Asperger’s at work: Why I need a sick day to register my car

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The guy who sold me my car cancelled the plates the very next week. Luckily, I didn’t know that because there was a November expiration sticker on the plate. So the fact that I was driving the car illegally for three months did not bother me. Until now. But now I’m at the DMV.

I know your first inclination is to say that I’m an idiot for waiting until the end of November. But I really, really cannot deal with bureaucracy. To give you a sense of how much I can’t deal with it, I almost did not graduate college because I had too many library fines. I graduated only because my grandma made some calls.

I have found, in adult life, that bureaucracy only gets deeper and deeper, and for someone like me, with Asperger Syndrome, the rules, numbers and conversations that bureaucracy entails is completely overwhelming: IRS, health insurance, 401Ks, I actually have no idea how people cope with this stuff.

Which brings me to the DMV, to register my car, the day my sticker expires.

I have to fill in my age on the form, but there are numbers all over the form and all over the room and I can’t remember if I’m 41 or 42. I know the math problem is 2009 – 1966, but it would require borrowing and carrying, I think, because the 9 is so much bigger than the 0 and that’s where they will line up: the 9 under the 0. The numbers on top always feel like they are flying and I can’t keep track of them and I’ll never get the math problem right. At least not right now. So I guess.

I tell the DMV lady I filled out my form.

She looks to see if I filled in everything.

She says that I left the second part blank.

This is true. It looked like it was too much. Like, how could they want all that information? I just can’t believe it.

She says, “You need your VIN, color, make, date purchased and your signature.”

“I do?”

“Yes. Do you have it?”

“I forgot the car title stuff at my house. Can you look it up?”

“You came to register your car without the vehicle identification number?”

“Oh. Um. I thought I had it.”

I have to go home.

This is not easy. I can’t read a map, and I don’t know left and right, so I can’t follow verbal directions, so I have three routes I know well in Madison, and if I’m trying to get anywhere, I try to get to one of my three routes. For me, it’s not about the fastest route, it’s about not having to follow a new one.

But I’m on the side of town I never go to, so I can’t figure out how to get to one of my routes. I think I have a straight shot to my office, though. So I tell myself I’ll go to my office and then I’ll do my regular drive home, and get the title.

But I get lost going to my office. I would usually call Ryan Paugh for something like this but he’s on vacation. I review the social norms I know about vacations: usually, if someone is your friend, you can call them for help on vacation. But Ryan probably only helps me because I’m sort of his boss.

So I get lost going to my office, and then I go home, and then I take the same route back to the DMV, but it’s so long that I decide to stop at my favorite gas station.

It’s my favorite gas station for the coffee. Have I told you that now that I live in Wisconsin I have taken to drinking gas station coffee? I don’t know what’s come over me. So my favorite meal right now is French Vanilla coffee and a Peanut Butter Power Bar.

I have told you before that transitions are insanely difficult for me. This is one of those times. I am eating—so nice and easy—and going back to the DMV seems so terrible, and isn’t going to ever work out anyway. So I get another coffee and another Power Bar. And it’s so nice, sitting in my car, alone, with no noise, and I think I’m going to die if I have to go back to the DMV.

I do not die, but I do get anxiety and start picking at my cuticles. I have Googled a million times to see if picking cuticles is associated with Asperger’s because it’s insane that I do it. I mean, it hurts and everyone can see it, and sometimes, if it’s a really bad day, I get blood on a nice shirt. Which is today. Well, not really a nice shirt because I was so stressed about today that I did not change out of the shirt I slept in. But I am bleeding.

The only thing I found out from Google is that people with Asperger’s self-mutilate as a way to focus away from what is overwhelming. So it’s like cutting. That’s what’s going on here. I find Googling that another form of this sort of self-mutilation is anorexia, which I wish so much I could have.

Do not tell me this is not acceptable to say. It’s always the fat people who say that. Because really everyone wishes they could be anorexic for a few days, just to get their weight down. I’m just wishing I could be anorexic for the days that I’m picking at my cuticles. The food thing is so much more socially acceptable.

I bring my VIN number to the window where the lady is.

She says, “Hello again.”

Really. She says this. And I can only think of that part of the book Go Dog Go where the dogs say:

Hello again.


Do you like my hat?

I do not.

Goodbye again.


I always liked that part because I felt like Go Dog Go doesn’t just have work dogs and play dogs, and up dogs and down dogs. Go Dog Go also has Asperger’s dogs.

So I say, “Hello.”

I hope we are going to do the Go Dog Go script. I’m giddy with anticipation of having a real connection with the DMV lady.

She says, “Do you have proper identification now?”

I panic. I was expecting “Do you like my hat?” I thought she only needed the car stuff. I worry she needs a phone bill with my address on it or something.

I show her my stuff. She helps me fill in the form. She talks slowly for me, and it’s comforting.

She gives me a number and tells me to wait until it’s called.

I look around for people looking at numbers being called. I don’t see a crowd of people holding papers like mine.

