Did you notice anything unusual in the behaviour of yourself or loved ones? Read on!
The wrong planet syndrome
I was always feeling that I was different from those around me. I felt like everyone was playing some game, and I hadn't been told the rules.
On the one hand, for me some things were difficult that were easy for others. For example, openness and ease in communication, some subjects at school, and some elements of my work. On the other hand, I was feeling that my actions were somehow more logical and orderly compared to some of those around me, and the results of my work were more "in the spirit of perfectionism" (I especially often noticed this in my programming job, reading code written by other developers).
I always suspected that something was wrong with me, that I was different from other people, but I did not know what exactly was the matter. Recently, however, "the puzzle has taken shape", and the situation had become clear. On the eve of my 49th birthday, I unexpectedly learned that I was not the only one who was "sent to this planet from deep space", but there are millions of us (people with genetically different nervous system and brain structure). I saw the numbers of the diagnosed people up to 4%, but judging by people I see around (although I may be wrong), the real number is clearly higher - many are not only undiagnosed, but do not even suspect that they have something that has a name (as I did until recently). People can live a whole life, not suspecting that they simply belong to another category of people, and they are not defective specimens of the only category existing in nature. They don't even know that different categories exist at all (did you know a minute ago?).
It was by pure luck that I passed an online AQ test (AQ stands for Autism Quotient, not to be confused with IQ - Intelligence Quotient!) - be sure to spend a few minutes and take it
FYI: autism is a developmental distinction that affects how people perceive the world and interact with others. Autistic people see, hear and feel the world differently to other people. If you are autistic, you are autistic for life; autism is not an illness or disease and cannot be 'cured'. People feel being autistic is a fundamental aspect of their identity. Autism is caused by special features in brain structure and functioning, which affect information processing and world perception. Autism is considered a hidden disability and does not affect every person in the same way. This is due to the fact that autism is classed as a spectrum that includes different conditions.
The scale of the test is 0 to 50 and consists of a few segments. As you can see, there is no clear borderline between autism and non-autism. The following information is taken from the video Everything You Need To Know About The Online AQ Test:
• 0 to 10 - absolutely no autistic tendencies.
• 11 to 21 - the average for most of the population.
• 22 to 25 - a higher than average number of autistic traits.
• 26 to 31 - a borderline score. 86% of people with this score will be correctly classified as having autism.
• 32 to 50 - very high likelihood of being autistic. 80% of the adults with high functioning autism and only 2% of the non-autistic control group scored 32 or higher. 43% of autistics scored above 38. However, none of the 174 not-autistic participants scored above 38.
So, a high score rather reliably indicates that you are on the spectrum, but a low score does not guarantee that there is no autism, i.e. this is NOT an autism absence test.
I got 37. Of course, the test is very approximate, although it will most likely coincide with the professional assessment if it is made. Please watch the video Self-Diagnosis Of Autism: Is it valid? It can be summarized in one word: valid!
A friend of mine, whose autism is clearly stronger than mine and he has an official diagnosis, was scored lower than me. He explained it this way: "I got 34 but I think it's because that test seems more focused on social stuff than sensory stuff".
Of course, this test is only the first step in the self-discovering. If your score is above average, then the second step is finding information on the Internet and comparing it to yourself. Autists are known for collecting information about the subject of their interest a lot and with enthusiasm, "digging" the question in depth (that is named "special interest"). In this case, that interest is autism itself, ha ha! As you continue to study information about autism, sooner or later you can find that the AQ test was wrong in relation to you (this did not happen for me). It is possible that in the future you will decide to take the third step - official assessment.
The situation has cleared up. I saw my life in a completely different way!
As far as I understand from the test and from many articles and videos, I undoubtedly have autism (more precisely, the variety that until recently was defined as Asperger syndrome). Well, certainty, even if it is not the best, is still better than uncertainty... Many previously incomprehensible problems have found an explanation. Some peculiarities of perception and thinking, which have always seemed to me shameful flaws, for which I was responsible, turned out to be completely natural for a certain kind of people. Trying to change or overcome them is not only stupid, but also useless - they are beyond the control of our desires and willpower, it's just how we are built.
The discovery that I am autistic was a turning point which unlocked a totally different version of me, and allowed to reframe my self-identity. This new knowledge gave the feeling as if the court would acquitted me, dropping the unfair charge after several decades of litigation. Claims to myself have ceased - I will no longer "break" myself. I want 40 years of my life back!
The experience of the guy from this video is very similar to mine:
"Asperger's put a name to something that I felt like I'd been struggling with my entire life. From as early as I can remember, I've had this feeling that I was different and that difference was bad, so you can imagine that finally putting a name to that and embracing that difference was incredibly liberating."
The girl from this Russian video is just reading my mind:
"I reacted to the diagnosis with great relief. When all your life you don't understand what the hell is going on with you, why you are different from others, and then they say to you: "That's why!" - it is such a relief, it changes everything so much, it gives you answers to so many questions! It really became a very big push towards a better life. I began to understand what to do, how to arrange my life, how to build interactions with people."
I completely share what the other person expressed in another Russian video:
"My first reaction was that I understand that some issues cannot be resolved, i.e. I can never become like everyone else. All my life I suffered from the fact that I could not become like everyone else, and because of this I tried to become better than others. This caused problems. And then I finally found out that I couldn't do it, because I am not like everyone else essentially. I quickly realized that since this cannot be achieved, then - ok, I don't have to worry about this anymore, I can proceed from what already exists. I am not like everyone else, so I will be what I am now. And I suddenly stopped worrying about it. So, in fact, it was such a good discovery, as I soon realized."
From a Russian forum:
"Why does knowing my diagnosis make it easier? Now I don't get so upset if something doesn't work out like everyone else. And I do not push myself to the point of being depressed. If a person really wants something, he will make increased efforts and look for non-standard ways and solutions. But in case of defeat, he will know that "I have done everything, but I cannot go against nature". If a person is short and was not taken to the basketball team, he will understand why. Before, I took offense at myself, felt a strong sense of guilt, but now I have found myself an excuse "I just am what I am." It became easier to perceive everything, many of my actions became more understandable. I had to spend quite a lot of time to: a) understand that if I cannot do something, it does not mean that I am worse than those who can; b) get rid of the feelings of guilt and inferiority firmly imposed on me because of this and learn to defend precisely my right to not be able to do something - so that they take this into account and do not demand this from me (in return, I can usually offer something that I can )."
A comment in the discussion of this page on FB (in Russian):
"My son is 10 years old. He read your story and cried. He said that he recognized himself and that it was good that he had read. Now he knows that he is not the only one like this, and it became easier for him. And there is no need to die or be afraid to live."
The thoughts and the feelings of the lady from this video are very close to mine too:
"...when I was 25 years old, I was diagnosed with autism, and it wasn't a tragedy. It was the best thing that's ever happened to me. Finding out that I'm autistic brought me an overwhelming sense of relief. My whole life, up to that point, finally made sense. My paradigm about myself shifted. I wasn't a failed neurotypical person [with a typical brain structure - as opposed to autistic people]. I was a perfectly good autistic person."
From Telegram (Russian):
"...the diagnosis helped me validate many of my oddities and allow them to coexist with me. For example, I no longer suspect myself of stupidity and do not get upset when I remember that I like to process the relationship in writing, because verbally I have too little time to think how to say."
