Asperger's Can Aid The Workplace

From author/speaker/animal scientist Dr. Temple Grandin to blogger/speaker/career expert Penelope Trunk, it's become clear that people with Asperger's Syndrome, or Aspies, as some like to be known, have a role to play in the workplace. It's often a critical one and they can execute it successfully, albeit awkwardly and with struggles the rest of us can't quite imagine.

People on the autism spectrum are pattern thinkers, visual thinkers and verbal thinkers. According to Grandin, they provide a counter-balance in a world where "we are getting too abstract and away from the hands-on."

The question is, as we come to know more about how Asperger's works and increasingly understand the abilities and limits of people who have it, what can we do and what should we do to help them succeed in the work-a-day world?

Meet Jeffrey Deutsch, Doctor, Life Coach, Speaker, Aspie

Dr. Jeffrey Deutsch is a 40-year-old Aspie, life coach and presenter for A SPLINT - , a coaching company that helps people on the autism spectrum navigate the world of neurotypicals, or people not on the autism spectrum. (A SPLINT stands for ASPies LInking with NeuroTypicals). Deutsch has plenty of first-hand experience with the challenges of living and working in a world that's not quite designed for people like him.

He knows coworkers and bosses can dole out some harsh treatment, sometimes because they don't know any better or sometimes because they see a situation that they can take advantage of. "I have had several bosses who actually verbally abused me publicly, blamed me for their mistakes and fired me with little, no or false justification," says Deutsch.

Deutsch was not diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome until 2003 and he described the development as "anticlimactic." His then girlfriend, now wife, Emily, knew that Jeff's bluntness, unease in social situations and need to have things spelled out in detail in advance were not exactly mainstream personality traits. But they hadn't kept him from from leading a mainstream and even prosperous life.

Deutsch's case shows that because of the subtleties, and wide variations of Asperger's symptoms, people's perceptions of those on the autism spectrum is often distorted. People on the higher end of the spectrum can function and succeed in the mainstream, but they struggle to fit in and can be treated unfairly because they are labeled as different.

All Different Kinds Of Thinkers

As Grandin points out, different is good and helpful to our society and should be nurtured and embraced for the benefit of all rather than quickly written off as a weakness.

For example, people with Asperger's who are pattern thinkers, or people who have a thinking process dominated by patterns, can become accomplished mathematicians, computer programmers, engineers and IT technicians. Aspies who have "word minds," or who process written and oral communication forms very effectively, make good journalists and stage actors. Meanwhile those who are visual thinkers, or who see ideas and concepts and translate them into pictures through hand-on tasks, like Grandin, excel at graphic design, photography and industrial design.

From Handicapped To High Achiever

Grandin herself is an example. Diagnosed as severely handicapped when she was three and a half, in 1950, she would have been institutionalized had her mother not advocated on her behalf. She first won acclaim as an animal behavior expert for her work making slaughterhouses and livestock farms more humane for the animals. She has designed more than half of the slaughterhouses in the US and has developed an objective scoring system for assessing the quality of handling for cattle and pigs at processing plants. She's most recently been in the news because of an HBO biopic about her, My Life In Pictures, starring Claire Danes as Temple.

Vincent van Gogh Would Be An Aspie Today

Grandin likes to provide a laundry list of famous artists, philosophers, scientists and musicians who would be placed somewhere on the autism spectrum today. For example, Vincent van Gogh was a different thinker, likely somewhat autistic, and no one knew what to make of him in his time. The swirl patterns in many of van Gogh's paintings, like "The Starry Night," seem to express the mathematical structure of turbulence common in water or in air from a jet engine. "The autistic mind is a specialist mind. Good at one thing, bad at another, "says Grandin. The key is to find out what interests these "different" thinkers and get them involved.

The World Needs Specialist Thinkers

So the question is, how do we create support systems in schools and in the workplace, to help these smart, different thinkers excel? According to Grandin, the steps are three-fold. First, we have to provide these people with mentors who can "light that spark of intrigue." Second, we can return to hands-on methods of teaching. Finally, we have to work on acceptance. "When does nerd turn into Aspie?" Grandin asks pointedly.

Thankfully we have people like Grandin and Deutsch, who have bridged the gap, to help us get started.

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My son is a delightful young man, very bright w a stickler for remarkable details. He just doesn't have the social " breaks" needed to keep him from making social fopaus. He does see later the need for a different behavior yet post self analysis doesn't prevent him from missing the breaks in another situation. Just doesn't get it and we can't get others to understand/ embrace his disorder they just choose to distant themselves and it breaks our hearts. Life placement is our primary concern hoping his assets will more than makeup for the quirkiness! Knowing we love him gives him a big anchor!

April 24 2010 at 11:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

So my previous posts are not misconstrued, if only for a failure to elaborate, please note, I do not believe being an "aspie" renders someone worthless. To the contrary, with exceptions (just like with everyone else), aspies have value and belong in our society, though that value may not always be tapped.

Some guy was not wholly wrong in his assessment of that some wallow in their diagnosis and use it to "cut of their nose to spite their face," as it were. Others, are, as it was elsewhere said, some of the best people you could know, be they of the "you can't find a better/more loyal friend" group or because they bring fresh perspective to situations, or for other reasons.

