(This is my last post at home before I leave for 4 days, for a conference; I may or may not have internet access there and thus, I may not be able to write another post until at least Monday. I didn’t want anyone to think I’d dropped off the planet. 🙂 )
The Background: I’m self-employed, working with only my marriage partner, two part-time independent contractors, and one employee. Thus, fortunately, I only have to interact with my (very supportive) (non-Aspie/autistic) partner and one other (non-Aspie/autistic-but-seems-to-be-supportive-thus-far) person.
Before I realized my Asperger’s classification, my “Aspie-ness” interfered a lot with my relationships with the employees that have come and gone over the years. Unfortunately, this Asperger’s-related influence was largely negative. I knew I was anxiety-prone, I knew that I had certain needs and strong preferences, and I knew I was prone to cognitive overload, but I didn’t know why. So, some people held it against me personally.
As luck would have it, our least-tolerant-and-most-hostile-to-date employee left near the end of March, exactly around the time that I was just discovering that I was on the spectrum. This meant that with the new employee we would hire in their place, I could start off on the right foot from the beginning, being sure to inform them that “this is what I ‘have’; this is how it affects how I work and how I interact; and here are some of the more unusual needs that I have.” (I.e., “this is what’s going on, and here’s how it’s relevant to our working relationship.”)
Here’s a message I’d like to give to anyone who works with an Aspie/autistic person, especially if the person on the spectrum is the one in the supervisory role:
We (managers on the spectrum) want to say hi and interact with you. Really. But sometimes it’s awkward for us. On some days, we can do it; on others, it’s much harder for us. It’s not our fault, but it’s also not anything against you.
We sometimes find ourselves walking a tightrope: on one hand, we want to let you do your job. So, many of us take a hands-off approach. But we don’t want you to feel abandoned or “thrown to the wolves” or “left to hang”, either.
But (lots of “but”s), we don’t want to micromanage or annoy you. (We’re only too painfully aware–usually after the fact–that we’ve inadvertently annoyed people or damaged/failed at relationships in the past.)
But (more “but”s) we do want to reach out. We want to be accessible to you. However, sometimes we’re not capable of that. You probably won’t be able to tell, because we may not outwardly look noticeably different on our “good days” versus our “bad days”.
We’re usually OK with working separately and having contact when the need arises. We try to provide sufficient training, with explanations and demonstrations, and ongoing support throughout. Some of us have trust issues, especially if we’ve run into laziness or incompetence on the job, or if we’ve been “taken” or gotten fooled/scammed in some way in the past, or maybe we encountered hostility, misunderstanding, misinterpretation, drama, gossip, or any other behavior or attitude that might cause us damage. Not all of us have that history, but for those of us who do, it sometimes takes us a while to realize/remind ourselves that you’re not the same person as the last employee and that you’re probably not going to engage in the same behavior that they did.
We may not have meetings often. We try to avoid bogging people down in memos and whatnot. This doesn’t have to mean that we’re not proactive, however. It does usually mean that we may prefer to communicate by email, where we can choose our words carefully, proofread them several times, and edit our message as many times as we need to before clicking “send”. But, that means that the neutral tone of voice, the slight smile, the emphasis on certain words, and the general easy-going “vibe” may get lost in the message, since it’s difficult to convey those in the written word. What I write might sound harsh, brusque, or abrupt, but if you heard me say it, you’d see that my tone was soft, and my demeanor peaceful. Try to remember that I type like I talk–no more, no less (usually). I might over-use smileys in my written communication because of the tendency to otherwise get misinterpreted as rude.
We may not make much small talk. That doesn’t mean we don’t have something to say, or a lot on our minds, but we don’t want to bog you down. As we get to know you, though, we may get more comfortable with you. We may open up a little. We may become more talkative, and sometimes we may talk too much.
We may seem angry or irritated sometimes. That usually actually has little to do with real anger/irritation. It usually has much more to do with anxiety, overload, and/or overstimulation. And please try not to take it personally; you might be witnessing it, and (I’m embarrassed to say) it might look like it’s direct at you. But it’s probably not.
I might also stare at the ground or off to the side when I’m talking with you (especially if I’m the one doing the talking). That doesn’t necessarily mean that I don’t feel increasingly comfortable with you, though.
Please give us time, especially if you’re new to working with us.
During training (or any other instruction), we may over-explain something. Our intentions are good; we’re trying to ensure that you have all the knowledge, information, and support that you need. We may not know when you’ve “got it” and we’re starting to go a little overboard.
We may repeat ourselves. Sometimes it’s because something keeps cycling through our thoughts, demanding extra attention; sometimes it’s causing anxiety–we want to make dang sure it’s addressed–and other times, it’s just really important, but without the anxiety factor.
Please be patient with us; give us plenty of leeway and latitude. Feel us out; if we’re having a “cognitively challenged” or “anxiety-charged” or some other type of “bad day”, we might not be able to function as well as we did yesterday, and we might not be able to tell you as much. (I try!)
Please be supportive of us. Learn what you can about spectrum classifications. Become aware. Take us seriously and be respectful when we let you know what we need. Please accommodate those needs, willingly and happily, without judgment.
Please let us know when you’ve completed/accomplished something we’ve asked of you, whether it’s a small, simple, routine task, or a larger long-term project.
Please be straight with us. Say what you mean. Don’t say something just to be polite, if it’s not accurate. Don’t hide anything from us that we need to know. Follow through with what you say you’ll do. Try not to slack off on requests that are ongoing or routine. Prove yourself.
And of course, regarding all of the above, we will make every effort to the same for you. 🙂
See y’all when I get back (if I can’t write until Monday). 🙂