From the video Autistic People Aren't Broken NeuroTypicals:
"I was often setting myself to impossible neuro-typical standards, unfairly to myself for many years, when I didn't have the information that I was autistic. I didn't know I was a "square peg", trying to squeeze myself into a round hole, and I was damaging myself."
Let's be classified
"Autism spectrum" is a very general and vague name for a range of social communication phenomena ("autism traits") that can occur in different people in different combinations and to varying extents, so autistic people are all different (in the same way as neurotypicals are not similar to each other). The stereotype that all autists are either very severely disabled and unable to communicate, or formidable computer geeks is nothing more than a meaningless stereotype.
Within the spectrum, there can be people with signs that are immediately apparent, as well as people you would never think of as having autism.
There were many cases when autistic people "came out" and heard in response: "No, you do not have any autism, you do not look like an autist at all!" (as if there were some kind of clear portrait that all autistic people should fit into). Never say these words - they sound like "This is a figment of your imagination, don't slander yourself!" Can you imagine what it's like for people, who ARE autistic, to hear such a thing after so many years of struggling? You are forgiven for not knowing what you are talking about since you haven't spent a day being autistic, but they've spent their entire life! Also, never say nonsense like "Oh, everyone is on the spectrum these days!", "Who doesn't have autism at least a little?", "It's fashionable now!" or "Autism is a convenient excuse for the lazy" - by this you will only demonstrate your incompetence in the matter. These phrases diminish the daily struggles that a lot of autistic people face. Yes, non-autists might have some traits, typical for autism (for example, anxiety or difficulty interacting in a social situation), but everybody isn't a little bit autistic, just like everybody isn't a little bit pregnant (even though everybody might have some of the symptoms of pregnancy like nausea and sore back). Please watch the short video But we're all on the spectrum somewhere!.
Autism is traditionally divided into low-functioning (LFA) and high-functioning (HFA). Functioning refers to the physical ability to function with less or more need for support (it is not at all about the functioning of the brain, as some people mistakenly perceive this terminology).
• Low-functioning ("deep") autists "live in their own world", have enormous difficulties in communicating with the outside world and arranging life, and usually do not speak or speak with difficulty and very poorly (although, sometimes, they write books). The fact that such people look aloof and poorly responsive to external signals does not mean that they do not understand what is happening or intellectually less developed than you. They need substantial or very substantial support of other people.
• High-functioning ("mild") autists "live in a common world, but in a special way", they are better adapted to life in society. Although their life is fraught with difficulties, they need less support. From the article Asperger Syndrome: 50 important facts about having "mild" autism: "If you have it "mildly", you're at the awkward midpoint of being "normal enough" for everyone to expect the same from you as everyone else, but "autistic enough" to not always reach those expectations".
Asperger's syndrome has always been considered a type of autism at the highest-functioning end of the autism continuum.
"People with Asperger's Syndrome tend to develop speech in the same way as typically developing children, but they have significant social difficulties. These difficulties become more evident as they mature and social expectations rise. Because people with Asperger Syndrome are often quite intelligent but also “quirky,” the disorder is sometimes referred to as “Geek Syndrome” or “Little Professor Syndrome.”" (the source)
However, according to the recently adopted North American diagnostic criteria, the diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome has been phased out (nevertheless, the term continues to be widely used in articles and blogs, so I am using it as well), and autism is now divided not into two, but into three levels of increasing severity:
Please pay attention that high-functioning / level 1 autists still need support.
In the autistic community itself, many are convinced that dividing autism into low-functioning/deep and high-functioning/mild/Asperger is meaningless since autism scale is not one-dimensional (higher / lower), but multidimensional (higher / lower separately for each of the many traits), which is why a person can be low-functioning according to some criteria (for example, not to speak), and high-functioning according to other traits. They say: "Don't use any 'functioning' labels. Just use the term 'autism', and if you need to definitize, describe each specific person - his/her autistic strengths and the areas where he/she is disabled and needs support".
That's what I found in one of the autistic FB groups:
"Words matter. There is no such thing as less autistic or more autistic. People are simply autistic. Labels often applied to autistic people can be misleading and do more harm than good. Instead of asking "Where are you (or your loved one) on the spectrum?", аsk "What are your (or your child's) sensory challenges?".
• "High Functioning" is often used to deny support. This often means "good at faking being neurotypical or pretending to be non-autistic." Why should autistics be encouraged to aspire to wear a mask and perform all the time? It is used to dismiss autistic people when they face challenges, difficulties, and ask for help. People might say "You are high functioning! You don't need that!"
• "Low Functioning" is often used to deny agency. Agency is the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices. This might include control even over an autistics own body because "they can't manage that". An autistics talents, abilities, and skills are overlooked or written off."
Watch these videos:
• High or low functioning autism? Why functioning labels hurt us.
• High Functioning Autism (It's NOT what you think!!) ("High-functioning literally means invisible struggle. What it does not mean is reduced level of difficulty, reduced level of challenges. I'm high-functioning because despite all of these challenges that are invisible and you can't see in the background, I am successfully living my life and getting all the things done that I need to to, you know, maintain relationships, keep a job, all of those things. So, from the outside, it looks like I'm doing really well, where actually I'm at the very brink of completely falling apart, all the time.")
Some scientists think that LFA and HFA are so different and sometimes quite distant from each other, that the use of the same term "autism" for both of them is subject to criticism. There is also a classification according to which Asperger's is not autism at all. It uses the word "autism" only for LFA and calls "Asperger syndrome" what others call "HFA". Another classification distinguishes between low- and high-functioning autism on the one hand, and Asperger syndrome on the other (watch Autism and Aspergers: 5 intriguing differences).
The site autism-society.org separates Asperger's syndrome from autism too:
"What distinguishes Asperger’s Disorder from classic autism are its less severe symptoms and the absence of language delays. Children with Asperger’s Disorder may be only mildly affected, and they frequently have good language and cognitive skills. To the untrained observer, a child with Asperger’s Disorder may just seem like a neurotypical child behaving differently.
Children with autism are frequently viewed as aloof and uninterested in others. This is not the case with Asperger’s Disorder. Individuals with Asperger’s Disorder usually want to fit in and have interaction with others, but often they don’t know how to do it. They may be socially awkward, not understand conventional social rules or show a lack of empathy. They may have limited eye contact, seem unengaged in a conversation and not understand the use of gestures or sarcasm.
One of the major differences between Asperger’s Disorder and autism is that, by definition, there is no speech delay in Asperger’s. In fact, children with Asperger’s Disorder frequently have good language skills; they simply use language in different ways. Speech patterns may be unusual, lack inflection or have a rhythmic nature, or may be formal, but too loud or high-pitched.
Another distinction between Asperger’s Disorder and autism concerns cognitive ability. While some individuals with autism have intellectual disabilities, by definition, a person with Asperger’s Disorder cannot have a “clinically significant” cognitive delay, and most possess average to above-average intelligence."
Pathology or just diversity?
Those who are completely out of the loop often confuse the concepts of autism and mental illness (such as mental retardation/intellectual disability, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, etc.), but they are not the same. Autistic people may or may not have mental illness in the same way as non-autistic people. I.e. they are simply different, unrelated dimensions - like weight and height. Nonetheless, the percentage of autistic people with mental retardation is higher than among neurotypical ones. There are many causes of mental retardation, and the impairment of developmental mechanisms in autism is one of them. However, in the case of HFA / Asperger syndrome, the proportion of mental retardation should be 0% by definition, because this is recorded in the diagnostic criteria. Watch this video: I'm NOT CRAZY! (I'm Autistic).
