Category Archives: Aspie strengths

About that famous “Asperger arrogance”…

This topic was suggested to me by a coworker after it came up in a discussion of Rudy Simone’s book Asperger’s On The Job. I strongly recommend this book to aspies who work or are seeking work, as well as their advocates and prospective employers. I think Rudy has done a great job of presenting the issues as well as practical ways we can all work together to address them.

In chapter 4, Rudy discusses the aspie tendency toward bluntness and perfectionism, and near the bottom of page 20, she brings up what many describe as “Asperger arrogance.” I’d like to point out that her placement of these three topics in the same chapter is no coincidence. They are related.

Before I dive in, I’d like to take a moment to define “arrogance,” as I think it is important to understand exactly what I’m talking about. Merriam-Webster defines “arrogance” as “an attitude of superiority manifested in an overbearing manner or in presumptuous claims or assumptions.” Notice that it is defined mainly in terms of behavior.

In my very first post, I listed some of the characteristics of Asperger’s syndrome, as presented in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV. One of those characteristics was “marked impairment in the use of multiple nonverbal behaviors such as eye-to eye gaze, facial expression, body postures, and gestures to regulate social interaction.” A person who is unable to use nonverbal behaviors to regulate social interaction is very likely to say or do things that are inappropriate for a given situation. Combine that with a tendency toward blunt honesty and an eye for problems that need solving, and I think it’s easy to see how such a person could seem overbearing and presumptuous. That said, Rudy points out that “we are often devastated to find that we have hurt someone’s feelings,” and that, “it is not for selfish reasons that the AS person will do this, it is merely to help.”

I believe that we (human beings) dislike arrogance because we dislike the idea that others believe themselves to be superior to us. Specifically, I believe that we dislike the idea that others believe themselves to be of greater worth. So, I think the question is whether the “Asperger arrogance” comes from an actual belief in one’s superiority, or from a lack of social awareness combined with a sincere desire to help.

As she continues into page 21, Rudy mentions that “a recent study by the Department of Neuropsychiatry at Keio University School of Medicine in Tokyo found that ‘Individuals with Asperger’s disorder have higher fluid reasoning ability than normal individuals, highlighting superior fluid intelligence.'” She continues on to say that “This may explain why those with AS often feel superior to those around them who do not possess the same kind of intellectual abilities.” Well, there it is! Aspies really do feel superior to everyone else and really are arrogant jerks, right? No, I don’t think so, and I don’t believe that’s what Rudy is saying.

I’ve taken a lot of tests in my life, but one of the most memorable was a colossal failure. The test measured a specific aspect of brain function, and my score was 6.5 standard deviations below normal. That’s really, really low. Three standard deviations below normal would be worse than 99.7% of the population; 6.5 is almost unfathomable. The bottom line is that it’s a sure bet that your brain works far better than mine in this particular area. It’s a huge weakness for me. I think most adult aspies are keenly aware of their weaknesses. Our weaknesses certainly do account for a lot of the discussion in the aspie forums where I am active. I think we are also keenly aware of our strengths, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

Some time ago, our IT department took the Strengths Finder assessment. If you are unfamiliar with this, I recommend visiting www.strengthsfinder.com. The basic idea is that a person is more effective when maximizing their strengths rather than focusing on overcoming weaknesses. The assessment tells you your 5 greatest strengths out of 35 defined in the book Strengths Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath. Mine are ideation, intellection, learner, strategic, and context. For those unfamiliar with Strengths Finder, here is a brief description of each:

  • ideation – generating ideas
  • intellection – examining and refining ideas
  • learner – taking in new knowledge and ideas
  • strategic – figuring out how to best use ideas and resources
  • context – examining how things have worked in the past and applying that to understanding the present

Anyone seeing a theme here? Ideation, intellection, and strategic are practically the definition of fluid intelligence. I do believe that I’m strong in these areas, but I’m also very much aware of my weaknesses. Like most human beings, I want my strengths to be seen and valued, but my weaknesses are mostly related to interacting with others. As Rudy said in her book, I am often devastated to find that I have hurt someone’s feelings. I do not believe myself to be better than any other person in general. In fact, I struggle often with feelings of worthlessness. At the end of the chapter, Rudy points out that, “If those abilities are not recognized, it can leave a person with AS feeling unfulfilled, unutilized, unappreciated, and resentful.” Her statement here matches with what I’ve read in Strengths Finders, which leads me to believe that aspies are really no different in this area than other human beings. I believe that our social struggles tend to make it difficult for others to really see and appreciate our strengths.