Also, I hear a lot of stuff being called. I mean, there’s the Wisconsin ID department, and the driver’s license department, and the car registration people, and you can even get a passport photo taken here. There’s a lot going on. There are a lot of numbers here.

I worry that I’m going to miss my number while I’m trying to figure things out. So I go back to the woman and ask her how long she thinks it’ll be.

She says, “Not long at all.”

I say, “Not long like an hour, or not long like a minute?”

She says, “Five minutes.”

I go back to looking for where people are listening to numbers. I tell myself I have four minutes to figure out where the numbers are coming from. I look around and the place is full of sixteen-year-olds who are handling all the paperwork for their driver’s licenses. Their parents are reading books, taking care of young siblings, not paying attention to the forms and the numbers and the lines. The sixteen-year-olds are doing it.

Is this the DMV for the gifted-and-talented? Is it normal that all these teens can navigate the DMV? How do they know what to do? Where do they get their information?

I cannot figure out who is supposed to call my number. I am not hearing numbers. I so so so do not want to go back to the woman at the desk. I stare at the wall trying to figure out what to do.

The wall at the DMV is, actually, overwhelming. There are videos about immigration and posters about drunk driving, and there are LCD displays of numbers and letters and I have to find the only blank spot on the wall, in between the bathroom doors, to stare.

I tell myself that it will be fine to ask the lady at the window for help again. I remind myself about the airport. For years I was too scared to ask for help at the airport even though I could not read my boarding pass. I missed so many flights that Ryan Healy was not even surprised anymore when I called him from an airport to tell him I was stuck. Sometimes I’d be right there, sitting at the gate, watching the clock, but the clock is just more numbers, and still I’d miss the flight. Or, if I did not miss my flight, it took so much concentration that I would lose all my stuff; there’s too much commotion to navigate for me to also read numbers.

So I started asking the person at the counter to circle the gate and the time on my boarding pass. I say, “I’m dyslexic and I can’t read my boarding pass.” The person always has a moment of surprise but usually they watch out for me.

So I pretend I’m at the airport and I go to the DMV lady again. I say, “Can you tell me what to do with this? I can’t figure out how to know where to go with my number.”

She says, “What number?”

I hand her my slip.

She says, “These are all letters.”

I look. And it’s true. They are. But they are tricky letters for someone thinking numbers. Well, the H is not tricky, but the I and the O really threw me off.

I say thank you, and then I see there is an LCD above each window in the whole place that shows the number and letter sequence that is almost like mine but not really mine.

I watch. And then it’s my turn.

I go up to the counter. The woman looks over my form.

I am so nervous that I’m not going to have the right information that I have to look away. I look at the customer at the window next to me.

She has a folder of information. Everyone has folders for their car stuff? How can the whole world be so organized? How can the government require that you be this organized to get through life? Why is no one protesting?

My new DMV lady looks up stuff in the computer. She tells me I have a ticket.

This does not surprise me. I get tickets a lot and I forget to pay them. So I sort of think of all tickets, when I get them, as the amount on the slip plus the inevitable late fee.

I say, “Can I pay it now?”

She says, “No. You need to pay at the police station at the Capitol.”

I don’t know why I say this, because just getting the words out gives me so much stress that I think I’m going to have diarrhea right there on the spot. But I say, “Can I go pay it at the police station and then come back?”

“No. It takes up to seven days to clear in the system.”


“The system here needs to show you have no tickets before I can register your car.”

So I settle in for a week of surreptitious, unregistered driving while I wait for the system to clear.

Luckily this is not a day I have to drive to the farm. The farmer drives to my house.

And right when I am trying to get dinner on the table, he says, “Do you have a stamp?”

My first thought is, “It’s so annoying that are you are talking to me when I am trying to get dinner ready because it’s too hard for me to do dinner and kids and stamps.” Also, I think, “Who is still using stamps? What do we need stamps for in 2009 besides letters to Santa?”

He says, “I got a ticket today for parking in front of your house, and I want to pay it before I forget.”

Then I put down my pot, turn off the stove and walk over to give him a kiss. The important thing when you have Asperger’s is not to be able to do stuff you can’t do, but to surround yourself with people who can.

230 replies
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  1. mara
    mara says:

    This brought back memories of trying to help my daughter cope with ADHD. I did not realize how much society ignores people with disabilities until I had a daughter with one. I have been reading your blog for several months now. I admire you so much. You are an incredible person. You have encouraged and inspired me in many areas of life – from work to home. It is amazing how much you have endured and overcome! Thank you for this blog. May God bless you.

    • Belinda Gomez
      Belinda Gomez says:

      OH PLEASE! I have ADD and I can manage without a keeper or government intervention. This is ridiculous.
      A grown woman who can’t find the VIN?

      • Anthony
        Anthony says:


        With all due respect, just because you have an issue and can deal with it well doesn’t give you license to criticize everyone who else who has issues. I have ADD and my brother has Asperger’s. What Penelope, my brother and others with Asperger’s deal with is far beyond what you and I deal with. We have time management issues. We have trouble focusing. We also have lots of energy and drive and when we are doing something that we are really interested in. While ADD can complicate things, we can still for the most part retain our ability to interact with people normally.