The name "Asperger's syndrome" was withdrawn from use because the term "syndrome" implies a disease that has a beginning, course and a definite ending, and must (or at least can) be cured. Autistic people are not sick - they just have different perceptions, thinking, information processing, priorities and values. Different doesn't have to mean bad or abnormal. It's just different. Autism is not like a runny nose or a broken leg - it's an innate condition that accompanies people all their life and is their way of life, nature. In this case, we are talking about a slightly different version of the brain structure and nervous system (different, but not pathological), which simply exists in a certain percentage of people, i.e. is not the norm just numerically. Common (and very accurate) analogies for autism that I've come across are redheads, left-handers, homosexuals and whites: quantitatively - not the norm, but qualitatively - not something bad.
There is an illusion that there are more and more autistic people, but that is only because autism diagnoses have become more common in recent decades (starting in the 1940s and especially since the 1980s).
From Is Autism An "Epidemic" Or Are We Just Noticing More People Who Have It?:
"The disorder hasn't actually become much more common — we've just developed better and more accurate ways of looking for it. Another strong argument against the specter of an emergent autism epidemic is that prevalence of the disorder [I would rather use the word "phenomenon"] is notably similar from country to country and between generations. Because of greater awareness of autism and the flexibility of the diagnostic tools used, we've recently been diagnosing people with autism who previously would have received other diagnoses or gone unidentified."
As you see, autism is not a recent phenomenon. Both the variations have existed in parallel for centuries and millennia. Despite this, it is not neurotypicality that is considered a disorder worthy of treatment, but autism, simply because it is more convenient for the majority. What is this if not the idea of neurotypical supremacism?
Obviously, the established lexical bundle "Autism Spectrum Disorder [or Disfunction]" and the corresponding acronym "ASD" are also incorrect since it's not at all about a disorder or disfunction. By the way, for the same reason, the word "diagnosis" is inappropriate too, although it is in use; the word "assessment" reflects the essence much better.
It is not easy...
I wrote above: quantitatively - not the norm, but qualitatively - not something bad. And yet, there is "something bad" in autism - it causes problems from childhood. Mainly because the world was created by neurotypicals for neurotypicals and is tailored to the majority which often refers to people with autism as strange, unsociable (although from the point of view of an autistic person that world itself can look strange, and sometimes unnecessarily intrusive). Even if the autistic people are not offended, many of them still feel that they are treated differently. But even when an autistic person is treated like everyone else (sounds great, doesn't it? isn't that what all fighters for justice and equality strive for?), that can be a serious problem too. I'm talking about study and work, where everything is designed for neurotypicals - it would be nice if the attitude of others took into account the specifics of autism, but who has heard of it? Even autistic people themselves often have no idea who they are, what can you expect from others (even if they are bosses)?
Judging by the laudatory annual performance reviews from my managers (as well as the fact that I have never been fired for poor performance in my two-decades career), I do just fine with my professional duties, but sometimes at the cost of invisible super-efforts, struggling and even suffering. This happens a lot when I do work that does not directly belong to my profession of a software developer - for example, investigate bugs of other programmers (especially if those guys weren't very good at the art of programming) or receive vague instructions directly from business users or analysts (instead of developing according to a clearly formulated and approved detailed design specification). Often times, I go to work as if I'm going to war, and wage a real fight to meet performance expectations - my job drains me. At the end of the working day, I am often completely exhausted. Therefore, it is difficult for me to be on the side of those who argue that autism is not a disability. However, it must be said that it's not always difficult for me at work: if I have a well-articulated technical task (even if it is very complicated), I adore my job and time flies by!
From How I Came Out About My Disability:
"High functioning autism isn't an empty label just because it includes the words “high functioning.” It means I might have the ability to function under “neurotypical” demands — but only for a while. It means that not only do I need to rest frequently, but I also limit how I engage with people and I am mindful of where I am to reduce stress and overstimulation."
From Help autists who live near you! (in Russian):
"If you meet people who seem strange to you and not like most of your friends, remember that when communicating with you, they experience a much greater "culture shock" than people experience when looking at them, because they live in a world where their way of thinking and their natural way of behavior is not the norm, they live among people who in their mind are similar to aliens, whose behavior seems strange to them. It is quite possible that in the past they had to endure the bullying of these people. Before judging another person for strange behavior, imagine how you would feel if you had to pretend and behave in an unusual way all your life."
Imagine a society where all the people were deaf. It would probably be a very noisy world. Houses without noise insulation, cars without mufflers, fridge and other home appliances rumble like tractors, neighbors make repairs until midnight, people around are constantly making various sounds. And if some people suddenly, in a strange way, developed the ability to hear (due to a genetic mutation), then they would become disabled, because their experience would be incomprehensible to most people, and the environment would not be suitable (they would grow from birth in terrible conditions and will not be able to study normally at school, which is why they would be considered inferior, and doctors would advise to pierce their eardrums to make them normal). But this does not mean that hearing is a disease.
If you are a neurotypical person, then imagine yourself in a world in which everyone is autistic. Your sociability seems to others an alarming sign of your mental illness, the habit of looking into the eyes of your interlocutor is considered defiant behavior, the volume of your voice seems inadequate. You can neither understand what people want from you, nor convey your needs. When you create professional documents and conduct business correspondence, you are told that it is absolutely unacceptable to write so much, undefined and vague (nobody understands what you are trying to say), and that you should write briefly, precisely and concretely (but it's a huge problem for you!). It is hardly possible to maintain mental health in such an environment.
Now you understand that there is no contradiction between the fact that autism is not a disease and the fact that autistic people need support in the context of the existing society.
From A letter from the autistic colleague you didn't know you had:
"Not all disability is visible
I don't perceive the world the same as all other autistic people though - we really are all different. There's a range of characteristics of autism that we have to varying extents. For me, the main things are that I find being around people tiring, loud noises or background noise overwhelming and impossible to ignore, and a very deeply ingrained sense that I need to hide who and what I am. That last one is what comes from spending my whole life, until I was diagnosed three years ago, feeling that the ways I was different were my fault. I came to believe that if only I tried harder, if only I was less lazy, if only I was less selfish, I could be normal. But I can't. What can happen is that autistic people experience such trauma from others' reactions to their autism that they learn to hide it. That's what happened to me - but it's not any sort of "cure". It makes the situation worse, because the person learns that not to hide who they are is to be rejected and ostracised."
Psychological problems - bad mood, anxiety, depression - are more common among autistic people (they have a rate of depression nearly 4 times higher than the general population). For example, typical social anxiety includes fear of rejection or judgment in social situations. Autistic people may also be anxious about not having access to their special interests or about disruptions in routine. These problems can be caused both directly by autism (i.e., associated with physiological characteristics), and with the difficulties that autistic people experience living in a world that is not adapted for them, especially if they constantly put on the mask of a neurotypical in order to "be like everyone else", and also spend a lot of effort to continuously translate external signals of the world from neurotypical to autistic language. Most likely, these two sources of problems overlap.
