How to build a career if you have Aspergers

It is my business partner’s birthday. We have been through two years and $4 million in funding. We’re together every day, but I can’t say happy birthday. I wanted to skip work to avoid it, but I had to come in because we are getting so many media calls for our product launch—a tool that allows companies to recruit people from blogs. I sneak past his office and go to a friend’s cube and say, “I can’t tell Ryan happy birthday. I’m going to die. I can’t do it. I feel too stupid. I think I might cry if I have to do it.” And then I am actually crying.

She says, “Whatever. He knows you can’t do it. Just go tell him you know it’s his birthday but you can’t talk about it. That’s enough.”

I do that. Ryan smiles and we move on to bigger things.

I have Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism marked by poor social skills and above-average intelligence. So this is how I get through my days: I have helpers—people who know I have Asperger’s and who expect weirdness from me and who give me scripts to say when I’m at a loss. However, many of these people work for me, which can make this kind of office interaction painfully awkward. For them, not for me: I don’t understand awkward, and so I don’t mind asking my employees for help. (Studies about women with Asperger’s show that we do better in the world than men because we’re good at getting help with social situations.) People with Asperger’s love scripts. It’s just that I don’t know how to generalize from the scripts. I will feel the same social stress when my friend in the cube next to me celebrates her birthday. Then Ryan will have to script me on how to say happy birthday to someone else.

I learned that I had Asperger’s when I was 33; I was trying to diagnose my four-year-old son and realized all the boxes I was checking off for him also applied to me. There were earlier signs, of course: I didn’t brush my teeth on a regular basis until I was in my mid-twenties. I thought it was a casual, do-it-when-you-feel-like-it-thing. Until I was 30, I wore only skirts and dresses—I wasn’t sure how pants should fit. I always knew I was bad with faces, but two months after my son’s birth, I still couldn’t remember what his face looked like if I was not in the room with him. Later, I found out that a possible detail of Asperger’s is face blindness.

Part of the reason I wasn’t diagnosed sooner is that Asperger’s is extremely hard to identify. Also, the disorder wasn’t included in the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic reference until 1994—although Viennese pediatrician Hans Asperger first described it in 1944—so in the past, telltale signs were often chalked up to bad social skills. Plus, people will excuse a lot of odd behavior in a kid who is smarter than everyone else in school. I used to study the encyclopedia at my desk while other kids were learning to read. I wrote a novel while other kids were figuring out how to write complete sentences. Then, around fourth grade, people lost patience with me: I’d forget to go to school, or I’d flunk gym class because relocating to my locker and changing clothes required too much planning. My teachers thought I was lazy.

In my twenties, I began shocking people at work instead of school. At my first job—as a project coordinator at a small website—I was assigned to post Yoko Ono’s interactive art online, but when her submission came in, I rejected it. I had no idea that an assistant could not call up Yoko and tell her the work was subpar. “She’s done better,” I told my boss. “We all know that.” He fired me before I could explain further.

At my first Fortune 500 job, I wore thrift shop clothes to work—straight out of the bin, unwashed. “We have a dress code,” said the HR representative assigned to deal with me. “How can you tell me which clothes to buy at the thrift shop?” I replied. “There’s no way HR is a better shopper than I am for what I like.” I didn’t understand that they didn’t intend to handpick my wardrobe; they just wanted me to stop wearing dirty, threadbare clothes. They fired me for insubordination.

Later in life, I realized my husband had some of the telltale traits of Asperger’s. He was a celebrated musical savant and started college when he was 15, but he can’t balance a checkbook. People with Asperger’s often marry each other, maybe because the syndrome runs in families and therefore seems normal to kids who grow up surrounded by this kind of behavior. My frame of reference for men is that they should be brilliant, quirky and socially withdrawn. Like my father, who has a Harvard degree but can’t hold down a job. Or father-in-law: I am told he helped invent GPS. I’m not kidding. He invented GPS, but he eats standing up and doesn’t believe in family ties.

Roughly 80 percent of adults with Asperger’s syndrome do not have full-time work, according to some studies. By the time I figured out I had the disorder, I had been fired from every job I had ever held. I had offended everyone I know. Think of all the thoughts and judgments that go through your head that you’d never say aloud: You’re fat. You’re lazy. Your clothes don’t fit. Your office smells. I say these things because they’re true, and I’ve since built a career on saying what no one else will say – or maybe I have a career in spite of that.

The thing you would notice first if you met me at my office is that I can’t do social niceties. You might say, “Hi. It’s nice to meet you.”

I would say nothing. Because I wouldn’t be able to decide if I should say, “Thank you.” Or “It’s nice of you to come.” Or “How are you?” Or “Do you like the weather outside?”