        People with Asperger’s have great difficulty with this. They miss social cues. They can talk for hours about subjects that no one else cares about because they don’t realize people aren’t interested. They have to be taught to maintain eye contact and have trouble dealing with basic social protocol like courtesy. My brother did not say please or thank you until he was 12 in spite of constant prodding. I said them regularly by the time I was four. People with Asperger’s also require some degree of regularity in their routines. Many people with Asperger’s also tend to have anxiety disorders. With the VIN number example, it’s not the Penelope was stupid. She was flustered and anxious and likely forgot. Since I also have an anxiety disorder that I was only recently diagnosed with and am learning to control, I can relate.

        Your reaction is honestly a shame. I have always found that my struggles have made me more humble and compassionate. I can understand what it is like to suffer, and I also know how to learn to compensate. I don’t coddle people or make excuses, but I try to uplift and help people to better themselves.

        Unfortunately, other people take your track. They become arrogant and believe that they have suffered and won, therefore it is only weakness that causes others to fail.

        This is utter nonsense. The truth is that you learned how to compensate and overcome ADD. We didn’t simply overpower it through strength of will. Sadly, when I look back at my lowest points, it was usually someone like you who was there to kick me when I was down and belittle my problems.

        We are the people who should be helping people to change and encouraging them whenever we can. If we can’t, then we should at least do them the courtesy of staying out of their way.

      • Jessica
        Jessica says:

        Belinda, if you really had “ADD” you would know that the previously used term “ADD” expired with the most recent revision of the DSM. Consequently, ADHD is the current nomenclature used to describe the disorder as one distinct disorder which can manifest itself as being a primary deficit resulting in hyperactivity/impulsivity (ADHD, predominately hyperactive-impulsive type) or inattention (ADHD predominately inattentive type) or both (ADHD combined type).

      • Eponine
        Eponine says:

        Threre are actually a number of groups for that sort of discussion. My favorite was always Spectrumites (, though it’s rather dead at the moment. AFF also was good at one time, though it went through a crissi of its own a while back. Wrong Planet is another, though I wouldn’t touch that one with a 10 foot pole :P

    • MamaMia
      MamaMia says:

      Say what? What does ADD have to do with Asperger’s?? Anyway, a lot of people have ADD in addition to Asperger’s. You make it sound as though ADD is something worse. It’s not a reading of numbers problem. It’s a clulessness to what a VIN is and why one would be expected to know something about it. Aspies don’t learn well through making connections with other things in their everyday lives. They have to be taught most everything separately, and if it doesn’t come up in the course of doing things, neither they nor anyone else will know there’s something to know that they don’t know!

  2. J (the regular)
    J (the regular) says:

    I had no idea this type of stuff was so hard for you! There’s got to be some sort of group, or discussion board or something where people post ideas and tips and tricks about how they navigate things like this.

    Growing up feeling this much stress over ‘simple’ things like this, when everyone else seemed to be doing okay, must’ve really sucked.

    • Heather
      Heather says:

      I second that. I had no idea how difficult these routine tasks were for some people. Is that why you hired a house manager? That makes sense to me. Perhaps you need to hire another or perhaps there should be an advocacy agency to help people with Aspergers with this stuff. Anyway I can’t understand why you have to go in person to attend to your vehicle license. Crazy system!

    • Rhonda
      Rhonda says:

      There’s just no good reason for this comment. Why tell someone that they’re full of crap? Simply stop reading the blog.

      Hopefully you’ll lose some of the hate in your heart.

  3. Melissa Murphy
    Melissa Murphy says:

    “The important thing when you have Asperger's is not to be able to do stuff you can't do, but to surround yourself with people who can.”

    So, I may nothave Asperger’s, but this statement is true for everyone. We’re not all great at everything – infact there are plenty of times when we ALL suck at something (even seemingly simple things) and surrounding yourself with people who can pick up that slack makes life infinately easier.

    On another note- I have the same types of issues with numbers. For years I’ve been trying to explain to my engineer husband how the numbers literally float around the page when I look at it and I should probably not be the one doing the taxes.

    Great post. Thanks.

    • Allison Williams
      Allison Williams says:

      And that’s why the best marriages/partnerships are between people who complement each other. Then you both have someone who can.

      Thanks for a funny and charming post, and I’m with you on the temporary anorexia!


  4. Heather
    Heather says:

    I don’t have Asperger’s, (I’m insanely good at reading body language), but your experience at the DMV describes me perfectly. It’s why I carried an expired license for 2 years before finally renewing it, and only after I needed a valid license to buy Sudafed. I’m sharing this post with everyone who gave me heck about my license.