In one article, I found a very correct definition: "Anxiety often takes on unusual forms in people with autism, turning any uncertainty into constant fear". Autistic people tend to have repetitive behaviors and obsessions with something. Now imagine that such a person is focused on negative thoughts! Of course, anybody can become anxious sometimes, but autists approach this "professionally", making disturbing thoughts their "special interest." This topic is well covered in the article What is anger rumination and how does it affect individuals with ASD.
I got rid of my general anxiety with zinc and caffeine removal, i.e. my problem was at the biological level. I do not know whether it is associated with autism - it may well be. BTW, getting rid of obstructive sleep apnea has also greatly contributed to the reduction of psychological problems. Note that there is a link between autism and obstructive sleep apnea.
Be sure to read the articles Autistic burnout, explained and ‘You don't look autistic’: The reality of high-functioning autism!
Autists are more likely to die prematurely. I think that the reasons are both in psychology ("software") ("all diseases are from the nerves") and in different physiology ("hardware"). Note that autistic people are much more likely to commit suicide:
"The researchers found that people with autism died 16 years earlier at an average age of 54. Adults with the condition and learning disabilities died more than 30 years earlier than people without autism at an average age of 39.5 years. Adults with autism and without a learning disability died on average 12 years earlier, at 58." (The source)
Autistic people think not wrong but differently, and this can (and should!) be monetized
"When people with Asperger's Syndrome take an interest in certain things and they become proficient in them. They study the subject and know it in a great deal of detail and can recall that detail to others with ease. They see it as something that they want to know about and will take the time to fully understand it right down to the finer points. In addition, they have a high level of skills in many areas, such as numeracy, technology and design to name a few and these skills and their expertise make them valuable employees for companies looking to develop new products, processes and systems. This ability to think outside the box and visualise new ideas adds to their skills and employability." (The source)
From Accessing neurodiverse talent key to filling skills gap:
"Neurodiverse people, such as those with a diagnosis of autism spectrum condition, often have exceptional skills such as pattern recognition, logical thinking, central coherence (attention to detail) and accuracy, which make autistic candidates strong contenders for many STEM roles requiring these capabilities."
From The Employer's Guide to Asperger's Syndrome/Autism:
"Asperger's Syndrome/autism can impact executive functioning in various ways. The employee may not see how his tasks fit into the larger whole, unless this is explicitly explained. He may need assistance to establish priorities, and to utilize written notes and checklists to remember multi-step processes. In the right job with the right supports, individuals with Asperger's Syndrome are dedicated, loyal contributors and answer the on-going need of businesses for skilled, educated workers. While these individuals face a number of challenges, Asperger's/autism also confers specific strengths that make them particularly well-suited to jobs requiring attention to detail and prolonged focus. Many have above-average intelligence and enter the workforce with college degrees. The business community is recognizing that people with Asperger's/autism can be terrific assets when they are in the right jobs, and receive the needed supports."
Let's dispel the fog
For the work to be successful, it is critical to communicate information to the autist in a straightforward manner, formulate tasks unambiguously. This will make life easier for both the autistic person and his/her supervisor. If the autistic worker has received precise, clearly articulated instructions, he/she will complete the task at the highest quality level!
From Is My Company Ready to Hire Employees with an Autism Spectrum Disorder?:
"Set Clear Instructions and Be Specific in What You Want
When giving out an assignment or specific task, individuals with autism benefit greatly from clear direction. If possible, providing written step-by-step instructions will greatly improve your employee’s ability to perform at their highest capacity. If it is not possible to provide such instruction, assure them that they can always seek assistance if they feel the responsibility is unclear."
From It's a Neurodiverse Universe:
"Autism is characterized by differences in social interactions and communications. This makes clear unambiguous instructions on the job highly valued (preferably written) and regular feedback super important, so the employee knows when they are doing it right!"
From Best Practices for Training and Developing Employees with Autism:
"When training and developing autistic employees, be sure to offer them clear instructions on what is required of them, as they will likely follow everything you tell them explicitly and literally with extreme attention to detail. Don't expect them to make inferences or to understand or follow insinuations."
From The Importance of World Autism Awareness Month to the Video Games Industry:
"Autistic people communicate differently. The details of this will depend on each autistic individual, but some things that can cause miscommunication at work include a need for very specific and unambiguous instructions, a tendency to take things literally, and a need for more time to process and respond to interactions."
From Accessing neurodiverse talent key to filling skills gap:
"It is amazing how ambiguous our communication can often be. At best our colloquialisms and shorthand are confusing, but for someone who is neurodiverse these sorts of statements are completely nonsensical and can be extremely hard to navigate. Crucially, HR leaders can pave the way by encouraging all employees to be conscious of using clear and specific communication – it is good practice for everyone, not just those who are autistic."
From How and why to embrace neurodiversity in the workforce:
"If you have a more neurodiverse workforce, it challenges and improves people’s approach to communication, management and teamwork. For example, if a team member requires concise, unambiguous instructions and task allocation, people will start to pay more attention to their communication generally. There are a lot of ancillary benefits to bringing neurodiversity into a team and you will raise the game for the entire team. Also, if you have autistic people doing what they do best, you also free up neurotypical people to do what they do best. It’s a winwin, provided you approach it in an open and inclusive manner, where people are confident to speak out about where they have strengths and shortcomings."
Talking about software developer positions, there should be a layer between the developers and the business - a tech lead or system analyst who translates the requirements from the business language to the technical language that is understandable to developers and extremely univocal, i.e. never and under no circumstances allows for the possibility of ambiguous understanding of what is written. The next rule is very important for autistic people. By the way, following it will make any project more successful and save the company a huge amount of money anyway, even without any connection with autists:
The technical design specification should be so precise and comprehensive that programmers would not be required to understand the business for which the application is being written, except for a superficial understanding of the main entities.
Programmers cannot be expected to be experts in the business - they have no education in this field. They are experts in an absolutely different profession - software development (in the same way as construction workers are not experts in architecture and building design).
Seeing once is better than hearing twice
This saying perfectly describes autistic people, who perceive written information much better than heard information (especially its Russian version, which says "Seeing once is better than hearing a hundred times"):
This should be taken into account by managers and colleagues of autistic employees. If you want to communicate information to an autistic worker that requires deep comprehending, do not do it verbally - rather, send an email with the facts listed as briefly as possible. It also makes sense to shield the autistic employee as much as possible from business meetings that combine the need to perceive verbal information with live communication with people (of course, if there is such a possibility). A neurotypical person will never understand the effort, stress and suffering autists are facing in such meetings!
Some links about neurodiversity in the workplace:
• Autism IS linked to higher intelligence: People with genes related to the condition scored better in mental ability tests
• 3 Reasons Autistic Children Excel at Computer Coding
• The Benefits Of Employing People With Autism
• What Genius and Autism Have in Common
• Neurodiversity as a Competitive Advantage (Harvard Business Review)
• Where 75% of workers are on the autistic spectrum (BBC)
• Auticon - a consulting company that employs IT professionals with autism in Ontario, Canada
• Disclosing an autism diagnosis to employers
BTW, the Israeli army recruits autistic people to the military intelligence service. And it was the autists who discovered the law of gravity, created the theory of evolution and the theory of relativity, wrote the US Declaration of Independence and "Alice in Wonderland", composed "Turkish March" and "Bohemian Rhapsody", deciphered the 'Enigma' secret code used by German submarines during the WWII, established Microsoft, Apple, Facebook and Tesla (BTW, mister Nikola was an aspie himself). I am writing all this not to the fact that autism is cool (it's not cool at all, and it's not true that most autists smart or gifted - autism comes with a lot of problems and I wish I didn't have it), but to the fact that if you find it in yourself or your child or spouse, do not rush to fall into horror, life is not ended - everything is not so bad, although it is undoubtedly fraught with problems. You knew about them before, but now you also know what phenomenon lies behind them and are armed with additional information.
