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Roger N. Meyer "...of a different mind "
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SOCIAL SKILLS AND WORK

Advice for Advanced Level Job Seekers

Copyright 2002

All Rights Reserved

Roger N. Meyer

 

     [Author's note:  This article was written in response to an Email by a young man about to accept an employment offer as a research analyst in the intelligence field.  The firm he was about to work for is in the private market.  He reported that in previous jobs he had problems with socially immature colleagues who were also not as knowledgeable as he was.  Not all of his past employment experiences ended with termination or quits.  He also asked about using the Americans with Disabilities Act as a way of requesting accommodations that would allow him more time to train with his new employer.  As the reader can see from the article, there is a lot more involved in preparing for success on the job than invoking a civil rights law.]

     This article is written principally for Asperger Syndrome adults educated or trained at the "professional level."  It is written for the new jobholder, although individuals with AS long employed may find its contents useful.  This article does not address some special issues reserved for persons who are self-employed or are truly independent operators.

     The article is divided into two parts.  The first part discusses the value and reason behind mastery of social and communication skills.  The second explores some details of the disability disclosure process and concludes with more "how to's."

 

I -- Social and Communication Skills

 

Minimal Social Skills will Get you in the Door.  Better Ones Keep you There

 

     Whether your co-workers are immature or not, you will always most likely be working in environments with colleagues whose intellect may well be beneath yours, but whose social skills may be more highly developed.  Regardless of what you think of your co-workers' level of knowledge or maturity, rest assured that they "know the ropes" that you can't even see.  Those are the unwritten rules of social conduct.  Your knowledge and subject-expertise is not the only basis for your employment, either for being hired or for being retained.  Unfortunately, unless you are so skilled that your knowledge can almost stand by itself in a social vacuum, you may always have challenges with working with others, or figuring out "the office politics."  That's just the way it is.

 

     If people get the idea that you are forming judgments of them or you appear to be arrogant or a know-it-all, even if you DO know it all, you will have a tough time of it.  Having advanced degrees or special knowledge does not earn you a place of social respect or acceptance at work.  In most work settings, "being a smarty pants" gets you nowhere.  Being smart about how you wear your pants is what will help you succeed.

 

     No matter what your feelings are, or if you are unsure about them, check how your face looks in the mirror if you are having a tough time of it at work.  When you are upset or anxious at work, take a bathroom break and "pay attention to the signs."  Bathrooms have mirrors in them for very good reasons.  Mirrors are accurate reflectors of your emotional state.  Learn to recognize what your emotions are by understanding appropriate facial expressions.  People are uncomfortable when they around others who look uncomfortable.  If you are more than uncomfortable and you constantly "show it," the workplace will be affected by your demeanor.  If you are continually unhappy and look sour, anxious or angry, regardless of how well you perform, your face, your gestures, and your posture may be a very quick ticket out the door.

 

Rules

 

     I hope you are able to find an employer who allows your creativity and perseverance in problem solving to be a primary factor in recognizing your contributions and valuing you as an important asset in the workplace.  When these factors come together, congratulations.  You are holding an "ideal job."  However, with their first employment experiences, few people are able to find ideal jobs.  No matter what your level of training or education, all jobs require a period of apprenticeship and break-in.  The purpose of many of the unwritten rules of a work culture is to address some of the emotional and social needs of employees.  Since work isn't all there is to life, those rules will not meet all of anyone's needs.  Do not expect them to meet all of yours.

 

Understanding your Own Needs

 

     When accepting a position, even if it isn't their first job, many people are not sure of all of their needs.  This statement holds true of persons who aren't AS.  You may not realize it at the time you are first hired, or even after you've been in the job for a while, but you will have needs that you may not be able to clearly express.

 

     Even if you are aware of your needs, it is unrealistic to expect the social culture of a job to change or be modified to fit your needs.  The social and unwritten culture and "rules of getting along" existed long before you arrive.  They have a life of their own.  If the social culture of work is to change, it must be because the change is good for everyone, not just the person with a disability.  Where disability accommodations have been negotiated to modify the social culture of a workplace they have often been accepted by the employer because the employer realizes that all employees can benefit from the change.