When I say nothing, you will be thrown off guard because you have not been in this position before. But I’m in it all the time, so I can recover faster than you. While you are deciding that I must not have heard you, I will be leading you toward our meeting spot and shifting the conversation to the work at hand. And ta-da! I’ve gotten myself out of all social-skill requirements, and we are getting our work done.

If you have Asperger’s, the key to building a career is to be very good at something. People accept my quirks because I’m so good at starting companies. My inability to see the rules makes me able to think outside the box. I don’t see the box. Also, most boxes are crazy. It is crazy to think you can start a company from nothing and build it to $10o million in revenue. Yet I am excellent at selling this sort of thing to investors. For most of the world, crazy is bad. In the start-up world, crazy is good.

Someone with Asperger’s has an incredible ability to focus; it’s just that you never know what the person will focus on. If someone focuses on her job, she will most likely do it better than anyone else. (That’s probably why companies in Germany and the United States recently began hiring people with Asperger’s to be software testers; they can spot flaws and patterns where others can’t.) But ask someone with Asperger’s to make a judgment call, and you’ll have a problem. We don’t do gray areas. Nuance is a social skill that you don’t recognize until you grasp that you don’t have it.

After I talk to Ryan, I take calls from the media. I can do that all day. I am a genius about consumer trends, and I’ve built four Internet start-ups on my ability to see the future. There is no give-and-take in the conversation with the reporter. I can’t do give-and-take. But I can pontificate, and that works for an interview. I can see connections in the world that other people can’t.

However, that insight comes at a cost. I don’t understand, for instance why you don’t know that Generation Y is going to get trounced by Generation Z because Generation Y doesn’t like to lead. I have no qualifications to know this, but I know it’s true.

My diagnosis was like finding out I was face blind for 100 different things. Now I understand so much more about myself. For example, I rarely change my clothes before they itch. I can’t handle the pressure of having to adjust to a different thing touching my body.

I used to try to hide that at work—that I wear the same jeans, the same underwear, the same everything for weeks in a row. Sometimes I’d throw a sweater over a sweater; that way, people thought I had changed, but the new clothes didn’t actually have to touch me. Now I realize I have severe sensory integration dysfunction—common with Asperger’s—so I just tell people I am wearing the same clothes because I need to. They don’t care. If you tell others you understand why you can’t change clothes, they don’t think you’re psycho.

People say it is hard to grow old. They miss their younger selves. My younger self was a fog. It wasn’t until after my son’s diagnosis that I learned how to explain my situation and ask for help in a way that encouraged people to give it to me. Knowing how to tell people about my Asperger’s allows me to connect with them.

For example, I tell people who work for me that I will never be intentionally hurtful, because I don’t understand the process; they should just tell me when I hurt their feelings. When they do, I say I’m sorry, even though I have no idea why they would be sad. I try to use the tone of voice that people use for “I’m sorry.” (The inflection goes down at the end of the word so you don’t sound too upbeat.) Next, I ask the person I’ve hurt to give me a rule. What’s the rule for what I should say in a particular situation? After years of practice, I’ve learned how to generalize only a couple of directives; mostly I just re-ask as each situation arises.

People don’t like instructing their boss on how to talk. It takes a while for my employees and colleagues to understand that I want that. But once they get it, they are happy to help. Because people who work together care about one another, and if you work with someone who has Asperger’s, you have to have the discussion about how to care for each other every single day. So really, you could say that people with Asperger’s make the work world a more meaningful place. If they can hold down a job.

65 replies
  1. MBL
    MBL says:

    I see many of these behaviors in my 8 year old Aspie daughter. I am trying to help mitigate the social pitfalls of some of them and am learning to let go of others. Regarding the clothes thing, if she isn’t grubby, she can wear the same clothes. But if she will be seeing the same people (more precisely, if they will be seeing her) then she needs to change. Interestingly enough, the reason that we need to do that is because of the lack of social skills of the NT kids. Once my daughter went into a ceramics class and saw a child she had seen for an hour the previous day. As my daughter walked in, the girl said in loud voice “E why are you wearing the same thing you wore yesterday?!?” WTF? And for the record, in that case, I had washed the outfit the night before so it actually was fresh. But why on earth should this be an issue. Sigh.

    I am torn between letting her go through life oblivious to many things preserve her confidence and innocence and trying to show her where the box is, so she can make an informed choice as to how far to stray from it. I really can’t imagine her every staying in the box, but I do want her to be aware of the potential cost of flouting expectations. Again, sigh.

    I am definitely working on the “you don’t need to say everything that pops into your head” nonsense. Part of it is that that is just rude and part of it is, while it might be true to her and her extreme sensitivities, that doesn’t mean it is true, in general. And many things are just her opinion. While she is always entitled to that, it is not always in her best interests to share it.

