could say “This woman speaks my language, and that is something I really appreciate.” But don’t use such vulgarity, it’s disgusting.

          • paul isaac
            paul isaac says:

            Of course, now that I see that my comment was deleted, for some unknown reason, I am no longer going to read this blog. If I can’t voice my opinion then why should I read Penelope’s? I’m not going to be returning here, because I don’t believe in moderation of comments that do not contain vulgarity such us the above poster’s. I hope someone deletes this whole blog. It would serve you right for deleting my comment.

  8. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    I must admit that I don’t know a great deal about Asperger’s Syndrome. I probably know as as much as the average person but that’s not a great deal. What I do know has been influenced by films like Rainman and books like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time.

    A few things puzzle me though. Like the fact that your writing shows so much emotion and empathy. You really know how to tug at our heart strings with your choice of words.

    And the fact that you are good at sport – surely sport is the definition of a situation where there is a lot of information coming at you very quickly and you need to make split-second critical decisions. And you’re not just good at solo sports, but you’re good at TEAM sports where you have to judge not just the position of the ball but instinctively react to what your opponents and team mates are going to do.

    Journalism as well means you have to process and synthesize vast amounts of information, albeit in a very different form.

    None of this matches up to what I thought Asperger’s Syndrome was all about. But as I said, I’m not hugely knowledgeable about it. It’s interesting to read about your experiences.

    • Sam
      Sam says:

      Asperger is a bit of a catch-all diagnose, and not all people have all the symptoms that are described. Rainman is a bit of a mish-mash between several well-known autistics, and the most well-known (the memory guy) isn’t really functioning in society. With that said:

      Penelope is intelligent. It’s pretty clear that Penelope is not a quitter. She is an obsessive writer, and has been writing for many many years by now. She has had good coaches, and clearly she listens to advice. Writing is definitely a skill that can be learned, but it requires tons of practice.

      The good part about sports is that there is a rule book. Winning is usually accomplished by placing the ball where your opponent isn’t located: either you put the ball there yourself or you pass your team-mate so they can put the ball there. Many of the positions you end up in a real game can be practiced and planned beforehand, and after thousands of hours practicing there are very few surprises in-game. As for figuring out where your team-mates are or want you to be: the best place for the current situation.

      • Caitlin
        Caitlin says:

        Interesting – thanks, Sam.

        I know Rainman is not meant to be typical but I’d heard good things about the authenticity of The Curious Incident.

        I just thought it was really interesting that the number of choices of a restaurant menu (which is finite) can be so difficult, while navigating the infinite connections on the web and making sense of it for blogging and writing is something she manages so well.

        Writing can be learned but Penelope’s writing is full of humour and pathos, which is a social skill.

        Sport has rules but so much of it is about pre-empting your opponents or teammates (something I’m terrible at, by the way), which I would have thought would involve reading a lot of non verbal cues. This too is a social skill.

        I guess Asperger’s can manifest itself in so many different ways. Whereas I’d only ever considered it in terms of how severe or mild the condition is.

      • Lora
        Lora says:

        I know a person with AS and he’s great at writing, but not at talking. I think writing in many ways are easier, since you can take your time with it and don’t have to worry about social cues.

  9. Doug
    Doug says:

    ENTJs are often outstanding at math and directions, so interesting to see how this has impacted you. Also interesting because the sports you mentioned suggest you’ve got strong gross motor skills – something many ENTJs lack. MBTI type isn’t everything and has many pitfalls, but something in your brain is clearly taking you 180 degrees away from your type’s typical behaviors.

    • rose
      rose says:

      Doug, my 8 yr old son is recently diagnosed with asperger. Math, especially math with word problem, time and money are his weakest area. You mentioned about an ed tutor who helped you to think of math with visual concept. Can you email me a bit more on how he does exactly that, especially for the twisty math problems? Thanks and anxious to learn, Rose

  10. Mady
    Mady says:

    Another female Aspie here- it was interesting and comforting to read someone else writing from my exact perspective in #7. You nailed it.