 

Understanding the Needs of Others

 

     Just how important it is for you to understand your co-workers depends upon the extent to which you have substantial interaction with them.  How frequently you interact with your co-workers is only partially determined by your formal job description.  Even if  your contact with them is described as minimal, there's a good chance that, overall, you will be minimally successful.  Even though the job description may not call for it, most jobs involve more than just minimal social contact.  Most workplace social conduct comes into play that "apparently" has little to do with the work itself but profoundly affects the overall social environment.  That environment is determined by formal and informal social rules.  The higher your level of employment, the more likely the important rules for survival in the job will be unwritten.  Most unwritten rules have to do with the subtle standards to be met in order for you to be accepted by others.  In all good work environments, social acceptance is considered a primary human need that can be met in a supportive way.  Where there is a high value on employee satisfaction --often with those "little things" persons with AS don't think are important but really are in maintaining a positive work setting -- people who don't care about each other as well as people who consistently demonstrate that they are unaware of other co-workers' needs for interaction will rarely stay employed.

 

Do you have "An Attitude"?

 

     You may not think that social acceptance is an important value.  You may think this way because you have been able to muscle through life up to this point on the basis of brainpower alone.  With this kind of thinking, you may be unaware of the damage you leave behind in your wake as you move from one situation to another.  Thinking this way is dead wrong, and you will get in trouble for it.

 

     Acceptance, and the ability to get along with others is the "glue" of the social culture of work.  Without it, jobs and people do not last.  If the employment environment is not supportive of employee mutual acceptance, there is a good chance that your employer may not be in business very long.  If your employer has stayed in business for any length of time and this remains a prevalent feature of the work environment, you should be prepared to see a lot of human wreckage on the shop floor or in the workstations, or in the individual offices of your colleagues.  You should also expect a high rate of transience in the work force. 

 

     Even in certain kinds of high-pressure environments where there is little opportunity for co-workers to interact informally with one another, there are expectations of acknowledgment and consideration for others, which, if unmet, will eventually lead to a person who is "already on the outs" becoming literally "out."  That means, for example, assignment to the worst shifts, or to the busiest and most distressing kind of work, or interaction with the worst kinds of customers.  All of these moves by the employer -- and even fellow workers -- lead to further isolation, bad feelings, and either a "quit" or termination.  Under such circumstances, a person with AS may be factually "right" about what led to their leaving or their discharge, but if they are unable to learn from even this negative experience to handle themselves better the next time, even the value of learning has been lost.

 

Asking for help or being "adopted" by a mentor

 

     As a new employee, you may not be in control of when the rules at work change or even be much in control of how they are changed.  If you can form relationships with just one or two key people who can act as mentors or interpreters of those rules for you, this will take you a long way towards being accepted.  Some successful AS persons, working in a social environment, have done very well because they have befriended "handlers" who can cut the social ice for them.  Where things get difficult is where there an AS person places too much dependence upon one person or upon such handlers when those people they might expect the AS person's needs to become less demanding over time.  During the "training period," and with help from such persons, you can probably learn survival scripts that allow you to escape the most serious scrapes, and provide "cover" for you under other circumstances.

 

     However, there will come a time when people depend upon you to take up the slack and attend to your own needs without a heavy dose of permanent help.  If your needs are so high that you've been lucky enough to find a permanent helper and others are happy with that arrangement, congratulate yourself.  Realize that most people are not that lucky.

 

Handling Cognitive Processing Delays

 

     One of the most important skills you must develop as a person with AS is to find a way to craft tools that help you deal with processing delays.  (This article also addresses the rarer phenomenon of an AS person who works "too fast.  See below.)  You may have actual processing delays in the way you think.  You may also have delays related to undiagnosed Auditory Processing and Vision Processing Disorder.  Both of these delays, while sensory in origin, also profoundly affect your thinking and your ability to respond to others within the time frame that they operate on.  While it isn't necessary for you to be formally diagnosed for either condition, AS usually involves a bit of this and a bit of that. 

