Asperger’s at work: Why I’m difficult in meetings
Eighty percent of adults with Asperger Syndrome do not have full-time work. This not because they can’t do the work. It’s that they can’t manage to be socially acceptable while they get the work done. ”
Countless studies show people would rather have pleasant and personable co-workers than a co-worker who is always right. I try to keep this in mind each day, and consequently, I spend a lot of time planning my interactions.
But sometimes my plans fail. To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, I’m going to walk you through my most recent parent-teacher conference. Which was a disaster. And while it was a meeting in a second-grade classroom, it could have been a meeting with anyone, anywhere.
1. I can’t tell the difference between social niceties and reality.
I think I’m late. I am bad with transitions — I space out from the stress of change so I drive around the school a few times without noticing before I go in. I am bad with time, because I don’t totally understand how to predict what the next number will be. So sometimes I forget where I am in the hour.
But then I get to the school and I think I am early to the conference, and I go to the bathroom, because the school halls are bustling and I want calm.
I get to the room and the teacher is sitting at her desk. Doing nothing. I think this means she is waiting. So I ask if I’m late. She says no, but I am pretty sure she means yes. I know some people say the answer they think would be good manners instead of the right answer. I stare at her body language for a clue.
2. I get sidetracked by insisting on telling people what they don’t know.
I forget to listen to her talking because I’m stuck on if I’m late or not, but I perk up when she says that my son’s cursive writing is too slow and he needs to print like the rest of the class.
Because I need her to know that spending any time on kids’ handwriting is stupid. I tell her there are no jobs that require people to have decent handwriting, and definitely no jobs—besides wedding calligrapher—that require cursive.
She thinks I’m saying kids don’t need to learn to construct paragraphs, or book reports.
I try to clarify that I mean good penmanship is useless.
She says she’s sorry that I am upset.
This is when I realize that I picked a fight, and parents do not pick fights with teachers unless the parents are jerks or idiots or both. And I don’t even know what I’m arguing for any more. So I try to get out of the argument. I tell her that I will explain to my son that cursive writing is for at home until the rest of the class is doing it.
3. I interrupt constantly and don’t realize it.
She tells me my son is great at math. I tell her that it’s typical of boys with Asperger Syndrome to be great at math, so that’s not what I’m worried about.
I tell her I’m worried about his spelling. She tells me about his spelling and I tell her that he can spell the words he’s missing but he can’t listen and spell and write all at the same time.
I start to tell her about sensory integration disorder, but I see that I am lecturing, so I stop. And then she is hesitant to talk again. That’s when I realize that I’ve been cutting her off.
I feel terrible and tell myself I have to be a better listener. And then I start focusing on how terribly I’m doing and I forget to be a good listener. I am upset that I am offending her. I think about the psychiatrist who says people often mistake someone with Asperger Syndrome as a narcissist. I think this is a moment when the teacher is thinking that I am totally self-absorbed and not caring at all about her.
4. My mind is too scattered to focus on being nice.
Just when I start thinking of how to care about her, she says, “in conclusion” and then I panic. I will not have time to show her I appreciate her.
I remember a photo of the Obama’s going to their parent-teacher conference and Michelle is carrying a vase of flowers. I should have brought a vase of flowers.
I try to focus.
I look at the teacher to focus on what she is saying and she is saying my son is delightful to have in class. I hear this as something she says to every parent. Then she gives me an example, which is that he is very easily redirected when he is not doing what other people are doing.
I tell her that his problem is not that he can’t be redirected. People with Asperger Syndrome are dying to please everyone around them. People with Asperger Syndrome don’t want to stand out or be the center of attention. They just want to get along with people and have things run smoothly.
So of course if she tells him what to do to fit in, he’ll do it. The problem is that he will not have someone around him for the rest of his life telling him that. I tell her it would be a positive thing if he could tell things were going badly and then he knew the right way to get help in order to make himself do what is expected.
