How to Join a Social Circle & Make Friends in a Group

~by Rod Engelsman

Note: I’d been mulling over a guest post on this topic for the last several days. Given the rumors surrounding the mental state of the perpetrator of last Friday’s horror in Connecticut, it seems timely.While I won’t directly address that in this post, I’ll be happy to discuss it in the comments.

This message from Alex at wrongplanet.net lands in my gmail inbox:

Subject: Wrong Planet How to Join a Social Circle & Make Friends in a GroupIn the second installment of Autism Talk TV’s social skills series filmed at the UCLA PEERS center, Alex learns how to approach a group, find something common to talk about, and be accepted into a group. Hopefully this will show you guys how social skills are actually very easy to learn if you’re taught properly.

Making friends can seem hard but these tips will help you succeed. There are a lot of variations in body language that you can easily learn in order to join conversations. Dr. Liz Laugeson, the director of PEERS, walks Alex through these various topics in an easy to follow step-by-step tutorial.

Enjoy!

http://www.wrongplanet.net/article438.html

Alex

Hi, my name is Rod and I’m an Aspie, that is, an individual with Asperger’s Syndrome. It’s not something that I spend a lot of time thinking about specifically anymore, but it’s had a profound, and decidedly negative, impact on my life. That impact will, of course, vary widely by individual. But in my case it’s the reason why a kid who was tested with an IQ over 150, proficient in math and science, graduated from a respected university with a degree in engineering, with honors no less, is now a middle-aged man driving a semi for a living. Some Aspies have made out well in life and others far worse. We’re all special snowflakes, yadda yadda.

Asperger’s Syndrome is a part of the Autism spectrum of disorders. From the Wiki article, it is “characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction, alongside restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests.” Aspies are typically of normal and often very high intelligence, as measured by standard tests. The linked article mentions that other notable characteristics are often physical clumsiness and atypical use of language. To that I would add poor, or perhaps odd, emotional control often characterized by a relatively flat affect, but puncuated with “meltdowns” (or what I’ve personally referred to as “spikes”). Asperger’s has a high co-morbidity with other emotional/psycological conditions such as OCD, ADD/ADHD, and anxiety disorders.

We range from Nearly Normal(TM) to pretty thoroughly disabled. I have a relatively mild case. Although I have always had difficulty with social relationships I have managed–twice no less!–to talk a girl into marrying me. I have a lovely wife and two beautiful daughters so I’m ahead of the Aspie curve in that respect. Yes, I’m clumsy. I quit basketball in my sophomore year of high school when, despite being the tallest on the team, I spent all or most of every game on the bench. Truly I sucked at the game. Track and field were more my speed since it was mostly about being fast and strong; not so much about being coordinated. And I have an unfortunate tendency to say odd and inappropriate things. Sometimes I’ll realize it immediately and regret it, perhaps apologize; other times I’ll be completely oblivious until it’s pointed out to me later.

My path to self-discovery was complicated by many factors. First, mine is a milder case. I didn’t exhibit obvious behaviors as a child that would have alerted my parents or teachers that something was amiss. It’s not like I was rocking in the corner like Rainman. And since I got really good grades and didn’t cause a lot of trouble they naturally assumed that all was well. It should be noted as well that in the ’60s and ’70s Asperger’s, like ADD, which I also have, wasn’t a “thing” yet. My social awkwardness could be ascribed to just being a shy kid and not having a lot of opportunities to socialize. I grew up on a farm a couple miles outside a very small town of about 200. Although the social difference between inside and outside of a town that size may not seem like much to folks from larger cities, it meant that I was something of an outsider from the start. And then that relative separation continued when we of Tinytown were bussed to high school in the relatively larger neighboring town. By the time I moved into the dorm at Major State U, I was thoroughly acclimated to my role as the outsider, flitting about at the edge of various circles but never being totally accepted as One of Us. In retrospect I can clearly see the pattern, but at the time I didn’t have the requisite perspective.

I graduated and again, circumstances obscured what would later become clear. 1983 was in the midst of the Reagan recession and jobs were relatively scarce, so I had an excuse for why I was so pathetic at interviewing and couldn’t get an offer despite graduating in the top ten percent of my class. I went back to school in the fall and started on a grad program in electrical engineering and then actually got a job offer in the spring from AT&T. Pretty good gig, huh? Unfortunately, that was immediately following the order from Federal Judge Greene that broke up the Bell System, something which I didn’t know about at the time since I didn’t really research the company at all. And the job was in the Technology Systems division which provided all the hardware, from phones up to switching gear, that was used in the Bell System. And now that division was facing, for the first time ever, actual competition from the likes of Northern Telecom. Layoffs were proceeding fast and furiously and my first job assignment was to oversee the transfer of some equipment from a plant being closed in Indianapolis to Kansas City. Writing on the wall.

But still, a bright, young, engineer should have been able to survive, perhaps even find a way to thrive, right? Wrong. I had a mentor that didn’t mentor me and a job that was very ill-defined and when orders came down to cut staff I was on the list. I don’t blame them much because I wasn’t really doing anything productive and the fact was that I didn’t have the social intelligence to change my situation. So I interviewed internally and landed a transfer to the Aurora, IL, plant as a quality control engineer. Intellectually I dug it. They sent me to Princeton to take a class at Bell Labs and I studied up on Deming and Juran and statistical qc. Which all would have been fine except that job was also ill-defined and I did little more than walk around and pretend to manage things. I really had no clue what I was doing and I was terrified to ask for help. Eventually another round of layoffs came around and I was out. Aside from a disastrous two weeks at a very small manufacturer in Chicago* that was the last time I could honestly call myself an engineer.

I sent out resumes but, frankly I didn’t really know how to look for a job and the resume itself was pathetic to read. Worked as a bartender for a time while I looked for engineering work and then enlisted in the Navy, on the promise that I could apply to OCS. Well OCS turned out to be a lot harder to get into that the recruiter said, naturally, so after almost nine years there I got out. Managed a Radio Shack and when I couldn’t survive on the pay there I tried selling cars. Hideous job for someone with my condition. Both the wife and I got fired within a week of each other and then we moved back home with our tails tucked between our legs. Looked around at my options and that’s how I became a trucker.

So as you can imagine, I’ve spent a great deal of my life alternating between feeling like the biggest loser on earth and rationalizing why it isn’t my fault. As a high school senior I won a competition and was named the Outstanding Student in Science and Math, not for my small school, but for all of Northwest Kansas. I was the guy that was supposed to Make It. Most likely to succeed and all that. Now I’m driving a damn truck for a living. It’s honest work and I’m putting the food on my family, but it’s not what I would have chosen by any stretch and it seems like a complete waste of my talents.

Then one day I’m listening to something on NPR, Fresh Air probably, and an author is being interviewed and he’s describing my life. Smart, good student, full of promise, but… career in shambles, practically non-existent social life, perpetually behind the curve on major life milestones, and, infusing it all, a persistent feeling of otherness. Like you’re not quite a real human being like everyone else. Listening to that man describe his situation was… revelatory. Strange as it may seem, I was ecstatic to learn that I possibly had a diagnosable neurological condition. Because what it meant was that I could stop beating myself up for being such a loser. It meant that in some way, it wasn’t my fault.

Because the real problem all along wasn’t that I was failing where I should have succeeded. The problem was that I was trying to succeed where I was doomed to fail. I just didn’t understand that because I didn’t understand myself. And it’s not really that I was doomed to fail as an engineer; it’s just that I was doomed to fail given that I didn’t understand my true strengths and weaknesses. I didn’t know when and how to ask for help because I didn’t know why I needed help. Everyone, including myself, naturally assumed that because I could do the hard stuff like math and physics that I could do the “easy” stuff like figure out what the hell I’m supposed to do today. Everybody else seemed to have it figured out, busy working on this or that, whatever it was, while I basically… pretended. Pretended to be doing something, and hoped no one would notice. To this day I don’t really know what half of them were actually doing. Maybe they were pretending like me and were just a lot better at it.

The name of the website that sent me the email comes from that feeling of otherness. Like you were born on the wrong planet or something. It basically stems from not having any intuitive sense of social relations. We’re terrible at reading social cues and forming an accurate theory of mind for others. What normal folks (neuro-typicals, in Aspie lingo) just do effortlessly, subconsciously even, we have to make a deliberate, conscious, effort. And frankly, it’s exhausting to have to try all the time and just a lot easier to pursue more solitary aims. As much as I hate the way my so-called career path has turned out, I have to say that the lifestyle of an OTR trucker actually suits my temperament pretty well.

But at the same time we’re rejecting normal social relationships we also crave them. It’s like you’re locked outside, with your nose pressed against the window, watching the normal happy people inside the party, like a dog who’s been banished for peeing on the carpet. When I’m home for a weekend there’s no friends for me to call and go have a beer. There’s no circle that gets together for cookouts in the summer. No holiday parties to attend. Frankly, it’s damn lonely and it puts just that much more strain on the one real relationship that I maintain, my marriage. A lot of people say their spouse is their best friend, but in reality, those are different roles that need to be played by separate persons. Who am I supposed to talk to when my wife pisses me off (and she does sometimes; they all do)?

As pathetic as it sounds, this League of Gentlemen is the closest thing I currently have to a social circle. Never mind that I don’t actually know any of you personally. That’s actually not that different from most people in my life, nuclear family excluded. But now you all know me a little better.