Unemployment rates among autistic people are unacceptably high (in fact, they are even higher than the rates in other disability categories, including learning disabilities, intellectual disability or speech-language impairment). And it's not because we're unworthy or incapable. Recruitment processes and many workplaces are not autism-friendly. Just google "autistic people unemployment".
From the video Autism and Job Interviews:
"Autistic people have hard time at job interviews no matter how well-dressed they are, or how well prepared they are, or how hard they've tried really, because job interviews are a highly neurotypical social dance, and it's frustrating because recruiters and employers can't see how valuable autistic people can be."
From the video People with autism recruited for skilled jobs:
"An interview is a barrier [for an autistic applicant] in the same way as a step might be a barrier for a person who's confined to a wheelchair."
From Career Choices for People with Autism: First Hand Advice:
"Many people struggle with finding a job and establishing a career for themselves. In addition, there are often multiple applicants for only one job vacancy, which can be discouraging to any jobseeker. However, for people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (or ASD), this search is often much more difficult. The social difficulties that result from ASD can cause these individuals to struggle in job interviews and in finding a work environment that is appropriate for their needs."
From the video Autism: Neurodiversity at Work Works Best:
"Chase Bank reports that their autistic employees are 40% more productive than a comparable non-autistic employee group. Neurodiversity is productive. However, it's really important to understand that only approximately 20% of Americans who have autism can actually hold a competitive job, and many of them are never hired despite being well-qualified. Why is that? I'll let you in on a secret. Companies select based on fit. And "fit" is a cover word for "bias." Microsoft is changing that. They've sought out autistic candidates. They've changed their interview process. They've given them more time to showcase their abilities. And clearly, Microsoft is an organization that is interested in hiring substance over fit. In addition to being productive, neurodiversity is innovative!"
From How to Support Neurodiversity in the Workplace:
"While HR leaders now are aware of the advantages that organizations can gain from hiring employees with diverse educational, gender, racial and cultural backgrounds, the benefits of neurodiversity – the range of differences in thinking and behaviour – are less understood.
Though neurodiversity can enhance a company’s ability to innovate and problem-solve, many people with neurodevelopmental differences (like those on the autism spectrum) face less-than ideal experiences in the workforce.
“When I first entered the workforce, companies often lacked any understanding of either recruiting neurodivergent job applicants and/or supporting this group,” says David Moloney, a self-advocate who is on the autistic spectrum, Mutual Fund Indexer at CIBC, and board member at Autism Ontario. “Such misunderstandings often lead to either underemployment or, sadly, unemployment for these individuals.”
Considering all the benefits of a neurodiverse workforce, why is neurodiverse talent still overlooked? It starts with attitudinal barriers, bias, discrimination, and fears around neurodiversity. Many organizations adopt inflexible hiring, retention and training practices. Many corporate structures are modelled without a neurodivergent candidate in mind. For example, traditional interview questions like, “What is your weakness,” will likely be interpreted and answered quite literally and bluntly without decoding what is really being asked in that question. Many individuals on the autism spectrum process information and communicate in different ways so a typical interview setting can sometimes obscure a candidates’ qualifications, skills and overall fit for the role. When it comes to hiring, HR leaders should consider alternative methods for evaluating skills. This can include job shadowing [link] and/or work trials where hiring managers can assess if a candidate is a good fit in a practical way."
Something curious happened to me many years ago. It is possible that autism was the reason that I did not lose my job, but... found it! I was doing a technical interview for a database developer position at Motorola. I was told to create two screens: one with a list of something there, and the second (which opens by double-clicking on this list) for inserting and editing individual records. It seems like a trivial matter, but I decided to first create a small framework (a library of universal classes), and then build the screens based on that framework. Moreover, the creation of the framework took 90 percent of the time (in fact, they exist for this - in order to quickly create final objects on their basis). When I came to work on the first day, the boss said:
- There were a lot of applicants. Do you know why I selected you?
- Yes - because I am handsome, good-hearted, modest...
- No. You were the only one who firstly created a framework - the rest immediately rushed to write the screens.
But using frameworks is the right way to create programs, I just couldn't do otherwise! Now I understand that this was a phenomenon of the same nature as putting toys in a row among autistic children, and adherence to routine among many autistic people: the order should not be disturbed!
If you associated this phrase with the specific white label on the T-shirt, then you pay attention to the details and take words literally. Congratulations, you are most likely on the spectrum! Just kidding... :-D
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Neurodiversity (the range of differences in thinking and behaviour)
This word means that different people's brains work differently. It is impossible to find two identical brains. The naturalness of this statement is quite easy to understand if you think about how much diversity there is in human nature. Different people have different skin and eye colors, different heights and different ear shapes - what can we say about such a complex system as the brain. The term "neurodiversity" refers to variation in the human brain regarding sociability, learning, attention, mood and other mental functions in a non-pathological sense. It emerged as a challenge to prevailing views that certain neurodevelopmental disorders are inherently pathological (see Medical model of disability) and instead adopts the social model of disability, in which societal barriers are the main contributing factor that disables people. This view is especially popular within the autism rights movement.
The traditional ("medical") model defines disability as a health disorder. Accordingly, the minimization of violations is carried out through medical intervention and therapy. A person with a disability with this approach is a problem, he/she must be "cured" in a mandatory manner.
The social model determines the cause of disability not in the particularity itself, as such, but in the physical, organizational and “attitudinal” barriers existing in society, based on stereotypes and prejudices. Under such a model, a person with a disability is not a “bearer of a problem” requiring special education. On the contrary, problems and barriers in the life of such a person create society and the imperfection of the public education system, which is not ready in a general school to meet the diverse needs of all students.
Pay attention to the last phrase. Alas, neither the learning process, nor the knowledge assessment system take into account the peculiarities of autists. Therefore, they may have poor grades and a corresponding reputation among teachers and classmates, which is absolutely not in line with their real intellectual abilities. When I was in college, I couldn't study the material in class - there was too much distracting stress. I always prepared for subjects in advance - at a pace that suits me and in the familiar home environment. As a rule, I came to the first lesson of each subject after reading the textbook and writing out the main points in a notebook. For me, classroom study was just an additional step to consolidate the material and ask teachers questions. This allowed me to keep up with my neurotypical classmates, who were great at accepting new material in a crowded classroom. I graduated from college with excellent grades, and smiled at my graduation photo like everyone else - no one even suspected what difficulties I had to go through.
From the already mentioned video:
"The neurodiversity paradigm is an alternative way of thinking about autism. It describes autism as a part of the range of natural variation in human neurological development. At its very simplest, autism is a different way of thinking. According to the neurodiversity paradigm, there are no right or wrong brains. All forms of neurological development are equally valid and equally valuable. And regardless of what type of brain you've got, all people are entitled to full and equal human rights and to be treated with dignity and respect."