 

     Search out information about both of these conditions on the Internet.  Knowledge never hurts.  Both conditions aren't really correctable, but you can compensate for them by developing socially acceptable "faking skills" that buy you time while you process things and "catch up."  When AS individuals, sufficiently self-determined to be good self-advocates have been able to arrange for accommodations allowing them extra time with their studies or their examinations, they may be able to ask for similar "extended time" accommodations at work during a period of training.  Extended time may not be available as an accommodation once the training period comes to an end.  Some persons are able to negotiate different performance standards for themselves beyond the period of training, although this is an exception and not the rule.  In a job that has established performance or production requirements, it may be difficult or impossible to arrange for a modification of those standards without running into set standards beyond the hiring authority's power to modify, or where performance standards are affected by seniority provisions and/or collective bargaining agreements.

 

     Your need to take extra time to process things may not disappear just with the end of your training period, even if it is extended.  Needing extra time to process problems and understand what is going on will only start with your requesting extra time for your initial training.  Chances are good that you will also need extra time to handle things throughout your work experience on the job once you are trained.  Many individuals with Asperger Syndrome also have documented specific learning disabilities, and they may be the gremlins requiring you to take extra time with your work.  So, it's best to accept the fact that requiring extra time "may come with the territory." 

 

     Your territory.

 

     Even once you master the tasks of your job, there is always a social skills minefield built into each job.  As a person with Asperger Syndrome, learning the tasks to master the art of moving through that social minefield is also part of your job.

 

     As a person with AS, it is likely that you have always taken a longer to "get things."  If this is the case--and with most of us with AS that is the case--it will be necessary for you to develop effective, socially acceptable things to say and do to "buy you time while you "get it."  If you don't do that, you may find yourself excluded--or more properly, falling behind--in conversations and informal meetings that are critical to your remaining "in the circle."  When this happens in formal circumstances, such as conferences and other large events, you will have to develop good self-awareness to detect when you are starting to fall behind or are becoming overwhelmed, and find ways--your ways, but socially acceptable ways--to deal with it.

 

Confront your Tendency to Avoid Problems and Other People

 

     In the past, you may have avoided situations where, without extra time, you knew you would fall behind, and bad things would happen as a consequence.  Requesting less participation in formal and scheduled events--or even being excused from attending them--may be an acceptable accommodation for you, but it may not always work.  There may be some events that are a part of your job that you must attend and perhaps even assume some kind of leadership role.

 

     Promotions at work often involve these extra tasks being added to your job description.  It may be possible for you to negotiate your way through a promotion and still be able to avoid stressful formal events that require a level of social sophistication that may be beyond you.  Before turning away from the challenge of having to learn additional social skills, ask yourself what the "cost" of requesting such an accommodation is.  If it is something you and your employer both agree is worthwhile, then feel comfortable that you have given good thought to your decision.  If you feel you can "stretch" to learn new social skills, you might be able to negotiate a gradual introduction to those new skills as a part of your advancement without having to plunge on ahead through the minefield without a mine detector and tools to carefully spot and disarm individual mines one by one.

 

     Managing your way through informal "events" is another thing.  While you may not feel it is necessary to be a part of an informal get together, your co-workers may think differently about it.  Expect others to want to include you.  Others will not expect you to exclude them, but you may find yourself falling back on avoidance behaviors that have protected you from the ramifications of not being able to keep up with folks in their informal exchanges.  They will not understand "why" you avoid their presence.  They will just know that you are avoiding them.  They will be confused at first, and even if they finally do understand, being accepted and included is so natural a part of non-spectrum life that this may be a constant source of friction for you in your work environment.  Just like you, others are uncomfortable and hurt when they feel rejected.

 

Giving Others Permission to Help Means You Have to Ask in the Right Way

 

     Normally, it is not others' "job" to work to include you.  Being included involves a natural process where both or all parties work at a subconscious level to assure one another's feeling safe and "plugged into" a common enterprise, even if it is an informal short chat in the hallway or a brief interaction in an elevator.  It is possible, however, for your colleagues at work to do things consciously to help you feel comfortable that they wouldn't ordinarily be conscious of when they do these same things for others.  Because doing these things consciously is not a normal behavior for most adults, they may feel uncomfortable about extending themselves in this way to help you.  If you are frank and forthright about expressing your needs and have found good ways of developing a shorthand way of requesting assistance from others, most people will be glad to help.  In fact, with your having given them permission to help you, you have provided them with a good reason to extend assistance they would otherwise be in doubt about knowing how and when to extend to you.  By developing techniques to address your communication and processing delays in socially acceptable ways and with others willing to help you, you will have enriched to entire social culture of your workplace.