    • Farley
      Farley says:

      Heather and all,

      My sister was ADHD before it had a name and she provided us with countless wonderfully funny moments of forgetfulness, lateness, silliness, and joy. I attended a dinner party of young professionals once where the subject of late driver’s license renewal came up and everyone, just for fun, checked the expiration date on their licenses — all 8 had expired!!!! Hilarious.

  5. Jill
    Jill says:

    I feel for your plight and I don’t mean to make light but you are really funny. The Go Dog Go part, funny. And I’m sorry but the DMV is challenging for anyone, except maybe the gifted and talented.

  6. MJ
    MJ says:

    Reminds me of the time that the police came to our house, because my Mom wouldn’t return the library books. Though that was because she’s anti “liberal establishment” and “no one can tell her what to do.”

    Life with people is hard.

  7. Gloria
    Gloria says:

    1) why didn’t you send one of your assistants to the DMV?
    2) How come are you the boss of Ryan? Isn’t he the CEO of the company?

    It’s a funny story, but I’m late on this blog and wanted to catch up

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      You bring up a good point about the assistant. I actually thought the car owner had to be there in person. But maybe not. Even now, I’m not even sure. But I think that I will ask my assistant to go for the followup visit to the DMV. That’s a good idea.

      As for who is boss of who. Clarifying: Ryan Healy is COO, not CEO. We have a new CEO — Ed Barrientos. Ryan Paugh is the one who helps me with directions.


      • Amy
        Amy says:

        When faced with situations that you know are going to be overwhelming bring along an assistant or a farmer. They can help you and then perhaps the next time the same situation arises you can go on your own.

        As for your difficulty with directions and getting from one place to another – have you ever tried a GPS? They can talk to you and tell you when to turn.

        This post was so enlightening. My children face similar issues and this helped me see things from their point of view.

        Go Dog Go. Great book. That was funny you thought of that.

  8. Joselle
    Joselle says:

    What happened to your house manager? This seems like the perfect task for them to either do by themselves or to tag along with you.

    I thought the anorexia comment was funny because when I was in the 4th grade, I read Steven Levenkron’s The Best Little Girl in the World at least a dozen times and I tried really hard to be anorexic but I never made it past dinner.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Yes, good suggestion, Joselle. I’ll try it.

      I also loved reading The Best Little Girl in the World. And I think it’s an achievement to have that book and Go Dog Go show up in the same comments string. So thank you for that, too.


  9. Cat in Boston
    Cat in Boston says:

    Thanks for the post, it will help me be nicer to people when the ask for help; it is really hard for me to comprehend why people need explation and directions for the “simplest” tasks. I do however know how hard it is asking for help, but it is hard to remember that wheh others do . If they are asking for help it is because they really need it. I did not understand until yesterday why opposites attract, your post today confirms my discovery.

    I am liking the farmer more and more (he is good for you, and I am sure you are good for him too).

  10. Anna
    Anna says:

    Did you know that your car will have its VIN printed on it…either on a plate on the dash, or on the inside of the driver car door?

    So if you drove to the DMV, you can just go to the parking lot and get it off your car instead of driving home…

    • Bethany
      Bethany says:

      I had no idea I could find the VIN there. I was wondering how to find it because I need it to request a replacement title so that I can donate my nonworking car.

      I don’t have aspergers but dear lord, the DMV confuses me. My parents have expandable files for all these sorts of things and I just keep meaning to get it figured out and to keep all my papers in one “good” location and then having no idea where they are when I need them. Maybe I’ll give it another go this weekend…

    • Farley
      Farley says:

      I am an ADHD adult and have trouble with my right and left, too. A talking GPS doesn’t say “turn toward the gas station” it says, “turn right here on . . . street.” You need to know your right from your left. (I pause and write something in the air to remember – I know I am right handed, but as I understand it, Aspies have trouble with those chain connections.) So you are correct, a GPS might not really help.

      • Laura
        Laura says:

        The GPS units show an arrow when they tell you to turn left or right, so you can glance at the screen to see which way you’re supposed to turn.

        I have just a few routes that I can safely use, too, so if I don’t have my GPS, I don’t get to go anywhere outside of those routes. I’ve gotten lost before, too, where I may have been a block away from where I was supposed to be, but I had to drive 20 minutes to one of my routes to reorient myself. Now I have two GPS units and a smartphone. I am so thankful for technology.

  11. JR
    JR says:

    So to summarize, you can’t calculate your own age. You can’t drive without getting lost. Although you are a writer, you can’t read or fill out a simple form without help. You can’t anticipate that registering a car requires the VIN. You’re terrified by the DMV, where the gravest danger is death by boredom.

    It’s amazing you can even survive, let alone graduate college or run a business.

    • Anthea
      Anthea says:

      It is indeed amazing, and all the more admirable that she has been able to accomplish so much in spite of her disadvantages.

      • Paul
        Paul says:

        I don’t think J.R. intended his comment to comfort or congratulate, or inspire admiration of Penelope. He seems to be saying, “If you can’t play by the rules, don’t expect to live in the Real World.”

