Working & Living On the Spectrum

I was recently diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder on the high-functioning end of the spectrum. The diagnosis came as a relief, and a welcome way of understanding my differences from neurotypical people and my struggles after entering the professional workforce.

AS presents differently in women and men. The UK-based National Autistic Society has put together an easy to understand resource explaining these differences. But for me, it means not being able to meet the general expectations for female behavior. A major part of Asperger’s Syndrome in girls is the ability, and the drive, to observe, analyze, and then imitate social behaviors. While most females find it natural to chit-chat, speak in polite niceties, and empathize with others, females with AS simply pretend. And we pretend so well, we convince the people around us, and sometimes ourselves, that we know what we’re doing. We want to fit in, to seem normal, and this imitation is our primary strategy. 

Another challenge I face is that I have interests that align more with the typical male’s, and communicate and socialize in a way that is typically male, which can be surprising and often intimidating to others. This is one of several reasons I subscribe to the extreme male brain theory of autism, first presented by Simon Baron-Cohen over a decade ago.

At a certain point in my life I decided to stop pretending. This didn’t happen all at once, and it didn’t always work, but I tried so very hard. The result is a very long and personal story that I won’t recount here, but the conclusion is that I am more myself than I have ever been. However, this became a problem in the workplace.

Social niceties, chit-chat, a finesse for politeness, understanding of unspoken assumptions and agreements, and a strong theory of mind are all quite necessary in any workplace. I struggled with these things, and more, because of my AS. With help from my best friend, from my boss, my mentor, my understanding coworkers, and a lot of work from myself I overcame these challenges. I will never fully “fix” these problems, because they really aren’t things that need fixing. My AS symptoms are not something to be cured. They are a part of me, and when they interfere with my ability to perform at my job I work to overcome that. It’s exhausting, draining, confusing, and incredibly challenging, but I do it. Because I love my job, I value it more than almost anything else in my life right now, and I believe that I can make a difference – both in my own life and in the lives of others.

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There are so many parts of myself that stem from Asperger’s Syndrome, and I wouldn’t be myself without them. I wouldn’t be where I am today; instead, I would be stuck in the past, miserable and unable to move forward or succeed. I am brave (I take chances), honest (sometimes to the point of rudeness), ambitious (which can be intimidating), with a unique perspective (but the rules shouldn’t always be questioned), and a knack for seeing details others don’t notice (which can be very distracting). I have learned to embrace what makes me different, and that includes much of myself that doesn’t have anything to do with AS. But without AS, I wouldn’t have learned to be so accepting. First accept yourself, be happy with yourself, or you won’t be happy with anything.

I will continue to write about my past and present experiences with Asperger’s Syndrome here, now that I’m being open about it. I feel like it’s coming out day. Disclosure about AS isn’t easy, but it really is worth it!

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9 thoughts on “Working & Living On the Spectrum

  1. Reblogged this on Lost In The Labyrinth and commented:
    Haven’t reblogged a post in ages but after reading this particular one it needed to be done. I relate so much to this post as I’m sure many females with asperger’s syndrome will. I am also trying to bring out the real me and let the ‘pretend’ me fade away. Great post!

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    • Thank you for reblogging!
      Getting the real you out is such a challenge. Once you do, it’s a lot of work to keep yourself there! But totally worth it to be your awesome self as much as possible.

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  2. I am just catching up on blog posts, so this is coming out from me pretty late for this reason. I think its awesome that you can be open about it!! While I am not really on the spectrum myself (I think? I mostly consider myself to be weird), I understand your feels about pretending on a lot of levels. You know me, I love graphic novels, video games, and other stuff that isn’t really ‘girly.’ Its really hard to deal with people, especially other girls, that judge you for it.

    Lucky for us, the internet has been turning into a more accepting space. Its good for you to come out, because there is a terrible image out there of people on the spectrum. I don’t even have to go into the details, cause I am sure you have seen it. I look forward to more thoughts from you and this new perspective you can offer.

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  3. Really interesting to read a woman’s perspective. I believe the reason why it’s said more men than woman are asperger’s, is because so many of the women remain undiagnosed, because the way it is typically expressed in a woman is less obvious than in a man. I was fortunate enough to be diagosed in 1995 at age 13, and I think it was because in my childhood years I did not pretend or try to fit in. I would hang around on my own at playtime, wanting to do my own thing, so I stood out like a sore thumb and staff had to take notice!

    What I also find interesting is that you say you decided at one point to give up trying to be social, but this became a problem in the workplace, so you basically had to try harder for the sake of your job. Have I got this correct? I would like to think that you’re not being forced to be someone you’re not just to remain in your job, but equally I would like to think you could learn social skills in a way that doesn’t make it a great struggle and that you can understand and relate to.

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    • I am definitely having to try harder for the sake of my job – and it’s something I’m proud of doing. I am still very much myself, but I have to learn what I see as new skills. Social skills. It is a struggle, and it takes a lot of mental and actual physical effort, but if I keep at it, it becomes easier and less effort. Like practicing a foreign language. Does that make sense?

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  4. That totally makes sense. I’m just wondering how you are learning, because a real problem is that neurotypicals don’t usually know how to teach social skills to aspie’s the right way, because they will usually give advice that requires a certain level of social intuition to start with that aspie’s don’t have. Much of the advice is too generic for anyone to be able to apply it i.e. be yourself. What aspie’s need I feel is to have a socially skilled neurotypical (not just any neurotypical) who understands social attractive communication skills, and is able to break these down and teach them to aspies, and teach aspies why these skills are useful, so everything is broken down to a more systematic approach.

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    • Yes, that would be ideal in a perfect world :) I’m really just teaching myself, with help and feedback from my supervisor and my partner. They have learned to give me very specific feedback and constructive criticism on my behavior, which I in turn have to use to modify my reactions, behavior, and speech. Does that make sense?

      Also, thank you so very much for commenting here and chatting with me!!

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  5. Yes what you said makes sense. Obviously I don’t know these people but I hope they are teaching you how to employ positive social and conversational techniques, rather than just trying to undo anything negative. That’s what a lot of social skills for aspies training ends up being about unfortunately, and in the process of trying to undo negative behaviors people can end up producing over-stilted characters, instead of capitalising upon the things that make them themselves, and turning any awkward quirks etc into a positive. I have a book (see link) where I share the things I had to learn for social attraction I think will be a massive benefit to you, and you may also like to check out my product called the Social Life Formula.

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