 

     Your colleagues can be encouraged to use "check in" questions or behaviors with you to make sure that you are following things.  This they can do, but they won't do it automatically unless they are politely reminded, in a respectful, non-directive way, to do it.  Remember that people will not do things they do not want to do.  You don't either.  You must find ways, perhaps with the help of your supervisor, to request help of others in such a way that their helping you does not bog down the dynamic of these informal social exchanges even if it slows down the pace to something you can handle.

 

Accommodations must be Reasonable

 

     Given that permission, most folks will "stop and help you process."  Bear in mind, however, that other people do not know what is going on in your head unless you find ways to inform them.  It may be possible for you to propose a certain accommodation addressing your processing delays.  Remember that employers are not required to make accommodations that impose an undue hardship on the workplace or their operations, or where the very core features of the work are being modified just to accommodate one employee with particular challenges.  Coming up with scripts of your own, and negotiating appropriate accommodations from your employer for situations like this is very hard work.  However, if you wish to remain employed, you might find it to be necessary work.  All of us can learn the basics, even if our jobs aren't particularly high in social demands.  For a person with Asperger Syndrome, the bottom line to all of this is:  "It is your job to learn the tools to 'hang in there' even when it is uncomfortable."

 

     To recapitulate what is said above:  when you start out at a job, it is unrealistic for others to wait until "you catch up" unless you develop means of signaling to them how you are tracking or mis-tracking what they are saying or doing.  In most circumstances, people will help you out, and they won't see doing so as an unpleasant task if you provide them with comfortable ways of doing something consciously that they would otherwise not be aware of doing.

 

Be Aware of Being Too Agreeable

 

     Many persons with AS fall into the habit of agreeing with others when they have no idea of what is going on.  While this approach may initially work with strangers, the people you work with are not strangers.  They will sense that you aren't picking things up, or that you are falling behind.  It is not up to them to guess how well you are tracking a conversation or an activity.  You must inform them.  Persons without AS have developed informal ways of signaling to one another how well they "track" in informal settings.  Most of those very subtle check-in techniques have gone right over your head.  For a person with AS, they are hard to discern and by the time you've "read" them, it's often too late.  The conversation or the activity most likely has moved ahead, and you fall further behind.

 

     Teamwork is at the heart of most professional level work.  I'm not saying this because it is merely a buzzword.  It's the truth.  With the rapid pace of change in jobs, in the structure of the economy, and with companies and entire industries disappearing almost overnight, it's important that employees who "survive successfully" learn to do so by holding on to what they can while everything else about them is changing.  Often the only "thing" to hold on to under circumstances like this is other people.  What we have been talking about above--the techniques of recognizing when you need help, learning how to ask for it, and helping others feel comfortable in providing it--are all teamwork-building skills.

 

 

About Those of Us who Skip Steps

 

     Some of us process things with lightning speed.  But we don't process everything with this speed.  Usually, those of us who are "whizzes" and "Brainiacs" may be known for what others call our "splinter skills" or our savant abilities.  These skills may be a blessing if they provide us with a good living.  They can be a curse if all we do is "have them" but have little else to offer others.  Our intellectual intelligence may be on fire with creative impulses and good work.  Often, our social intelligence is operating at about a second-grade level.  This is an exaggeration of course, but even in exaggeration, there is a powerful truth behind the image:  One of the salient features of Asperger Syndrome is that our level of overall competence is quite uneven across the categories of adult functioning.  We must recognize that fact in order to somehow survive in the work force.

 

     In a typical work environment, especially at advanced or professional levels, employees need to know where each colleague is "at" because the element of staying socially connected is important.  In some work environments, it is fine if for most of the time people are free to pursue their own projects independently and come together only occasionally.  This is true in some of our ideal places to work:  academia or in pure industrial or technical research, or if we work alone and make enough money to not only survive but do well in our work.  But even were we to work independently, we come across other folks.  We have to find ways to bring others up to where we are, or, more likely, learn to drop our level of operation from "warp speed" to "human speak" level.

