One of the questions I often get is about my disclosure and how I did that in my workplace. Intel is a very good place to work and I had no fear of disclosing my DX of ASD to my boss. But disclosing is only part of the equation. I had to also somehow teach him about Autism in a very short time. I wrote up the following primer and sent it to my whole team so that they could understand me better. This worked very well for me, and doing this allowed me to feel free and embrace me as an ASD person. While your mileage may vary, I have experienced a huge number of benefits from disclosure and I have written other articles on Best Known Methods (BKMs) for disclosure on my ASD page. This is Primer is to be used in conjunction with those methods as a way to help people grasp ASD.


DSM V proposed definition for ASD

While these DSM criteria are pretty well written, they cannot possibly help anyone to actually identify on sight a person with Asperger's. There is a saying that goes, "When you've met one person with Asperger's, you've met one person with Asperger's," for as much as people are unique, so are people with ASD. (I use ASD and Asperger's interchangeably.)

For me personally, the symptoms are fairly invisible and that is what (I believe) makes this a very hard disorder to "manage" as a "people manager." If you cannot see the disorder, how can you help? I have observed ways in the past few weeks that people can interact with me that allows for better communication.

1. Understand that hypersensory and hyposensory issues are a real problem. My biggest problem is audio and visual hypersensitivity. If I cannot follow your conversation or have to put in my earplugs, it is a real problem as my hearing is super sensitive. Visually, when there are a lot of patterns or details or bright lights or sparkly things, I will potentially become very distracted. I cannot train myself to not be distracted by these things or to be less sensitive. If you intend to make loud noises around me, please give me warning so I can cover my ears. On the opposite side of this, when I injure myself I will almost never know that I have done it unless someone points out the blood or the broken bone. (Seriously, this has happened to me. I did not realize I had a broken bone for weeks until a friend pointed out that my finger was really not quite right.)

This video is an AWESOME representation of what it is like for me when I am having issues with processing data:

2. I don't get the subtle cues and I may not look you in your eyes, see your face or remember your name. Neurotypical people (those of you without ASD) have a whole language that you understand called "body language" and you place great emphasis on this form of communication. I may miss some or all of that. Reading people is something I have never done well. If we are in a conference room and you want me to know that you are disappointed with something I am presenting, you will have to come out and say it to me. I will most likely not see your signals or subtle cues. I always have said, "I don't do subtle," and now I know why. Likewise, if we are walking down the hallway and I do not recognize you or remember your name, please be patient with me. I only remember people in the context of their environment unless I have seen you 10-20 times before. So if I meet you in the cafe and again in the cafe, I may remember you, but if you are in the hallway the second time I meet you, I may not. The reason for this is that we process things in a much more detailed way (see above) and looking at faces is too much processing for me during a conversation. I need to focus on the words you are saying to me, so I typically do not see you until after many meetings.

3. Literal translation and context switching will often paralyze me. I have learned that I cannot handle context switching very well at all. If we are on a topic in a conversation and you make a leap to another topic (even if it is "obvious" what the leap is to everyone else), I will get lost. It helps me tremendously if you stop at a switch and tell me that you are making the switch before we go into that topic. Likewise, if you use a word that has more than one meaning, I may take a long time to process the conversation as I may get stuck on the literal meaning. The other day someone was talking to me about "models" that we have been learning (he meant paradigms) and I could only think of car or airplane models. It took us some time to get past the word. Sometimes my communication is very stilted as a result. I am much better off with an email follow-up on any important conversation so I can process the words in text. Pictures (btw) are always best for me.

4. I will not just know your perspective. I do not pick up on emotional or social queues so will be out of sync with the world. I will also assume knowledge and forget that I am often out of sync. In my case, I very often assume that if I know something everyone must know that thing. I will often forget to include some basic background information in reports and other communications without some gentle reminders from my peers/managers that what I am stating is not as obvious as I think it is. Likewise, I will not always be able to empathize with you when you are upset or otherwise emotional. I will respond in ways that I know I am supposed to respond, but it may appear "fake" to you as it is impossible for me to actually emote with you most of the time. I will tend to look at your problems with a logical instead of an emotional point of view. I am personally a language/logic ASD person, and my logic wiring rules above all.

5. I may have to stand or pace or shake my leg or twirl my fingers, etc. These are known as stimming behaviors and I do them because they calm me. I am often very stressed out in places where there are a lot of people, a lot of things to process, etc., and it calms me to do these things. You may also witness me rocking on my feet or some other weird repetitive behavior. I try to make these not too obvious, but they are what they are....

In addition to the above things, ASD comes with a lot of co-morbid conditions that I must always be mindful of to stay healthy—depression, ADHD and anxiety, just to name a few. People on the spectrum have to make a lot of adaptations to fit into this world and to keep these conditions at bay. To this end, you may find me locked in a quiet space somewhere at Intel working quietly alone, as that is how I draw my strength.

But for all the things this syndrome gives to us that are negative, there are plenty of positive things too.

1. Ability to focus for long periods of time. Nobody will work harder or longer than your ASD-affected employees. Give us a problem and we will attack it like a dog on a steak bone. My friends always say they wish they had my ability to focus and my determination.

2. Out-of-the-box thinking. We do not subscribe to social norms or pressures to do things in any particular way, so we are the likely candidates to do the new and unusual thing. See this video of Nobel Prize winner Vernon Smith:

3. Honest to a fault. If you want to know what is going on in your group or organization, ask an Aspie. Many of us have little ability to lie; couple that with the lack of social awareness agendas, and you have a great combination for honesty.

Anxiety and Sensory Assesment Stuff: (This is a great tool for self discovery of sensory calmers) (All of us should get to know our sensory profile) (Great presentation on sensory profiling) (Great article on autism and anxiety - why we have it, etc.)

This link is for anyone with a teen who has ASD!

A mom explains ASD to her child's classmates:
A Hair-Dryer Kid in a Toaster World