I look at the teacher. She is clearly exhausted from dealing with me. It occurs to me that teacher conferences are only fifteen minutes. Of course we cannot cover anything significant in this time. This is a friendly, get-to-know-each-other moment. It’s a small-talk-and-smiling moment. And I should have known to ask someone to come with me, to cue me, so I would do what is expected.
hmm…maybe thats what I have…or maybe I’m a narcisist…I just always thought I was a cross between a bit of a people pleaser and an emotionally connected…or…maybe its that I’m Canadian…
Thank you for explaining this so well. I am not sure if my grand daughter has Aspergers or not but to hear how it affects you is so helpful. Good luck with the teacher.
For anybody who is dealing with the autism spectrum, try checking out: http://www.sensorynanny.com
Actually, I think in this situation, Penelope has provided some very modern, serious career advice: Don’t F#ck with people who have a substantial media following. It’s their backyard, oftentimes their livelihood! You can’t attack them without repurcusions, so think twice: don’t be an idiot!
On the other hand, it’s ok to publicly attack people who have little to no online following – they can’t do anything against you. Especially if they’re so poor that they can’t afford to sue you for defamation.
Hah, look at those peons run!
The most important thing that parent-teacher conferences do is this: they let the teacher know what kind of parents each kid has. This gives them background for understanding the kid.
So I’d say the mission was accomplished!
Alyson! Your post sounds like I wrote it! I was reading P and thought, I do that but I don’t think I have AsP (I don’t think?).
It’s reassuring to hear I’m not the only one taken as a narcissist when in actuality my brain nearly hurts when things are going too slow or in the wrong direction when talking to someone. I have to fix it! I drive people nuts I’m sure.
It seems to get worse with age (the lack of patience and need for fixing/arranging information). And I am really good at giving TMI.
I think some of the trick or treaters that came to our door last night had Aspergers. One of the high school girls started talking to me like she had known me her whole life even though I hadn’t ever met her before. But then, I commented on one of the kids creative, hand made costumes by saying, "Wow, Russian Constructivism, circa 1920" – and at that moment I realized I probably have Aspergers too. I think in the current working world being appropriate is more important than actual intelligence.
I just looked at the photo of the President and Michelle. The tagline says they are leaving the parent-teacher conference. I think the teacher gave THEM the flowers. Hope that helps :-)
Perhaps having email assessments of your son’s progress might be better for you to deal with than the exhausting face-to-face meeting. Also, what about their father helping out in this? Or a friend?
And to everyone who negatively commented on the teacher: perhaps she had an exhausting day. Asperger’s aren’t the only people who need understanding. Think about it: Try talking to 20+ parents (helicopter parents, negligent parents, parents who don’t speak English, etc.) wanting an individualized approach to their child’s education without appropriate support or resources. That’s the state of public education in many places.
And just having some of the Asperger traits doesn’t mean you have the syndrome. We live in an intensely individualistic culture where we’re all more concerned about what we have to say than what others have to say, so we all indulge in being impatient, talking too much and constantly interrupting others. And technology is making us more socially inept. http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2005-10-14-rude-amercians-poll_x.htm. Historically, much importance was tied to social graces as a way to distinguish your social class and to fit in. That’s not a dominant cultural norm nowadays. We all have a “right” to do what we want, say what we want, etc. and that inevitably means that some people will fall into less than graceful behavior at times. We live in an impatient culture.
Lady, I don’t know you, or your situation but I do know what I see, and you spend waaaay too much time talking about yourself. If you would spend 1/8th of the time you spend online, going over your son’s school work with him, you would not have most of these problems.
> 3. I interrupt constantly and don't realize it.
There are many blog postings about you on the internet; all you have to do is read them to find out what you’re really like. (The one about the microphone being “superglued” to your hand at a speech made me laugh out loud during a meeting.)
I was a nervous wreck at parent teacher conferences, only because I had a messed up childhood and was working really hard to have my daughter have a wonderful childhood. (So far, so good.) Taking someone with me didn’t help, but maybe it will for you. What helped me was to (as you mentioned) listen, listen, and listen.
