Friday, September 26, 2008

Professionals and Managers with Aspergers

I've been reading Malcolm Johnson's Asperger Management site for a while now and today, since I've got an article up on it, I figure I should probably give it a bit of a plug.

This site is great reading not only for professionals with aspergers but also for young adults who are looking to move into the workforce. It gives a lot of good careers advice and tips for working with the aspergers condition.

Malcolm Johnson is the author of the book Managing With Asperger Syndrome, published in 2005 by Jessica Kingsley Publishers. The book outlines his experience in senior management roles, how Aspergers affects his work and his strategies for coping.

The Asperger Management web site contains a number of articles and case studies examining how those of us with aspergers tackle the various demands that working in management positions can place on us.

My own case study, which went live on the site today, is about coping with meetings. Please have a read and let me know what you think.

Meetings and Asperger Traits

If you're in the workforce and you have Aspergers, I'm sure Malcolm would love to hear from you.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Article: Living with Asperger's Syndrome in a Neurotypical World

I thought I'd just draw your attention to a new-ish article;

Living with Asperger's Syndrome in a Neurotypical World
by Debbie Scally
Published September 20, 2008

The article doesn't really say a lot but gives a nice overview of aspergers.

Letter Writing in Relationships - Communicating in Aspie (Part 2)

A Quick Recap
In my last post, I made a list of some of the many aspie issues which can put a strain on relationships and explained how letters are great levellers because they remove all of the non verbal cues, which the aspie has difficulty reading.

I had some great feedback on my last post about the dangers of relying solely on written communication. I'll cover this in detail soon but in the meantime, a good message to take away is that the letter should contain everything you need to know. There should be no reading between the lines.

Writing Letters to Your Partner
There are a few useful things to remember when writing a letter to a person with whom you're already in a relationship.

No matter how angry you may be about something, it should be assumed that you eventually want your relationship to remain intact - otherwise, why would you bother to write a letter at all.

For this reason, you need to at least remember to start and end the letter on that note. This means, start with; Dear ... and end with some kind of declaration of love. For example; "I hope we can patch things up because I love you and I think that we're so perfect for each other that we should stay together".

Sure, sometimes writing something like this can feel fake, cringeworthy or cliched but if you're writing letters, its probably something that your partner needs to "hear" you say - and something you need to hear yourself say.

Nobody made you do anything
This is more of an NT trait than an aspie one but many people in relationships try to justify their misdemeanour's by suggesting that actions by their partner "made them do it".

Eg: "if you had been home on weekends, I wouldn't have had to have an affair".

One action doesn't automatically follow another - there is always choice involved. Sure, it's probably motivated by feelings and events but its still a choice.

Be Emotional
If you are an aspie, it follows that your partner will sometimes misinterpret your difficulty reading expression and expressing yourself as a lack of caring. It's this kind of thing that leads to labels like "unemotional monster" being attached to aspergers.

Of course this label is completely wrong. We certainly feel emotions, even if we don't always express them well. Writing a letter gives you a good chance to compensate - so use the opportunity.

Be honest. Think long and hard about how you actually feel and try to let your partner know. Don't leave it as a simple "I feel happy" (or sad). Put a bit of oomph into it. Aspies actually have very strong emotions at times.

For example, when my wife looks at me and smiles, it feels like the whole world stops. Her smile is as powerful as the sun warming rocks. One good smile can keep me going for a very long time. It more than makes my day.

If your partner can make you feel like that then use the letter to tell him/her.

Similarly, if you feel lonely when your partner doesn't come home until late, then, how exactly do you feel? Is it irritation, like an itch you can't scratch? Or depression - feeling like there will never be a another sunny day. Perhaps it's simply boredom, like the night will never end.

From these examples, I hope that it's clear how describing your emotions in a letter is much more than a few simple words. I know that sometimes you feel like this is a bit "corny" but if you really mean it, then it's not.

Next Time
In my next post, I'll try to cover how to use letter writing to resolve relationship problems.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Letter Writing in Relationships - Communicating in Aspie (Part 1)

Its almost a cliche that when you have problems in a relationship, you write a letter to your partner. Unfortunately, too often, in Hollywood movies, the letter says;

"There's some food in the freezer - see if you can cook it yourself 'cos I'm gone gone gone..."

