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Roger N. Meyer "...of a different mind "
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Whose Job Is It To Get His Job Done?

(Aspies and Fuzzy Logic)

Copyright 2001

Roger N. Meyer



      [On an AS Partners listserv, I wrote the following response to an exasperated wife asking about how far she should go in insisting her husband starts and finishes projects within a reasonable time.  Names are changed to protect everyone.]


     I agree somewhat with Judy.  Pushing doesn't work, because pushers rarely understand the priority or lack of priorities of your average Aspie.  Even if you think you know him, you don't.  That's because he often can't explain himself or what his logic is.  If they don't know, don't assume someone else can figure this out just by watching him.  His logic defies explanation because (1) he can't tell you how he got there, and (2) He really can't tell you what he's going to do in words for which you and he share absolutely common meanings.  His logic is fuzzy, but not in the same sense that the software industry uses the term.  Industrial fuzzy logic software makes things work, but it isn't absolutely linear or explainable.  It just gets things done.  and it does so in a way that's user friendly.  His non-fuzzy logic is his friend; it's familiar to him.  It's what he knows.  But it isn't necessarily friendly to you or what you know.


     And that's what drives you nuts.


     Don't ask why.  Try asking how.  Chances are very high he can't tell you that, either.  The first thing a fuzzy logic software engineer will tell you is that they often backwards-engineer fuzzy logic solutions by looking at what doesn't work and applying very experienced, educated guesses about why something doesn't work well.  The other thing they'll tell you is that theirs isn't an "exact science" or really much of a science at all.  They are using their own hard intuition to describe "illogic" in making personal sense out of things no one else understands.


     Hectoring them for their "secrets" doesn't work, because they don't know, exactly, what it is that they do, but they and others know, by the outcome, that it works.  If you really bug these folks about "how" they got something to finally work better, they may quit on you, because post propter hoc reasoning isn't a part of how their brains really work well at all.


     The final thing they will say is that they have learned, as fuzzy logic engineers, to really understand the idea of "good enough" rather than perfection.  They've come to some kind of peace about not providing the perfect solution.  These engineers differ from the rigid type of software engineers by being very forgiving of why and how things don't work perfectly.  After all, it's their genius in finding a practical outcome that works in most circumstances that makes them money.


     And this isn't the type of thought process or acceptance of "just good enough" that an average Aspie really understands or respects.


     Consider this.....


     The first thing your guy may any employer who wants to hire him is that the employer's job description of what they are expected to do is illogical and all wrong.


     And that's just for starters.


     It's often a reflection of what's wrong with the things they are hired to fix.  Once the employer or the HRD folks really understand what these folks are saying, they'll probably say that the formal job description is just window dressing and that these new hires won't be held to the strict terms of the description anyhow.  As a matter of fact, most job descriptions are inaccurate, and if followed to the old-style letter, quickly bury a business in inefficiency, stupid and inane procedures and policies, and things so obviously wrong that even the janitor knows that a company run that way is about to fold.


     So, as far as completing the project:  What really is your question?


     Here's a hint:


     One thing that successful software engineers are good at is breaking the project --a problem-- down into manageable pieces.  Sound familiar?  That's the first thing that pedagogical experts who describe successful teaching methods tell teachers about instruction for folks with NVLD or autism.  Break it down, and if the person is overwhelmed with all of that detail spread out, it is up to you to be very unrevealing -- not revealing -- at that point in time.  HIDE the parts that aren't a piece of the first step or steps.  A person who is a true fuzzy logic engineer won't put up with that.  Your Aspie will.


     Just having all that stuff out on the mental workbench is really confusing to many Aspies.  They'll get to it later, but their desire to mentally and literally "line up their toys" is what keeps them stuck.  The trick is to have them line up just the engines, just the freight cars, just the tank cars, just the flat beds, separately.


     Ahhhhh.  They'll like that.  It satisfies their innate desire to create, repeat, or be comforted by patterns over which they have complete and absolute control.  And this isn't something that makes them feel stupid or simple-minded.  It will "click" because really, if you really watch how they do things that drive you nuts, that's what they are doing anyway.  It doesn't and they can't understand what your fuss is all about.  Often, when really bothered in some of their perseverative activities, the first thing AS kids they will tell their parents is that they "have to do this the way I'm doing it."  Doing something another way, especially the way a parent or a teacher thinks simply doesn't work for them.


     Never has before!  What makes you think it will work now?