    I just wanted to note that while dyslexia of all kinds can be comorbid with Aspergers, it is not an inherent trait. You actually see a disproportionate number of mathematical geniuses who have Aspergers. I struggled with math for a decent percentage of my childhood. I eventually became comfortable working with math because of a special ed tutor who taught me to mentally process the numbers visually, instead of keeping them as abstract concepts. But for years I had tutors who were just trying to explain the rules ad nauseam, which was about as useful as I imagine people’s tricks for left from right are for you. I suppose my point is, it gave me a lot of faith in reframing the entire strategy for “getting something”. Not that I have anything helpful to offer you, I am entirely visual and spacial orientation is one of the areas where things are easiest for me. Just don’t try to have a conversation with me over the phone.

  11. Amy
    Amy says:

    I finally learned to tell left from right by learning to play the piano. The left and right hand piano parts became part of my muscle memory, and I could start to play one of my favorite songs on a desk or whatever was handy, and tell which hand was which that way.

    Not a tip, but I understand your struggle.

  12. Dree
    Dree says:

    It’s really interesting to me, ‘Lope, that you’re such a good networker. Much of the time, when I network I fall into “hypnotic pacing”, where I’m copying the other person’s demeanor back at them. It’s not conscious, and sometimes I think it comes off as overly “slick”. I’m guessing that isn’t a skill for you…you must, instead, win people over by bumping into random objects, breaking social distance rules, and occassionally expressing emotion at “inappropriate” times. In other words, being genuine.

    It might be more of an assent than it would first seem, in a world full of greasy 30-second elevator pitches.

    (But if you don’t pretend to be interested in my story about seeing the runaway tent at the dog park, I’ll certainly be personally affronted!)

  13. Janet McK
    Janet McK says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I know nothing about Asberger syndrome, and I now will think twice about judging someone who bumps into me.

  14. Clare
    Clare says:

    V informative post – thanks! I wish we were all taught about aspergers, dyslexia and so on – it would really help office and work relationships if we could better understand our colleagues who have these syndromes, and find ways round problems.

  15. Denis
    Denis says:


    From what I’ve found people have a tendency to make gross generalizations about aspergers when in reality it manifests itself in many diverse ways. I’ve heard people suggest ‘you can’t have aspergers because you’re not obsessed with a single topic’. This is incorrect as there are a great many characteristics that make up the diagnosis but they can be quite ambiguous as not everyone shares them.

    For example, you seem to imply that people with aspergers have issues processing lots of information. This, I believe, is actually contrary to the truth. The issue is that people with aspergers have difficulties filtering sensory information from their surroundings, especially when it comes to complex environments full of various lights and sounds.

    However, many people with aspergers develop coping strategies. For example, neuro typical people natuarally filter information so they never have to think about it or have to deal with it. Aspergers individuals may need to consciously develop stratgies to filter such information and often times subconsiously their brains adapt to dealing with far more information than neuro typicals. As a result, often times asperger individuals can outperform neuro typicals when it comes to processing large amounts of information. This isn’t suggesting in the context of sensory information but information processing, such as in journalism.

    As for sports, Posted: Tony Attwood, in his book, The Complete Guide to Asperger Syndrome, says “The single minded determination of people with Asperger’s and time dedicated to practice can lead to outstanding sporting success.”

    Individuals with aspergers may start out with certain weaknesses and strengths that others do not have. However, often times through hard work and dedication those weaknesses can be leveraged into strengths through application of will and the conscious act of noting the weakness and undertaking steps to apply it.

    • Caitlin
      Caitlin says:

      @Denis “For example, you seem to imply that people with aspergers have issues processing lots of information.”

      I didn’t mean to imply that – it was implicit in Penelope’s post when she commented on things like menu choices and large meetings.

      But yes, it’s interesting that it’s such a diverse syndrome. I didn’t know that – I’ve addressed this earlier up the thread.

      • Denis
        Denis says:


        It’s certainly an understandable interpretation. My apologies for having missed that you interpreted it from the article itself.

        I only know a fair bit about it because I’ve read a couple books and a great many journals, magazines and websites on it. That and the latent suspicion that much of it matches difficulties I’ve faced myself.

        With regards to the menu choices I don’t believe it is the choices themselves but the consequences of a choice and the related ambiguity. Many individuals with aspergers tend to be very susceptible to sensory inputs including taste and thus can be very picky eaters. Another trait is not reacting well to change and ending up with a menu choice that is undesirable can be quite disruptive and throw a fair amount of uncertainty into a day so getting a routine of eating the same reliable thing makes things easier and does less to upset a whole day.