    I find it extremely hard to believe that 80% of Aspies are unemployed. Perhaps 80% of those with a formal diagnosis, but those who have been gainfully (if not optimally) employed for their entire lives, would have no impetus for getting diagnosed. My Aspie husband has never been fired, but his career has suffered because of his lack of social skills. It may not look like it because he has done so well, but he could be doing much more with his talent. Regarding the clothes thing, I have finally just started throwing some of his threadbare things away and forcing him to replace them. I have tried to convince him to at least tell is boss or HR that he has Asperger’s to get it on record in case he accidentally offends someone, big time. But he refuses. I can see his side, but I am still a bit worried.

    There is so much great stuff in the article. Thanks so much for sharing it here.

    • Rachelle
      Rachelle says:

      “I find it extremely hard to believe that 80% of Aspies are unemployed. ”

      That’s not what she wrote, she stated 80% of Aspies (I’m not sure if that true or not) don’t have full time employment. Not having a full time job does not equate with being unemployed. I have Asperger’s and I don’t have a job but I’m not unemployed, I’m self employed, as many are today.

      • MBL
        MBL says:

        Rachelle, thanks so much for catching that. I read the article and tried to reply while multi-tasking. Not recommended for an ADDer!

        I still don’t think only 20% are employed full time. Hello Silicon Valley. I am very curious as to how they have arrived at their numbers. Have they extrapolated from diagnosed cases to percentage of the population? Or are these just the numbers of identified Aspies who have been surveyed? I think people are far more likely to be identified when they are struggling with challenges than when they have adapted or found their employment niche.

        But again, thanks for pointing that out. I do so hate those kinds of errors.

        I’m curious about, but too lazy to research the numbers of non-Aspies without full time employment for comparison. I homeschool our daughter, so I am neither employed nor unemployed since I’m not looking for a job.

      • William
        William says:

        Would the words, “chronically underemployed” make YOU feel better, Rachelle?! And they say that people with Aspergers are sensitive and sticklers for details…sheesh!

  2. ML
    ML says:

    Terrific post (I saw the More article), but something I skipped over before just hit me the gut–Aspbergers or not.

    “I don’t see the box.”

    Yep. An aha moment. I always tell people I think outside the box, but there was always something that didn’t ring entirely true with that. And now I know what it is. I don’t see the box.


  3. renee Kalandar
    renee Kalandar says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this information. I work in a social skills program with kids and adults who come because they have difficulty understanding social rules. Sometimes it just a place to find other like minded individuals and for parents to discover that there isnt anything ‘wrong’ with their kids, I try and support the idea of neurological diversity and your article helps me to understand from your perspective what it means for you . You would be such a blessing to hear speak in conferences for families and professionals about your experiences.

  4. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    I’ve found full time work as a writer (newspaper, grants, reports), as an events coordinator, research assistant, and as a business owner of an e-tailing business which is located in my home. I kept my jobs because I was good at them, highly committed to outcomes, and they didn’t require much schmoozing. A writer has a good excuse to work at home on big projects.

    Now that I own a home-based business I am so thankful to not be tied to a 9 to 5, so thankful I can hire someone to answer the phone and to go to conferences, so thankful I never need attend a meeting with anyone other than my husband. (When I had a job, staying present and patient in a meeting was a big challenge and I did walk out a time or two.) Now that I have children so much of my energy goes towards them and in particular I have little social energy remaining for work or friends.

    I currently homeschool my younger son and am a believer in the benefits of homeschooling…..however I know he would benefit from being in the company of neurotypicals and I know I need more time alone and more quiet than the average mom. He’s an ENFP (yet with sensory sensitivity) so, all the more reason he’d benefit from more time socializing. He LOVES group games and group activities, humor, gregarious people, etc. Yes I know these things are not found at school. For now he goes to sports, science classes, summer camps, etc. for the social and I hope he will go to Waldorf in 2 years – as much of their learning is very social, active, and outside.

    I do think the children of aspie women might uniquely benefit from time in group activities with neurotypicals, whether school or camps. Otherwise they get the aspie genetics plus 24/7 aspie environment. I’m frankly not the best person to be teaching my boys social skills and am glad for some help from other adults.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I think about that too — how socially stifling I am to my neurotypical son. I try to just stay out of his way. All my instincts about what he should do with his friends are wrong. And at eight years old, he already knows that.

      Actually, now that I write this, I remember watching him – even as a three year old – managing himself on the playground in ways that astounded me. He knew intuitively to stand at the side of a group of kids playing and watch how they played before joining them. It was like magic to me. I am not sure I do that intuitively even now, as an adult.