In other words, the letter is being used to terminate a relationship, rather than to save it.

Letter writing in relationships is a great thing which should not be saved as a last resort. In fact, writing letters while the going is good will actually strengthen your relationship.

Why is Letter Writing in Aspie Relationships Particularly Useful?
We've all heard of the legendary communication problems between couples due to gender differences. They're well documented in books like "men are from mars, women are from venus" by John Gray and on talk shows like Oprah and Dr. Phil.

The Aspie world takes all of this and puts a spin on it. Suddenly, not only is the gender difference a problem but all the aspie things are too.

Common Aspie problems which can impact on relationships include;
  • Difficulty reading non-verbal expression

  • Difficulty displaying appropriate expression

  • Difficulty showing and feeling empathy

  • Inappropriate stimming behaviour

  • Impulsive behaviour

  • Differences in perception of problems

  • Meltdowns

  • Difficulty concentrating on non-core subjects

  • Overanalysis and reliance on logic

  • Thinking about special interests - instead of your partner.

How a Letter can Compensate for lack of Expression
Its often said that Aspies can't read facial expressions and tones of voice. That's true - although we are certainly able to detect extremes.

A lot of shouting, throwing and smashing things will quickly let the aspie know that you are angry. Of course, if it reaches that stage before being detected, there's a big problem.

The main problems that aspies have in these areas are mainly around non-verbal expression - both reading expression (tone, body language, facial expressions etc) and expressing them ourselves.

Written letters are great levelers. Sure, you can try to read between the lines but essentially there's usually nothing in a letter that isn't obvious in print. This makes it much easier for the aspie to understand meanings and feelings and to make themselves understood in return.

In my next post, I'll try to get more into the mechanics of the letter itself.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Introversion Test - Update (Scores)

Here's some unofficial figures from two separate surveys (both done in 2008) of the Jung/Briggs-Myers Introversion test. The results are from a survey done on (which is - in my humble opinion - the best aspergers forum on the internet - if you haven't been there, it's well worth a visit.

Some Scores
My apologies for the Image Table, I couldn't get blogger to properly render a table.
You can get to a text version of the table here.

Introversion Ratios
Comparing the scores in this table, there are a few interesting conclusions that we can reach;

First of all, of the 299 responses, 93% were introverted and only 7% were extroverted. This suggests a much higher than anticipated percentage of aspies who are introverted however there is one important factor to consider.

This test was done on the internet. A person with an introverted personality is much more likely to do a test on the internet than a person with an extroverted personality.

Aspie Personality Types
Ignoring the fact that the survey methods used to collect this data do introduce the possibility of unintended bias, we can see that there are a some clues to further narrow down aspie personality types.

At the the second level, the scores break down into;
  • 78% Introverted + Intuition

  • 22% Introverted + Sensing

This is a reasonable drop from 93% down to 78% suggesting that the rule isn't absolute.

At the third level, there's a similar split;

  • 76% Introverted + Intuition + Thinking

  • 24% Introverted + Intuition + Feeling

At the fourth level, it's pretty much even - and can therefore be ignored as a factor.

  • 55% INTJ = Introversion + Intuition + Thinking + Judging

  • 45% INTP = Introversion + Intuition + Thinking + Perceiving

What's interesting about this is that the last category of Judging/Perceiving is an add-on to Jung by Isabel Briggs-Myers - and I think it gets ruled out almost entirely.

In the absence of further evidence and with full knowledge that this isn't a perfect test, we have to conclude that the results indicate that;

People with Aspergers Syndrome mainly fall into the INTJ (Introversion/Intuition/Thinking/Judging) and INTP (Introversion/Intuition/Thinking/Perceiving) personality types as described by the Jung typology test.

An Introversion Test

It's a well known fact that the percentage of introverted personality types amongst Aspergers people is considerably higher than the percentage amongst the neurotypical community but this often leads to the belief that all aspies are, by definition, introverted.

Measuring Introversion
There's an online test based on Carl Jung and Isabel Myers-Briggs typological approach to personality which you can try at;

My Scores
Just for the record, my scores on this test were; INFJ
  • Introverted 33%
  • Intuitive 25%
  • Feeling 38%
  • Judging 22%
This makes me:
  • moderately expressed introvert
  • moderately expressed intuitive personality
  • moderately expressed feeling personality
  • slightly expressed judging personality
So, translating; I have a "source of energy expression mainly in the internal world" and rely more heavily on my internal feelings and creativity than external sources. Strangely, despite being quite a logical person, I make the majority of my decisions based on feelings. Interestingly though, once I've made my decision, I tend to create and follow a plan rather than improvise.