Teachers have a unique perspective (of my child), and I was very curious. After all, my kid is different at home then at school, and unless you’re homeschooling there’s no way any parent can know. So it’s a field trip to gather information. Take a look around, see the classroom, and the hallways, and read the bulletin boards.
Teachers (and doctors too by the way) do not say the same thing to every parent. They may always try to put a good spin out there, but if they say your child is a delight for them, you can take it at face value. If your child was a terror to deal with, they would let you know there are “problems.”
I was always a bit disbelieving when teachers said what a wonderful child my daugher was (is), and wondered if we were talking about the same kid. (We were.) Anyway, it doesn’t matter if they’re right or wrong, what matters is that the kid is getting along with the teacher, and thus preparing their way for future positive educational experiences. If it’s going well, congratulations!
The comments about Penelope “talking about herself,” on her personal blog, mind you, is getting redundant. I feel that this is a very common comment directed at people with AS, and I feel it is also necessary for me to note that for many of us in the spectrum these kinds of methods, using online and offline means of writing about our experiences and observations, are CRUCIAL TO SELF-KNOWLEDGE AND PERSONAL GROWTH AND HEALING. Shut up about it already. Going on to a personal online journal and bitching about that writer talking about themselves too much is akin to walking into a restaurant and complaining that the chef spends too much time in the kitchen. Please don’t be so neurotypically retarded, people. It furthers the divide that those with AS feel with with people like you, seemingly unaware of how neurodiversity serves its purpose.
Sean, what a great, well-spoken defense! It seems so obvious, doesn’t it? That you would, of course, talk about yourself in your online journal/blog; that journaling serves the process of self-discovery.
Next thing you know, there will be objections to autobiographies for the same reason–too self-absorbed. This actually makes me guffaw out loud!!!
Actually, there are jobs that require good handwriting. For example, there is a trend in the nonprofit world towards writing handwritten notes, because they stand out from e-mails and printed documents, they get read, and donors feel they have gotten special, personal treatment instead of a mass e-mail. So if you have rotten handwriting, it’s an embarrassment, and having your executive assistant do them all defeats the purpose. (Besides, maybe you *are* the EA.)
Also, it’s extremely useful to be able to make at least brief legible handwritten notes. How else do you communicate that you dropped by to ask when the telephone and internet systems would be back up, or ask the cleaning personnel to please empty the trash can this time, but leave the cardboard box marked “print examples, 1999-2008” alone?
So, I hope your son does learn legible print and cursive writing. He may not need those skills to get a job, but having them will help him avoid inconvenience and ridicule in the future.
I think you are much too hard on yourself. I don't think you have to worry so much about what other people think of you or "guess" if you have autism (asperger's is a form of autism). From what I've read about you from this blog, I think you are very aware of what your limitations (or deficits) are and you try to work on them, eg. House manager, etc. And don't assume that this teacher is aware that you have asperger's unless she is a special education teacher, most are not familiar with this "disorder" (people are so sensitive these days about calling asperger's a disorder), some may be familiar with the definition of asperger's but not how to work with / or treat kids/people with the disorder. And besides, most people need to becomes familiar with a new situation (school meetings) so they know what to expect the next time around.
You are successful and work hard at being a good mom, so give yourself some credit too!
From a blogger mom with two kids with autism!
My 14 year old brother has Asperger’s (and sometimes I think I’m a mild, undiagnosed case myself) and this describes him very well. He’s a bright kid and always eager to please.
Keep on doing what you’re doing and ignore the haters who label Aspie’s as narcissists. They have no idea what they’re talking about.
I saw an article today about people with autism being hired on purpose. It’s pretty interesting http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/34047713
I just want to tell you that you are very much mistaken to think that mastering handwriting is a waste of time. It is a basic, necessary human skill. Children are required to write an enormous amount all during their schooling, and if they can’t write well enough to express themselves fluently, they won’t do well in school.
Your handwriting is a direct reflection of who you are. If you have poorly organized illegible handwriting because no one ever bothered to teach you, people are going to think that you have a poorly organized brain to go along with it. Here in New York, many of the tests that children are required to take, for example, to be admitted to certain magnet schools, are written by hand. So is the essay portion of the SAT.