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192 thoughts on “How to Join a Social Circle & Make Friends in a Group

  1. “A lot of people say their spouse is their best friend, but in reality, those are different roles that need to be played by separate persons.”

    Bullshit. Just because america says, don’t mean it’s true. My husband is my best friend, and it really works.

    “Who am I supposed to talk to when my wife pisses me off (and she does sometimes; they all do)?”

    Yer supposed to scream and shout, and then laugh about it. If you can’t unwind with your wife, who the hell do you expect to vent to? *snort*

    And I’m certain there’s more than one person out here who has about the same social circle as you.

    Your problem in life seems to have been trying to “fake it until you make it”, moreso than the Ausperger’s. (Face Facts: you’ve never gone into a screaming tirade over Picard being the best Star Trek Capitan).

    • Rod – thanks for this post. Sorry Kim has decided to take her douche pills today.

      Kim – you suck. You could have made those points in a much, much nicer way.

      • Kim, I have to agree with the other Mike. Rod invited us into his life with this post, which couldn’t have been an easy thing to do (or to write, for that matter), and you chose that moment to pick a stupid fight with him? Grow the hell up.
      • … I… don’t say this often…
        but, if you want to delete that post (and subsequent ones that would then lack context), feel free.
      • Kim, in all seriousness, have you considered doing a self-evaluation? (They’re easy to find on the Internet) Because impulsively saying inconsiderate things, and being oblivious to the fact that you were being inconsiderate, and that you find you later regret is a hall-mark of being an Aspie. Girls get this thing, too, you know. It just tends to manifest a little differently. Same with ADD.

        Anyway, I’ve always enjoyed your weird little random comments. We’re cool.

    • My husband is my best friend, and it really works.

      It’s worked for us for a long time, too, going on 28 years. But it’s too much pressure, too much responsibility to put on one person. I need a guy friend to hang out with and… do guy stuff with. I’ve had that in the past, of course, but they’ve all moved away and we’ve drifted.

      And I’m certain there’s more than one person out here who has about the same social circle as you.

      I’m certain of it as well. Doesn’t make it good. Or healthy. My inability to form or maintain healthy social relationships isn’t due to lack of interest.

      Your problem in life seems to have been trying to “fake it until you make it”, moreso than the Ausperger’s. (Face Facts: you’ve never gone into a screaming tirade over Picard being the best Star Trek Capitan).

      Precisely. I’m 52 years old. I hadn’t even heard of Asperger’s until maybe 7 or 8 years ago.

      And I’m still partial to Kirk, although Picard at least had the good sense to send Riker down on all those dangerous away missions. And I’m gonna go off the reservation here, but the last series, Enterprise, was my favorite. The ship, the coverall uniforms, the aliens, T’Pol in the decon chamber… good stuff.

      • I need a guy friend to hang out with and… do guy stuff with. I’ve had that in the past, of course, but they’ve all moved away and we’ve drifted.

        Rod, if it helps at all, this part is something I think many many adult guys, Aperger’s or not, struggle with. I am down to a very small handful of IRL guys (like, three – and these I have known for many many long years) that I can get along with, that are located relatively nearby, and that have schedules that can sometimes accommodate mine. And even though I know I am better off than many others, there are still times when I feel lonely, and wish there was someone whom I could just call up, to go grab a beer and shoot the s**t.

        It’s kind of hard for adult males to make new friends anyway (at least in 21st-century American society), is what I am saying. In this respect your job/schedule is obviously probably also a bit of an impediment, though it may be good for you in other ways.

      • When we moved here, I found guy friends through joining some bands. They are totally necessary components in my life. One needn’t learn an instrument either. I sing for the most part.
      • I also made friends by finding a welcoming bar where they play the sort of music I like. The important thing is it’s absolutely true that married people need to have close friendships outside the marriage.
      • You’re likely right, Glyph. It can be hard to know what effect to ascribe to what cause sometimes. Maybe the image of a group of friends that regularly gets together socially is more a figment of the imagination of Hollywood and TV culture than anything based in reality anymore.
      • Love? Bah, they were just random hookups. Nothing wrong with that of course. Dr. Marcus was his one true love.
  2. Hey, Rod. I’m one of the “nearly normal” ones. I am blessed with the ability to translate… which means that I am usually the “Leonard”. (Don’t get me wrong: I don’t watch Big Bang Theory. I get enough of that crap in my day to day.)

    Personally, I see the internet as the most wonderful invention ever. It allows discussion, exploration, research and IT ALLOWS A BACKSPACE. (I shiver with gratitude.)

    I think about what life might have been like had I been born 10 or 20 years earlier and I am so grateful to be part of life/technology where it is today (though I admit to envy for people who have these mixed gifts who are being born today… how much better my life was than it would have been 20 years earlier, how much better will their lives be!).

    Anyway: well said.

    It’s good to find a place like this one, that feels like home in your head.

    • Thanks, brother [exchanges secret decoder ring fist bump].

      Yeah, my timing really sucked. I took some IT classes in college. Programming Fortran and PL1. On IBM PUNCHCARDS, no less. Didn’t see much future in it. Jeebus, I could have been one of the grand old men of the Internet. They’re all half-nuts, you know.

      And the backspace key? Absolutely. In person I’m a lot like Kim. It’s only on the Internet I can sound halfway normal. (No offense, Kim ;) )

      • Rod,

        Thank you very much for this post. I have similarities to your life (IQ higher than yours – and most people for that matter), feeling of otherness, etc. However there was a point in my high school when I made the conscious decision to change /everything/ and then set about doing so. Think of it as leveling up in a video game. You follow the rules (as you understand them), and then you get real nominal rewards (appreciation, applause, eye contact whatever). You plan ahead and then execute the plan. Seems bizarre to say it in plain text like this but that’s what I did, and successfully.

        Humans regularly engage in programmed responses to standard stimuli. “What’s up? How’s it going? Have a nice day”. These aren’t missives from the heights of intellectual ratiocination, they’re standard conversational fillers and social lubrication; they need to be observed, learned, memorized and utilized. You can do it, even now, especially now. The truth is, you’re awake in a world of sleep-walkers, you just need to play along to get along with them.

        My family has an inordinate number of ADHD, Autism and Aspie spectrum individuals in it. I have nieces and nephews who range from mildly to severely autistic. I am certain it is “IQ” related, at one time I considered marrying a woman who was nearly as high on the IQ scale as I was, then stopped and thought, “Oh my God, what about the kids”? My own sons are on the spectrum, but highly functional, my wife is intelligent, but in the plodding Chinese way – hard work and discipline compensating for lack of brilliance. Genetically she might have been the perfect match for my shortcomings.

        I walked away from the full-ride scholarship at the well-known Ivy League school because they still used punchcards. I transferred to one small college after another that were too poor to afford the big mainframes and were trying to make do with smaller machines that (to me) had the great benefit of being interactive. I didn’t want to write code and wait days to see how it worked. I wanted immediate feedback. Luckily for me, I got to be one of the “grand old men of the Internet”. You’re right, they’re at least half-nuts and the other half are known a$$holes. LoOG’ers can easily place me in the proper category.

      • “LoOG’ers can easily place me in the proper category.”

        I usually do and then you write something like this and make me think, “Man, maybe he’s one of the half-nuts ones after all!”

        LOL

      • ” intelligent, but in the plodding Chinese way”

        Racism.

        “IQ higher than yours – and most people for that matter”

        Lack of humility.

        “you’re awake in a world of sleep-walkers, you just need to play along to get along with them.”

        Scary.

      • Shaz, please don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t trying to insult the Chinese. Plodding was a bad word choice. The comparison is better as Edison vs. Tesla. If you know the detailed history of those two you’ll understand what I’m talking about. BTW, this is a discussion I’ve had for decades with my Chinese friends, most of whom have Phd’s. They readily acknowledge that they are “grinders” making up in hard work and discipline what they lack in “genius” smarts. We even have a theory about it, going back to Wong Di. Unfortunately the Chinese despots kept good track of the smartest citizens and fairly regularly wiped out their entire families. As a culture the Chinese (especially Han) have reliably high IQ’s, but they tend to top out at around 135, although there are some exceptions.

        Having a high IQ doesn’t necessarily guarantee wealth, lifetime happiness nor wonderful achievements. I’m glad Ung-yong is happy regardless of how the press treated him.

        Meanwhile I sincerely hope you actually watched the video on the wrongplanet link in the OP. That was what I was attempting to address for Rob. If misery loves company I was trying to provide some. If you are multiple standard deviations from the norm in any dimension you are by definition an outlier and will feel socially ostracized.

      • It’s more cultural than you think. The Japanese and Germans are “grinders” too… significantly less prone to the fits of creativity and individualism that Americans are prone to.
      • It’s a cultural trait that I wish had been better inculcated in me. My best friend in high school was class salutatorian; he barely lost valedictorian to another friend in a fractional squeaker. And as much as I love him, and as bright as he undoubtedly is, I am not bragging when I say I undoubtedly have more “native” intelligence than he does. I know this; I have seen this in action many, many times.

        But what he had, that I did not, is a relentless work ethic and drive to excel; the willingness to put in long hours to work, and study, and just keep banging away (even in a “plodding” or “bull-headed” way) at something, until he gets the results he wants. And so he was, and is, more successful than I – I was a “B is good enough” kinda guy in school. I have another friend, now a practicing physician no less, who is much the same way.