        With group settings it can be quite difficult. Imagine you’re at a group dinner for a friend’s birthday in a restaurant. Only, where you have the ability to focus on the conversations around the table someone with aspergers may not only have difficulties narrowing in on one person’s voice from everyone else’s but also filtering out everything else that is happening in the restaurant.

        Next time you sit down to a group dinner try to pay attention to all the noises and imagery that occur that you normally don’t notice. Every fork tapping, scraping of a plate, glass banging, all of the other conversations in the room, the lights and whether any flicker, perhaps candles flickering, reflections in mirrors and windows, people walking past. Now, try to keep track of all of these things so that you can write them on a list later and then try to have a conversation with someone who isn’t sitting next to you. You’ll note it is near impossible. While individuals with aspergers aren’t tracking these kinds of things they may well have difficulties filtering out these kinds of inputs without consciously attempting to do so. Thus where you keep track, they have to filter and it is an example of why they’ll sometimes go dead quiet when in group situations and yet could talk you to death one on one. It is simply far too difficult to filter everything out.

        None the less, it is excellent that you’re interested in learning more about it and thanks for responding to my comment, I hope what I’ve had to say is helpful.

  16. aspieteach
    aspieteach says:

    I’m also a female with Aspergers, and your blog has been recommended to me by several people! It’s such a great thing that you’re making an effort to write about how Aspergers intersects with your professional life, because there is only the beginnings of an awareness out there about how autism and Aspergers affect adults.

    I’ve totally been there with the need for routine, sensory processing issues, and much more. You’re very lucky to have co-workers you can trust! So many aspies never find that in their professional lives. Another thing I’ve found helpful is learning from a community of adults on the autistic spectrum who share similar struggles.

  17. Eileen
    Eileen says:

    I sometimes wonder if I have Asperger’s. I score fairly high on the autism spectrum quizzes, although lower than the threshold for Aspies. I’m socially incompetent. I can’t think of anything to say or communicate ideas well when I have to think on the spot. I’m unemotional, and I don’t know how to show facial expressions. I don’t relate to people. I’m also directionally challenged, as I like to say. I have trouble with directions and get lost often. It took me a while to figure out the concepts of mirror images and clockwise and counterclockwise.

    I also have some extremely non-Aspie traits. I get bored without variety. I get bored with eating the same thing every day. I now have some strong interests, but for years I didn’t have any interests. Ironically, my current interests involve training my body and sense of direction. I’m ok at reading nonverbal cues unless they’re subtle.

  18. Alyson Bradley
    Alyson Bradley says:

    Some great advice I definitely junction so much better one on one be it A person or a computer, meetings, interview wise etc… to many distractions and I simply overload. And these two points so important:
    “1. Understand common deficits of people with Asperger's. You probably have them.”
    Everyone is affected by society and can have anxiety exposure, its just that for those of us on the spectrum its a lot more intensified. Its just as important we fully understand self, so that we can explain our varied needs.
    But we also need to remember like with everyone there are also many positives:

    “2. Surround yourself with people who will coach you through situations.”
    I agree, when starting advocating I began to get caught up in many groups and then realized I was simply overloading myself and so I choose to work with individuals that I feel are more supportive of my needs and this has really helped me. Its not so much often we need coaching be others, but others need to be open to our differences, a willingness to listen and work with us, as we can be as varied and different as those not on the spectrum, so there is no set rule or list…

    I have Aspergers, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, adhd, plus… a neurological puzzle and with my ever ending nervous surges of energy I feel partly adhd, partly sensory overloading and partly my ever changing moods like the planet!

    I may be neurological complex to many, but by understanding self I can give reason to others and that helps them allow for me and what has truly helped me the most is fully accepting who I am and I feel what ever my differences they are part of me and in a way feel privileged to see the world through my eyes…

  19. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    “I will never have great social skills, but I make them better by ensuring that I'm in my best social environment for work.” I thought this sentence pretty much summed up your approach to “compensate for sensory integration disorder so that I can focus on having social skills that will make people want to work with me.”
    The word ‘control’ was used a few times to describe your attempt to control your environment by whatever means – routine, self-discipline, avoiding parties or crowds, etc. It appears necessary for you to have this control in order to be in your best social environment and perform at your best. Control of your environment is a very hard (if not impossible) thing to do so I can only imagine how hard it must be to try to achieve. You’re absolutely right about finding and working with people you trust and fill the gaps – even more important for someone who has Asperger syndrome.
    I can now better understand your focus on the work place rewarding social skills after reading this post. The job well done (while important) is not as much an issue for you in the workplace as it is enhancing your social skills. You’re very brave to put yourself out there as you routinely do. I think you’re doing a good job with this series.
    As far as jrandom42 bugging you to write about Asperger syndrome, I’m glad you held off until you felt you could do so. And why has jrandom42 deserted us here in the comments section? :)

  20. John
    John says:

    > A lot of people ask me how I manage to keep a job when I
    > have Asperger syndrome.