     And efficiency?  Hey.  Forget it.  That's your idea, not theirs.  As a matter of practicality, their very inefficiency is what contributes to their creativity and their very unique products. A lot of their best products come from accidents.  They're not all Thomas Edisons.  Edison was well known for some of his best inventions to practical problems that occurred by happenstance.  But many of them occurred as a result of his perseverance and painful documented trial following trial following trial.  By all historical accounts, Edison was probably an Aspie.  So what?  He was also impossible to live with.


     You're trying to live with your Aspie, so now you're asking for some survival strategies, not another US Patent award.


     So, as parents, as employers, as friends, as spouses, we have to learn to back off.  Out of random madness, coupled with true genius, come new inventions and new ways of doing things.  In a very real sense, our Aspies are people who keep on licking long after other NS watches sto  ticking.  It's what drives you spouses crazy, because the hyperactives ones among us are on all the time, aren't we?  Well, as most of you NS guys have realized, that's "part of the package" and to expect that to change is like asking a leopard to become a cheetah.


     Same general type of cat, but completely different social system and way of doing things.  So, beware of what you are asking for not only because it may happen, but it's just as likely to happen incorrectly because the Aspie takes you literally when you want to be taken in a fuzzy way.  Unless you spend a long time with the guy or the gal on the spectrum and you both finally wear each other out or more properly "down," then you'll get to the same point of good enough that satisfies the fuzzy logic folks.  What makes this realization maddening, though, is that NS folks may actually take longer to figure this out than their Aspie mates, and their Aspie mates won't be capable of quite describing what is going on, but they do understand it.  In a sense, they've made peace with themselves long before you make yours.  In fact, many of us are pretty darn smug about it.  The problem with us is that we've come to a sense of peace about ourselves often without even being aware of the cost of that "peace" on those we live with, or those we've caused to come into the world.


     Because it may be only your expectation that your mate be of the same mind about the accommodations you constantly make to live with the guy,  you will continue to feel wronged, ignored, snubbed, unappreciated, or disrespected.


     There's a reason quite beyond a child-like dependence that many Aspies stay in their marriages.  It's that other half that we are about to see in the about to be published books of people like Edgar Schneider and Liane Holliday Willey.  Actually, Liane started to describe this process in her second book, and now I believe she's concentrating precisely on just what "does work" from the Aspie perspective.  I believe that Ed has done the same thing


     And I hope that Sondra Williams [another published author] can do it too.


     But to get back to "completing a project."  Often, the trick to having something truly completed of interest to you both is to accept your dissatisfied genius almost exactly as he is.  That's going to be hard, because he's often harder on himself than you could ever be.  He's grown up being hard on himself.


     Think about that for a minute.


     Notice I didn't say "always."  I did say almost, because the kind of change you may be expecting of the guy -- that change may not occur in your lifetime.  So, stop wishing it were just so.


     Consider being the partner who does the arm-around him when he's upset, or the let's have a cup of Java conversation or actual formal understanding that it is the rule you've established in your relationship that when your partner says a project is done, it's done.  Maybe you expect more; often you expect less, and guy keeps chugging along until he's satisfied, never mind you!  That applies to all intermediate steps along the way.


     If the task is truly broken down in workable chunks and all of the non-current task chunks are literally put in the drawer, or in another box, or a different computer file -- in other words, out of sight/out of mind for the moment,, you may see progress, you may see him complete each step, one at a time.  But he'll do it at his rate, not yours.  And that can drive you nuts, right?


     I'm not saying that this approach guarantees a good outcome every time.  Lots of times, it doesn't.  You need something done right away?  If the guy has trouble starting things, let alone keeping track of his time and being efficient about it, consider doing the task yourself, or hiring someone to do it (if you can afford it).




     It's likely your Aspie will always want to return to "play around" with something that's "good enough."  Remember, that's good enough for you.  Not really satisfactory --no, let me correct that -- satisfying! to him.  To some extent, you have to allow that to happen, but the idea is to allow him to play around the edges, and not mess with the core of what's already been completed.  You can set that up as a rule between you, and because it's a rule that makes sense when he isn't driven, when he isn't in an uncontrollably compulsive mood, he'll likely accept the rule.


     So, maybe, another brain, another set of mental eyes has to be around and respected by those with the wanderlust and the easy distractibility, another person whose "it really is enough" is accepted by your likely-to-run-out-of-control Aspie.  It can be another Aspie, by the way, because the one thing we've learned is that putting two Aspies together often makes not one and one equals two, but something like two and a half.  Of course, if you put the wrong Aspies together, you could get a minus sum as well.  So, just as that manager type I referred to in my other post is able to put people together to get projects done, so as parents, and as the spouse of an Aspie partner, you have to practice the same type of skill.  And because it's your kid or your kids, or your AS spouse, or all of them, that isn't easy


     It's easy to become Aspergertated, to lay down every now and then and let them run all over you.  In fact if you don't let that happen periodically, you're the rigid one, you're the one who really has the problem.  But you needn't have it all the time, or ruminate about it when they just never seem to meet your expectations.




