“I find my business partner’s behavior odd. He doesn’t have a clue of his impact on people. He’s rude, mean and insulting. My work life is miserable. One day, I literally broke down in office.” –a friend shared.
“On the other hand, he’s hugely intelligent and has a photographic memory. He can cite legal rules and even remembers their page numbers. But his expectations are sky high. If he asks me to do something, he expects me to finish it immediately.”
“Oh, I see. “ I said.
“I barely sleep 4 hours a night to keep up with my work. I don’t think I can sustain this for long.”
“I understand.” I replied.
“I’ve had to have conversations with him letting him know how he’s impacting me. Otherwise he doesn’t get it. He doesn’t understand non verbal communication. I know he has a good heart, I can see it. But he just doesn’t know how he comes across. I can see the social immaturity too. The other day, he had this entire plate of Oreo cookies in front of him and he ate them all without offering me a single one. We were in a meeting for half an hour.”
I smiled and raised my eyebrows.
“There’s a dichotomy, Kamini! Do you think he has Asperger’s Syndrome?”
Her question startled me.
Asperger syndrome is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how people perceive the world and interact with others. People with Asperger syndrome see, hear and feel the world differently to other people. If you have Asperger syndrome, you have it for life – it is not an illness or disease and cannot be ‘cured’. Often people feel that Asperger syndrome is a fundamental aspect of their identity. – National Autistic Society
In this article, Asperger’s Syndrome and Autism Spectrum are used interchangeably. According to DSM 5- Asperger’s Syndrome is part of Autism Spectrum Disorders. The qualities of people with Asperger’s Syndrome flashed before my mind.
People with Asperger’s have high IQ scores. They remember facts, figures and procedures easily. A couple of my students have Asperger’s Syndrome. If I show them a photograph, they can rattle off days, dates, time and place with incredible accuracy. Many software engineers are known to have Asperger’s. They’re gifted individuals.
Difficulty with changes
Unexpected changes and things not going as planned can cause immense anxiety or meltdowns. One of my friends has Aspergers Syndrome. I have heard him fight with his grandmother because she changed the menu without informing him. We take these little changes in our stride, without thinking, but this could be a great difficulty for some.
A person with Asperger’s may not look any different from their peers. Their social immaturity gives him away. It may be difficult for them to engage meaningfully in friendships and relationships. They may find it difficult to connect with people.
“And now I know it is perfectly natural for me not to look at someone when I talk. Those of us with Asperger’s are just not comfortable doing it. In fact, I don’t really understand why it’s considered normal to stare at someone’s eyeballs,” -John Elder Robison
The emotional connect is difficult too. A person with Asperger’s may appear odd, ask immature questions. Others pick up on this. Bullying and teasing at school and the workplace is a common issue.
People on the spectrum are unaware of the impact they have on others. In the opening story, my friend had to take her business partner aside and spell out what made her uncomfortable. Otherwise, he would not get it. A mother confessed, “He’s overbearing. I end up feeling exhausted after having a conversation with him. He drains me totally. He has no idea this is the effect he has on me.”
Engaging in repetitive behavior and behaving obsessively is another sign to look out for. Talking about the same things, having obsessive thoughts are difficulties people on the spectrum talk about often. In Steve Silberman’s book, Neurotribes, a young man named M.Sch explained, “it often seems to me that a word is going round and round in my head and if I don’t do something or other, something will happen to me. To start anything, I have to make lengthy preparations, and afterwards it’s hard for me to stop.”
Difficulty in holding down jobs
Due to social immaturity and understanding perspectives, holding down a job may be difficult. I’ve heard instances of adults on the spectrum, being triggered by their bosses. They repeat this pattern at every job and hence end up changing jobs.
Dr Steve Gutstein of RDIConnect, gives a fabulous example of having a conversation with somebody. If you’ve had a fantastic conversation, you wouldn’t say, “lets meet tomorrow and have the exact same conversation again.” I’ve experienced the same conversation repeatedly with those on the Spectrum. The same style, the same questions, the same topics. One of my students loves everything about airplanes. He has immense knowledge about the subject. He talks about it without checking if I’m interested in this topic.
Mental health issues
Anxiety and depression are common with people with Aspergers. You may also see mood swings. Their behavior may appear to be erratic at times. My friend described her partner as having, “OCD, a bad temper and very anxious.”
Black and White thinking
They find it difficult to deal with the grey shades of life. It’s got to be black or white. Things have to be done a certain way only, else it throws them off course. Control issues could arise from this tendency.
In response to my friend’s question, I don’t know if her partner has Asperger’s syndrome or not. He needs a diagnosis from a neurologist or a mental health specialist.
My experience says, Asperger’s Syndrome is much more common than we think. In the past month, 3 people have reached out to find out about Asperger’s in the work place. Unfortunately, we stigmatize people with Autism Spectrum Disorders. We need to work on this and help them unwrap the gifts they’re inherently blessed with. They’re powerhouses of talent and focus.
A diagnosis with the right support is the need of the hour. For the person on the spectrum, it would spell relief. The penny would drop and they would finally know why they undergo what they do.
For others in the workplace, like my friend in the opening story, they would realize the person they find so difficult is not doing it deliberately. There is no personal vendetta here.
A diagnosis or disclosure could turn out to be a win-win situation for everyone.
I see people with Asperger’s Syndrome as a bright thread in the rich tapestry of life. -Tony Attwood
If you think this article would help a friend or somebody at your work place, do share. Let’s make this world a better, more inclusive place.
Kamini Lakhani is a, RDI® program consultant and the Director of SAI School (ABA Center) and SAI Connections (RDI Center). She has over 19 years of experience working with individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders and currently serves as the director of our RDI Professional Training Center in Mumbai. She is the Director of SAI School (ABA Center) and SAI Connections (RDI Center).