    God you have ***everything!*** You are so hungry for attention, aren’t you? When do you get abducted by space aliens?

  21. Ricky Rose
    Ricky Rose says:

    I mean this as respectfully as possible. I can understand the logic behind discussing your asperger’s after the recent negative media attention but it is eroding your “brand” as the brazen careerist.

    It’s making you seems less “able” especially when people are turning to you for sound advice on an extremely important issue (their career), presumably from someone quite able, more able than themselves.

    You didn’t interview very well on CNN at all. If you have a disorder that manifests an unusual emotional disconnect, then perhaps you’re not the best spokesperson to discuss such an emotional event. Also, to assume that others should or would share this emotional disconnect was presumptuous.

    Of course there is nothing wrong with having a disorder. But as a purveyor of advice, just stick to your core competency and areas where you are quite capable.

  22. Erika Harris
    Erika Harris says:


    You know those traits you listed that supposedly make you poorly skilled in social contexts? I think they make you absolutely *endearing*.

    I resonated with so much of this post. As a highly sensitive person (HSP), I have a nervous system that Spider Man would envy, but often leaves me overstimulated and disoriented. Like you, I’ve been re-crafting my life to support the many *advantages* that come with being wired like a super-hero (and how many of them do you see flourishing at cocktail parties?)

    Honestly, I believe we embody evolutionary progress, and the term “disorder” reveals the short-sighted ignorance of the classifiers.

    Anyway, if any of you have ever been told “you’re too sensitive,” and “you need a thicker skin,” you might be interested in what Dr. Elaine Aron has to say:

    • Ricky Rose
      Ricky Rose says:

      If you are a HSP … protect your emotions while watching her cavalier approach to a subject that is very emotionally charged for a lot of women … miscarriage.

      In the CNN interview with Rick Sanchez, I didn’t see any reference to her emotional disconnect being caused by Asperger’s. Guess this post was to explain WHY she had such a cavalier attitude.

  23. Barbara Nixon
    Barbara Nixon says:


    Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. I am the mom of four, and our 19-year-old was diagnosed with Asperger’s when he was in middle school. By reading your post, I see that he and you share several similarities. He has a difficult time vocalizing what he’s feeling many times. When he gets up today, I will share your post with him. I have never read such a clear description of what it feels like to experience some of the symptoms of Asperger’s. I am confident that I will be (at least a little) more compassionate now.


  24. Ms. No Single Mama Drama
    Ms. No Single Mama Drama says:

    Excellent post!

    I know I don’t have Asperger’s syndrome but sometimes I feel like I do. I think most people can relate to feeling different at some time in their life, especially in certain social situation.

    I do, however, have ADHD and absolutely hate social situations, especially work-related ones. I’ve been called anti-social (which so not the right term and I wish people would look it up before they use it…LOL). And, I don’t care what my co-workers say. I’m not doing anything–especially anything social at work–if I don’t want to, and I don’t care what you think. Some people say it’s career suicide. My answer? So! I can always get another job–and I have with more money–just like I got this one.

    Today, I work from home (the best place for someone like me) and thriving. Like you wrote in your post, I think you have to know your strengths and your weaknesses–whatever they are–and learn coping strategies that help you be successful, however you determine what that success is.

    Keep up the great work!

  25. McK
    McK says:

    I have found this series of articles to be very interesting. I had a supervisor with these tendancies and I can relate to them. I spend a lot of time reading people, so much time, that I sometimes don’t speak so I look and feel awkward. But then other times, I am very talkative and quite warm with people I know. I often mix and match topics, sometimes its funny, but when I have to explain the equation as to how I got somewhere in a conversation, its awkward. Needless to say, in a small group, I can make friends easily, in a large group, I have a hard time.