        I don’t deliver well on routine expectations myself – in fact what Penelope does running her own business is beyond me, even though I’m her age plus a little. J.R. would have us both out with the wolves.

        I just wish people like this showed their cards a little more plainly in daily living, without the anonymity of a blog comment. I’d tear those cards up and throw the pieces in their faces.

    • Dree
      Dree says:

      And you, JR, lack common empathy.

      How can I put this…it’s amazing you aren’t in jail for committing violent acts?

    • Ann
      Ann says:

      Like Penelope, I have asperger’s. I lived on my own all through college and graduated in 3 1/2 years, making the dean’s list multiple times. Also, I have a professional job in sales. Also, like Penelope, things like the DMV confuse me. I can read middle english, but I had to bring a friend with me last time I went to the DMV. Also, I get lost all the time – but I find my way eventually. School was always easy for me – I’m smart and self-motivated. But plenty of other things are horribly confusing (like the DMV, parties, normal people’s emotions, and TAX FORMS.)

  12. Dan Owen
    Dan Owen says:

    “Because really everyone wishes they could be anorexic for a few days, just to get their weight down.”

    Please tell me you did not just say that.

    I would rather read 1,000 of your miscarriage posts than that one sentence.

    • Editormum
      Editormum says:

      Why? It’s true … at least for most of the women I know.

      It’s the universal desire of people that the hard things should be made easy, and we have this insane idea that if we were anorexic, our food issues would be easy because we wouldn’t have to think about them.

      If you’ve never suffered from this paradoxical and perverse desire, then you are very lucky.

    • Lydia
      Lydia says:

      That sentence made me sick to my stomach. I get that not eating is less noticeable than bleeding all over the place, but it’s not a trade you want to make either. And no, it isn’t just “fat people” who would tell you not to say you want anorexia. The reason that one sentence upset me is because I’ve been there. I know what it’s like, and it’s certainly nothing desirable. Turn the tables. Would you find humor in it if I said I wanted Aspergers’?

      Don’t be a wannarexic. Nobody likes them.

  13. Lyndsey Fifield
    Lyndsey Fifield says:

    This is so absolutely refreshing. I silently pat myself on the back every time I manage to get through an airport without issue and I wonder how everyone else is so non-chalant about it.

    I’m so relieved that it isn’t just me.

    When it comes right down to it, if I sally on and push through the panic attacks, everything turns out all right in the end… even at the DMV or doctor’s office when I hopelessly just want to throw my debit card at them and tell them to just make it all just go away.

  14. Ayelet
    Ayelet says:

    jayz- people can be mean in the comments!
    This story will remind me to be kind when I am dealing with someone who can’t get it together.. Thanks.

    • Paul
      Paul says:

      I don’t think that’s the lesson those commenters want you to learn. More that whenever anyone’s at the end of their rope, they’re indulging in self-pity and should have it scoured right out of them. For their own good, but more importantly, for the good of society, because it’s hard for everybody – and we had better like it that way lest we become a decadent and failed civilization.

  15. Danielle
    Danielle says:

    Hi Penelope,

    Even as someone who does not have any learning disabilities, I definitely know how you feel. Especially this paragraph: “She has a folder of information. Everyone has folders for their car stuff? How can the whole world be so organized? How can the government require that you be this organized to get through life? Why is no one protesting?”

    My mom is to me what the farmer is for you — the person who always has their shit pulled together. And just remember, even the people with the folders are bewildered sometimes too.

  16. Ulyana
    Ulyana says:

    Wait, you could have gotten the VIN from under your windshield on the driver’s side – you can see it from outside by simply looking at the bottom of the windshield where your windshiel wipers rest… assuming your car is not 50 years old. Also, they now put VINs on the doors of the cars. Could have saved you a lot of hassle!!!

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I see someone else mentioned this as well. I am shocked.

      I remember the year I read the Iliad in college, and the class complained about it. And the teacher said all college freshmen read the Iliad because it’s important to have a set of shared references, as a society, so that we can function together. I feel like I got the Iliad part of the shared knowledge but not the car part.


      • Ulyana
        Ulyana says:

        I wish the DMV lady would have told you. It’s really her job. Of course, she doesn’t **have** to, but it seems she could have easily prevented you from going home once you mentioned that you’d have to go back to the house.

        Also, just as one of the readers mentioned, you should be able to do the renewals online going forward (but I can’t really speak for WI, never lived there).

  17. Pen
    Pen says:

    I’m ashamed for my past home state if they don’t give you the capability to renew a registration or register a car online (in the comfort of your own home or office). I thought they were more advanced than that!


  18. Nancy Imperiale
    Nancy Imperiale says:

    I hate the DMV. I never have the right stuff and I always disappoint the lady behind the counter who usually cluck-clucks but then I look like I’m going to cry so she makes it all better.

    What I really need, though, is a farmer.

  19. Jessie
    Jessie says:

    I loved how you ended that post. More people need to take advantage of those “lightbulb” moments and just kiss the faces of the ones they love.

