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Communicating and working with Aspergers

Submitted by on Tuesday, 27 September 2011

There is an important NLP premise I hold dear: the meaning of the communication is the response it elicits, separate from my intent.

I believe the truth in this dictum completely, down through my bones. That belief, however is rather poignant, given my communications problems: as an Asperger’s sufferer I sometimes unwittingly communicate in ways that harm, confuse, or annoy. And knowing someone has been harmed because of my inadequecies is deeply painful.

  • When asking a business friend of 5 years why we hadn’t spoken in months, he tearsely told me he stopped talking to me when I said something he found offensive and that he didn’t want to be friends with someone who would say something like that. When he added that he was not open to an apology, I was crushed, given I most likely said one of my straight-from-the-hip Aspie statements that had no intention of harming.

    I was crushed: I talked to him several times a week for a year while his wife suffered with cancer, gave  him a free training program, and helped him with his business. Didn’t that mean we were friends, and issues could be resolved? Apparently my comment must have been a doosy – so bad that it was worth ending a 5 year friendship. But this is conjecture. He never discussed it with me. He just walked away. Does that mean that I should only have friends who will discuss things? Very confusing.

  • A large prospect who had scheduled a time to speak and didn’t keep or break the appointment  (disastrous to do to an Aspie given our inflexibility with schedules) ended up walking away following my 2 emails asking him where he disappeared to. I forget I’m not supposed to ask that. Goes against rules I don’t understand. In my map of the world, either keep an appointment or break it – don’t ignore it. But obviously, that thinking is in the minority. I’m supposed to sit and wait.
  • A close friend got annoyed and nasty because I offered to help with something she felt perfectly capable of managing and felt put-down because of the offer. I thought I was supporting her. And after 35 years of friendship, isn’t there an understanding there? Is there nowhere I can go to have a normal conversation?
  • A potential business partner hung up on me when I got onto my ‘topic’ and talked too much, even though I told him I might do that and he should interrupt as I might not have the ability once I got started. I guess I was asking too much. Good thing others find my topic interesting :)

It’s not that I don’t try. I’ve had massive amounts of therapy, coaching, group work and I’m a million times better than I was growing up. I’m able to maintain friends and clients, and a quasi normal life. But damn, I daily find myself  losing business, or saying things I didn’t realize were inappropriate.

In a recent episode of my favorite Parenthood TV show, my little buddie Max (a 12 year old with Aspergers) is being ‘mainlined’ and had his first day in normal school with normal kids. He kept shouting out the answers to everything because, well, because he knew them. The frustrated teacher said,

“MAX. You MUST raise your hand first.”
So he raised his hand and kept shouting out the answers.
“MAX. You can’t speak until I call on you. When you raise your hand you’re just teling me you have the answer.”
Max stopped and looked up quizzically:  “You didn’t say that. You just said to raise my hand.”

ASPIE’S MEAN NO HARM: THE WORLD IS JUST A LITERAL PLACE

That’s what the world is like for me. Everything is literal. You make an appointment, I plan on you keeping it unless you tell me you’re cancelling. Once you don’t keep the appointment and don’t let me know, I actually sit and wait, watching emails come through for days, trying to figure out what I did wrong.

Or when I respond in what I think is a helpful way, only to discover it’s not helpful. I get confused, and beat myself up for harming you.

It’s never an Aspie’s intent to harm. The world just looks different to us. Tell me: how can I explain to someone that I just might say the wrong thing – and I have no intent to harm…but my world is not the same world you’re living in. How can I help folks understanding that at the beginning of relationships? My long term friends love me WITH my idiosyncracies, and laugh together (There she goes again! or Boy that hurt… truthful, but ouch. or Sharon Drew! Breathe. It will be ok.).

One of my long standing clients was handing me over to another division, and I overheard the new man say to my old client: “Is she always like this?” to which he replied, “Yes. And you’ll learn to love her.”