Having had to tolerate frequent abuse from individuals diagnosed as "aspies," (as it was pointed out, aspies are everywhere, some may even hold positions as bosses) I felt need offer some valuable information for consideration. Focusing on the syndrome from the "aspies are all fine and everyone else is the problem" approach will work to doom efforts of any movement in their favor.

As a point of reference, I could have responded to the frequent abuses, and that is what they were, in any number of ways. Some of those responses, or retaliations, if you prefer, could have financially destroyed the individual, perhaps even left them incarcerated and suffering the loss of their child (in short, I could have applied the laws of the land). I did not.

With the foregoing in mind, I do not believe my assertions were totally in error. Life is never going to be all in favor of those dealing with the syndrome and some of the solution is and will remain in the court of the individual dealing with the situation.

My whole point was that being an "aspie" should not be construed as license to alienate the rest those of the world about you. However, avoiding being their own worst enemy may take training, whether by the parent(s) or by the individual experiencing the syndrome. This may require one to work hard to at least appear to have learned what others pick up easily regarding things like respect for others and so forth.

April 23 2010 at 10:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'm so happy to have read this. My son was just diagnosed with Asbergers and I've been nervous about his future. Seeing that ppl with this diagnosis can be successful and helpful means alot to me. I always said that as long as my son is happy and can take care of himself when we are gone, that I'll be happy as well. Its good to know that he has more to look forward to, because he wants to be a scientist or an architect, I was scared he was setting his goals too high..Not that I ever told him that; I encourage him everyday! But still its great to know. The more I read of this the more at ease I become..So Thanks!

March 29 2010 at 10:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Miriam at

I have been going to science fiction conventions since 1970. The science fiction community has always attracted a high percentage of individuals with Aspergers. They are welcome for their abilities and devotion to the genre and community.

March 22 2010 at 2:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

what kind of person can you be if you do not have empathy and all studies show that aspergers people have very little empathy.yes they may have feelings but only regarding themselves.

March 22 2010 at 11:02 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Terrill Wyche

I think that the idea of nurturing talent needs to extend to all of the people of this country. This nation needs all the help it can get.

March 21 2010 at 11:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My Grandson Scott is now 20, and his childhood was probably as tough as a kid could have. He has never been diagnosed. My oldest daughter, his Aunt, is an O.C., and she finally recognized that he might be an Aspie just a few years ago. He had a tendency as a child to shout, sometimes the same silly phrase over and over, and, of course, not knowing what his problem was, we all found it annoying. He seemed unable to speak at a normal volume. However, I always maintained a close connection with him. I wonder if he will ever know why he's different. His parents both seem unwilling to admit that he could need help, or recognize his condition. He's brilliant, is working at repairing & maintaining machines at a casino. His relationship with his Dad is rocky, he's awkward socially, but he's a sweet, very brainy guy. He hates math & sports, loves music and computers. My oldest daughter thinks I might also be an Aspie, in a milder form. I've always thought Scott & I were so similar because of genetics, but--maybe not !

March 20 2010 at 1:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

my 30 yr. old son has been in and out of counseling for years ~ just doesn't fit in. psychiatrist and counselors are frustrated because of his inability to "share" or interpret his problems. i'm searching for other professionals now. in my own search for answeres, i've found asperger's an interesting option for him. is there testing for adults? just haven't found the right counselors/psychiatrists possibly?

March 19 2010 at 7:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Margaret Fernandez

I'm an adult with aspergers. I find little in common with Temple Grandin. Not only do I find social interactions almost impossible, but talking and being near animals is also difficult for me. I am not afraid of them but rather I do not like to be around them. Phobias has been ruled out for me. It is social interaction to talk to a dog as much as to a human. I hope that as people progress through society and into mainstream culture that people with autism are respected for their abilities and not their disabilities.

March 19 2010 at 1:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Thanks for writing this. I hope someday people can be more accepting of people's differences. I'm shy and have never felt at ease socially. It's affected me at my 1st career job since graduating from college. Even though I did a good job, better than other new hires, one of whom bragged about winging it and not putting in the effort, I was the one cut. I was dedicated and put in extra effort at home to learn the skills, but I didn't entertain people in the office as much as other new hires. The only negative feedback I received from the manager was a comment about being shy and needing more self-confidence (I agree and I was working on coming out of my shell more, taking steps I discussed with my mentors). I wasn't one to speak-up at meetings (although I did from time to time), but I conveyed and discussed projects to others one-on-one, which I felt went well. One highly verbal new hire bragged about fudging on some of the work and would leave early when management was out, plus received personal calls on their cellphone. I listened to them kiss management butt, then make off comments about our boss after she left. They kept her, but cut me. I'm now afraid my shyness may affect future jobs. Just because someone is different socially doesn't mean they are not worthy to have a job. My family has suffered from this, and I feel I let my young son and husband down in a time we needed the income (my husband is laid off), plus it was the worst outcome to build self-confidence. It's funny my job entailed teaching people with learning differences.

March 19 2010 at 1:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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