  20. Mike CJ
    Mike CJ says:

    I broke out in a cold sweat just reading this. Every time we change our cars I have to go through a similar process here in Spain, with the added complication that everything is in my second language. I don’t suffer from Aspergers, and I’m an extremely confident person, but I find this visits hell.

    It really is time that these bureaucratic hell holes actually started to realize they are performing a public service. And why don’t they streamline things? The whole notion of then going to another place to pay your ticket and having to drive illegally for a week while the payment clears is ludicrous. Why cant you simply pay what’s owed and process the thing there and then?

    • Mark W.
      Mark W. says:

      “It really is time that these bureaucratic hell holes actually started to realize they are performing a public service. And why don’t they streamline things?”

      Mike, I totally agree with you here.
      The government is a monopoly. The incentives to streamline and innovate don’t compare to free enterprise. The irony is that the people who work in these “bureaucratic hell holes” have to endure the same hell as the rest of us.

  21. Amanda
    Amanda says:

    It’s these storytelling posts that really give me a clear sense of what it is like to live with a disability. Much more effective than hard and fast facts or a clinical analysis type of report. It adds that human element.

  22. Rach
    Rach says:

    I read an interview with Rupert Everett the other day and something he said has stuck with me: ‘It’s this whole language of political correctness, which I think is the closest thing to evil.’

    You are not politically correct, and for this MUCH thanks.

  23. secretseasons
    secretseasons says:

    Hi Penelope – Is this typical of Asperger’s or(and?) have you been evaluated for an anxiety disorder? It reads like an extended anxiety attack.

  24. prklypr
    prklypr says:

    I LOVE this post, even with the asking-for-trouble anorexia comment. Stress and confusion at the DMV is natural, but yours is like a comedy routine. Sorry, but I nearly laughed out loud. Just drive carefully till the ticket clears.

  25. Barbara
    Barbara says:

    A friend went on the nicotine patch. He could not find or read the directions. Nobody told him to put it in a different place each day. Result – a large boil that took serious medical treatment. Warnings are important and need to be conveyed in multiple ways.
    If it’s any comfort, lots of people are intimdated by the DMV. I’m intimidated by the post office.

  26. ejly
    ejly says:

    You write the story so well, it almost seems like it was worth living through.

    Your point about the overwhelming wall struck home for me. When I evaluated some schools last year while prepping to transfer my sons, we eliminated one right away because the walls were so heavily decorated there was nowhere for the eye to rest. One thing I like about the new school we’re in is the teachers swap all the wall hangings regularly – they stay uncluttered and refreshed. That’s what works for merchandising displays so why wouldn’t it work in a classroom?

    A few quick tips: first, always bring a folder. Even if it is just holding grandma’s recipes, a folder impresses the hell out of the bureaucracy. You can pass for organized or at least get points for the assumed attempt to be organized. (This works in corporate life too.) Second, write down your questions (e.g. “What should I do to register my car?” and “Does the owner have to be the one registering the car?”) and then phone first. You may spend time on hold waiting, but you can use that time, and then when you get there you’ll be forewarned as to what to expect. Forewarned is forearmed.

    I can’t help but wonder if you’d treated the DMV like a business meeting – which it is for them – you would have been able to hack it. When you go back in 7 days, maybe you want to try that? Then you’ll be a dog in car (legally) again (keeping with the go dog go theme).

    • Emm
      Emm says:

      I live in Upstate NY and you can no longer call the DMV to ask them questions. However, there are usually Freq. Asked Ques. on the nys dmv website and we can renew car registrations on there! It’s great, I’ve avoided DMV for the last few years this way!

  27. Kiesa
    Kiesa says:

    I thought I was the only one that picked my cuticles till they bled. Everyone else always seems to have such nice fingers :)

  28. no name please
    no name please says:

    I’m that person with the folder. Your post gives me a better understanding of why my friends constantly seem in awe of what feels ordinary to me.

    Just before Thanksgiving, a friend asked me how to make all the food dishes finish at the same time. I was puzzled on how to give him advice. It seems mine just work out that way. I guess I always have a finish line in mind (whether it be that dinner is at 6, or that I’ll walk out of the DMV with my car registered.)

    But, on the other hand, I often make stupid comments socially. If I have a deadline or a goal, I’m fine. But if I’m in a social situation, I don’t know where to go.

    • Farley
      Farley says:

      Your food is ready all at the same time? Amazing! And I’ll bet you don’t even burn the biscuits. Really outstanding! I am unable to do this, usually because I am so enchanted by my guests. Everyone is very kind about the cold and hot dinner and burned biscuits. Then we play games.

  29. Bernadette Merikle
    Bernadette Merikle says:

    I have a love hate relationship. With your blog, with you, probably with my life in general. Sometimes (like today) you write posts that make life and community so real to me. You’re not ashamed to share and be vulnerable and take all the trash talk that comes with it in an effort to impart very useful information for those that continue to read here. Admittedly, there have been times when I’ve sworn you off, deleted my bloglines subscription and vowed to never read another crazy post you wrote again. Then I sat back and examined why I was so uncomfortable with what you said. It’s not always a learning experience or an “aha! she was right!” moment, but it does get me back here so that I don’t miss out on the gems like today.