From the video Neurodiversity – the key that unlocked my world:
"It is a neurological difference, with a vast spectrum of representation within its population. It can come with remarkable gifts and skills, as well as devastating traits. But autism doesn't necessarily equal disability. And thankfully, today we have a word that challenges this negative terminology: "neurodiversity." Neurodiversity describes how diverse we are as human beings, from a neurological perspective. It suggests that the many variations of human brains, like autistic ones, should be accepted as a natural and valuable part of humanity's genetic legacy."
From the site aspergers.ru:
"Imagine a world where all discussion of homosexuality is about finding a cure for it, not the social injustice that prevents homosexuals from living happier lives. While this metaphor is far from perfect (it is obvious that homosexuality is not associated with many of the limitations that autistic people face), it is in such a world that autists now live. The neurodiversity movement transfers the concepts of self-determination and equality that our society extends to people of different races, religions, gender, sexual orientation and other types of disabilities, to the fact that people are also born with different kinds of intelligence. Instead of asking, "What should other people think we should be?" we ask the question, "What would we like to do with our own life?""
From the video Autistic People Aren't Broken NeuroTypicals:
"Unfortunately, there is a lot of messaging from society to be ashamed of things that we have no control over. Many autistic people will struggle to think about themselves in a positive light, especially as society continues to say that they should be ashamed of being autistic or that autistic people are weird or need to be fixed, in order to fit into society. We need autistic people to be able to have pride in themselves. I needed to have pride in myself, in order to be okay as a human being. I'm here to tell you you're not broken. You don't need fixing. You're beautiful, and amazing. Stop listening to those people who just want to sell people things based on the idea that autistic people are broken. We're not broken. Those opportunists should be ashamed of themselves."
The rainbow infinity symbol, which denotes neurodiversity:
One of the most interesting and important videos about autism I have ever watched (transcript):
Neurodiversity in a bit more details:
Reading facial language
Above I wrote: judging by people I see around (although I may be wrong), the real number is clearly higher. Probably, you thought: "How did you know? Autism is not written on their faces!" Well, I don't even know how to describe it... Apparently, I read some barely noticeable signs, and recognize some special way of speaking and looking. So, it is written on their faces! :-). Have you noticed how Freddie Mercury, Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk behave in their video interviews? They speak with a neutral ("stone-like") "robotic face", which most of the time does not express any emotions or expresses them weakly, although the content of what they are saying is very emotional (by the way, this is the source of a common misconception that people with autism have no emotion and are incapable of empathy, while the opposite is true - many autists feel emotions much more intensely than other people). They rarely smile and laugh. Sometimes they slow down a bit, stumble and have a hard time finding words. They look away from the camera and even turn the head away at all (apparently the fact that many autistic people cannot look in the eyes also extends to the video camera) while their eyes are constantly moving in all directions. They gesticulate or perform other body movements (this is called "stimming"). One may get the impression that the speakers are not sure in what they are saying, which is absolutely wrong (they certainly have no problems with this!) or pretend to be overmodest (which is also not true - they really are as we see them). By the way, now I understand why I refused video interviews, which I was asked several times to do about intermittent fasting - I would be looking very unprofessional, not to say ridiculous. And I'm not a video blogger who talks about autism (so viewers are aware of unusual behavior). So if you have stage or video camera anxiety, it could be your neurobiology!
Masking (aka "social mimicry")
However, autistic people do not always strike the eye. Why? I will quote the video on autistic masking:
"...many autistic people can, and do, mask their autism, sometimes to the point where they seem indistinguishable from their neurotypical peers. So what is masking? Masking essentially refers to an active attempt to conceal your true autistic nature or your real self. There are a variety of ways in which somebody might do this, and different people might use different methods, and some might use all of them, and some might use just one. And some autistic people mask heavily, and some don't mask at all, which is why they "look" autistic."
The girl at this video explains why many high-functioning autistic people live for many years in the dark about their condition:
"I was quiet, I let others make up the rules of the games we played. And it took 14 years for anyone to notice that I was struggling, desperately. For many high-functioning girls, it takes even longer. Why is this? Shouldn't our confusion around other people be obvious to our teachers, our friends, let alone our parents? And what I find is that there is a very simple, if unfortunate, reason for this. It's because of something we do to cope. We do it subconsciously, but it results in us camouflaging our autistic traits, and it is called "masking". Like detectives, we watch, and we listen, and we try to make sense of the things people do and why they do them. It's a hard job. It's exhausting. We work both day and night shifts. The clues often lead us wrong. But we don't have any other choice, because it's our means of coping in a world which is so socially confusing to us."
So, masking is observation, analysis and imitation of neurotypical behaviour in order to be looking according to the society's expectations.
By the way, I read that autists often become good actors - precisely because they have extensive experience of life "in someone else's role." Freddie Mercury is a shining example. Compare this quiet and humble guy who looks awkward in video interviews with his super-hero on stage - the great, charismatic king that millions of fans are crazy about!
A related topic is introverts
I once wrote on a forum in a thread dedicated to introverts:
"What struck me most was that a person's introversion or extroversion depends on physiology - the pathways of blood flow, the types of neurotransmitters involved and the means of transmitting information through them. That means, psychology depends on anatomy, and that, in turn, on genetics. And how a person was brought up in childhood does not matter in this regard, or it has a minimal effect (otherwise there was an opinion that people withdraw into themselves because of some kind of offense inflicted on them at an early age)."
It seems that I'm starting to rethink that topic... If you replace "introvert" with "autist" in the forum tread, then everything fits together perfectly! Here are some quotes from the internet:
"Autism is the ultimate, extreme loneliness. The autist deliberately isolates himself from the outside world, avoids interacting with people."
"An extreme form of introversion is autism."
"Introverts prefer to be alone for a while, autists have gone even deeper into themselves. In America, being an introvert is considered a disadvantage. Employers and culture in general are extroverted. Extroverts integrate easily."
"Introverts and autists (Asperger's) have similarities. This is self-absorption, isolation, strangeness. Objectively, there is no difference. But it is there. If an introvert can easily interact with the world around him, achieve something, then it will be more difficult for an autistic person, he seems to be detached from this world."
By the way, the word "autism" comes from the Greek αὐτός (autos), which means "self" (compare with "automobile" which means "self-propelled"), and the following dictionary definitions of autism can be applied to introversion too:
"a state of mind characterized by the predominance of a closed inner life and active withdrawal from the outside world"
"isolation in oneself, immersion in the world of one's own experiences and detachment from reality"
While many autistic people are introverts, some are extroverts. Likewise, an introvert is not necessarily autistic.
Although it is more than obvious to me that I have Asperger's, I nevertheless asked the family doctor for a referral for establishing diagnosis officially (however, I did not understand for what; on the other hand, why not
So I'm sitting waiting for my diagnosis, and in order not to waste time, I made a detailed description of my symptoms to show the specialist who will assess me. At first the list was short, but then it grew so much that now I'm not sure that the specialist will have time to read it. But not to waste the good - I am posting it here.
Text in italic is not a part of the description - it's just comments for those reading this page.
My characteristics in detail
• I am so concentrated on details that sometimes don't realize the whole, "big" picture. I "see the trees but don't see the forest". I have difficulty understanding big concepts and causation. I can remember details well, but not notice the larger concepts behind them and not understand why this information is important. When I get a technical task, I become a perfectionist in implementing the details - my program code is clear and easy to read, I check with the technical lead everything that seems illogical or missed to me (this happens quite often, due to which the modules that I create require less improvements and bug fixes in the future), but many times it's hard for me to understand why I was told to do that, and what impact it will have on the business. I am a performer by nature, not a manager - I could never lead people and give them directions.