      • Kim Cairns
        Kim Cairns says:

        I enjoy reading you Penelope. You go out of your way to court controversy, even if what you write is total crap. It always makes me laugh. In fact, it’s a formula I think works well for you, and I see this formula is now touted around the web as part of instructional articles on writing blog posts that attract high readership. The only other people who articulate this model better (in my humble opinion) are perhaps Miley Cyrus, and Michael Jackson’s old publicist, who happily admits he and Jackson came up with some wildly improbably lies and just stoked the media fire with them (his favourite was the “oxygen capsule”).

        For this article, you’ve done well, but I suspect no medical professional has agreed with your diagnosis. I’ve watched you on your podcasts, and read a fair few of your articles. I don’t think you have Aspergers at all. But looking at your history, I think it’s a mix of narcissistic personality disorder overlapping a rather bland borderline personality disorder, with both underpinned by a very frail and fragile self esteem.

        But in many ways, it doesn’t matter. You’ve hit on a great formula that resonates with a large cohort of the population. It’s an unusual and entertaining mix of “forge your own destiny” with “When it all goes wrong, it’s not my fault because I have xxxx (pick your disease).

        Rather hypocritically, I have often told people I have Tourette’s (I don’t) when they irritate me and I tell them to fuck off. You should try that one too, given the volume of swearing you do on your podcasts.

        • anonymous
          anonymous says:

          You’re right that you’re a hypocrite. How dare you tell people to fuck off when you get irritated. All that will do is make them get back at you.

          But what’s worse is that you told Penelope – or “Pen” as I’d rather call her – to try telling her to try it sometime. Are you trying to get her in trouble with other people? By doing that, she could get punched in the face.

          One way that you’re hypocritical is that you complimented her before telling her off. Shame on you.

          If you want to make out in this world, you gotta learn to behave well. Same thing goes for Pen.

    • Steve Borgman
      Steve Borgman says:

      Having just written an article about how to work at home for people with Aspergers, I’d love to hear about what type of home business you own, Lisa, and what parts of it come easy versus what parts are challenging, and how you work with the challenges.

  5. Ann Stanley
    Ann Stanley says:

    I run a private tutoring business. I turned up at the door of my delightful aspie client yesterday and he said, ‘I don’t really want you here tonight. Sorry for being blunt.’ I said, ‘No. Thank you for being blunt. Let’s get started anyway.’ (After all, his mum is the real client). I appreciate his bluntness so much. It simplifies everything. There’s too much piss-farting around amongst neurotypicals, I’m not aspie but I am a Scot living in Australia, so I understand how aspies feel – too honest for the culture.

  6. Sadya
    Sadya says:

    i did have a boss who i suspected had a mild form of Aspergers. He developed his skills/expertise in tech, but went on to do his MBA from Wharton in Marketing. To me it seemed that his social skills were mostly learned, as opposed to innate. He was awesome, still is. Of course communication wasn’t his best skill, but he wasn’t too bad.

    He moved because his son was diagnosed with something unidentifiable. The son was 10yrs old, smart but couldn’t cope up in school, i.e had a hard time making friends, interacting etc. I regret never saying it upfront to my ex-boss. Maybe someday I will

  7. Jessica
    Jessica says:

    From the comments above and in general…

    Why are people Myers-Briggs testing their children?

    Complete personalities aren’t solidified until ones 20s..and personality change can happen.

    So, I just wonder, why peg the children so young? Especially, when it will influence your behavior towards them thus affecting their personality development.

    • Jessica
      Jessica says:

      Ok. I came across a long reddit forum dealing with the accuracy of Myers Briggs. It doesn’t answer my question about having kids pegged so young, but did inform me (from industry people) that Myers Briggs is not an accepted industry standard.

      P uses MB on job selection rather than job performance right?

      I know this is a tangent but MB is all over this blog and in comments and I’m just curious why all the weight, thus decisions based on, on this personality test….

        • Ruthy
          Ruthy says:

          Hey Jessica, I’ve wondered the same thing myself. I’m an E/INFJ…. but I’m also a Scorpio.

          It seems silly to compare MB and the zodiac, but there’s no denying my personality can be better described using both.

          The E/INFJ in me is kind and helpful and driven to accomplish things with meaning, but the Scorpio in me is cunning, clever, driven at finding ways to get what I want.

          Personality type, IQ, EQ, desire to learn, some have no desire to learn. it’s all much more complicated than just MB, I think, but I find MB to be so useful and accurate and it’s helped me so much.

        • victoria
          victoria says:

          Heh — I’m amused by this because I’ve been working on a systematic review that has a large psychometrics component, and when I saw your question my first instinct was to say, “Nope, mostly when researchers want to validate another test or phenomenon they use MMPI or NEO-PI.” And sure enough, those are among the test people listed as more valid on the Reddit link.