    Thank you for the moment to moment account of what it feels like to go through what you do and the simplest advice of all to remember that we’re not alone and it is okay to rely on others to get through life.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      This is such a nice comment. Thank you. Thank you for trying again. I hope that the time in between the times you delete me from bloglines gets longer and longer and longer….


  30. Mike
    Mike says:

    It’s rare for big catastrophic problems to break me down. It’s always the grinding mileau of daily life that does it. Believe me, it’s not just a problem for people with Aspergers!

    This post captures that essence – the “little things in life” – perfectly.

    You write extremely well.

  31. Dree
    Dree says:

    I’m not the dude for the job, but it seems there’s tremendous potential for a business doing consulting for folks with Asperger’s.

    Something with a 24-hour on-call number, lots of opportunity for online networking, and required practice sessions with the whole “awkward conversation/drink holding” tango. There could be body language index cards!

    Sooo…you wanna start another business?

    • Paul
      Paul says:

      The last thing the pinks (=NTs) want is for an a$$burger to be allowed any breaks in daily living. The usual attitude is that we are weak characters who don’t belong in (their) Real World and don’t deserve any better than we’ve got.

    • Jeffrey Deutsch
      Jeffrey Deutsch says:

      Hi Dree,

      That’s precisely my line of work. I’m an Aspie who helps fellow Aspies get along better in an NT dominated world…and also helps NTs understand and work with us better.


      Jeff Deutsch

  32. Becky
    Becky says:

    Thank you so much for this. My husband can do theoretical physics, but he can’t pay bills. I mean physically can’t pay them, for reasons much like you describe. He missed whole semesters of university because he could not navigate the bureaucracy involved in registering for class. I used to be baffled that someone so smart couldn’t manage not to bounce checks. I mean, he can do calculus in his head; surely he should be able to work a check register? Finally I accepted that I would never understand it but he wasn’t going to change, and resigned myself to being the mundane one in our relationship. And here you go and describe what’s going on in his head. Not literally — he can handle numbers and directions just fine. But you are describing what it’s like to function in a world that is not quite set up for the way you think.

    My husband has learned the magic of the folder too. Now when he gets pulled over on the highway, he pulls out a folder containing the last few years’ insurance cards, car registration info, etc. The officer is often so satisfied by the mere existence of such a folder in the glove box that my husband gets off with a kind warning. Whereas, he used to routinely wind up in jail for being disorganized and socially clueless in the presence of a police officer.

    He’d start off confused and nervous, and somehow it would escalate until he was out of the car with his hands on the roof getting patted down. Somehow, the existence of a folder, even if it’s not very neat or entirely complete, seems to satisfy the authorities that you mean well and aren’t trying to hide anything.

      • Cathy
        Cathy says:

        Sorry Becky but I agree with Belinda. It’s such a cliche… oh, honey I just can’t seem to get the hang of this ironing…..
        That can be ok, as long as you train HIM to do the things you hate – by being incompetent at them.

    • Ann
      Ann says:

      My boyfriend and I are both aspies. It’s nice because we’re the only people who understand each other… but we also have problems with a lot of the same things. Now we try to be together whenever one of us has to do something important (DMV, job things, parties, etc.) It helps a lot. For instance – he’s more practical and less absentminded than me, but I’m better at social situations. He budgets and buys groceries, and I do the talking whenever we go out.

    • Farley
      Farley says:


      I want to “like” your comment . . . and I’m going to get a folder immediately!

  33. Tzipporah
    Tzipporah says:

    Penelope, you should know, the 16 year olds aren’t actually gifted and talented – they’re just EXTREMELY motivated. :)

  34. Brad
    Brad says:

    Stick two labels to the dashboard: a left arrow with the word LEFT and one for RIGHT. Then get a GPS. Driving problem solved.

  35. Jonny
    Jonny says:

    I have been a habitual nail biter for years. Stress always gets me going and I don’t even realize I’m doing it.

    Anyway, once again I loved reading this and can’t tell you how much I admire your ability to be strong in the face of your Asperger’s.

    Keep bouncing back and coping. All the best.

  36. Marina
    Marina says:

    I’m disappointed at your anorexia comment not because I’m one of the fat people (I’m a US size 0) but because I think it’s incredibly immature to go straight to thoughts of anorexia when thinking about losing weight.

    Yes, all women feel a little ‘fat’ sometimes. I think that might be a universal truth. Most women even wish they could come down with the flu or a bout of food poisoning for a few days to shed “just one or two kilos”. But really, no one wishes they were anorexic.

    Anorexia isn’t about being dissatisfied with your weight, it’s about being dissatisfied with yourself. Usually it’s a way of someone who doesn’t feel that have any emotional control to gain control over their bodies.

    Penelope, I can’t help but read and love you blog, and of course you’re entitled to your opinion, but I thought you had more maturity than that. It just seemed like a very childish comment.