Wow. This is amazing coming from a pediatric occupational therapist. Newsflash: Kids who have a very hard time learning to write have a very hard time learning lots of stuff. You have to start with triage. You have to start saying that some things you’ll work really hard on and other things will not be as important. Are you seriously telling me about magnet schools in the context of special ed? Seriously? And the essay portion of the SAT? Any kid who qualifies for occupational therapy in school is not going to a magnet school because they’d lose their state-funded OT, and any kid with OT in school qualifies to type on the SAT.
I was pretty amazed that the OT was so blatant about handwriting as well, since many kids are now receiving typing accommodations at schools. However, PT, it’s not true that “any kid with OT in school qualifies to type on the SAT” – far from it. It’s ridiculously difficult to qualify for a typewriting accommodation on the SATs. But, yes, IF a child is handwriting disabled to the point that they are still receiving OT when they are in 10th grade, they *might* qualify for typewriting on the SAT. We’re not talking about your typical kid with handwriting difficulties, though, because those kids do NOT get OT services for handwriting, usually.
Here’s an interesting recent article about handwriting and autism: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/AutismNews/autistic-children-handwriting-biggest-challenge/story?id=9036125&page=3
I don’t know if you read my blog, PT, but if you do, I’m going to be writing about handwriting in the next day or two, more about the SATs then.
First of all, David Dellifield, really had it coming and you were absolutely right to to teach him a lesson. But that’s another post.
Second, I neither have Aspergers or kids, but I would have been sounding exactly like you if I attended a parent/teacher conference. We’ve only got 15 min, so enough with the small talk and tell me what I really want to know. And handwriting?! Seriously?! How about teaching my kid some social skills instead!
I understand that Aspergers could be a great disability sometimes, I’m not trying to belittle your struggles. But I believe that it also gives you an unique perspective on things and your straightforward behavior is as much an asset as it a hindrance. Personally, I would love to be surrounded by people like you who can’t help themselves but saying out loud the way they see things. So what if you are undiplomatic? You are not paid to negotiate with Iran, are you?
I think intelligent people should expect that others around them might not act or communicate the way they are accustomed to. We are all different, some people more than others. We should embrace the diversity instead of stifling it.
I think saying what you feel in these parent teacher interviews is a good thing. Take interest in what they say but don’t rely solely on this feedback. Its true kids can be different in front of teachers and others. At my school there was a kid who was always really nice to all the teachers, they loved him. But to the other kids he was a big bully. My parents mentioned this at the parent teacher interview and the teacher denied it being possible.
Sounds like an IEP meeting to me. As a guy with Asperger’s who has a kid with Asperger’s, this is a very familiar situation. I don’t find these situations particularly easy and they require a lot of time afterwards to basically “recover from.” However, it gets to be easier to achieve the results you want. A few things that help me with that include making a big show out of acknowledging the school people’s supposed expertise and dropping a comment or two in context to let them know you aren’t completely uninformed (last time it was something like “of course, with the upcoming changes to the DSM…”).
Still, some not very productive comments are inevitable. Penmanship — and particularly cursive penmanship — is a potential sore spot for sure. I had a teacher lecturing me about that in regards to my son and I pointed directly at her notes (written in sloppy print), then mine and said something like, “We don’t set the best example for that in the adult world, obviously.”
But usually it’s best to pretend they’re the experts and totally in charge, then gently steer things.
I need help accepting the fact that I have AS, even though I can’t get diagnosed with it because of the way I apparently present myself to doctors. Does anyone have any suggestions?
I’m a 53-year-old woman, and I’ve known about AS for nearly nine years, but still can’t accept that I have it because there are so many possible traits, because it presents differently in women than in men, and because there are other explanations for some of the traits I have. ADD for instance.
A degree of AS that would deeply embarrass a woman is barely noticed in a man. Men are expected to be highly focused and driven, and their social grace deficits are more humoured.