If you've been reminded, in a good natured way, to be less serious, or to "Stop and smell the roses every now and then," you are being given hints by others that you need to slow down to other peoples' speed.  After too many unheeded hints, you may find yourself an outcast, or on your way out.

 

     To take an example:  You are in conversation with colleagues, and you all of a sudden realize that you have "lost" the others.  This means that you have pulled ahead of them, or you may have even started way ahead without laying the groundwork or providing enough information for people to join you at the beginning of your dialogue.  If you are "there," you have just realized that you have arrived at a fork in the road.  You can either continue to conduct a monologue, or a one-way lecture, or you can slow down or stop and engage in some "check-in behavior."  Slowing down and checking with others isn't a natural behavior for those of us whose minds operate at "warp speed."  But it is essential if we are not only to be understood, but also accepted.

 

     When we operate in this manner, we are acting as though we were from another culture, treating others as strangers and expecting them to understand "our" rules without having to explain them.  Sorry, that doesn't work in the tourist business, and it certainly isn't going to work for us.

 

     This is a big mistake, but a common one.  It is also one we can learn how to repair.  We have often been accused of following different rules of logic.  Well, many of us do.  That's why we have this diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome.  Our thought process is definitely different than that of others.  There are things we miss.  There are things in which we are "way ahead."  But staying connected is the game.  No matter how far ahead we get of others, we are not islands operating only unto ourselves.

 

     Even when we are "alone," our alone-ness is defined in relation to our connection or state of disconnectness with others.  If there are ways of connecting, or re-connecting, it is our job to figure out what they are.  While others can help us when this happens at work, they may soon tire if we don't provide them with the handles, the clues, about how we operate.  It is our job to use a common vocabulary--words that have the same meaning for everyone--in explaining where we are, and how we got there.

 

     This does not mean we have to explain everything.  But, if we cannot explain ourselves once we have gotten so far ahead of others that we are in danger of losing connection with them, we will eventually crash and burn.  Many of us have in the past, and we haven't understood why.

 

     Now I've just told you why.

 

     For many of us, proud of pulling a Frank Sinatra by always doing it "My Way," this is a tough thing to accept, but accept it we must.  Unless we are so talented, so brilliant, and so exceptional that others will feed us, clothe us, provide us with acceptance unconditionally, but--as the English say, "Not Bloody Likely!"--we had better stop and indeed, smell the roses.

 

On Being a Student of Social Rules and the Rules of Communication

 

     Unlike most folks, we have to be very deliberate in our study of these things.  Some authors among us report having taken considerable time to do just that.  We read books on etiquette and proper social conduct.  We frequent the self-help shelves of bookstores and libraries looking for the clues between covers.  Sometimes we find them, but often, reading does not make either believers or better actors of us.

 

     There.  I said it.  We have to learn how to become better actors.

 

     It takes a lot of time and energy, because "not getting it" is part of our package.  There is no single magic formula that provides the scripts to slow us or others down or indicate that we are experiencing tracking problems.  Once you realize you have this need, this is when you might seek some coaching from someone who knows you who can teach you, formally, how to do this.

 

     If you don't know such a trusted person, I advise, in all seriousness, that you seek out a professional acting or drama coach.  These are people who make a living out of successfully "reading" other people and teaching them how to read themselves and others.  If they aren't good at their job, they lose their audience.  They go without work.  Isn't that just exactly what has happened with you?

 

     A lot?

 

     And that's exactly what you need to learn how to do.  In your case, the acting lesson starts with learning how to read yourself.  Remember the bathroom mirror?  How good and accurate a reader are you of your own emotions, of your own face, and gestures, and body language?

 

     Exactly.

 

     A good coach will start by helping you read yourself.  Once you start to get the knack, the next step should involve some kind of role-playing where you both start to script out socially acceptable responses for your processing delays and other communication issues that are known barriers to your "not getting it."  Bear in mind that you may have more than one kind of processing difficulty, and that the challenges of processing incoming signals increases with elevation in your overall stress level.  A good coach will help you recognize not only your own emotional state, but also to become aware of the stressors "out there" that contribute to the feelings that drive your behaviors, many of which you'd like to change, if only to be more accepting and more acceptable to others.