    • Anony
      Anony says:

      Marina – I’m one of those people who sometimes wishes she was anorexic. I’m not one of the fat people, but I’m not one of the skinny people.
      I understand that anorexia is about control; I understand it’s a very serious disease. That doesn’t stop me from wishing for an “easy” quick fix like food poisoning, lipo, or anorexia.
      That doesn’t make me immature, that makes me temporarily lazy.

      • Caitlin
        Caitlin says:

        @Anony Like you, I am neither fat nor super-skinny. There are times when I would like to lose a little weight and a quick would be nice. It’s just that it’s never occurred to me for even a moment that anorexia would be a ‘quick and easy fix’ or the ‘lazy way out’. I think of it only as a sad, lonely, scary, painful and sometimes life-threatening disease. I’ve sometimes fantasised about a magic wand but never about anorexia.

      • Emm
        Emm says:

        I agree only I view it like a temporary fantasy… there are plenty of instances where I wish for dumb things, like the willpower of an anorexic…the skin of a print model…soon I quickly come back to earth and realize what I have isn’t so bad. It’s almost like an outlet for the anxiety. I wish I could explain it better. I took the anorexia comment as humor, yes it is serious for a lot of people, doesn’t mean it has to become this taboo ‘thing’ no one can mention or joke about.

    • lucinda
      lucinda says:

      I have to agree. Anorexia and all eating disorders are emotional disorders. But I do think Penelope’s comment was not the most important part of her post. We all make thoughtless remarks based on a lack of understanding. I think her point was, if you’re going to have an emotional disorder, maybe there could be a small benefit, such as being thin. Not the most sensitive, but given the context, perhaps just a bit of self depracating diversion.

    • Melissa
      Melissa says:

      Marina – Agree completely.

      Anorexia is such a horrible addiction. It is no way to live, even for a week.

  37. neko
    neko says:

    I … ALWAYS get lost when driving/cant find my way out of a paper bag. I ALWAYS screw something up at airports (especially during international travel). I have ALWAYS sucked at admin (have trouble with complicated tax preparation; dont invest my money smartly; cant grasp general finance issues (ie. difference between principle & interest).

    PT: YOU ARE NOT ALONE in being overwhelmed by minutia like this …. I’m right there with you, sis.

  38. Sara G
    Sara G says:

    Thanks for helping others understand how intimidating some tasks can be, Penelope. I, too, pick my cuticles until they bleed, less so the older I get, if that’s any comfort to you….

    My son and I both have Asperger’s. Once we went to a restaurant that had such a “busy” menu that neither of us could read it. We finally made it work by covering up all but small portions of it and struggling through. I think we ate chips and salsa, and maybe burritos, out of desperation.

    You are a terrific example of the incredible high-functioning and low-functioning that can exist in one person with Asperger’s. Congratulations on soldiering through the DMV on your own. Maybe I will take some courage from you and try to get Washington State license plates, I’ve lived here 4 months now…


    • Ann
      Ann says:

      My boyfriend and I go to the same Mexican restaurant and the same pizza place over and over for the same reason. And we both hate shopping. He wore the same pair of shoes that had a hole in the sole and that the sides were ripping out of for months because he couldn’t stand the thought of shopping. I actually buy shampoo and grocery items on amazon to avoid going to the store.

  39. Irv Podolsky
    Irv Podolsky says:

    Well, everyone,

    After reading Penelope’s post and all these comments, I’m sorta feeling “normal” again. I can read a map, follow directions, renew my car registration…pay a bill on time. And from age six I took those little challenges for granted. But I’ve got other ones, like I can’t learn a foreign language, or memorize a bunch of boring facts, or do high math (or low math), or spell most three syllable words. Thank Heaven for spell-check!

    But it seems to me, we’re all wired differently, and we all process information differently, and we all have our strong points and weak points, and maybe the condition of mental variety among us all, maybe THAT’S “normal!” Maybe a restricting condition in one way of thinking makes us excel in others, and that this mental rainbow creates a wider range of varied thinking and creativity. ‘Cause if we all thought the same way, and acted the same way, and believed the same things, from where would evolution grow?

    So Penelope…okay you get lost driving home. But not within your sentences. You’re never lost in writing…once you hit SUBMIT.

    Irv P.

  40. Hal
    Hal says:

    I only recently found your writings – I have a recurring mail search in google for ‘Asperger’ that returned one of your previous posts. I followed you on Twitter and you followed me back, thanks. Anyway, I have a really hard time coping with those routines and massive paperwork requirements too. This is especially ironic because I depend on grants to find my research and that’s nothing but endless, mindless paperwork.

    I’m not so sure that the 16-year olds negotiating the DMW are ‘gifted and talented.’ I think G&Ts would get lost in the DMV maze as well. These kids are probably ‘normal’ (neuro-typical) (whatever *that* is) and that’s how they function. They pick up on all those ‘clues’ people keep telling me about.

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