    Also, I run into people constantly. I was in a very tight knit college group with a lot of members, and we often walked together on campus to classes. They always pointed to our turn, because in conversation, I would completely forget and run straight into them. It became a joke but nonetheless, they always pointed to our direction.

    I don’t enjoy large networking opportunties, so this may hurt my career in the future. But I have great references because in an intimate group setting, I thrive.

  26. razor
    razor says:

    This entire article absolutely exhausted me! I could have an anxiety attack just thinking about all this work she has to do just to manage at work! Yikes! Makes my head hurt!

  27. Ann's Rants
    Ann's Rants says:

    A good reminder that you never know what’s going on with people, and to just give people an inch.

    We get so impatient if someone is taking longer in line, or slowing traffic, or bumping into us, etc…

    A little grace goes a long way.


  28. Scott Woodard
    Scott Woodard says:

    Both my kids (boys) had/have sensory integration issues and spent many years in O.T. – much of which was helpful. My oldest son, now 23, is re-enacting the parable of the prodigal son. He’s been on his own since he was 18, living in London and NYC. Now, he’s basically down and out and moving back with me until he can regroup.

    After reading your post, I get a sense of the challenges he’s facing in trying to extricate himself from what seems an overwhelming situation. Obviously, my challenge will be to help him break down the issues into their component parts so that he can begin to solve them.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  29. John Feier
    John Feier says:

    I was looking at some of the symptoms of Asperger’s and while it seems like I have some of them, I’m convinced that it’s some other difference.

    I don’t look at it as a “dysfunction,” just a difference. For instance, there is no way I could have found a cyclical variation in American presidential history if I didn’t do a Rainman-like thing and memorize different facts about the presidents. I predicted someone BIG was going to happen around this time and while I feel that the REAL crisis in his presidency still hasn’t occurred, I think Obama will one day prove coin-worthy. How many “dysfunctional” people could have done that? I have also delved into different interests from researching my family tree back to the revolution and beyond to writing about gender role expectations; from small business plans to political/social/economic ramblings.

    My slight hearing loss, however, has certainly complicated my social skills as well. It has kept me from getting into the military and given me a little lisp, that I could transform into a personal trademark if I were to become a politician.

    So, whatever “problems” I have, I try to do what Bobby Kennedy advised Ted to do with the “problem” of the brightness of the Kennedy name…put a lampshade on it and make it glow eloquently throughout the room.

  30. Andy
    Andy says:

    Thank you for this wonderful post. I love the bravery of your writing and personal revelations which are inspiring, disarming and challenging – all at the same time. Having dealt closely with several people who have Asperger’s (and I love them dearly) you’re very high-functioning, to say the least! What a gift this has been to us as your readers. The very fact that your social skills are “different” makes you the perfect blogger /social commentator. Your take on things is so unvarnished and direct. The boundaries get thin some times but the messages is are always relevant. Thanks!

  31. Megan
    Megan says:

    I just started following your blog, and I just have to say what a lovely thing it is to read about a working professional who has a disability. I have Attention Deficit Disorder, and have developed many coping strategies over the years that only my closest friends and relatives know about. While I know that my ADD is a mild disability comparatively, it is still a daily frustration and even more so when I feel like I can’t explain myself properly. For years people around me have assumed that I am inconsiderate because of my forgetful nature when in reality that is the strongest manifestation of my disability.

  32. Marie
    Marie says:

    Hi – this is the first time I am commenting, although I’ve been reading your blog a couple of years. One of my daughters, M., has Asperger’s. She is only three so she doesn’t have the formal diagnosis – they tell me that will come anywhere between ages five and seven. Right now she is diagnosed with “high functioning” Austism and is doing wonderfully in a preschool for children who have difficulties socializing. She has a twin sister, K., who is developing typically – which was how I was able to recognize M’s problems when they were both only two years old. One of MY biggest problems is remembering that I have to explain things differently to each of my girls. K “gets” things quickly, can understand my tone of voice, facial expressions, etc. – while M needs very explicit instructions and takes everything I say very literally. THANK YOU for this list. Even though it is about work, it can absolutely be applied to everyday life – I see it being very useful information for her to know when she starts school with her sister in Kindergarten and beyond, where the curriculum won’t be tailored to her specific needs – and I plan on using some of the strategies (reversely) with her now. Thanks, again – things like this make it all a little easier.