 

     You don't have to change on the inside.  If you'd like to, fine, but it isn't necessary.  Remember, some very successful professional actors still live difficult personal lives.  So, it isn't necessary to think "perfect," but it is useful to think of doing an "OK job."  If you can learn to fake it, that's enough.  Only you need to know the difference.  Other people don't have to know.  And what's more, you don't have to tell them!

 

     Ideally, role-playing should involve your being able to "switch roles" and see what things are like from the other side.  This may be very difficult or impossible for some people with AS.  Don't be hard on yourself if you can't do this.  On the other hand, you may develop a knack for doing this, especially if your exercises start out very simply and you first concentrate on just exchanging one "message" at a time.  Later on, you can practice more complex scripts.  Please keep in mind that things will never be perfect, but with practice, they can get better.  Once you feel safe enough after having mastered some of the rudiments while working with a coach, then comes the time to try out your wares in public.  Try your techniques out with people you know and trust to correct and guide you first...not your co-workers.  If you "pass," then start to apply some of these techniques at work.  In time, they will come easier to you, but they may never be quite automatic.

 

 

 

 

II -- Disclosure and some "How To's"

 

Disclosure and Researching the Job in Advance

 

     Be sure that you understand the job description.  Do not, under any circumstance, disclose anything about your AS until a firm job offer is made, and it is best that the offer be made to you in written form.  A lot of folks just let little details such as understanding what is really expected of them in the job blow by them in their desire to "just get on with it" until some little noticed aspects of a job that they are expected to perform but have trouble with will come back and bite them.  By then, it's often too late to effect a workable repair. 

 

     Do your homework about your prospective employer, and be able to demonstrate your knowledge either in the interview or as a part of a "show and tell" that many technically competent people may be expected to do to prove their abilities. As important as researching what the employer does as a business or a service is something even more important for those of us with AS.  That is understanding the work environment.  Two employers may do almost the same thing, but their work culture and their work environments may be quite different.  There are ways of searching for information about this less obvious feature of an employer.  It is possible to conduct research on this "hidden aspect" of a prospective employer so that you don't make a pest of yourself, or are too obvious about what you are doing.  Failing to do that, however, may initially land you the job, but soon into the job, land you in big trouble.  The more you learn about the "real" conditions at your intended place of employment, the fewer surprises you will run into.  Even careful research won't reveal all the hidden features about an employer, but with many of those "secrets" known to you, you are less likely to be totally devastated by some relatively small thing you didn't discover. 

 

     There are many "job search" books filled with details about how to research a career field and prospective employers.  These books are written because many unsuccessful job-seekers really don't know how to do a decent job of determining whether a given field or a specific employer is all that it cracks up to be.  Spending some time reading these "how to" books and actually going through the research work as you look for work may save you considerable time when that "ideal job opening" comes up.  Doing this kind of research is as much a part of your job search as pounding the pavement, sending out resumes and cover letters and filling out applications.

 

Asking Questions and "Getting Up to Speed"

 

     It will be necessary for you to ask questions in order to get your job done.  The one thing to be aware of is that there are ways of asking questions, things involving timing, and saving up your questions either for a particular time or for "the right moment."  You might even think of placing a numerical--granted, this is arbitrary--limit on the number of questions you ask.  Finally, you might wish to ask "how" to ask questions of folks.  Everyone usually has a preferred way of having questions asked of them, and this may be quite different from person to person.

 

     In your initial contact with new colleagues, in addition to introducing yourself, don't make any "explanations" that may indicate that you have special needs.  Not just yet, and certainly not the first time you meet them.  It may become necessary to do some discrete disclosure with others, especially with regard to "how I work" or "my tendency to do X or Y."  That's fine.  You have just described "how" you work.  You haven't had to go into "why it is" that you work that way.