Thankfully there are enough folks who recognize my good qualities, and find me charming. And there are plenty in business who love me for my brains and overlook my idiosyncracies. Given what I’ve read about Einstein’s personality, it’s a good thing he had brains.

But I sure hurt for those who don’t understand or forgive my idiosyncracies, or match the good against the bad, or possibly realize I wouldn’t have the brains to think so far outside of the box if it weren’t for the issues on the other end.

I really want my communication to serve, to nurture, to nourish. I keep trying, and succeed very very often indeed. I just have such sadness for those times I fail.

sd

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1172843769 Vincent Vanderbent

    Wow Sharon Drew, this sounds awfully familiar. I subscribe to the notion that society is just getting more socially averse, that people are less capable of relating to one another in a respectful manner than ever before. Like you, I often ponder what’s up with people who schedule an appointment with me, don’t keep it or cancel it and expect me to still show up for the next one without any explanation or apology. Over the years I’ve accommodated others by keeping the straight-off-the-hip comments to myself. Now I wonder if that creates a field of tension that others find difficult to relate to, as if I’m not being myself.

    On the other hand, I have come across people who casually express themselves in ways that I find discriminating and highly offensive, yet they get away with it anyway. As in your classroom example, there will always be the “bold” kid who, not being an Aspie, gets away with shouting out the answer and even gets rewarded for it because the teacher or the rest of the students are afraid this kid is going to cause trouble, which the Aspie kid would never do. I guess the world does look different sometimes… 

    • http://sharondrewmorgen.com sharondrew

      DISQUS

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  • http://twitter.com/SalesJamUK Adam Hitchmough

    Thanks for this Sharon Drew. Always assumed you were just quite direct….lol….  good to get a different perspective.  If you have any free time whilst in London, would be good to grab a coffee and meet up.  All the best .. Adam

    • http://sharondrewmorgen.com sharondrew

      I’m currently out of the country, and will return Monday, November 7, 2011.
      I will not be returning emails on a timely basis, but promise to respond at least by 7 November. If you send me a note with Urgent in the subject line, I’ll attempt to get to it sooner.
      If there is a technical problem, contact: Dan Hansen, 770 – 289 – 7041
      Sorry for any inconvenience. And I look forward to connecting eventually :)
      sd

      If there is a technical problem, please contact Shawn at 832-205-4342.
      If you need to reach me, call 512-771-1117 and I will get back to you. Or leave an email message and have a bit of patience.
      Sorry for any inconvenience. Talk soon.

      Sharon Drew

  • Paloma9756

    What happened to your weekly Cranky Tuesday column? I miss it! When I get to a Austin, which I do quite regularly, I would love to buy you a cup of coffee and discuss Asperger’s with you and my 15 year old son , a sweet, but definitely a teen with the teen attitude. I really would like some insight! We have corresponded before!

    Regards, Patti VB

    • http://sharondrewmorgen.com sharondrew

      I’m currently out of the country, and will return Monday, November 7, 2011.
      I will not be returning emails on a timely basis, but promise to respond at least by 7 November. If you send me a note with Urgent in the subject line, I’ll attempt to get to it sooner.
      If there is a technical problem, contact: Dan Hansen, 770 – 289 – 7041
      Sorry for any inconvenience. And I look forward to connecting eventually :)
      sd

      If there is a technical problem, please contact Shawn at 832-205-4342.
      If you need to reach me, call 512-771-1117 and I will get back to you. Or leave an email message and have a bit of patience.
      Sorry for any inconvenience. Talk soon.

      Sharon Drew

  • Ilka Hanselmann

    This is wonderfully perceptive. I have an Aspie fiance’, an Aspie daughter, and probably am myself. This is so true for our communication. Sometimes it takes days to figure out where we may have gotten derailed. It is especially difficult to try and help my beautiful, intelligent, literal daughter deal with the trials of being a preteen (which is already so confusing) with this added complication of the difficulties of communication. Sadly, the adults in her life are the most difficult. Intolerant teachers and strangers really affect her confidence and self esteem. Thank you for sharing this!