by Miles Bumgardner
One of the fringe benefits of being on the Autism Spectrum is that there are others just like you. And some of them become close personal friends. Bill, one of my closest, recently asked me about Autism with work, school and other socializing aspects of the real world and how others can learn about/from us. It’s an interesting combination: Aspergers in the work place. Is it a recipe for disaster? Is it even worth advocating? Are there employers out there willing to listen and learn? I believe it is and there are!
Even with the advancement of today’s medical and psychological studies, Aspergers Syndrome is still as abstract today as it was 80 years ago. There are still many misconceptions about its diagnosis and the individuals living with it. This makes it difficult for bystanders – friends, family, coworkers and employers – to understand who we are and why we behave in the ways we do. Thus I feel it’s important to share some insights so employers and other figures who interact with an Aspie have a clearer idea of who we are.
Aspies – which is what individuals with AS are collectively called – are sort of the outsiders of society, living on the social fringes. We observe the world around us and try to interact with it. The problem lies in the fact that society and its standards are always changing and change doesn’t sit well with us. It’s part of our nature. This creates a social awkwardness that drives a wedge between the “norm” of the world and us. We want to fit in. We even yearn for it, to be accepted. But for us it’s extremely hard, and sometimes terrifying, to leave our comfort zone and do it. It can take years of practice to even get out of the metaphorical bubble but even then, we are still too timid. We shut down (for lack of a better term) as a means of protection.
Yet we still want to be a part of the world around us. But because off what we observe and how we feel towards ourselves we think, ‘does society want me’? And this begins a life long inner battle.
Sometimes it’s like being separated from someone by a tall thick wall. We talk but the other side can’t understand. Our voices are to muffled and is difficult to understand what either side is saying. Another example is that the world is sitting behind a stained glass window. On that side everything seems clear. We Aspies are on the other side of the glass peering in. Unfortuantley, because of the wild combination of shapes and colors, it is difficult to make out what we see. We are a lot that likes things black and white: simple, easy to know and comprehend. Obviously that’s not the case in the real world. It’s a struggle to deal with and can lead to a sensory overload.
Communication is also an attribute we struggle with. Yes we can talk – we’re not all like Rain Man, though I do like Dustin Hoffman – and have many important and intelligent things to say. I’ve made claims that Aspies can be defined as “brilliance behind an enigma”. But it’s a long and winding road from our thoughts to our mouths. And when we speak, when it comes out wrong, its because of 3 reasons:
- We are anxious, worrying if what we say might be taken the wrong way as offensive or rude despite its intended innocence
- Before we start talking we become distracted by our own thoughts and emotions
- Also due to anxiety we forget how to properly covey proper tone and delivery
When what we say something that is taken the wrong way our world falls apart. We become embarrassed and humiliated by our own “stupidity”, liking nothing better than to find some rock to crawl under for a while. In our minds what we say sounds intelligent, funny or caring but it doesn’t always come across that way.
In terms of socializing, we do it because we have to in order to survive. Not because we want to, though sometimes we do. Most of the time we prefer to be by ourselves in our own little world, surrounded by our passions (like music) and be content with just that. When we do mingle with others we act as naturally as we can. Except sometimes it comes off as weird, quirky and aloof. We find ourselves distanced because of that and seem to gain a reputation as a weirdo. Once again, the outsiders.
Aspies have and incredible desire to please. A compliment, words of encouragement and such goes a long way with us. At work and school we go out of our way to please everybody. It stems to prove to ourselves and others we are more that what we seem to be. We bust our butts to move mountains. When we succeed, we feel higher than an old hippie at Woodstock. When we fail, we question everything about us, often becoming extremely harsh about ourselves. No one likes to succumb to failure and for us it’s very hard to struggle with. You can’t please everyone but that doesn’t stop us from wanting to. The great impossibility.
This cause both mental and emotional unrest for us Aspies. Even though we try to put on 40 pounds of invisible armor to hide behind we can’t always be strong. We find ourselves at the crossroads of self, either wanting to join the flow of society or stay comfortable in our own little zone. But in places like school and work we find those we can trust – I myself have found a select few – to whom we can share our insecurities, our doubts and our questions in an attempt to get motivated to do the tasks before us. It’s something that should be valued, that amount of trust an Aspie gives you. It’s an ever going battle within us, made more the lack of understanding and apathy. But like everything about the human race, there is always room for improvement.
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