  3. Rod,

    Thanks for your post. It’s honesty, clarity, and ability to inform was enlightening. Are you the Rod from the comments section? Ramblin’ Rod, I believe, is what you go by?

    I work with young children. A number of them exhibit behaviors that make me wonder if they might be somewhere on the spectrum, though mildly so, much as you describe yourself. These are kids who often get labeled as “quirky”. They do not have and may never get (or even need) a diagnosis, but they demonstrate many of the behaviors you describe here, behaviors which very much appear to be manifestations of the feelings you’ve described.

    Assuming these kids remain undiagnosed (and, again, perhaps rightly so), is there anything that we as their educators should be mindful of when working with them? We do a lot of work on social skills and social development, which I assume might be an area where many of these kids are destined to fail, as you put it, in spite of their desire to be successful. Are there things we can do when working with them at a young age that can change this destiny, however slightly so? Should we adjust our approach to social skills education?

    I realize you can probably only offer the perspective as an individual but that might be better than reading clinical studies or whathaveyou. Really what I’m asking (if you are comfortable asking) is whether you wish your teachers had done different by you?

    • I’d say emphasising … conformity? Trying to pick up on cues? Giving someone more training in what a cue is, and what the other person was trying to say with it?

      I don’t think these kids are destined to fail. I think America is… not the ideal environment, if what you want is these kids to become “socially well adjusted” folks. But, that’s a big if. The individualistic streak that America cultivates in these people certainly serves society well. These are not our only scientists, our only engineers, but by and large, they perform more creatively than Aspies from other cultures that emphasize conformity more.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Kazzy.

      Are there things we can do when working with them at a young age that can change this destiny, however slightly so? Should we adjust our approach to social skills education?

      I realize you can probably only offer the perspective as an individual but that might be better than reading clinical studies or whathaveyou. Really what I’m asking (if you are comfortable asking) is whether you wish your teachers had done different by you?

      To be honest, I have absolutely no idea. My teachers were uniformly warm, wonderful, and caring. And oblivious to Asperger’s, seeing as I went to elementary school in the ’60s.

      Asperger’s can’t really be cured, or even treated, although some of the co-morbidities like OCD, anxiety, etc., can respond to appropriate medication. It’s mostly a matter of coping strategies, like learning appropriate eye-contact and conversational skills. But I think that’s more for older kids, like junior high through college. I don’t know that I would worry that much about the little tykes you teach. They’re pretty forgiving of weirdos.

      • Sure. But we do teach some of those social skills. We teach, “Look in the eye when speaking.” Some kids struggle with this, like, REALLY struggle, which is one of those quirks we look for. Should we REALLY emphasize it with these kids hoping they can learn it? Or are we putting undue pressure on them? Are we demanding that they do something they simply can’t or aren’t likely to be able to do at that age?
      • Heh, that’s a tough one. I was just reading a blogpost on a site for adult Aspies, written by a psychologist who specializes in that sort of thing. And she described this client who would just lock eyes with you and never look away. It was more than a bit creepy and unnerving. He had been told to make eye contact, and by God, that’s what he did.

        The issue is really one of appropriate eye contact. Like make contact for a couple of seconds and then look away, going back and forth as you converse. It’s sort of tough to really get right if you don’t have an intuitive feel for it. Again, I go back to the age of your charges. I don’t know if your kids would really be ready for that kind of training/intervention yet.

      • They’re 4 and 5. Less than the actual response to the training/intervention, I’m worried about the message we send them.

        “LOOK IN THE EYES! LOOK IN THE EYES!” we seem to be screaming.
        “I CAN’T! I CAN’T!” they seem to be saying back.

        Does this further that sense of being “other”? Are we sending a message that they are somehow flawed because they can’t do what all the other kids are doing? I realize they’re probably going to get that message at some point, fair or not. I’d just rather not start at 4.

        Of course, I also can’t send a whole group of kids to kindergarten who stare at their feet when they say hello.

        Seems like another area where differentiation/individualization might be best, which is not one where I would have thought to use such a practice.

    • Seconded.

      This internet age is a pretty wonderful thing: people with “fringy” interests (button collectors, fans of Season 3 of Star Trek, or libertarians) can find each other and build a community. And we can appreciate one another completely outside of the strictures of “appropriate eye contact,” or whatever.

      In other words, we can meet on other facets than just the one we normally present to our co-workers and our grocer. And I, for one, am glad to have met you.

  4. I have an “Internet friend” with autism. I can relate (at least second-hand) with what Rod wrote.

    A couple of things I’ve learned from her:

    People with autism are “wrong”, they’re just different (she describes it as having a totally different operating system)

    People with autism are prone to sensory overload. They hear every noise, see every light, etc. A dim quiet room is a needed refuge.

    Because their brains are dealing with all the stimuli, talking is difficult. Since one can pause and write at one’s own speed, writing is much easier.

    As noted, no two people with Autism are the same, but these seem to be some guidelines.

    =======================================

    I don’t think that I’m anywhere on the ASD — I think my ability to make and keep friends is different from that. But I do know the frustration of trying to talk to people and not seeming to be heard. Right now, I’m trying to interest the people I know on the East Coast on possible energy savings, and Not One Person has expressed interest. But that’s a matter for some other thread…

      • email me at jhlipton [at] yahoo [dot] com. Put “Kim from LoOG” or something similar in the subject so I’ll know it’s you.

        Thanks

      • Aaaaccckkkk!!!! Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

        I’m doomed, doomed I tell you!!!!

        Um, Hlipton is just my yahoo alias. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

      • In honor of your favorite non-relational database and brand of tea. (Though if that’s really your favorite tea, we need to talk.)
      • Depends on my mood. For “regular” tea, I prefer Tetley’s; for flavored Celestial Seasoning or Bigelow’s (but the Lipton’s Tuscan Lemon and Wild Berry aren’t bad). There’s an unsweetened iced that has just a hint of citrus that’s pretty nice, but I don’t recall the name.

        But I am far from a tea-snob.

      • I don’t consider myself a snob; I just find Lipton genuinely tasteless. My daughter’s former dorm had a dispenser of Tazo Tropical iced tea that was awesome. Whenever I visited her there, I’d drink about a gallon of it. Good Earth Tea is also great iced.
      • but… all you need to remove caffeine is water. that’s all they’re using, I think… is it really bad water?
      • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decaffeination

        Swiss Water Process is almost never used anymore, it wastes too many beans (or leaves). If you have decaf, there was a solvent involved in the process. Chances are unless you got premium stuff, they rush-job it and don’t have good quality control and what you’re tasting is solvent that wasn’t fully rinsed during the process.

      • MA,
        according to packaging (which may lie, but why would they bother??), they’re using the CO2 process. “effervescence and water”
      • Your definition of “tastes like fish” and mine aren’t the same then, but I’m certain you are tasting some chemical they used during the process.
      • MA,
        more likely i’m tasting some impurities. Agent Orange, if properly manufactured, wouldn’t have caused half the problems it did…
      • Don’t feel bad. I included my last name on the essay. Not Erik’s fault, of course. So I may as well drop the pseudonym completely now.
      • No problem. It’s not like I have to worry about professional relationships or anything.

        Honestly, it’s well past time for me to just be who the hell I am.

      • Actually, I’d have changed it a while back, but a blog member asked me to keep it as they have trouble remembering who everyone is as it is!
    • People with autism are prone to sensory overload. They hear every noise, see every light, etc. A dim quiet room is a needed refuge.

      Yep. I don’t have that nearly as bad as some, but I don’t care much for noisy bars and such. There’s an associated/related condition called APD, for Auditory Processing Deficit. I have an extremely hard time isolating one person’s speech when there’s a lot of chatter nearby. So trying to talk to somebody at a party is very frustrating and I just end up smiling and nodding a lot, without knowing what the hell they’re talking about. Even in a quiet space I really need to focus on the person and give them my full attention to understand them. I love Dr. Who, but I miss at least half the dialogue.

      Best analogy is like having a dedicated sound card for speech recognition vs. having the CPU do it in software. Very inefficient.

      • There’s an associated/related condition called APD, for Auditory Processing Deficit. I have an extremely hard time isolating one person’s speech when there’s a lot of chatter nearby.

        I wonder if we could express other issues in the same way? Trouble isolating input, or trouble overly isolating input?

      • Probably. To be perfectly blunt (no pun intended) the only way I got through college was with the aid of the good weed. Lots of it. It would settle my mind so I could actually concentrate on something for an extended period of time.

        It would freak my friends out. We’d be sitting in the dorm room passing the bong and there I would be doing my calculus homework. They’d be all like, ‘Dude, how can you do that high?’ And I would be like, ‘How the hell can you do it straight?’

      • MA,

        There is a lot of research being done under the broad umbrella of “sensory integration”* that looks at those very things. I often use what I’ve learned about it to explain to my wife that it’s not so much that I am too rough with her as it is that I am hyposensitive to touch and she is hypersensitive to touch. So what feels like a light hug to me feels like a firm hug to her. But I want the feel of a firm hug so I hug even harder and now we’re into her feeling SQUEEZED. But sometimes I want to feel squeezed so now she’s feeling OHMYGODGETOFFME!

        Mind you, we’re probably just slightly to either side of “normal” but there are people who have it far more severe and, yes, it is often associated with ASD and other things. One thing you look for with hypersensitive kids is constant discomfort with their clothing, to the point of wearing them inside out to avoid the feeling of seems or having all the tags removed. Etc.