 

     However you disclose your needs, don't do it in such a serious way that you can't laugh about it.  I'm serious when I say this.  Some of the things "we" do are puzzling, and often strange and even "funny" to others, until they realize that's how we are.  One of the challenges you will face when starting a new job is balancing being serious with being light enough on your toes that you can "take in" where other people are, psychologically, as you feel a need to explain yourself to them.  If you can laugh about what may be seen as an eccentricity, so much the better.  It may take time to do this, but laughter and humor, especially if it is good natured and light, is a great icebreaker, and often will get you past many an awkward moment.

 

Don't Make a Big Deal about your AS

 

     Whatever you do, don't overwhelm people with explanations about yourself, even if you feel it would be useful.  The more you may feel an explanation is useful, the less relevant others may think your need to explain things to them really is.  There is time to cover most of that as they get used to you, and you get used to them.  If eventually you use the "A" word, that may be well and good, but you might consider describing to others how your own version of AS plays out in terms of your way of thinking, problem-solving, communicating and behaving.  This means you can describe, even explain behaviors that you know are related to your particular flavor of AS without naming it for them.  Try to find the "civilian language" words to do that.  It may never be necessary for you to finally disclose your label as long as you provide acceptable, plain language explanations for some of your quirks.  We all have them, AS or not.  The trick is to learn how not to make a big thing about your peculiarities.  Believe me, unless they are in the way or "on" at the moment, no one will really care or have time to listen to you talk about them.

 

Learning the Ropes

 

Learn How to Ask Questions

 

     As far as seeking information from people, that is often necessary on a job.  You would be amazed at how many other people don't know how to handle "the question business."  In order to avoid being viewed as too inquisitive or too distracting to a colleague, it is important for you to determine the chain of command and the authority structure and ask questions of people who are in that pecking order.  There is usually a formal "line" and then there is the "informal one."

 

     In most job settings, the informal system is the one that really makes the place run, and it often runs "in violation" of the formal rules.  You will run into this a lot, and it's important for whatever you run into that "isn't supposed to be that way" to be accepted, and accepted graciously by you as a new employee.  You may be corrected a few times about who to talk to and what to either say to them or ask of them.  That's a normal part of learning the informal power structure of the work environment.  If you find yourself being corrected a lot, make a point of seeking out your immediate supervisor, request an appointment to discuss just this issue, and keep the appointment.  It will be a discussion that might be quite uncomfortable for you, but probably one that offers your supervisor a great deal of relief.  Believe me, s/he will have "heard about things," so your request to review your performance or to talk about this issue does not come as a surprise.  By taking this problem in hand before it becomes a bigger problem, you will have demonstrated maturity and a need for managerial guidance that is the mark of a conscientious, caring employee.

 

Keeping your New-Found Knowledge to Yourself

 

     Whatever happens, the one thing you can't afford to do is display your new-found knowledge about how the place really works and how you work to other people.  Everyone "knows things" about the workplace and themselves that they just accept but don't talk about.  It isn't necessary for them to do that in order for them to get their jobs done, but you might have to do some serious "self-talk" to help you realize what the difference is between the formal rules and the actual functional practices of your workplace.  You may also find yourself being very conscious about designing means for you to "check in with yourself" that don't have to be made known to others.  As you make these observations to yourself, learn to keep your thoughts and observations to yourself.  Be aware of your "honesty meter" and your desire to share the truth with others the moment you discover it   The trick to surviving in many job environments is to avoid frank and inappropriately candid observations and explanations to others about what you experience happening to yourself and what is happening around you.

 

     To use a somewhat crude expression, but one often necessary in reminding employees that their Asperger Syndrome makes them both sensitive and vulnerable to misunderstandings at work, "Learn to mind your own business while taking care of business."

 

     If you follow this rule, you should do well in your job.

 

 

Copyright Issues

 

This article is copyright, all rights reserved by the author, Roger N. Meyer.  It may be reproduced in single copy once for personal use, and in no more than ten copies total for educational purposes.  Fair Use is authorized for all purposes and under conditions established by US Statute and the International Copyright Convention, to which the United States is a signatory nation.  No person shall publish, distribute, copy, or by other means make this material available to others for purposes of personal gain or professional self-aggrandizement.  Individuals wishing permission to exercise other than fair use or limited distribution as outlined above must contact the author, in writing, and receive explicit written permission from the author prior to engaging in further use of this material.

 

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