• It's hard for me to think and process information abstractly - only concretely. I am absolutely stuck when I am asked questions in business meetings if the questions require abstract thinking (and I didn't think about them in advance). If it would be an email I would have time to find some information for the answer. In school, I had difficulty with subjects that dealt with abstraction - for example, mathematics. The situation with physics and chemistry was curious: the theoretical part was clear to me and very interesting (I even read additional popular literature purely for myself), but when it came to solving problems, I was stuck.
• My analytical/problem-solving skills and strategic thinking are very limited. I find it difficult to foresee the results of my actions. It's hard for my to analyze information and draw conclusions from what I find. I cannot highlight the main and the secondary, distinguish between relevant and irrelevant facts, recognize (extract) and summarize important details from the general stream. Very often it seems to me that others see and understand more than I do. As a result, I tend to take other people's opinions on faith rather than subject them to critical analysis. My co-workers, when discussing the high-level design concerns, are looking superhumans to me - how do they do that? How can they anticipate where certain actions will lead?
• I admit absolutely no nebulosity or ambiguity. I need short and clear instructions on what to do, and an extremely precise description of the end result. As the Autism Alert card says, "Tell me exactly what I need to do clearly, simply and step by step". How I wish my neurotypical colleagues would read here: "When talking to someone with autism: use clear, simple speech and short sentences; ask specific, unambiguous questions"! If you want me to give you cold water, then do not say "Oh, today is such a hot day!" - just say "Give me cold water".
Sometimes I get long and confusing technical design documents, and it takes long time to extract meaning from them - it's a pain! However, I see my neurotypical co-workers read and understand them easily. Many times, after I had great difficulty decrypting a document, I wanted to ask the author: "Why did you write a whole page instead of 3 lines which would convey absolutely the same idea without forcing me to look for meaning in the written and guess what you wanted to say with your foggy clues? Why did you constantly MEAN something instead of simply writing that in plain text?". The problem is that people often write in some kind of context that is spinning in their head at the time of writing (after all, they thought before writing). But for some reason they do not understand that I am not a telepathist - I cannot read that context. Another problem is that the authors are fully confident that I know all the smallest nuances of the area they are writing about, which is not always the case.
When I am creating business letters and documents, I am writing only what is needed, no "water", and only in plain text, without clues. Sheer pragmatism and no philosophizing. If it seems to me that the reader has a chance to misunderstand something, I give an explanation. This is not altruism but selfishness - I do not want the person to come back to me with questions, or, even worse, do something wrong, and then I would have to disentangle. People told me a few times that it's pleasure to read my code, emails and documents since they are brief and to the point. In one video, an autistic woman said, "We say what we mean, and we mean what we say. It's a much more efficient way to communicate because you can save a lot of time and energy". It's so strange that this is considered a symptom of a deviation from the norm (one of the signs of autism), and not evidence of the absence of a "mess in the head" for any person.
In the already mentioned video, the lady told about an experiment. Three groups of people were playing Chinese whispers, i.e. passed the thought to each other in turn, changing the wording, but trying to keep the meaning. In one group there were only autistic people, in the other - only neurotypicals, and the third group was mixed. In the mixed group, the meaning was distorted beyond recognition; in both heterogeneous groups, the meaning was conveyed accurately. One of the problems of autistic people (personally very disturbing to me in my work) lies in the mutual misunderstanding of people with different brain structures.
The following quote from the article about teaching autistic students applies also to business analysts and tech leads who prepare documentation for use by autistic programmers (or other professionals):
"It is suggested that the rules and routines be explained and stated using positive words (i.e. saying “Walk quietly in the hallway” instead of saying, “Do not run in the hallway”). Rules need to be concise and observable. In addition, they should be stated using literally accurate words to prevent confusion and posted in a visual format. Teach the rules directly. Direct instruction gives a rationale for the rule and provides knowledge about how to use the information."
• I am resistant to change and feel very comfortable and calm in a familiar, predictable situation: following a routine is a good way to avoid mistakes. I don't need to think about what's next because it's obvious. However, if something goes outside the box, then it's a very difficult challenge - I am very worried when the usual order of things is changing or in unexpected situations. Changes can be scary. Тhis is not only exhausting anxiety and expectation of bad things (similar to the general anxiety disorder), but also the need to decide how to act in the new situation, which is a big problem. It is difficult for me to make decisions, and when I have to, I am often not sure that they are correct. I read that this is a disorder called decidophobia. I think there are two reasons for this. Firstly, I am aware of my limited analytical capabilities, which is why the probability of a wrong decision is obviously high. Secondly, it is a fear of responsibility - after all, in case of failure, I will have to communicate with people. Nevertheless, I easily make technical decisions in programming, where I fully rely on my many years' experience.
I found in one video a phrase that characterizes me very well: "We are not suitable for jobs where we need to make quick decisions in non-standard situations, especially if these situations are related to communication with people, interacting with them directly".
From the same article about teaching autistic students:
"Generally, students with autism have rigid patterns of thinking. Their tendency to follow rules and routines often causes problems for adaptive functioning, including daily living skills, communication, and social interactions. Students may insist upon the same routine or environment and be upset or even have an emotional meltdown if the sameness is broken by unexpected changes or people. However, this characteristic of autism can be applied in a positive way. For example, it is widely known that many individuals with autism benefit from structured environments in which they understand the rules and routines. Students with autism are more likely to engage in activities in those situations."
• I have trouble moving from one activity to another - I get very upset. When I am doing something, I am very focused on the task at hand, so it's very hard and painful to be interrupted and switch to something else - I can focus only on one thing at a time. Multitasking, I hate you! If I am working on the current assignment and suddenly get a production ticket (which has the highest priority), it's a catastrophe which kills me a little bit. However, I quickly "cool down" and get to work.
• I always pay attention when other people are acting illogically. For example, when driving, or when replying my emails. If I find an imperfect technical solution in code, written by other developers, I always pay attention on that. I often think: why did they write simple things in so incredibly hard and confusing ways?
• I can build very complicated system's modules from scratch if I have a clear technical task. I have a lot of experience in that, and I just love this job! However, trying to understand programs written by others is pain for me if the code is far from ideal. The worst thing that can happen to me at work is investigating someone else's code, full of bad programming practices, in search of the cause of the bug. It requires colossal abstract thinking that I don't have, which turns work into unbearable pain.
• I often find it difficult to process large amounts of information. Sometimes, at work, I feel that I am in the midst of an information explosion; I want to escape to nature and listen to the sound of the river. The flow of information in large quantities (especially if the key part isn't really highlighted) can lead to overload - the situation when I "burn out" and "turn off" for a while to rest and then return to work with renewed vigor.
• I process information by ear more slowly and more difficult than written information. If people ask me to do a few things, I always request instructions in writing, if possible.
• I hate phone calls. When my phone is ringing, I wish it's a spammer, so I can cut immediately! I am convinced, that many neurotypical people just love to speak. They could write an email or an SMS, so I can answer meaningfully, with no rush - that would improve the quality of my answer (isn't that what they want?). However, they call, call, call! Why are they so sure that it's good timing for me? Maybe, I am busy right now!