        * It is possible that SI and other terms used in this comment are not the appropriate clinical terms any longer. My apologies if they are in error.

      • Back in my Navy days we rented a house in Newport News, VA. First day we rolled into the driveway we looked over at the house next door and there was this kid, maybe 5 or 6, IIRC, standing in the window stark naked.

        ADHD, with bad sensory overload issues, to the point where clothes were VERY uncomfortable. They were good neighbors and good friends, though.

      • “I have an extremely hard time isolating one person’s speech when there’s a lot of chatter nearby. So trying to talk to somebody at a party is very frustrating and I just end up smiling and nodding a lot, without knowing what the hell they’re talking about. Even in a quiet space I really need to focus on the person and give them my full attention to understand them.”

        Same here, but mine is due to deafness. A good hearing aid would help, but I don’t have $2000 (per ear!) to spend.

        “I love Dr. Who, but I miss at least half the dialogue.”

        I’m lost without Closed Captioning. I often wish that life was Closed Captioned!

  5. Rod,

    I salute you for writing this. Recently when the subject of bipolar disorder came up some folks requested posts about it. I just can’t do it. So I admire your courage in writing this. And I enjoyed it.

    And if it matters at all, your comments here at the League have left no doubt about your intelligence, but damned if they ever gave (at least me) a clue about having Asperger’s.

    • Honestly, James, your exchange with Blaise re bipolar gave me the courage and inspiration to do this.

      This wasn’t easy. I imagine this is similar to what it feels like to come out of the closet as a gay person.

      And if it matters at all, your comments here at the League have left no doubt about your intelligence…

      Yes, it matters. And it means a lot to me coming from you.

      • Rod,

        I’m pleased as punch to have played an unknowingly constructive role.

        On a side note, I have friend whose IQ was measured at, iirc, 160. Never finished college. Now drives a cement truck, but for years did OTR trucking. Not an aspie, of that I’m sure, but I still think of him whenever I see your comments. I don’t suppose every long distance trucker I see on the road is as smart as you two, but I’m certainly loathe to assume differently about any of them.

      • I’ve run across a few more like me out here. One was a laid-off microbiologist and some other guy had two master’s degrees, although I can’t remember what they were in.

        I say “over 150″ for my IQ because we took tests in high school (I believe, IIRC) and they would tell the parents the results but not the kids. My best friend’s mother told him his IQ was 150. I went home and told my mom and she just laughed and said, “Well, yours is higher than that.” So I don’t know–160? 170?–whatever. It’s just a number and it doesn’t really mean all that much IMO. Actually, I subscribe to the multiple intelligences theory. There’s no way that Michael Jordan isn’t some kind of genius. Or Michael Stipe, or Michael Fox (just to stay on the Mikey theme). And I believe there are social genii. We call them politicians. Doesn’t mean they know a damn thing about anything else, of course. Interestingly, I’ve heard of Aspie politicians as well, which sounds really difficult and unnatural to me.

  6. Thank you, Rod. That couldn’t have been easy.

    I see a lot of myself in what you wrote, though I’ve been less afflicted or perhaps luckier. And this place as a virtual social group has been a blessing.

  7. I will join the chorus of people who really found this post fascinating and I’m glad you wrote it. Kudos.
      • If we think of asperger’s as a filter disorder, the folk who suffer it are very brave. The assault of environment that other take for granted, discomforts and distracts the Aspie every single day, and they face it, day in day out.

        What both graces and surprises is that the things most folk think a big fucking deal, they handle with aplomb; because they deal with big fucking deals of chaos and second guessing every other day. They shine when the rest of us wilt, overwhelmed.

        I’ve spent a number of years in wonder of this. It’s crucial to recognize: the bravery kicks in every single day. True courage to keep trying.

        I’m inadequately expressing my wonder at the courage I’ve witnessed. Inadequately.

  8. “Does wonderful on tests, but shows a difficulty in relating to children his own age.”

    From a report card long ago. Right there with you, I think I can commiserate. Thank you for sharing that part of your world with us.

    • You know, the main thing I’ve ever been successful at, besides my marriage, is school. Straight A’s mostly, except for a couple of the middle years in college when I was… let’s say, self-medicating, fairly heavily.
  9. Before I answer some specific comments, I just wanted to say THANK-YOU for all the kind words. That, and… whew! I was… anxious about the response I could expect. Of course, that’s just part of the whole Aspie thing, too. We… tend to worry a lot about how others see us, because we’ve had such lousy luck in the past that way.

    Apropos of nothing, I guess, but yesterday afternoon I got an e-mail from erik seeking clarification on a couple of things. I was starting to feel really lousy. Turns out I caught the flu bug that’s going around. So I found a place to park and answered his e-mail and then went to bed. BTW, getting sick out on the road just really, really, sucks.

    Well, the flu (or at least this flu) hits me with a fever, body aches, and most of all a god-awful headache. So I had this fever dream where my essay got posted, but it was heavily edited, and was presented as a voice narration. Like you hired somebody to read it. And by heavily edited, I mean it was completely different, like if you guys fed Blaise some purple micro-dot acid and he started riffing on Kafka or some Russian philosophy. It was as much hallucination as dream. And I’m yelling (in my dream), NO, NO, that’s NOT what I meant! No one will understand me. It’s all WRONG!!!

    Jeebus, the flu sucks.

  10. I didn’t know when and how to ask for help because I didn’t know why I needed help. Everyone, including myself, naturally assumed that because I could do the hard stuff like math and physics that I could do the “easy” stuff like figure out what the hell I’m supposed to do today. Everybody else seemed to have it figured out, busy working on this or that, whatever it was, while I basically… pretended. Pretended to be doing something, and hoped no one would notice. To this day I don’t really know what half of them were actually doing. Maybe they were pretending like me and were just a lot better at it.

    I try really hard to not push my children’s personal life into spaces like this. But I’ve wept reading this, multiple times through the day. This is my story, but as a mother, though things vary in detail.

    I love my child; he/she has wonderful, amazing gift, keen insight, and deep emotional responses.

    I have no answers. We search for some.

    I send you comfort, kindness, and support. And a promise: if you ever feel need of a ‘how do I negotiate this thing that everyone else takes for granted,’ I’ll do my very best to offer honest input.

    Pride on yourself.

  11. It’s like you’re locked outside, with your nose pressed against the window, watching the normal happy people inside the party, like a dog who’s been banished for peeing on the carpet.
    As a fellow Aspie, I totally understand this. I have a few friends, but like you I don’t have guys I can go have a beer with and I’ve always felt on the outside. So, know you aren’t alone. There’s at least one odd duck in Minnesota that understands. Thanks for sharing your story.
  12. But in my case it’s the reason why a kid who was tested with an IQ over 150, proficient in math and science, graduated from a respected university with a degree in engineering, with honors no less, is now a middle-aged man driving a semi for a living.

    Please don’t blame yourself, consider blaming the Federal Reserve instead.

    They sent me to Princeton to take a class at Bell Labs and I studied up on Deming and Juran and statistical qc. Which all would have been fine except that job was also ill-defined and I did little more than walk around and pretend to manage things.

    There’s absolutely nothing weird about people walking around pretending to manage things. All big corporations, and government departments are full of people doing the same. A seriously large number of people spend their lives faking it. The only weird thing is that you stop to think about how this is supposed to work in the bigger picture, most people just push that horrible thought out of their minds.

    It’s like you’re locked outside, with your nose pressed against the window, watching the normal happy people inside the party,

    Normal people aren’t nearly as happy as they pretend at parties, that’s what the beer is for. Not that I’m pretending to know what is normal.

    Have you considered that there probably is a natural limit on intelligence? I mean, why hasn’t human evolution rapidly accelerated toward hyper-intelligent people who dominate everything? A lot of so called “social intelligence” is just the ability to systematically overlook hypocrisy and allow other people around you to feel good that they can deceive you so they get their thrill of power and self importance. I must admit I also find it difficult to fake this convincingly.

  13. Rod, I wonder if I might get your perspective and those with more direct experience with Asperger’s on what is for me a very common experience.

    As you may know, my law practice frequently involves my dealing with short-cause trials in which a lot of parties represent themselves. Now, I know that going to court is a stressful event for anyone and some people are just plain high-strung. What I’m interested in is what seems to be a recurrent theme of powerful outbursts of uncontrollable anger by litigants when they hear of anything with which they disagree, no matter how trivial or irrelevant it actually is:

    Plaintiff: And so I went to the defendant’s apartment and knocked on her door. There wasn’t any answer, so I taped the notice to pay rent on the door, and then–
    Defendant: No, you taped the notice to my window next to the door, not the door itself, I saw you do that. YOU’RE A LIAR AND YOUR CREDIBILITY IS COMPLETELY SHOT WITH THE COURT YOUR HONOR I MOVE FOR A DISMISSAL OF THE PENDING CHARGES BECAUSE OF THE PLAINTIFF’S CONTRADICTORIOUS STATEMENT AND OUTRIGHT FRIVOLOUS LIES MADE WITH MALICE AFORETHOUGHT!
    Plaintiff: I’m pretty sure it was the door.
    Defendant: EXCUSE ME! I WAS SPEAKING! CAN I NOT FINISH MY STATEMENT WITHOUT BEING INTERRUPTED WHAT KIND OF A COURT ARE YOU RUNNING HERE, JUDGE?