      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        I use it a lot because it works for me. I can understand people really fast by using tools to figure out their type and then communicating with them the way that type likes communication.

        As for kids, the two of the four letters are pretty solid before one’s twenties. And here’s a good book about parenting and personality type:


  8. Scott Messenger
    Scott Messenger says:

    Thank you Penelope for this blog post. It was exactly what I needed to hear this morning. Have a great day.

  9. Leslie
    Leslie says:

    Congratulations on your continued success!
    If you came into my office and didn’t say anything when I greeted you, it wouldn’t seem odd as long as there was some eye contact. What would drive me crazy is if you came in while texting on your phone and did not acknowledge that I was even there. I used to love networking at industry events but now it seems everyone is having a relationship with a rectangular piece of glass instead of connecting with others. I realize I am out of step with the times so I think I now have Aspergers too. C’est la vie

    • anonymous
      anonymous says:

      She doesn’t deserve to be congratulated and successful because of her trashy advice.

  10. karelys
    karelys says:

    Every time I see a picture I think “her name is Adrienne” and I wonder if it feels different to live under different names.

    • Kim Cairns
      Kim Cairns says:

      I know. I watched one of Penny’s podcasts recently where she told someone who asked if they should blog under an assumed name that they should “fuck off” and that no one would take her seriously.

      I love reading Penelope’s stuff. Most of it is dribble and garbage, but it’s that kind of compulsion we feel to watch when we see someone on a slow but assured journey towards total burn out and disaster.

      • karelys
        karelys says:

        Really? I love this blog because she’s so different from me and my life experience that it helps me see life from a different angle.

        If it hadn’t been for this blog I wouldn’t have changed my mind about a lot of things andI wouldn’t pursue life the way I do now. I wouldn’t have the job I have now. And I love this job. I love that it builds my family rather than my family revolving around it. I love that I chose to seek an employer rather than a job (advice I read here). It really changed my life. I changed the way I do interviews and it worked. All from stuff I read here.

        I had a phone call with Penelope. It made me cry. Not because she said hurtful things. I was hurting but I didn’t have the guts to bring it out in the open. I didn’t feel like it was ok. But she said it so bluntly. And I felt like someone understood and didn’t shy away from saying it out loud.

        I didn’t follow the advice to a T. I don’t think it would benefit my family. Maybe it would. But I couldn’t at the moment and I can’t now. Still, it got the ball rolling. My family and relationships that are most important look much different. A big influence has been thoughts from this blog and the commenters.

        I am not here for the drama. The community of commenters is pretty good. I love the people that engage in good conversation even when they dissent. I love the ones that are respectful. The ones that start name calling make me cringe and give me second-hand embarrassment.

        • Penelope Trunk
          Penelope Trunk says:

          This seems like a good time to say that Karelys’s comments are totally great. Here and in the homeschooling section. Because she is so honest and she is so genuine in searching for who she is and what she wants. I think people come here for honesty. I don’t think we all have to have the same experience or the same opinions. We just all crave a spot where people are not fake. What you see is what you get is such a relief to encounter.


      • Belinda Cooper
        Belinda Cooper says:

        I enjoy reading the forums too. I think sometimes, Penelope writes good material, but at other times it’s clearly looking for a bite. The forums are often intelligent. I really love reading the dissent, but a significant volume of the forum posts are from really dependent personalities. People who aren’t going to be that selective about what they take on board in regards to advice, but people who need to be directed in every aspect of their lives because they are simply too passive and incapable of making a decision for themselves, and, more importantly, taking responsibility for it.

        I assume Penelope charged you for the phone call, as a 1:1 counsel? I think she has the rates here somewhere on the site. So you paid her to be ‘blunt’? To tell you what to do? I hope it helped.

        On that note, self-diagnosing yourself with Aspergers is an outstanding excuse for treating your colleagues and family like crap.

        • Hannah
          Hannah says:

          I almost always agree that psychiatric self-diagnosis is complete crap (I had a friend tell me that she had situational depression, meaning she was sad), but Asperger’s requires self diagnosis as its actually no longer a true classification of neurological disorder.

          Also, having lived with many people on the Asperger’s side of ASD, I find it to be an incredibly useful way to help me forgive mean and wrong actions in certain situations while embracing friendship in others.

          It’s actually a bit of an Asperger’s catch-22 now that I think of it. If someone can convince me that they have Asperger’s, I treat them as if they do, so I act more neuro-atypical instead of getting them to act more neuro-typical.