What you describe as AS, in my experience characterizes most very smart and highly educated people I have ever known, especially the ambitious Jewish ones! In my experience, very smart people are not good at social graces, because when one has an IQ over 140, the requisite social graces require enormous hypocrisy, lying, and self-deception.
I too cannot stand the intellectual fraud that is a parent teacher conference. They are going through the motions exercises to give the appearance of being up to date and fashionable. They should not exist unless the teacher wants to say something specific to a specific parent. Parents should have the option of Emailing a teacher to schedule a meeting.
I enjoy talking and am enthusiastic about many things. So I end up lecturing a lot of people. I can force myself to listen, but often am very bored by what I hear. What many people in the middle class mainstream say strikes me as pedestrian, safe, tailored not to offend, insincere, hypocritical.
I enjoy talking either to very well educated people, or to the rough sorts on the bottom of society, whose common sense I can relate to. I do not relate well at all to the striving lower middle class that is always looking over its shoulder, worried about whether it is making the right impression.
Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn” talked a lot about “them frauds.” The nature of the frauds has changed over the past 130 years; their prevalence has not.
This sounds like a meeting at work I was in recently. I had been asking if something was policy and no one would answer me. Then they said they did answer me and that I was just being “difficult.”
And I STILL don’t know if it is policy or not.
This post was written well before you started your homeschooling blog. I just read it (again) and can see why you have decided to try homeschooling based on the events above. Actually this post could be included on your homeschooling blog. Homeschooling is a personal decision based upon your own circumstances. A good post would be a history of your experiences that led to your decision to home school. I’m sure flexibility would be included in the list.
You sound like a drowning person. Why can’t you focus your attention for five minutes on how the teacher is telling you your son is doing? Do you not have any interest in the teacher, or your son? I understand the nervous mind racing, and the interrupting, but you totally wasted the whole meeting! I would think a mother with Asperger’s would take more interest in gathering information on how her son is being educated, and take a break from self-focus!
@Jen – Obviously you don’t have Aspergers, as you are giving advice like an NT. For many of us Aspies, we are too self aware, not from an ego standpoint, but from just being hard wired that way. So saying something like, “Why can’t you focus your attention for five minutes on how the teacher is telling you your son is doing?,” is like saying, “Why can’t you stop breathing for five minutes?” It doesn’t work that way and has nothing to do with being nervous. Aspie self-focus is never about “look at me,” rather it is about having every thought in your brain trying to spill out at once, all while you are also trying to please everybody around you. It’s a challenge to say the least.
I read your blog and most of the following comments. I have to say, many of them were completely moronic!
There were a few who understand you and what you go through (I understand because I have a close friend who has AS and she does these same things – her site for Christians with Asperger’s is http://TheChristianAspie.com), but many of the idiots here posted garbage about fixing you or just outright blasting you for, well, for being you and being an Aspie.
I think THEY are the ones with the problem!
I have one word for you all
You can readily accept homosexuals, want them to marry and even adopt children, but you can’t accept a person with a neurological condition that makes them different from you?
Who is the real disabled person here?
I am wondering where the 80% statistic comes from. The aspires I know are employed and doing quite well. They have remained employed by choosing jobs that allow them to work mostly alone and/or have a lot of control over their environment (noise, interruptions, privacy). Sometimes in the middle of the night, sometimes by day. Some are very bright – they are stars and they are irreplaceable. One fixes appliances in restaurants and spends most of his time in the car. One is a professor. Two run their own small businesses. One manages a power plant, graveyard shift.
I encourage you to paint a brighter picture regarding employment for aspies. Write about what types of work might be a good fit for them. It is pointless for them to pursue a regular 9 to 5 job in a corporate setting. But there are lots of other options.
I am an analyst for the federal government and a Christian author. I am also an Aspie. BUT that doesn’t mean it is easy or always comfortable. It is very difficult to operate in the NT world and while I can do my job quite well, the social part has caused me a great deal of problems.
Sure, Aspies may “make it” working, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an almost constant struggle (at least socially). It doesn’t show a lot of times, but we struggle to fit in, to make accommodations to exist and operate in the NT world.