    …Needless to say, outbursts like this do not add luster to an already dubious line of defense. (Having admitted that she saw the notice, the manner of posting becomes legally irrelevant, although I can understand someone uneducated in this kind of law not knowing that.)

    The question to you (or others with perspective to offer) is, does something like this seem likely to you to be Asperger’s at play? And what might a judge with both awareness of Asperger’s and a desire to be fair to all the parties do to fairly allow the defendant her chance to express herself without losing control of the proceedings?

    • Well when i testify in court i’ve seen that kind of thing from people who definitely do not have Asperger’s. It’s more of a not knowing what matters in court, being nervous and watching to much TV.
      • How might I know the difference? And if I see a sign of Asperger’s, what might I do as an advocate, or what might I signal the court could do, to accomodate?
      • If your client is a Nearly Normal like me, not much different than any other client really. Just make sure she understands exactly what to expect, particularly any questions she might have to answer. She’s going to want to rehearse them in her head ahead of time. Extemporaneous speech is not the Aspie’s friend, but I don’t know how much different that is from any other client.
      • You can’t know the difference. In a long term relationship with a client with multiple interactions, if you notice something is off, you might suggest they see a specialist, but it’s not possible to tell in the short term. Even clinicians wouldn’t be able to tell in adults, without a fairly structured interaction. Part of the problem is that Aspberger’s has so many symptoms in common with other disorders (like ADHD, for example), and also, in high stress situations, some people well outside of the Autism spectrum just don’t function well socially.
      • To a great degree it is really hard to tell the difference between the various reasons people might be having a problem. Mostly because unless you can see and talk them for a while in a more relaxed situation its hard to tell how much is the immediate context. Court rooms make people act weird as i’m sure you know. If you are preping someone outside of court explain to them as much about what is going to happen as is possible. Even the simple stuff like when to speak, what the courtroom will look like, how people will be acting, what things are important.

        I think in court the most that can be done is to slowly explain to people what is important and, if possible, how their behavior isn’t helping. Its really hard to explain to people that trying to use big fancy sounding words usually makes them sound much worse. If people are primarily nervous they will usually eat up any advice since that can lessen their anxiety. If they are overwhelmed by the stress then most people either shut down or get louder, neither of which is helpful. It might be helpful to ask people what they think is going on why X is important. Once you are in the stressful situation all you can usually do is manage it with as little pain as possible. The time for accommodation is usually before the situation.

        Not sure if any of that is helpful.

      • There’s one big thing I just thought of, Burt. Eye contact. Aspies have trouble with normal eye-contact and that can make them seem like they’re being evasive. It’s really just that they’re very uncomfortable looking into someone’s eyes, and even if they’ve had therapy and been coached, it still may not be entirely natural. In the natural stress of the courtroom I can imagine that being even worse.
      • The problem for Burt, I think, is that averting eye contact is also a feature of normal shyness, of social anxiety disorder, and of other disorders with social components. I think Burt’s probably better off not trying, but simply in being contentious and attentive, which I assume he already is.
      • I should probably mention that averting eye contact is one of the major social components of clinical depression, which is extremely common these days. Depression also makes it difficult for people to handle their emotions and conflict, so ya know…
      • I agree Chris. The other thing is you avert eye contact with someone they may take it as an insult. Many people are not that aware of themselves so they may not realize they are avoiding eye contact or conversely see eye contact as very important so they make sure to try to make it.
      • Within education circles, there are also cultures where it is seen as disrespectful to make eye contact with an adult, particularly if being “disciplined”. Imagine how horrible interactions can go with children like that and ignorant or unsympathetic adults.
      • Yeah in general Alaska Native kids avoid eye contact out of respect and that is the way they are raised. Lots of them won’t look you in the eye especially in a stressful situation. It is their natural reaction and not disrespectful at all.
      • Exactly. But I’ve seen teachers, bad teachers, who will be disciplining these children for something unrelated and, midway through, cut themselves off to shout, “AND LOOK AT ME WHEN I’M TALKING TO YOU!” Holy christ, it makes me just want to punch the person square in the face.
      • This is common across many cultures. Here, we’ve a large (for Maine) Somali population, and it’s caused some strife in business communities when women, in particular, look at men. I know there some issue in the schools, too, with communication mores, and I can only imagine that it causes strife for children within their homes as the become Americanized.
      • American kids have said that to American parents. These are kids who’ve NEVER been told that because they come from cultures where you are not supposed to look at an adult in the eyes. If anything, these kids were told the opposite. It is a cross-cultural disconnect, not necessarily a value judgement of either one.
      • But more relevant to Burt’s line of work, we often perceive adults who fail to make “normal” eye contact as dishonest. Shifty-eyed. Hiding something. Guilty-looking.

        This could really hurt a person in court.

      • Generally, yes. Finders of fact (juries and judges both) are used to interpreting eye contact as one of many indicators of veracity.
    • The question to you [...] is, does something like this seem likely to you to be Asperger’s at play?

      Not particularly. There’s a well-known phenomenon among Aspies of “meltdowns” or what I call a spike. It happens to me very occasionally where I’ll just go from zero to 100% pissed off in like a second or two and it will last for maybe 10 seconds at most. But for me at least, it’s the result of the build up of frustration over a long period of time. Like months maybe. Frankly, I wouldn’t be able to string together that many words when I’m spiking. It’s more like “F*** YOU!! GOD-DAMN IT ALL TO HELL!!” followed by throwing shit and/or slamming doors, etc.

      • Oh, yeah. I used to play soccer every Friday after work, in a pickup game with co-workers, former co-workers, friends of the above, their friends, etc. In other words pretty much anyone who showed up that day. This guy I’d never met before was defending me, and he unexpectedly did a hard tackle that knocked me over. And I SCREAMED at him. “GODDAMMIT, THIS IS A FRIENDLY GAME! YOU DON’T DO THAT IN A FRIENDLY GAME!”

        “B-but, it was a clean tackle, …”

        “DID YOU HEAR ME? IT’S A FRIENDLY GAME!”

        And he backed off. I realized later that it wasn’t because I’d gotten my point about friendliness across. The way I’d exploded scared the crap out of him. This took a while to sink in, because it’s very foreign to my self-image that people are afraid of me.

  14. Hey Rod,

    Great post.

    I don’t think I have Asperger’s. (I am pretty certainly below average IQ, I think, though I have never done the real deal IQ tests.)

    But I have trouble socializing, too. I have no real friends anymore, just the wife (who is the greatest person of all time and my best friend!).

    I suspect the modern world is driving people in to more and more social isolation, especially people who aren’t part of a more “old world, traditional” community like a church group, or a large, rural extended family, etc. That’s part of it, but I am sure that Aspergers makes it harder.

    Brave post and best wishes.

    • Thanks. And good point. It’s almost as if the world is becoming more accommodating rather than less, totally by accident.

      And I’m sure I haven’t done myself any favors by rejecting the “Faith of Our Fathers” since the church was such a big part of our social life growing up. On the other hand, the most religious member of my family, a sister-in-law, is reportedly having psychotic breaks and losing track of when and where she is.

    • I think that cuts both ways. One (of many) reasons we’ve seen an uptick in Aspergers and other ASD diagnoses is that there are less natural enclaves for such folks. There were a lot of jobs that folks with Aspergers or other mild forms of ASD were very well-suited for, perhaps better suited for than non-ASD people which allowed them to lead fairly normal, successful lives. Explicit, routine based work with minimal social collaboration suits many folks with ASD very well. So much of that has been automated now, meaning ASD people are increasingly trying to fit into spaces that simply aren’t well designed for them. Square pegs into round holes, so to speak.

      I was told about (but did not read) an article in the NYT Magazine a few weeks back about a business that employed almost exclusively people with Aspergers or ASD, because they were actually the ideal candidates for the type of work being done. I’ll see if I can dig it up.

    • I am pretty certainly below average IQ,

      I’m pretty certain you’re not. Below average people don’t talk thoughtfully about Rawls.

      • I thought that comment was noteworthy too, in the sense that it’s just not accurate. Shaz is definitely a very intelligent – above average – guy. But insofar as he wasn’t being cheeky about that sentiment, I can add something anecdotal: I’ve had people tell me how smart I am all my life, and I just don’t get it. Never have. I’ve never thought of myself smart, let alone smarter than other people. (Tho I certainly think there are lots of people smarter than me.) It plays out in weird ways, of course. People say they don’t understand what I’m talking about and I think “of course you do, I’m just not making my point clear”. And then I try to say the same thing from a different angle. Frustration inevitably results. From py pov, it’s just entirely clear that everyone can see the point I’m making (or whatever) irrespective of whether they agree with it or not.
      • How much of this is about credentials? I mean, Mr. Hanley has the credentials of being a professor of political science. So it’s expected that his opinions are relatively well-informed. But I’m sure he has colleagues, with equivalent credentials, that would disagree vehemently with him on any number of topics. Assuming there’s some semblance of an objective reality to be had, at least one of them has to be wrong to some degree. But that’s expected in academia.

        On the other hand, without the credentials your opinion is easier to dismiss, even if it’s the exact same opinion as expressed by someone with the proper credentials.