      • anonymous
        anonymous says:

        You’re just as bad as Pen. It’s ironic that you claimed her stuff to be dribble and garbage when you seem to like it. Whenever something’s garbage to me, I dislike it big time.

        Plus, you’re a liar for congratulating that excuse for an advisor.

  11. Meg
    Meg says:

    Wow, P struck a nerve. I am surprised by how angry someone can get about how another person lives their life. I wonder what brought this on. The topic maybe? Well, I appreciate Penelope’s honesty and intelligence and I enjoy these posts immensely.

    • Bryson Walters
      Bryson Walters says:

      I’m not so sure the comments above are angry as accurate observations. I started reading Penelope after Ev Bogue posted about how he had read one of her articles about how she was telling her son (4 y.o. at the time, I think) to ‘shut the fuck up’. I was mesmerised and fascinated by her dysfunctionality and anger. I sat in on one of her video casts once and was quite impressed how many subscribers she told to ‘go and fuck yourself’ or ‘get fucked’, along with her kid, who intruded on the broadcast. I was also amazed that she once started a post recently with “I had sex with the farmer last night’. Fantastic. I like Penelope, but I would not want to be anywhere near her, be her friend, neighbour, husband, son, or for that matter a paying subscriber to any of her Quistic broadcasts. I’ll keep reading her, but it’s kind of like a voyeuristic masochism: I’m just waiting for her breakdown!!

  12. Dawn Marcotte
    Dawn Marcotte says:

    I have a daughter on the spectrum and when she was younger she also had no ‘filter’ and would say whatever she was thinking because it was true. Through a lot of effort by many therapists, her school and herself she has learned the social skills she needs to interact with others. However because she had to learn them the same way others learn math or english they are more difficult for her and she prefers not to use them all the time. The result is a delightful child with a very cutting sense of humor who can poke fun at herself and others over the social ‘norms.’ She will always be on the ‘outside’ looking in and she is comfortable with that – she even enjoys it. As a very creative person she is working towards a career as a published writer.

  13. Ruthy
    Ruthy says:

    Re negative commenters:

    In work, in business, in life, you reward and support hard work, smart work, and in Penelope’s case, she has been both. You can see it in the comments. She gets results. She earns every penny. To judge or say you wouldn’t financially support that effort is hypocritical, especially if you wish to see those same rewards in your own life.

    My most successful years were when I was either working hard, working smart, or both. We all deserve to earn a living from that.

    • Tansy O'Mara
      Tansy O'Mara says:

      Here here, another excellent post in this forum. Well said in very few words.

      You can’t always agree with everything Penny says (I mean, you just can’t). A lot of people were offended by her recent post on handling money as an entrepreneur. However, as someone who is walking a financial knife edge with my own business, I found it really refreshing that someone else had considered the alternatives I had considered, but was keeping mum about.

  14. TWilliams
    TWilliams says:

    Fine and breathtaking insight. Well worth a look for anyone struggling with who they are or trying to get diagnosed. I can’t believe how refreshing it’s been. So many things I could say to Penelope Trunk but will never get the chance…

    • Charles Cox
      Charles Cox says:

      WTF is it with all you people wanting to get ‘diagnosed’? Penny’s diagnosis is not supported by any medical opinion: it’s self-daignosis by an amateur!

      Look, you all have to realise that something like Asperger’s doesn’t excuse your behaviour and its consequences: you take full responsibility for that.

      Same has to be said for the Meyer’s Briggs: Penny is presenting a non-critical opinion of its accuracy. It cannot be used on children, and is widely criticised by contemporary psychologists as being pseudo-science.

      Penny is fun to read, but you must realise that some of what she writes is to court controversy and readership, and should be taken with a grain as salt. I met Penny once, and I can guarantee she does not have Aspergers.

      Just don’t spend your life looking for excuses and reasons to fail.

      • AWiz8
        AWiz8 says:

        At least I got my diagnosis from Stanford University’s Neuroscience Center back in the mid-90’s. Back then, it took about a year and half of exhaustive testing.

      • i know now i have aspergers wish i had known sooner
        i know now i have aspergers wish i had known sooner says:

        What’s up with these ignorant people bashing aspergers people saying it’s all their fault and trying to say aspergers doesn’;t exist? Are you saying that the tens of thousands of doctors who devoted their lives to studying these things are all wrong? Of course not, but it irritates me to read these people trying to say that Penelope doesn’t have asperger’s; I know i have aspergers so I know it does exist; I wish you trolls would just bury yourselves.

  15. Lane Beechey
    Lane Beechey says:

    Ha ha ha, you Americans, you always make me laugh. You always seem to be looking for reasons to excuse your boorish, overbearing behaviour or screwed up lives.

