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Understanding my life with Aspergers

I’ve had a really amazing and enlightening few weeks, reading all about Aspergers Syndrome and the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and re-evaluating my life with this new understanding of who I am, who I have been, and why. I’m in the process of throwing everything away and starting again.

You see, I’ve been on a journey to understand more about myself, and along the way I’ve also tried teaching others what I’ve learned. I’ve written posts and articles about these things, from the experience, the understanding, and the point of views I had at the times.

I’ve been thinking that what I’ve learned can be the same for everyone. The experiences I’ve had and how they’ve shaped my thinking, I thought others could have their thinking shaped the same way. I thought I was ‘normal’. But I wasn’t.

Having Aspergers Syndrome in my life has forced me over the years to subconsciously modify my behaviour so that I could ‘fit in’ or find success. It was a process of ‘this causes a negative reaction in people, so I need to find a different way of doing it.’ And so I’ve learned to disguise who I really am so that I could be what I thought was better. And along the way, with no knowledge of anything different, I thought that I could teach others how to do the same things I was doing, to find similar successes.

But the way I think and the way I do things is different to most people, so I’ve come to realise that I need to re-evaluate what I’m writing and how I’m writing about it.

What is ‘normal’?

Normal is simply the average of everyone, but ‘normal’ sets the standard that is supposed to be aspired to or adhered to. Anyone who is not ‘normal’ is shunned, ridiculed, or made to feel like they’re not fitting in or that they’re failing. They’re rejected before they can have a chance to succeed at something, in their own way. ‘Normal’ people set the rules that others must follow, or risk being excluded.

Many of the challenges occur in the workplace. Most managers are outgoing, confident and extroverted – that’s how they’ve become managers – and they set the standard or the rules for those that they manage. And so ‘expected behaviour’ becomes something that is expected of you by these outgoing, confident and extroverted managers. If you’re not doing your work the same way they would, or the way they expect it to be done, then in their eyes you’re ‘not performing to expectations’ and you risk losing your job.

Unfortunately, this happens to many people who would be able to do a good job if there were allowances made for how they need to work, but they’re fired before they can achieve their success. Apparently 85% of people with Aspergers Syndrome have difficulty getting or keeping a job, mostly because they just don’t ‘fit in’.

Turning weaknesses into strengths

What I’m learning and discovering about myself is that all these traits I have, which I’ve disguised or modified over the years, are actually ok. Negative or critical reactions from people over the years had resulted in my embarrassment and led me to changing or disguising my natural traits, but the truth is that I should never have let other people’s ignorance affect how I do things in my own life. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Those things which I thought were embarrassing weaknesses can be turned into strengths, simply by understanding them better. They’re not weaknesses, they’re simply different ways of doing things.

I’ve been re-evaluating some of the things that I’ve had problems with in the past, and understanding what I’ve done to avoid them. But I’ve realised that I’m not just avoiding some of these problems I have, I’m coping with them in ways that turn them into strengths.

Here’s an example. I can’t stand up in front of a group of people. Get me talking to one person, or even a few people around a table, and I can be confident and talkative. But if you get me standing up in front of even half a dozen or more people, especially strangers, with all of them looking at me as I’m trying to make some kind of presentation or explanation about something, and I will just refuse to do it. I mentally shut down. I know it’s a weakness, so I’ve learned to do everything I can to avoid it.

However, I realised this past few days that the way I’ve avoided it is by turning it into a strength. I’ve used a projector connected to a laptop to project my work onto the wall while I’ve sat down in front of the laptop. Instead of standing up there with everyone looking at me, they’re all looking at the work being projected in front of them instead. I can then talk them through what I’m presenting from my position in front of the laptop, with confidence and with detail, knowing that the focus is on my work – where it should be – instead of on me.

Alternatively, if a presentation is actually needed, I’ll work with someone who I know is good with standing up in front of people and presenting something. I’ll do the details work for them, which they’re usually very bad at, and give it to them to do the presentation.

By working with my weaknesses in ways that turn them into strengths, the quality of my work is understood and appreciated. If I tried to get up there in front of people, I’d stutter, stumble over my words, lose all knowledge about what I’m doing, and completely fail to pass on the information about my work that they need. I would be judged as not knowing what I’m doing or being ‘unsuitable’ for the position I’m in, all because I try to do it in ways that ‘normal’ people would.

And many people go through this, where they’re forced to do what they’re uncomfortable doing, because that’s what’s demanded of them, and they haven’t learned to change things around so that their work can be done in ways that works for them.

So things like that, in the context of recognising I have Apsergers Syndrome, is helping me understand how I work best, and how I need to make sure I continue working in ways that is best for me. It’s also about setting expectations appropriately with those that are going to manage you and work with you.

I got a new job

A couple weeks ago I went for a new job in Sydney as a Senior Business Analyst with Westpac (one of Australia’s leading banks). I was successful with my interview, and I got the job. I’m starting it tomorrow. But I think I got the job because I was honest about my weaknesses and how I’ve turned them into strengths in order to get results.

I told the recruiter about challenges I’ve had in the past, as per above, and how I’ve turned them into successful outcomes simply by making sure I do the work in ways that work for me, and I pointed out what doesn’t work for me but how I’ve turned them around to achieve successful outcomes.

The interview was almost an hour and a half, and was quite enjoyable. He was interested in the work I’ve done in the past, the issues I’ve had, and how I’ve overcome them. It was almost refreshing for me to decide to be completely honest this way.

Re-evaluating my life

As a result of what I’m going through right now, looking back on my life and who I am, I’m re-evaluating everything I took for granted about what I thought I knew. This is going to lead to a change in what I write about, based on what I learn.

For example, I can see that my passive aggression wasn’t the personality disorder I thought it was. It was instead a way of coping with relationships I just didn’t know how to deal with properly. It’s not a disorder, it’s a defensive coping mechanism.

This is going to be an interesting new chapter of my journey through life.

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