  33. Kay Lorraine
    Kay Lorraine says:

    A terrific post on a subject about which lots of people are confused. I used to work for a man with Asperger’s Syndrome but wasn’t willing to admit it. It can be very difficult to deal with, particularly if the Autistic has a mean streak. I’m only sorry that I didn’t have this kind of excellent information during that period. I’m looking forward to addiional posts on this subject.

    Kay Lorraine

  34. stephanie hight
    stephanie hight says:

    I recognized myself–a LOT of myself that I never understood before–in your post, and am both heartened and saddened to see so many others responding in a similar way. Thanks for this, and if just for me, your struggle is worth it, just to write a post like this that reaches so many of us–high achievers, successful etc., but going through a daily regimen that few would understand if/when it is revealed.

  35. Brent Driver
    Brent Driver says:

    This is very interesting to me. I’m fascinated by social disorders and try to be conscious of them whenever I encounter new people.

    There is a contestant on the new season of Amazing Race (Sunday nights on CBS) with Asperger’s. Having read this and watching how he interacts on the show gives both much more context.

    Thanks for sharing.

  36. Marianne Dean
    Marianne Dean says:

    Great post. In reference to the book about The Curious Incident about the Dog in the Night Time” … I am raising an aspie son and married one as well. It was obvious to me that the book was written by a non-aspie. I do not think it captured the complexities at all. I think the movie Adam was a bit flat as well, though I am glad the syndrome is getting publicity.

    My aspie son will not read the book or see the movie … he finds it all a bit insulting and just a caricature.

  37. Jack
    Jack says:

    Dear Penelope,

    I was amazed to read your post, very interesting for me. My son is on the autistic spectrum (he’s 3 years old). He was at the severe end of the scale and has changed dramatically in the last 6 months thanks to biomedical DAN! treatments…he’s really a different boy now.

    I suspect that even at an adult age the same biomedical interventions may be of benefit to you (things such as SCD diet or antifungal and antiviral medication). And if your process of methylation and sulfation is impaired (it is in most people on the spectrum), you may need Methylcobalamin B12 injections.

    I recommend you read Dr. Kenneth’s Bock book on the subject:
    Healing the New Childhood Epidemics: Autism, ADHD, Asthma, and Allergies: The Groundbreaking Program for the 4-A Disorders

    I’ll be blunt (as a parent of an autistic child): this stuff works. In six months it got me my son back from a deep void where he was in. I hope it may help you too.

    Thank you for sharing your post.

    P.S. Those PowerBars you should really cut out. If you have any form of Candida dysbiosis (very common in children and adults on the spectrum), then it’s really not helping you. I recommend you look into SCD instead:

    Breaking the Vicious Cycle: Intestinal Health Through Diet

    Find a good DAN! doctor near you and see if he can do anything to help you. Trust me, I’ve seen them do miracles.

    Good luck to you.

  38. Jason
    Jason says:


    As a father of a son with PPD, your post was enlightening and even reassuring. He’s four and a half now and experiences similar obstacles as you, such as extremely limited food choices, trouble reading people, banging himself up, and expressing himself.

    Although, we have made leaps and bounds with therapy, mostly out of pocket because insurance doesn’t cover it (thanks U.S. health care system), we understand that he will have challenges his whole life.

    I’m subscribing to your blog and passing the link to my wife. Thank you for your insight.

  39. Tara
    Tara says:

    Did anyone see America’s Next Top Model a couple years ago when they had a young woman with Aspergers as a contestant? I was fascinated by the show. The woman was very beautiful and in front of the camera was sensational. She could pose, she could walk, fabulous, and she ended up in the top 4 or 5 contestants. She did poorly at learning lines for a tv commercial, but so did some of the other girls so that didn’t get her sent home. Her waterloo came when she had to do “go-sees” in a strange city and was required to read a map. She simply couldn’t do it. I know the whole viewing audience was frustrated for her. She was sent home that day. It’s interesting, however, that i’ve since heard that she has a successful modeling career. It’s easy to understand. She’s a great model. Somebody else can read the maps.