• Dealing with other people (the outside world) is difficult, stressful and confusing, and I often have significant anxiety about having to do that. I am over-analyzing situations before and after trying to figure out what the best thing to say is (was). When socializing, I constantly make sure I am not going to say a wrong thing. At school, when the teacher asked a question and I knew the answer, I didn't raise my hand just because I didn't want to draw attention to myself - in this way I protected myself from possible criticism (which, in fact, could be caused not by the erroneousness of my opinion, but by the desire of the criticizing to rise by belittling another). At business meetings, I often prefer to remain silent because I am not sure that my words will be treated with respect, although there is no reason for this worrying.
• I have absolutely no motivation to succeed in society. If I live in peace and no one bothers me, this is my quiet success.
• It is extremely difficult for me to work under pressure or deadlines. Do you want to insert me into panic and ruin everything? Tell me "it must be ready next Wednesday". I definitely place the emphasis on the quality of the work done, and not on the speed of its completion. When I know that I have plenty of time, I can write programs which are pieces of art (this is not bragging - there are well-defined criteria, which I detailed at the Elegant Programming Club). It is better to spend a little more time now than ten times more later, when it becomes necessary to make changes and enhancements, or investigate and resolve a bug.
• I have waves of high and low productivity. I can work for long time like a horse, and then suddenly feel crushing - my batteries are empty.
• Sometimes I am stuck if I must perform a required action. When someone demands something, I take it as aggression, an invasion of my personal space. I want to respond to aggression with aggression. For example, when my wife is telling me to fill an online form or collect documents for something important. I understand, that it's not a big deal, and that I am looking stupid and stubborn for no reason, but everything in me is resisting that, I am standing still and not able to do what is required. That is the second reason why the production tickets are a catastrophe - they are A MUST! Sometimes I spend 10-15 minutes at my work walking around with no ability to do anything. Of course, everyone needs rest, but this is something different - even if I would be paid a million dollar, that would not force me to do things, which are, in fact, easy to do. After a while, I calm down and start doing the assignment since I have no choice. Fortunately, in two decades of my programming career, I've never once failed to get a task done in time, so the problem interferes with me, but not with my work.
This issue exists not only when others tell me to do something, but also when I myself realize that I must do something. Sometimes it's hard to convince myself to drive for a supermarket for grocery shopping (it's not just a required action - it's also contact with people!).
I recently learned that this is an autistic trait called PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance). In this video I came across the following definition of PDA: "Not being able to do certain things at certain times. Resisting and avoiding the ordinary demands of life". Another wording (from PDA - a guide for autistic adults): "People with a PDA profile are driven to avoid everyday demands and expectations to an extreme extent. This demand avoidance is often (but according to some PDA adults, not always) accompanied by high levels of anxiety." Of course, something similar can be observed in any person, but it's all about the level of extreme: in Pathological Demand Avoidance, the key word is "Pathological". This is a medical condition not related to laziness. PDA is a standalone diagnosis on the autism spectrum that is usually observed in combination with others (eg, Asperger syndrome). This knowledge is of great importance to me! Now if I feel like I can't bring myself to work and I am taking a forced break, then I DON'T FEEL GUILT ANYMORE: this is my physiology, and I cannot do anything about it. I realized before that I would over-compensate for this break in work (later, when I would have inspiration, I would work "for three"), but now I am absolutely calm in such moments of sensory overload (which in itself contributes to better rest). However, fortunately for me, my PDA is not very strong, and does not appear often.
• If I like something or it's interesting to me, then the picture is opposite - I do that with pleasure, and can spend long time collecting information or working with passion. Before buying an electronic device, I do a serious research in the Internet. I created a site dedicated to my health problems which contains all the information, collected by me, and describes how I solved the issues - some readers even asked if I am a health care professional, ha-ha! At school, I had good grades in subjects in which I showed interest and poor grades in subjects that I did not like. The teachers told my parents: "Your son is smart and gifted, but very lazy!". Alas, the teachers did not understand that it was not laziness, but a physical impossibility to force myself to do what was needed, or other problems related to the biological characteristics, not dependent on my desires (like limited abstract thinking). I really love my job when I create new software modules according to clearly formulated documentation. It happened many times that I could hardly wait until the weekend was over to finally return to my favorite pastime, for which they also pay money!
• I hate "small talk", especially when people ask me "How are you?" and are waiting for an answer. I know that the interlocutor does not care how I am doing! Of course, I give a standard answer the neurotypical society is expecting, but everything is boiling inside me - why do I have to give a stupid answer to a stupid question? If the person wans to ask me something, why doesn't he ask immediately, without speaking about nothing before that? Sometimes I answer with a joke - just to hide the stupidity of the situation. "How are you?" is an absolutely normal question if, for example, somebody knows that I was sick and asking if I am better now. There is some context meant by the person - my sickness. But I was not sick! What do they mean? "How" should I be according to their expectation? Why not to just say "Hi"? Also, I hate when people wish me happy birthday. These words are useless and meaningless to the same extent as "How are you?". I wish people all the best always, on all days, not just on their birthday. That's also the reason why I hate to wish happy birthday to others.
• I am very good at recognizing good and bad people. Many put on a mask of kind, smile, say something pleasant, sometimes they do it all very "efficiently" if they are smart, but I know for sure that they are evil - there is a supersensitive sensor inside me that cannot be fooled. Just by looking at a person's face, I instantly read this information, which is then confirmed by the tone of the conversation when the person starts to speak. From comments on social networks, I sometimes notice toxic people, and I'm sure that most readers would find these comments completely harmless. I silently banned some friends on FB - it is unpleasant for me to communicate with acrimonious people, I do not want to be a donor of psychological energy. I am sure that they were surprised and found me strange - without understanding what was the matter.
• I know that many people with autism cannot stand loud noises and bright lights. I cannot say that I "cannot stand" them (I never experience sensory overload), but I still have some heightened sensitivity. When we were choosing a house, my wife really wanted the rooms to be bright, but I prefer darker. On bright sunny days it is difficult for me without sunglasses. Active noise canceling headphones are my best friends. I wore them in the office to make it easier to focus on work (before I started working from home because of covid). They also saved me the rare times I took the subway.
However, many of the typical signs of autism are mild or not observed at all. I can look people in the eyes (although I definitely feel better if I don't) and can remember faces normally. I do not speak in a monotonous voice (well, maybe just a little). During a conversation my face expresses emotions, although definitely less noticeable than in neurotypicals; however, this is often the result of "masking" - I noticed that sometimes I consciously control my facial muscles so that the interlocutor "does not suspect anything". I smile and laugh, I make others laugh, I understand jokes, sarcasm and social cues. I perfectly "read" intonation and emotions, and understand body language. I do not ignore the feelings of other people, I am always polite to them and do not directly say everything I think - I don't want to hurt them (and make them hate me for saying the truth). I have no problem with food texture, smells and touch.
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Aspergers from the Inside
Yo Samdy Sam
The video Everything You Need To Know About The Online AQ Test, mentioned earlier, was the Part 1, now watch the Part 2:
Just a fragment of the previous video transcript:
"When you've spent your whole life not being believed, to finally find people and a community that do believe you, and do validate you, and do say crazy things like, "I understand." It's absolutely life-changing to have that experience that you previously thought no one else had, and no one else could possibly understand, to have that validated, and to find out other people have had this experience as well. That is why diagnosing yourself as being autistic can be an incredibly powerful moment in a person's life to realize all of those things."
Book Welcome to the Autistic Community