I may lean towards introversion but I'm obviously not 100% introverted.

The test then pointed me to a page covering an; Idealist Portrait of the Counselor (INFJ)

The text of this page seemed fairly relevant to me - especially the opening paragraph;
Of course, some of my friends and relatives may beg to differ...

"Counselors have an exceptionally strong desire to contribute to the welfare of others, and find great personal fulfillment interacting with people, nurturing their personal development, guiding them to realize their human potential. Although they are happy working at jobs (such as writing) that require solitude and close attention, Counselors do quite well with individuals or groups of people, provided that the personal interactions are not superficial, and that they find some quiet, private time every now and then to recharge their batteries. Counselors are both kind and positive in their handling of others; they are great listeners and seem naturally interested in helping people with their personal problems. Not usually visible leaders, Counselors prefer to work intensely with those close to them, especially on a one-to-one basis, quietly exerting their influence behind the scenes. "

More Information?
I'd be really interested to know how other people, both Aspie and NT score in the test. In particular, I'd love to hear from Aspies who score as extroverted.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Hyperfocus and Aspergers

One of the unusual abilities that aspies have is "Hyper-Focus. Like all aspie traits, hyperfocus is a double-edged sword.

On the one hand when combined with the special interest and aspie long-term memory, it is responsible for the genius label as it applies to apsies. On the other, it's responsible for many learning and obedience issues with Asperger's children.

Hyperfocus is commonly found in Asperger's children who also have the ADD/ADHD comorbid.

Hyperfocus and ADHD/ADD
In recent years, the definitions of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder) and ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) have merged, in the medical sense under the banner of ADHD.

Personally, I'm not keen on this merging of diagnosis because while the two share similar definitions, there are some fundamental differences between them.

While both ADHD and ADD children have, by definition, attention issues, the hyperactive child is more likely to have attention problems due to hyperactivity itself while the ADD child is more likely to have a hyperfocus problem.

Consider the differences between between

  1. A child who does not respond when his name is called because he is distracted or is shouting and jumping from chair to chair.

  2. A child who is intently starring at a spinning wheel, or playing with some lego bricks and does not respond when his name is repeatedly called.

Hyperfocus is possibly the cause of the problem only in the second case.

Hyperfocus and Discipline
One of the basic tenants of positive parenting and positive schooling is that the obedient child should be rewarded. In school for example, a child who is obviously paying attention will receive a reward while one who is not may be rebuked or simply ignored. This technique is generally quite effective with neurotypical children.

Unfortunately, this technique does not work with hyper-focussed children who go into daydream state (or "zone out") automatically. Zoning out is not disobedience. This child is not trying to be naughty - they just happen to go into that state automatically.

The best remedy for these children is for the teacher to work more closely with them and for more one-on-one time to be allocated. In schools, this isn't always practical and hyperfocused children can often miss out on necessary attention and can fall behind. Often, such children are labelled "slow" and are put into remedial classes simply because they lack the ability to remain "on-task".

Making use of Hyperfocus
Hyperfocus has a lot of advantages. It allows one to think more abstractly and with greater complexity. It is a particularly useful skill to have when you need to be able to model complex systems or think in an extremely logical manner (for computer programming). In the adult world, hyperfocus allows aspies to deal with excessive levels of detail while still retaining a top-down approach.

Aspies tend to hyperfocus mainly on their special interests and they are able to take in and process large amounts of related information as a result.

The best way to make use of hyperfocus in primary school children is to attempt to line their work up with their special interests whenever possible.

For example, if your child's special interest is trains, then giving them sentences to write about trains or mathematics problems regarding carriages, train sizes or weights or giving them scientific projects on the use of electricity or steam in trains will allow the child to use their special interest to further their normal learning.

Psychiatric Recognition of Hyperfocus
The DSM-IV manual used to diagnose autism, aspergers and other mental disorders does not recognise hyperfocus at all. Only the symptoms of hyperfocus are discussed.