  40. kat
    kat says:

    Wow! There is a saying if you have seen one person with Aspergers you have only seen one person. Each person has their own unique way of being an Aspie, and as one I have learned how to be abnormal in a normal world. It is not easy and not all tricks work.
    When I realized I was one, all of my ineffective ways to deal with situations fell away and I finly learned more appropreate ones. It explained to me in so many ways why I kept expecting different results when I was doing what I thought was right. Each day is filled with small victories I celebrate them and share the best with those I love. Thanks for reading, living with Aspergers is not as different as you may think once you figure out what it is you have…

  41. KEP
    KEP says:

    You are brave.

    The term for math dyslexia is dyscalculia.

    I have it too and didn’t know what the heck was wrong with me until my twenties. I still don’t know many of my multiplication tables, especially 6-9. Numbers move around in my head in a very chaotic manner. It took 4 years to get through algebra.

    Concepts are hard, it makes playing board/card games very unpleasant. People think I’m stupid: “We just told her the rules three times and she still doesn’t GET it!”
    Line dancing and aerobics are out of the question.

    I have to say [in my head] “I write with my right.” and actually touch my hand. Making a left turn can take some considerable time (I spend a lot of time turning around), as I have to go through the ritual above and then touch my left hand in order for it to register.

    Your blog is great; very insightful.

  42. Sue
    Sue says:

    I so appreciated the blogs on Asperger’s Syndrome. My son, who is now 30 is in the spectrum and by learning more about how he thinks, I realize that I have it as well.

    People have a lot of misunderstandings about what it is and how it affects how you think. It is exhausting to have conversations with people in a social setting. There are so many things to think about before I speak. With the holidays coming up, my anxiety levels are rising every day.

    Thank you, Penelope, for sharing this part of your life with us!

  43. Wendi
    Wendi says:

    Another excellent post! I work with a few students who have Aspergers (at university). I would love to see a post written on how non-Aspergers people can better communicate and work with those with Aspergers. I think it would help me a lot with my students and some of the professors I work with.

  44. Laura
    Laura says:

    I am also a female with Asperger’s who has many of the same issues with left/right, math deficiency, etc. One of my chief sensory issues that affects my ability to function in public situations is the fact that I have super-hearing (hyper-acusis). From your description of some of your issues (sensory overload at parties, difficulty with crowds), I suspect you do, too.
    What I do when it comes to food: When I am not brown-bagging it, if I am in a position to choose the restaurant, I choose one that is fairly small/quiet, and that perhaps I have eaten at before (I used to work in the West Village area of NYC where there were a lot of very small and reletively quiet restaurants and bars to chose from) and order something that is familiar to me, most likely to be easily available, and fairly hard to get wrong (such as a BLT). As I got older, I have expanded my culinary horizons and gotten more experimental with ordering. (You might feel more confident about this if you take a cooking class or read some cookbooks and get familiar with ingredients and processes and find something you like.) With practice, this gets easier, and I have one less “eccentricity” for people to point at. Admitedly, a few hard drinks make food-related social events go more smoothly (it would be great if I were currently in a corporate culture in which 3-martini lunches were the norm) because one of the side effects for me is that alcohol blunts some of the sensory input and turns down the volume by making my hearing less sensitive; but I have found alcohol can make reading people/situations harder, my already compromised spatial abilities worse, and the anti-anxiety and social lubrication properties of alcohol have led many an Aspie into problem drinking.

  45. daphne
    daphne says:

    I’d hug you, but I wouldn’t want to freak you out. Sorry, autism humor.

    I haev a rather high-functioning level of Asperger’s. What caught me cold about your piece was the clumsiness when not in sports. I was a state championship catcher and too played volleyball in college. I swam competitively, also. However, I get so caught up in thinking that I will often trip or dufus myself up in ways that only Charlie Chaplin would understand.

    I do very well in math, and I can write very well. However, I have always been seen as ‘weird’, and I have a terrible time understanding why I am on the outside of society. I never know what to say or what NOT to say. Basically, now, I just announce, “I’m weird and have a high functioning version of Autism.” This lets me be me, and I’ve enjoyed the acceptance that recent years studies have given us, the weirdo nerds.

    I am obsessed with eating candy and popcorn in formulas, and I search out certain angles of certain sizes throughout the day on windows. When I’m stressed, I talk to myself. Whatever. I am what I am.

    Don’t stop believing in your right to be different, and don’t make excuses for yourself. The people who accept you are rare, but they are priceless. Were I to know you, I’d be one of them.

    Best wishes.

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