In the end, I believe that understanding the social struggles that come with Asperger’s syndrome can make life much better for aspie employees and their employers. When in doubt, talk things out.

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Filed under About Asperger's Syndrome, Aspie strengths, Communication, Social Interaction, Work

On the bright side… (part 4)

Continued from part 3

This is the fourth and final post in this series. This time, I will look at part D of Attwood and Gray’s aspie criteria, which I’ve listed below. I encourage you to read the full article,  The Discovery of “Aspie” Criteria.

D. Additional possible features:

  1. acute sensitivity to specific sensory experiences and stimuli, for example: hearing, touch, vision, and/or smell
  2. strength in individual sports and games, particularly those involving endurance or visual accuracy, including rowing, swimming, bowling, chess
  3. “social unsung hero” with trusting optimism: frequent victim of social weaknesses of others, while steadfast in the belief of the possibility of genuine friendship
  4. increased probability over general population of attending university after high school
  5. often take care of others outside the range of typical development

I’d like to take a closer look at 2 and 3 here. Aside from the visual accuracy mentioned in #2, these two are connected by a deep determination to keep going, even while struggling. In previous posts, I’ve mentioned that my left arm is paralyzed and listed some of my accomplishments in spite of my physical limitations. I ride a motorcycle and type more than 80 words per minute. I’ve also played volleyball, gone white-water rafting, and even changed diapers. I would hope that these accomplishments are sufficient proof of that “can do” attitude we all appreciate. I would also hope, in light of this evidence, that those who see me struggling socially could believe that I’m truly doing my best. I want you to know that I truly believe we can be friends, but it takes effort on both sides.

Near the end of their article, Attwood and Gray tell us that here is “the opportunity to make new friends; a chance to consider those who may seem comparatively awkward, but decidedly more honest and genuine.” I invite you to take this opportunity.

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On the bright side… (part 3)

Continued from part 2

I’m moving on to part C of Attwood and Gray’s aspie criteria, which I’ve listed below. I encourage you to read the full article,  The Discovery of “Aspie” Criteria.

C. Cognitive skills characterized by at least four of the following:

  1. strong preference for detail over gestalt
  2. original, often unique perspective in problem solving
  3. exceptional memory and/or recall of details often forgotten or disregarded by others,  for example: names, dates, schedules, routines
  4. avid perseverance in gathering and cataloguing information on a topic of interest
  5. persistence of thought
  6. encyclopaedic or “CD ROM” knowledge of one or more topics
  7. knowledge of routines and a focused desire to maintain order and accuracy
  8. clarity of values/decision making unaltered by political or financial factor

I hope those of you in human resources or in a position to make hiring decisions are taking notes, because this is why you want an aspie in your organization. Aspiritech has demonstrated these strengths in aspies on the job, as you will see in its FAQs, and it is not the first company to do so. For me personally, this is what these skills look like in my work…

I manage a learning management system for a university. I support thousands of users from around the world. I’ve told my supervisor that I may not always see the forest for the trees, but I’m very good at seeing the trees. I have a tendency to bring up details that might otherwise be missed and that could be costly if overlooked.  When problem solving, I tend to see what is missing or what doesn’t belong. I tend to remember users by their identities in the system (usernames and ID numbers), and I recognize patterns involving groups of users or courses with similar characteristics even though the connection might not be readily apparent. I have a tendency to become very focused on a problem and will pursue it until I understand it completely and can develop a permanent fix. I read technical manuals for fun, and my daily routine includes a number of system checks so that I can proactively respond to upcoming problems.

Perhaps most important of all, technical work is genuinely fun for me. I don’t get stressed over technical issues. I enjoy them like others might enjoy a good puzzle or game. I feel driven to solve them and I am greatly satisfied when I can show my colleagues how I fixed them. Who wouldn’t want to employ someone like me?

To be continued

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On the bright side… (part 2)

Continued from part 1

In this post, I’m going to look at part B Attwood and Gray’s aspie criteria, listed below. The full criteria can be found in their article,  The Discovery of “Aspie” Criteria.