      • No, I’ve been thru the academic mill to the extent that I could refute the theses papers various professors were to present in front of the APA, or in advance of lecture tours. That’s happened twice. And I have credential. So it’s not about that. In fact, my fallout with academia was a result of finding out that people in the Academy weren’t as smart as I thought they were. (No judgment intended, just following up on my earlier comment.)

        I’m not sure what it is. I think it’s a lack of objectively around that topic, if that makes any sense. I mean, I struggle with this every day of the week. I just don’t view other people as being different than me in this regard. I’m normal when it comes to intellectual stuff, so other people normal people can understand it too. And if they don’t understand what I’m saying, it’s my fault for not saying it clearly enough.

        I don’t know if that makes any sense, but that’s the best I can do without a lot of thought.

      • You’re both right to a large degree. People are more willing to listen to the same comment from a credentialed person than an non-credentialed one (it’s kind of like applying for jobs as an applicant with a white sounding name vs. applying with a black sounding name, even if you use the same resume).

        And Stillwater’s right that people in the academy aren’t–certainly not all of them–that much smarter than lots of other folks out there. They just tend to know a lot more about one specific area and have the ability to push through the sh*t to the end of the credentialing process. I know all kinds of people–including quite a number of folks here at the League–who are every bit as intelligent as most academics I know. Their lives/interests/abilities-in-a-non-intellectual-sense took them on different paths.

      • Yep. I have absolutely no doubt that I have the raw intellectual chops to be an academic. But this: “… know a lot more about one specific area and have the ability to push through the sh*t to the end of the credentialing process.” is what would hang me up.

        Elsewhere here I mentioned that the one thing in life I’ve always been very successful at is school. And a big reason for that can be summed up in one word: semester. You see I have a touch of both ADD and Aspie-ness. But they’re actually sort of opposites. ADD being the inability to maintain focus while a symptom of ASD is an obsessive focus on something, like memorizing vacuum cleaner model numbers. Now I’ve never been able to memorize for shit; history class was my demonic torture. So the way this plays out for me is in serial obsessions. Intellectually, I’m like the guy that is head over heals for a woman, and then dumps her a few months later, to start over with a new honey. You know, serial monogamy. (Although ironically I’m just the opposite with actual women.)

        So the structure of school, particularly college, was perfect for me. Sign up for an interesting class, learn a whole lot about that one subject, and then just about the time I’m starting to get bored with it, it’s time for finals and then move on to something else.

        Example: Are you familiar with geodesic domes? Those structures made of triangles popularized by Buckminster Fuller in the ’70s? I have found myself totally entranced with those things about three or four times over the years. Working out different designs based on various platonic forms and frequencies, analyzing the stresses, working out formulas for different aspects of them. For… maybe a couple months, six at the most. Then I completely lose interest for a long while until maybe I see one somewhere and then, Bam! I’m right back into them for a while. Absolutely no point to it cuz I’m never going to build a home out of one or anything.

        So my problem with being an academic–or any kind of professional really–is maintaining an interest in one damn thing long enough to become something of an expert in that thing. I would have to do something like rotate between four of five departments on a semi-annual basis. Engineering for awhile, then econ, philosophy, hang out with the IT guys for awhile, maybe something completely different when my interest was piqued. And that’s just Not How It’s Done. You have to be a specialist, a subject matter expert in one particular field, or more likely, one particular sub-specialty.

        Not to be grandiose or anything, but I totally get the polymaths of yore. But there’s no place for someone like that in our modern culture. I have to satisfy myself with self-education from the Internet and pondering shit as I’m driving for hours on the freeways.

      • Not to be grandiose or anything, but I totally get the polymaths of yore. But there’s no place for someone like that in our modern culture.

        Very, very sadly. I can relate to flitting between interests. It’ll kill my plants if I ever take up gardening.

      • This is what independent contracting is for. Or betatesting video games.
        Work, dig deep, and then on to the next job.
      • my problem with being an academic–or any kind of professional really–is maintaining an interest in one damn thing long enough to become something of an expert in that thing

        I hear that. I struggle with that myself. It works out well enough at a teaching college like mine, where I need to cover multiple fields within my discipline, and where I have a lot of freedom to make up an experimental course in a new topic just for kicks. It wouldn’t work so well at a top research institution because of the publishing demands.

      • In my experience, there are two kinds of academics, at least in research fields. One type will learn a particular methodology in grad school, and run variants of that methodology for the their careers. The other type will do a bunch of research on a bunch of (usually related, but not always in obvious ways) topics, using a variety of methods, often innovative ones. Members of the former type will always have a job, produce publications at a steady rate pretty much from their 2nd or 3rd year of grad school (with a possible drop during the dissertation writing), get tenure somewhat easily, and produce a large body of research. Members of the latter type will have much more varied careers, with some being extremely successful, the stars of their fields, and some burning out early. As a member of the second type, I have always had a hard time understanding how the first type can do what they do without getting incredibly bored, but I also envy them, because let’s face it, it’s so much easier.
      • Thanks Hanley. I appreciate that a lot. I thoroughly enjoy discussing ideas with you and Stillwater, and Murali and Blaise, and Jason, and North, and Mark, even Mike D, though I think he is pretty mad at me right now.

        I think I am -to coin an ironically bad phrase- “good at words”, or at least reasonably so, and got a really good college education in philosophy. But I struggle mightily with most math, philosophical logic, puzzles, spatial reasoning (can’t read a map and I get lost a lot), short term memory tasks, and any kind of strategic game playing. (I have lost chess games, while trying hard, to small children, and we’re not talking chess prodigies either, but rather average kids who I just taught to play. Later, I pretend to have let them win amd refuse to play them again.) This is all stuff that doesn’t come up on a blog, so maybe I look smarter than I think I do in a wider arena.

        And I guess I’m comparing myself to my peer group, (lots of professionals and higher achievers) which is a relatively high IQ group, so maybe compared to the population as a whole I am average. It doesn’t matter; this isn’t about me, but maybe there is something interesting about appearing smart by being “good at words.”

        But I often have the experience Stillwater is referring to below, too, I think.

      • Shaz, this is what I was talking about up above… somewhere. Not all intelligence looks the same. My wife struggles mightily with math. It was all she could do to pass a college algebra course (and I was proud of her; she worked like a dog at it). But a few years ago we both took one of those quicky Mensa screening tests out of a magazine. And she beat my score! It’s just that she’s smarter at some things than I am and vice versa.

        Being good with words is indeed a very high-level, abstract, intelligence.

        Don’t sell yourself short.

  15. Thanks for writing and sharing this, Rod. This would have been a great contribution at any time at all.

    Hits very close to home in a lot of ways.

    • It’s interesting to me that so may people here have expressed that sentiment–you, M.A., Mike Schilling, wardsmith, jaybird, Dennis, zic’s kid–given the published prevalence. The wiki article gives an estimate of around 0.26 per thousand by averaging epidemiological studies. Without doing the math it looks like we’re closer to 10% around here.

      Is that just selection bias for people who hang out on blogsites a lot?

      • Part of the problem, and this is related to Burt’s problem, is that there are a lot of disorders and, really, just personality types that are closely related, especially for men. There’s even a theory of autism, “The extreme male brain” theory, which I wrote about a long time ago that argues, in essence, that autism is just, well, extreme mental maleness; I don’t buy the theory, but it’s a prominent one.

        I’m a good example. Depression and social anxiety (which for a brief period in my life reached crippling proportions) have made me look a lot like someone with Aspberger’s for much of my adult life, though I’m quite certainly outside of the autism spectrum. The same holds for people who are just “different,” that is, don’t easily fit in with most social groups, which I suspect describes a lot of us here. I know I’ve always felt like I don’t fit in anywhere. And when you add high intelligence, particularly analytical intelligence (if you read the post I linked above, we’ll call them “systematisers”) which also describes a lot of people here, you get people who are going to have trouble fitting in, making friends, etc., for reasons that don’t involve being somewhere in the autism spectrum. Anxiety disorders, ADHD, bipolar disorder, and a host of others can also be mistaken for autism spectrum disorders (and vice versa).

        I don’t mean to imply that we can’t, or shouldn’t, empathize, even identify with Rod’s story, but unless you’ve been diagnosed by a physician, and a physician who specializes in disorders like autism, I would caution against thinking of yourself as autistic or an “Aspie.” The odds are (literally) that you aren’t on the spectrum. Though if you do feel like the things about yourself and your life that cause you to identify with Rod’s story are affecting your quality of life, I do highly recommend talking to a physician about it, because there are almost certainly cognitive and behavioral therapies that will help (and perhaps, depending on what the diagnosis is, pharmacological therapies as well).

        Related to the discussion here: Simon Baron-Cohen, the author of the “extreme male brain” theory, and the brother of Sasha of Borat fame, has done some work on the gaze issue (e.g.) in autism.

      • I hear what you’re saying, Chris. Let me state for the record that I have not been formally diagnosed by a physician. There’s a good reason for that. At least when this first came to my attention a few years ago, the nearest specialist was at least 300 miles away and I didn’t have even bad insurance. I was going to grad school on a VA stipend and we were living hand to mouth.

        I have actually been formally diagnosed with ADD (in the Navy). That diagnosis was made on the basis of a questionnaire. It was considered “confirmed” if Ritalin seemed to help. I self-diagnosed for Asperger’s, again on the basis of a questionnaire. I’m not sure how much difference it would make to have someone with an M.D. after their name add up the score. I’m pretty good at math and I had a far larger number of “hits” on the ASD questionnaire than I did on the ADD. There is no blood test or MRI exam for this sort of thing. And to what end would a formal diagnosis be of use, other than thinning out my wallet? There’s no cure or treatment and I’ve already figured out most of the relevant coping skills on my own or it’s too late to be of any real help.