    Years ago it was “repressed memories”

    Then it was all your kids had ADD.

    Now it’s Aspergers.

    I read recently that about a quarter of you think you were abducted and fiddled with by aliens.

    Man, you people just should get a life.

  16. Aurora
    Aurora says:

    I have ADHD (inattentive type, no, really–expert diagnosed and confirmed with multiple second opinions). Lately I’ve been thinking about writing a book and/or starting a business about how to do your life if you have ADHD, starting from childhood. F- medicating kids. Instead, they need to be explicitly taught how to build a career path based specific to their particular brain chemistry, and then given a choice when they turn 18 about whether to pursue concentration-heavy jobs. I ended up unwittingly needing medication because I work in academic research and consulting which involves quite a bit of sitting and mental focus. My ADHD dad, on the other hand, ended up flying airplanes, a job that you would think needs a lot of attention, but actually involves short spurts of concentration followed by long spans where the plan essentially flies itself. ADHD brains love this kind of hyper focus and then drift. Because my dad made a good choice, his endothelial cells are probably in much better shape than mine–At 37, I have some early signs that amphetamine salts are taking a toll on my cardiovascular system.

    Those of us with minds that operate outside the institutionalized norm that has structured many professions either have to make very specific career choices appropriate for how our brains work, or plan on being medicated throughout your working years or fired regularly. Of course people whose brains exist within the 25th-75th percentile of average don’t understand this, think it’s a distinctly American problem or think we outliers are making it all up.

    • Helen Carroll
      Helen Carroll says:

      You understand that ADHD is widely discredited as a diagnosis now across the world: it’s up there with ‘repressed memories’ and all that?

      • Aurora
        Aurora says:

        I understand that ADHD is a socially constructed disease built on the also socially constructed idea of “normal.” That doesn’t make it any less real in the working world.

        • Ryan Pucillo
          Ryan Pucillo says:

          ADHD is, I am afraid, an imaginary crutch for the inadequate. Much the same as a self-diagnosis of Aspergers is. Be ‘you’ and don’t define yourself by symptoms cobbled together to excuse you inadequacies.

          How screwed up!

  17. Lisa Whitlock
    Lisa Whitlock says:

    I loved your article, Penelope.
    Your is a very inspiring story and I honestly hope that it will affect many other people like it affected me, and especially those that really need it.
    Although I don’t have Aspergers, a close high school friend of mine that people always considered kind of odd and antisocial, has a very similar story that motivates me like yours. Maybe the thing about antisocial people is that they are more interested in things than in people and interaction, so they are more passionate and focused.
    It’s a really Interesting topic, real food for thought.

  18. Dyson Breece
    Dyson Breece says:

    You can’t diagnose yourself or others with Aspergers on the basis on material that Penny provides, I am afraid. You need to see specialist that has expertise in this area. Amateur diagnosis is really irresponsible, and the providing advice on the basis of an amateur diagnosis is equally so.

  19. Mark Hsu
    Mark Hsu says:

    This is very insightful. The social norms are constructed for the majority, so people with Aspergers often find it hard to fit in. Why does every sales meeting have to start with witty small talks? Well, that’s how the majority of people need (to feel warn and fuzzy). The insights about the success of Aspergers folks in startups and arts and their failure in multi-level corporations cannot be overstated. It calls into question the tyranny of the majority.

  20. Wondering
    Wondering says:

    Wondering if the similarity between your picture on this article and the one of Amanda Knox was intentional?

  21. r/b
    r/b says:

    Two of the links do not work, and take you to “There is no story connected” on the More page. Only the TITLE link in your blog works. Great article BTW. Your insights and advice are helpful.

  22. Camille
    Camille says:

    What does it matter whether someone self diagnoses Aspergers or whatever, or has it confirmed by an expert? In any case most “neuro-typicals” are so vastly different from each other you can’t help thinking that every one of them has their own personal “disorder” in any case. I haven’t met a single human being who is entirely free of personality problems or who doesn’t struggle in some area of their Life. I have yet to meet a perfect person.

    Extreme examples of “The Box” are where religions impose their rules on an entire society and where awful sanctions exist if you stray from The Box. Given that we live in a relatively free western world, it doesn’t matter wildly if anyone strays from The Box, accidently or otherwise. Act like an intolerant, abusive, psychopath and it might be a problem – but hey, a lot of people who inhabit their community’s/society’s/country’s neurotypical Box act exactly like that. In those circumstances not seeing The Box might cost you your life or your freedom.

    So go easy on those who have the courage to try and figure out why they struggle in life, who maybe self-diagnose or who may get it done by a professional. At the end of the day it really doesn’t matter. There are other things that matter far more.