B. Fluent in “Aspergerese”, a social language characterized by at least three of the following:

  1. a determination to seek the truth
  2. conversation free of hidden meaning or agenda
  3. advanced vocabulary and interest in words
  4. fascination with word-based humour, such as puns
  5. advanced use of pictorial metaphor

I’ve seen all of these in my aspie friends, and I value all of  them in my friends and in myself, but I’d like to focus on the first two, because I believe they are at the core of aspie communication. Let’s see what these look like…

Recently, I received a request at work to manually add a professor to a course. I could have done that in a few minutes, but I developed a system that does it automatically shortly after I took this job. I immediately wondered why it didn’t happen automatically. I wondered if my system was somehow broken. Did I find out? Yep. I followed the trail to its end and I found out that someone had not entered that information into the system. Part of the reason I’m good at what I do is that I will chase a problem until I find the truth behind it or it gives up from sheer exhaustion. I will then fix it until it’s fixed, or if I can’t, I will make the problem known. I can’t help myself. I HAVE to know what really happened, and it will bother me until I understand it and get it fixed. That said, there are things that don’t matter. If Justin Bieber’s hair is out of place, I’m not your guy. Read my previous post to see why.

In an earlier post, I said “you don’t have to read between the lines because I don’t write there.” This is true of all my communication. What I say can be taken at face value, and if there is ever any confusion, I’m happy to define my terms or restate something I have said. In my work example above, I responded to the request saying what needed to be done and that I would be happy to look at it again if the professor did not get added to the course automatically after the information was entered into the system. I had no intention of blaming anyone. I hope it wasn’t interpreted that way, but I’ve seen it happen. I don’t really care who did or didn’t do what as long as my system isn’t broken and we get the problem solved. I only bring up the past to show where the problem exists. I hope this makes sense. If not, please comment and ask questions.

To be continued

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On the bright side… (part 1)

In their article, The Discovery of “Aspie” Criteria, Dr. Tony Attwood and Carol Gray offer criteria for “Aspie” for “a much needed but currently nonexistent Manual of Discoveries About People (MDP I).” I encourage you to read the entire article. This is is the first part of a series of blog posts in which I will discuss the criteria proposed by Attwood and Gray. In this post, I will look at part A of their critera, which I will list below…

A. A qualitative advantage in social interaction, as manifested by a majority of the following:

  1. peer relationships characterized by absolute loyalty and impeccable dependability
  2. free of sexist, “age-ist”, or culturalist biases; ability to regard others at “face value”
  3. speaking one’s mind irrespective of social context or adherence to personal beliefs
  4. ability to pursue personal theory or perspective despite conflicting evidence
  5. seeking an audience or friends capable of: enthusiasm for unique interests and topics; consideration of details; spending time discussing a topic that may not be of primary interest
  6. listening without continual judgement or assumption
  7. interested primarily in significant contributions to conversation; preferring to avoid “ritualistic small talk” or socially trivial statements and superficial conversation.
  8. seeking sincere, positive, genuine friends with an unassuming sense of humour

It might seem strange to view something described as a “syndrome” or “disorder” as a collection of strengths, and I’m certain it seems odd to see an “advantage in social interaction” when the syndrome’s diagnostic criteria include “failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level” and “lack of social or emotional reciprocity” (DSM IV), but when we look at it as a different way of thinking, understanding, and being, then it becomes easy to consider that it might come with a set of strengths. It becomes “different, not less”, as Temple Grandin says.

Look back through the list above and consider that we aspies tend to miss the little cues that would tell us the rules of a social encounter. Consider also, that the mechanism by which cultural norms are learned doesn’t seem to work in our minds. Lastly, consider that we tend to be very strict in our adherence to routines and to struggle with changes. I think it becomes clear that these apparent weaknesses are the direct causes of these social strengths.

In my own experience, I’ve seen all of these in my aspie friends and I value these traits in myself. I hope you will look for them in the aspies you know. I encourage you to praise these traits when you see them. As Attwood and Gray mention later in the article, the best praise is that which is given on a personally valued trait, and “traits like loyalty, honesty, perseverance, logic, intelligence, and sincerity are worthy of frequent praise.” These are traits I know my aspie friends value in themselves and that I know they have in abundance.

To be continued

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Filed under About Asperger's Syndrome, Aspie strengths, Social Interaction