        I think the real problem here is that the medical community really doesn’t have a good handle on most brain disorders. Don’t get me wrong, they’re making progress. But relatively speaking, the state of knowledge in psychiatry/psychology is roughly equivalent to the state of affairs in garden-variety physical medicine maybe 50 to 100 years ago.

        All of these things like autism, Asperger’s, PDD-NOS, social anxiety, ADD/ADHD, etc. are really just syndromes. They’re clusters of symptoms that somebody has bothered to name, but that no one really understands yet. They can’t point to a specific wiring problem or neurotransmitter defect or whatever.

        So maybe what I have isn’t Asperger’s. Maybe it’s social anxiety coupled with ADD and a touch of OCD. Or maybe Asperger’s isn’t even a separate thing at all. Believe me, I had no a priori interest in acquiring a label. I don’t want this thing. But when you go down the standard checklist and everything fits. Well, then it fits. And when other things don’t fit nearly so well. Then that’s all there is to it. I wouldn’t want anyone to read my story, see themselves in parts of it, and self-diagnose off of that. But the utility of a formal diagnosis depends a lot on the individual. If you’re doing ok, then whatever. If you’re curious I would certainly start with something free online. It’s the same damn thing a psychiatrist is going to do in my experience.

        Where a formal diagnosis is useful is in the case of kids and adolescents. Because that can open up support services that may be of use. Counseling can be useful for adults, specifically to support relationships like marriage. But for me, the window for adapting to make the most of my life as it is is closed and the main advantage is just psychic. It’s let me unload a great deal of self-loathing and regret and in that regard it really doesn’t matter that much what the precise name of this “thing” is.

      • Rod, I don’t mean to minimize either your experience or your self-identification. I’m not a clinician, or a physician of any sort, so I’m not trying to give medical advice either. I’m wary of self-diagnoses because, as I’ve said several times now, there are so many other potential diagnoses with similar symptoms, but different treatments. My scores on autism tests usually put me at the very edge of the Asperger’s range, but I don’t have Asperger’s. Dysthymia with social anxiety and maybe another thing or two make me look like I might fall at the tail end of the spectrum. The only reason this matters is that the treatments and coping mechanisms can be quite different for different diagnoses. If Asperger’s works for you, then that’s all that matters. I’m a pragmatist, not in the political sense but the philosophical one. The real is what works, and what works is the real (sorry H.).

        But my advice, again as a non-professional, for most people is to get a diagnosis. While there may not be many practical benefits to a professional diagnosis of Aspberger’s, there are some (particularly work-related), and there are a lot of benefits to finding out it’s something else, like depression or bipolar disorder or ADHD or social anxiety disorder or schizotypal personality disorder or whatever, because some of these things have treatment protocols that can vastly improve a person’s quality of life, and which are in some cases very different from the treatments and coping skills that work well for ASDs.

      • I would highly suggest getting formally diagnosed. I was got a diagnosis in 2008. What I think is important in getting a diagnosis is that you might get some helpful advice or strategies from health care professionals. There also might be medicine that could help as well.

        I’m not crazy about self-diagnosis because for the most part we don’t know enough to make a decision. You probably are correct in your guess, but you might want to be sure.

        That’s my opinion, but you don’t have to follow it.

      • My bachelors degree is a Management Studies Degree because at my university economics is in the business school. This means I had to do several management theory papers. One of the most interesting things I learned in those papers is that unlike the vast majority of jobs (where smarter is pretty much always better), there is an optimum IQ for managers – 20 to 30 points above the people they are managing. Apparently if managers are smarter than that, it impairs their ability to empathise with their staff.
      • probably 120 to 130, yes.

        This is probably the reason you don’t see extremely smart people entering politics too often. US Presidents are generally in the 130 – 140 range, which is definitely smart, but given it’s basically the hardest job in the world, one might expect smarter people than that to go for it. But if their IQ was much higher, they may have difficulty connecting with voters.

      • How do people evaluate IQs for folks that won’t take the test?
        Is it by word choice?

        Clinton’s a lot smarter than he talks…

      • but given it’s basically the hardest job in the world, one might expect smarter people than that to go for it.

        Funny, given that it’s basically the hardest job in the world, I would expect smarter people to avoid it like the plague.

      • I’d think intelligently manipulating the POTUS would be harder than actually being POTUS…
        Maybe that’s just me…

        The POTUS is a job with a lot of responsibility, but… surprisingly little power (which is not to say that the Big Red Button doesn’t give you a jot).

      • there is an optimum IQ for managers – 20 to 30 points above the people they are managing.

        So, CEOs have IQs in the, oohhhh lessee here, upper 200s? In a large firm, of course.

      • It’s more to say that they could, I’m talking about optimum, not average. Although 200 would be a problem still since even a CEO has to spend a lot of time dealing with people who aren’t their senior executive team.
      • I know you were joking, but it might be worth pointing out that not only are the statistical differences between IQ scores over 160 pretty much non-existent, but because of the way they’re constructed (and for whom they’re constructed), scores over ~160 are incredibly inaccurate and should probably not be given much weight. If you’re IQ is that high, you should probably just say “over 160,” because that’s about as accurate as you’re going to get. Also, if someone tells you that their IQ is over 180, you should never trust another word that person says.
      • How about on the low end of the scale? Also inaccurate?
        (I realize I’m opening a can of worms with that question.)
      • IQ is one of those things that is mostly useful for within two standard deviations of “average”. Once you get higher than that on the right side, it’s difficult to make meaningful distinctions (though, honestly, you can tell the difference between a 140, a 160, and a 180 IQ person in conversation). Once you get lower than that on the left side, it tends to be bundled with genetic problems.
      • Anybody aware of an online, free and fast IQ test that is reasonably decent (I realize these are somewhat conflicting attributes)? I was tested as a kid but don’t remember how I did.

        It’s really just curious lark and no one really trusts the results all that much anyway, so I don’t want to spend any $, nor a lot of time.

      • If you’re mom is correct, that would put you in the 99.99999999th percentile, or an IQ in the 190s. So you should just tell people that your IQ is over 190.
      • It’s a trap!

        Also, if someone tells you that their IQ is over 180, you should never trust another word that person says.

        So you should just tell people that your IQ is over 190.

        Hey! I may be dumb, but I’m not stupid!

      • Kim, Jay’s right. Below a certain level is going to be pretty much indistinguishable, both statistically and because people with IQs below a certain level are going to be so dysfunctional as to make accurate IQ testing pretty much impossible.

        Statistically, the probability of IQs is strictly determined by the standardization of the distribution (a mean of 100, a standard deviation of 15), so you can pretty easily figure out your percentile if you know your score. At 3 standard deviations above the mean (so 145), you’re in the 99.73rd percentile, and by 160, in order to distinguish scores, you have to look all the way over to the thousandths or tens of thousandths of a percent (160 is ~99.994th percentile) to distinguish between scores. As you can probably imagine, there are no IQ tests that are accurate enough to make distinctions that small, and above 160, the distinctions are all that small or smaller (175 is the 99.99994th percentile; 190 is the 99.9999998th percentile).

      • If your IQ is 190 (the 99.9999998th percentile) you’re qualified to write a column for Parade magazine.
      • I just submitted my resume:

        Objective: To get a job with Parade. Duh!

        Qualifications: IQ of 190.

        Experience: Didn’t I just tell you my IQ was 190? Why would you need to know anything else?

      • I was going to make a stupid joke about how lucky she was to be named ‘Vos Savant’ (I assumed this was a stage name) but apparently, that really is her mother’s surname.

        The more you know!

        I’ll be lucky just to get into any parade. Maybe I could manage one like this.

      • Chris, the Titan test is a pretty good discriminant. It is of course virtually impossible to capture cognitive ability completely in a test, life itself is the ultimate test I suppose.
      • It seems to me at some point you’re getting into “what the hell does it mean?” territory. As I’ve mentioned a couple of times, at the other end of my block is a group home for severely developmentally disabled adult men (there’s another house across town for the women).

        Now, judging on the basis of what they can do and what they know, many of these guys have the equivalent cognition of maybe a two-year old at best. They can walk around but many of them can’t speak intelligibly or use the toilet. But comparing them to a two-year old does a serious disservice to the toddler. Normal kids that age are amazing little learning machines. Something new and wonderful almost every day; it’s the coolest part about parenting. Whatever else they may do, these guys lack the most important cognitive skill of a two-year old. They’re just done, finished a long time ago and no more progress to be had.

      • I think you are seriously downplaying the ability of people with avg or below avg iq to be completely unable to empathize with any sort of mammal.
      • Let me clarify – low IQ managers also perform badly, but that’s not surprising because all things being equal smart people are better at things than less smart people.

        The unusual thing about management is that it’s possible to be too smart to be effective at it.

      • Same here, although I have an odd disdain for such sameness.
        In fact, I wouldn’t even have mentioned it if you hadn’t.
      • Is that just selection bias for people who hang out on blogsites a lot?

        Ones like this that form a kind of community? Makes sense to me.