  23. The Guest
    The Guest says:

    You don’t have Asperger’s. There’s no such thing as Asperger’s. You don’t suffer from a disorder. You just have poor impulse control.

  24. Dave Webb
    Dave Webb says:

    I have several grandchildren diagnosed with this disease.
    I am sure at one point in time I would have been diagnosed with something like this.
    I think it is a defense mechanism. I have also seen the same people do extraordinarily skilled work.
    You are right. People like this do think outside the box most of the time. The same mechanism allows them to concentrate on things to the exclusion of everything else.
    Some of the most famous people in history have had evidence of this Asperger’s behavior.
    One of the things distressing to average mundane people is that these people do not worship money. They normally do what they want when they want to do it. Money seldom enters into it.
    We need these out of the box people. There are problems in this world that only that kind of individualism will have any kind of success in solving.

  25. Ela Florante
    Ela Florante says:

    If you have problem and you can’t solve it by yourself. Do not hesitate to talk to a professional. Somebody has a solution to your problems. You wont know unless you try. Everybody has a problem so do not be afraid to talk it through. We have now people called therapists, career coach. They are trained to solve such problems.

  26. Heather
    Heather says:

    Wow! Some people have serious opinions about this. I appreciate you being so honest about what you go through everyday. I have many quirks (and so do my children) but nothing that I think qualifies as Aspergers. Maybe just extremely mild. All very brilliant (I’m an electrical engineer just finishing my MBA), but some things are just a little bit off. I need lists to keep me on track. We don’t like going from long sleeves and pants to short sleeves and shorts. Two of my three kids have issues with that and it takes about a week or two to put them on and not have to change into something more familiar. I have a very hard time remembering faces and names as well. I’m not sure I’d say any of us need help or “solving”. We’re just all a little bit off. But other areas we’re more “on” than others.

  27. Anne
    Anne says:

    “You’re fat. You’re lazy. Your clothes don’t fit. Your office smells. I say these things because they’re true”

    See, the thing is, the statement that these things are “true” assumes that there is some objective truth to these things. That from every perspective, person X is lazy. But since you are a smart person, you will likely be able to see that this is nonsense. There is no standard of laziness versus industriousness inherent in the universe. THEREFORE, these are just your OPINIONS. Not truth. Opinion. And furthermore they are ungenerous opinions. My mother and I looked at the same 12 year old girl and at the same time I said, “look at that gorgeous hair” and she said “she’s fat.” Depends on what you focus on. Another analogy. When an aboriginal person looks at the natural environment, they see something COMPLETELY different from what I see. I may see, “I see a bunch of vines, trees and birds (and invisible terrifying bugs)” and aboriginal person sees paths and patterns and evidence of certain things and I see none of it. So when you say that your opinions are “truth” you’re revealing something about yourself FAR MORE than about the person you are commenting on. What do you think it is that you’re revealing?

  28. Lucy
    Lucy says:

    I sometimes suspect that I have Aspergers, but I’m afraid I don’t have anything that I’m particularly good at though, so this is disheartening.

    Your description of the conversations you have is very different to what I experience. I tend not to hear people at all and often don’t realise. When I do hear them, I hear words wrong or misunderstand their intent. So I’m always behind rather than ahead. It took me a long time to realise that was happening. I’ve been called stubborn all my life. But really people were asking me to do things and I didn’t hear them or didn’t understand what they wanted. I find it peaceful to switch off from listening (when I am relaxed, I don’t hear anything anyone says — it takes conscious effort on my part to hear people talking) but my husband hates it when I do this. So I can only relax when I’m alone, which basically never happens lately.

    I have a son who is nearly one year old, and already is far more socially adept than me. I watch him and think “where did he get that from?” and also hope that he doesn’t turn out like me. But if he does, I’ll be sympathetic.

  29. Steve Borgman
    Steve Borgman says:

    Penelope, I’m curious about how suited different people on the spectrum may be to start and run businesses. I suspect, since you are an ENTJ, that starting and running a business comes easily to you. Do you think it’s just as important to have one’s other assessments in mind when thinking about a career and having autism? For example, just because I have autism and would prefer to be at home and away from people doesn’t mean that I would enjoy certain types of work? I need to have work that I am passionate about and then seek to shape a work environment conducive to some of my autism challenges, for example? (I don’t have autism, but I’m trying to think as to what I would say to one of my adult autism clients)

  30. i know now i have aspergers wish i had known sooner
    i know now i have aspergers wish i had known sooner says:

    “By the time I figured out I had the disorder, I had been fired from every job I had ever held. I had offended everyone I knew.” I felt think you werer reading my mind, the same thing happened to me! It’s next to impossible to keep a job since it’s next to impossible to get along with anyone for more than a short period of time.

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