     Because you're the higher functioning one for the moment, or for that point in time with your Aspie, and that's all that counts.


     And yes, if you stay long enough at it, practice does become close to perfect.


     Isn't this list discussion list of spouses of and parents of" great? Just think of all the management consultants you guys are.  Here we have other spouses and reflections about how we solve problems so differently with our kids and our partners.


     No one size fits all answers here.


Some Books and Some Authors


     I wish Tom Peters had stopped writing after his first book.  Unfortunately, as a management consultant, he's taken himself a bit too seriously, but if you read his first book and listen to his early lectures, you'll see just how fresh his ideas were at the time.  Now all he does is "fringe around the edges" stuff.  So, return to the basic observations he made about people-management, and you'll see how similar some of the situations he described (granted, it was a manufacturing and commodities environment he was describing--the economy was different twenty years ago than it is today) are very similar to what we face with our "stuck" Aspies


     What Peters did was to counsel people to "just let it happen."  He didn't say, "Let it all happen.  He was careful not to say that!  To not feel as though they were in control, because the first lesson he taught in his seminars is that NO ONE is in control.  That's just the way things are.  Once middle level executives and supervisors started to really get this message is when the sectors of business and industry they were in charge of started to change direction and put out new products and ideas. They learned to trust "random madness" because, in reality, it's at the basis of the generation of new ideas, of greater efficiency solutions, of, for want of a new cliche, better ways of building the mousetrap. 


     Remember?  That's just around the time you'd see bumper stickers on folks' cars saying "Hug your kid, today." or 'I dig random acts of kindness!"


     Again, I refer back to a book that went out of print after the last dusty copies were sold off the State University of New York Press warehouse shelves:   Alexander Durig, "Autism and the Crisis of Meaning," 1996, State University of New York Press, ISBN 0719-2813-3, and (paperback) ISBN 0719-2813-4.


     Another good description of some of this process is found in Temple Grandin's "My Mind is a Web Browser - How people with Autism Think," a short article in http://hunnybee.com/autism/grandin1.html, Cerebrum, 2000, Winter Vol. 2, Number 1, pp. 14-22, The Charles A. Dana Foundation, New York, NY.  Temple and Alex's descriptions are quite different, as are the other descriptions, such as those in Stephen Shore's book, and the two-part essay of Dave Spicer.  Wendy Lawson and Carolyn Baird also have different takes.  So does Judy Singer, if she ever gets to the point of completing her book. 


     If NS folks are curious about other takes, the above sources start to get into the process as compared to just the product aspect of Aspie thinking.  Consider chasing after Gunilla Gerland's account of her thinking process in her book that has been translated into English and is available directly through Jessica Kingsley Publishers.


     So, to wrap up.  First thing first.  Break the job down into pieces, and better yet, ask the Aspie to describe the pieces.  Once he or she actually feels listened to -- or better yet, heard --  then they may be challenged by your respectful questions and start to do something with them.


     Don't expect what WE come up with to make much sense to you, unless you can really see the whole thing unravelling as a result of how we actually do break it up.  Parenthetically, it's often because we have this quirky take on things that you're attracted to us, like moths to the flame!  The one thing that may surprise you is the genius behind our concept of "parts."  It's likely to be quite different than your sense of what, or even where the parts are.  Again, don't ask us to explain things too early, if at all.  Ask us to show you what we're doing.


     Don't tell us to show you.  No orders.  Ask us.


     If you can stand this messy process without tearing your hair out in thinking that it should be done differently, then you've got it.  You've passed our test!


     This is what we Aspies mean when we ask for tolerance.  We really do mean it.  Just as much as you ask for understanding, so do we.  We do with more insistence because especially when we were young, very few folks understood us, and we did a pretty bad job of using others' words to describe ourselves.  Some of us still do a lousy job, but words aren't everything, now are they?


     Our creative process, even our process of unraveling things, is really messy.  For many of us, it's the opposite of exquisite.


     But if you first give us a push, the permission to do it, a genuine expectation that we CAN do it without being second-guessed or being shoved aside by you in your press for efficiency and getting things done right now...If you offer us genuine praise and respect along the way -- not patronizing attaboys and attagirls -- with each little thing, with each little step we do right, , and praise along the way of each little step to start with.....then, VOILA!


     Stuff starts to happen.


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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