      • I think there’s a definite selection bias when you look at folks who will devote a significant amount of effort into being part of some kind of online community – not necessarily for Aspberger’s specifically as much as just anyone who suffers from any level of social anxiety or discomfort.
        I’m 99.9% sure I could not reasonably be diagnosed with any disorder that would fit on the Aspberger or autism spectrum – I’m pretty anti-social by nature and so certain aspects of the challenges you mention hit home with me just as a person who isn’t comfortable in most social situations at all – I’m perfectly capable, I just prefer not to.
        I do devote an inordinate amount of time to this place and moreso to another community – largely as a substitute for the social interactions I don’t really seek out in my normal life.

        My wife, on the other hand, experiences life much more like you do, Rod.
        I doubt she could be put on the Aspberger’s spectrum – but the learning disabilities and social/sensory disorders, as Chris mentions below, result in similar difficulties. She’s certainly not a systematizer, but the result for her is a constant challenge to do things that seem to come naturally to most others.
        I’m always looking for coping strategies to try to help her, some of the things you’ve said have the wheels turning.

  16. Thank you for posting this Rod.

    I found a lot that was familiar with your story. I get the spikes, the difficulty dealing with a lot of voices, and the trouble figuring other people out. Hell, I went through university without having a social life to speak of, and I only noticed in retrospect.

    I don’t think I’m on the autism spectrum (though I’ve never been tested), but I’m definitely what Simon Baron-Cohen would call a “High Systemiser – Low Empathiser”. I’ve found the best way to deal is come up with some basic rules that grease my way through social and work situations, and the apply them by rote.

    It’s also helped that I’ve had a couple of managers and colleagues that were kind enough to pull me aside and tell me “That ting you’re doing? It’s bothering people – stop doing it.” Most people just seem to seethe quietly, and so I blithely assume everything’s fine. How can anyone function in an environment where nobody is prepared to offer accurate information?

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  18. Dude, you don’t have Aspergers. Or if you want to label yourself with some broad vague personality disorder to explain yourself to yourself, I guess that’s OK. But it sounds to me like you’re just a middle aged man in a very isolating/isolated society (Americans are more socially isolated than probably any other society) who has had some failures in his life that he feels bad about. (Along with some successes that he doesn’t seem to feel good about). Sad to say, nothing you’re describing sounds that unusual to me. But quasi-medical diagnosis seems to be the preferred American way of dealing with the ways society fails us and we fail ourselves. Even though the increasing failure of the U.S. economy to deliver the goods means that downward mobility, and feeling terrible about it, is a reality for lots and lots of people.
    • I’d be careful in saying that he doesn’t have Aspberger’s. I’d trust a clinical diagnosis more than self-diagnosis as well, because Aspberger’s is a particularly complicated diagnosis. In adults, this is particularly true, because adult symptoms that resemble Aspberger’s could result from any number of adult conditions, as well as a host of developmental ones (PPD-NOS is probably more likely just based on incidence, I suspect). Rod’s experience, however, is that this identification has helped him to understand his experience better, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. On top of that, he’s clearly done a great deal of research, so it’s entirely possible that were he to see a physician, he’d get a diagnosis.
    • Dude, you don’t have Aspergers. Or if you want to label yourself with some broad vague personality disorder to explain yourself to yourself, I guess that’s OK.

      What? You don’t think I haven’t considered that myself about… oh, a couple hundred times? FWIW, I seem to fit the diagnostic criteria, but more importantly, when I read accounts of other adults who have been formally diagnosed, it’s like I’m looking in a mirror. Not just the external effects, but the internal experiences.

      Unfortunately, as I noted to Chris above, it is at present broadly and vaguely defined. The psych professionals have some work ahead of them, IMO. And in a larger sense, what’s the difference between a personality “disorder” and just being different in a way that makes it difficult to fit into modern society? For instance, Thom Hartmann has advanced a hypothesis that describes ADD/ADHD as an useful adaptation for a more primitive hunter/gatherer lifestyle that’s unsuited to modern life where you’re expected to be a good cubicle drone.

      But it sounds to me like you’re just a middle aged man in a very isolating/isolated society (Americans are more socially isolated than probably any other society)…

      In a traditional, face-to-face, over the backyard fence, kind of way, that’s certainly true. But those relationships were a lot like family. It wasn’t so much that you had a lot in common or even that you particularly like them, but that they were simply there. It was about proximity as much as anything.

      Judging from the initial responses to this piece, it feels to me like I have friends. But these friends are based on genuine shared interests and such. It’s not the same, but I’m not ready to say that it’s relatively deficient.

      … who has had some failures in his life that he feels bad about.

      My biggest hesitation in writing this piece was worrying that it would come off sounding like whiny excuse-making. Or maybe that it really was just whiny excuses. But in a strange sort of way this is actually an advance in taking personal responsibility for them. For a long time–since bombing out at AT&T–I had constructed a narrative worthy of Lemony Snicket. Just a long series of unfortunate events that I had no control over, and decisions that seemed right at the time but didn’t work out. And to a certain extent that’s true, as it is for anybody. There really is a significant random component to the events that bring us to where we all individually are in life.

      (Along with some successes that he doesn’t seem to feel good about).

      I have a number of things that I feel damn good about. I feel good about achieving an engineering degree, Pi Tau Sigma Honor Society even. I’m only the second in my family to do so and my father had to drop out at ninth grade (depression era). I haven’t done much with it, but it’s still an accomplishment.

      And I feel damn good about keeping a marriage together for 28 years in a culture where the average is like… what, five years? And I’m damn proud of my daughter who’ll soon be venturing off with her degree in geography in hand. I think we did a good job raising her.

      And while it hasn’t been financially lucrative it has been an interesting life. I’ve lived in eight states and traveled in 40 more plus D.C., Canada, and Mexico. I’ve been half-way around the world and back. I’ve traveled the Suez and Panama Canals, drank beer on a nude beach in Ibiza, Spain, and shopped in a ten-story mall in Singapore (Hi, Murali!). Even saw a sheep suspiciously tethered outside a brothel in Turkey. I’ve farmed, built a house, walked steel, sold tires, sold cars, tended bar, managed a Radio Shack, and defended our country. I’ve watched the sunrise over a glassy-smooth Arabian sea, skinny-dipped in Lake Michigan, partied on a beach in the Virgin Islands, and hosted a toga party that had the cops come out because the firemen two blocks away couldn’t sleep.

      I’ll likely die broke but at least I’ll have memories.

      Even though the increasing failure of the U.S. economy to deliver the goods means that downward mobility, and feeling terrible about it, is a reality for lots and lots of people.

      Apparently you’ve missed my screeds on economics…

      • Classy response, Rod. And this:

        And while it hasn’t been financially lucrative it has been an interesting life. I’ve lived in eight states and traveled in 40 more plus D.C., Canada, and Mexico. I’ve been half-way around the world and back. I’ve traveled the Suez and Panama Canals, drank beer on a nude beach in Ibiza, Spain, and shopped in a ten-story mall in Singapore (Hi, Murali!). Even saw a sheep suspiciously tethered outside a brothel in Turkey. I’ve farmed, built a house, walked steel, sold tires, sold cars, tended bar, managed a Radio Shack, and defended our country. I’ve watched the sunrise over a glassy-smooth Arabian sea, skinny-dipped in Lake Michigan, partied on a beach in the Virgin Islands, and hosted a toga party that had the cops come out because the firemen two blocks away couldn’t sleep.

        …should remind us all that living well is the best revenge.

      • I’m sure you’re aware of what’s happening to the Aspberger’s diagnosis in the DSM-V, just to add to the messiness of diagnosing ADS’s in relatively well-functioning adults.
      • FWIW, I read the essay as both self-examination/reflection and an attempt at personalizing an unknown and sometimes controversial topic so as to educate people. I saw Rod make no attempt at eliciting pity, special treatment, or anything else that “whining” is often used to secure.
      • Rod, I loved everything about that response. As I like to tell my kids, life is about having good stories to tell. Some were good when they happened, others weren’t, but over the years you’ve come to terms with them, and some you can even laugh at. Money’s far behind in importance.

        And this being Christmas, I’ll add that I took my own advice a couple of years ago, and my wife and I cut back on the number of presents we gave our kids and started taking them on a post-Christmas trip instead. Because damned if I can remember more than two of the Christmas gifts I got as a kid (one because it was so awesome–a ticket to the Indy 500–and one because I got whipped for accidentally discovering it in the attic before Christmas), but I sure remember the trips my family took, even if it was just a weekend at the state park. Christmas actually ends up costing us more, but it’s so damned worth it to us.

        Another thing we did was buy the kids a new matching Christmas ornament each year (not identical, but closely related types, like a set of three snowmen that are clearly meant to be a set, but where each is a little different). It’s so awesome to see them decorating the tree with their own ornaments and talking about them, and to think that years from now they’ll be putting them on the tree with their own children and remembering back to the old days.

        Sorry, that got to be a bit too much about me. But it’s just because I really identified with that response.

  19. Rod, I think this is a great post, mostly because you echo a lot of went on in my past. I’ve not been diagnosed with Asperger’s, but I have my suspicions; a lot of the pieces from my past now fit.

    I hear you about the career thing. I recently got a Master’s degree in counseling that I wonder if ever I’ll use only because my social and relationship skills aren’t great (I’m glad to say I’ve been married for 15 years, but getting to the point of marriage was a huge struggle for me.) I’m happy to have a low-stimulation office job at a local college.

    But like I said, excellent post.

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