It is hard. I know many Aspies who don’t have a job and would have a very difficult time keeping one if they did get one. There just aren’t enough “Aspie friendly” jobs to go around.
This is amazing. This puts down into words what I’ve not been able to for so long.
I feel like I can better explain to people about myself after reading this, thank you.
OMG. OMG. OMG. I so much see myself in this story. The things that would throw me off-track in this situation wouldn’t be exactly the same as yours, but the dynamics guessing, stressing, getting wound up and interrupting, failing to get the social purpose until afterwards, etc are just the same. I am 59 and went through my whole working life with these issues and am just finding out about Aspergers. Thank you so much for giving a personal account like this. It is so helpful.
I have Aspergers, and it really makes life awkward, if not completely impossible at times. I’m starting a new job on Monday; new people, different routine – utter hell. Anyone with Aspergers should consider L-Theanine and Racetam supplementation; it really has helped me with social interaction and verbal fluidity that had previously been painfully difficult. :)
Ugh… the word “awkward” – whenever someone calls me awkward (even in a “nice” way, like “oh you guys are a cute couple because you’re both sorta awkward”) I’m thinking whoever called me awkward needs to go and fall in a hole.
PS: hope your new job is going well!
I agree with Susie (above me) You don’t need to change a thing about yourself. You are honest and real and funny…refreshing!
I just learned of my being an adult ‘Aspie’ while researching Asperber’s for my son. It expains a lot of heartache as a child, teen and now adult of having no close friendships (even though I tried and tried desperately to make friends) and now I don’t because well, if I do I feel they will only learn how really weird I am. I was called weird by a supervisor at work in a friendly manner but she didn’t realize how much that hurt because I’ve been called weird by so many in very disrespectful aspects. I am late most of the time even when I try desperately to arrange to be early. My son whom is a genius at math and science was diagnosed early but has made friends and is an advanced placement student in math, science and excels in all the liberal arts studies also; he is also an excellent athlete maintaining a 3.9 plus GPA while also playing high school football, basketball and track and field and participating in Student Government and church activities. I am so very proud that in spite of his childhood diagnosis, he has learned to overcome and excel. He had a very difficult time in elementary school but after that he was accepted for who he was and has since then continued to flourish and has healthy friendships and associates. I was not so lucky. I did not excel in math and science but did extremely well in liberal arts; did not make friends easily or at all and as an adult still do not have any close friends; desperately wanted to feel loved and wanted in relationships which destroyed any relationship I had so now I do not even try to make friends or try to establish a reationship. Every job I have had I have been the ‘odd man’ out. From day one I am not accepted into the ‘in crowd’, especially with women, and eventually find those whom will talk to me but we are not close friends; just co-workers whom talk at work. I read voraciously; probably as a way of escape; have a vivid imagination and I used to write creatively but now that I live in the ‘real world’ and have to work two jobs to take care of my single parent family (after a very bad marriage), I seldom have time to write. I have no support for groups and cannot enlighten my family about being as ‘Aspie’ because in their eyesight I was always ‘weird’ and was told that frequently. My parents were not aware of this syndrome (I am over the age of 40) so I was frequently called ‘retarded’ even though I was an honor student but I was also always told ‘I had no common sense’. It hurts to learn as an adult that you are an Aspie but it always answers questions as to why I am the way I am so it is also a relief.
Thanks for posting this… I understand what this is like, but to a lesser degree. I’m glad there are other people who feel like this – and that those other people have a career, family, etc.
Good luck in future meetings!
Nah! I think you did fine. Just laugh at yourself and relax and practice more with being social. Keep reading up about Aspergers so you’re aware. It does help to let others know you have Aspergers. It’s kind of fair for them. I think the teacher was doing fine as well.
It is very, very hard to communicate with AU – I have it, too!
I know!!!! Oh boy, do I know!!!!
The best way to improve is to accept that mistakes will be made, look always to get better, and mostly, relax and laugh at mistakes. They will happen! They’re funny!
I also have Asperger. Funny thing is, in Dutch it’s also a vegetable. :p