Friday, March 19, 2010

Avoiding Human Contact

It's a common misconception that aspies dislike social contact. In fact, I've read somewhere that a major difference between "autism" and "aspergers" is that autistic children desperately want to have friends (and social contact) but can't while children with aspergers have better social skills but no interest in making friends. Of course, I might have this round the wrong way.

Either way, it's totally wrong.

In the first instance, aspergers is part of the autism spectum. They're "clinically identical" conditions, so there is no difference. Secondly, I've met plenty of people on the spectrum and with various labels, many of who lamented the fact that they crave friendship but have difficulty establishing/maintaining one.

Finally, and in my opinion, worst of all, these kinds of statements commit the "sin" of ignoring the individual.

Everyone on the spectrum is different regardless of their diagnosis. Everyone has different strengths, weaknesses, feelings and behaviour. We are all individuals and no label will ever change that.

All Stigmas have a basis in Reality
I think that it's only fair to say that all stigmas and stereotypes have some sort of basis in reality, however tenuous. That isn't to say that aspies don't "want" social contact but that sometimes their behavior makes it seem so.

Have a look at this dilbert cartoon which appeared on my calendar recently. This is me. It's very much me. In fact, I was so enthused by this cartoon that it now adorns the wall in my office.

I'm always one of the first people into the office and I'll generally hurry down to my cubicle to start my day in relative solitude. Even when I'm not the first one in, my colleagues know not to expect many words from me until I'm settled - certainly, very few of my morning ramblings are coherent.

Despite appearances, I do enjoy the company of my work colleagues. They're generally nice, interesting and caring people. I just have to settle myself in solitude first before I go out to talk.

15 Minutes of Fame
I tend to get into work at about 6.30am but it's not until about 9am that I go and get a morning coffee. It's then that the most social part of my day begins. That's right, it really does take me about 2.5 hours to get myself together.

For about 15 minutes in the coffee room at work, I wear my "social Gavin" hat. Being in IT, means that I need to have a good feel for not only system performance but also user tolerance. I'll talk about social things but will also touch on systems things. I'll talk about my day and my problems and will ask people about theirs. If there's any system issues which are causing massive grief, then I'll hear about them in this "15 minutes of fame". It gives me a better starting point for the days activities and draws my focus to the needs of the users.

Of course, by the end of 15 minutes, I'm often quite tired and socially worn out, so I go back to my office to work on the myriad of problems I've discovered - and to calm down from social overload. Depending on the degree of difficulty with the problems, I'll often repeat the 15 minutes of fame towards the end of lunchtime.

From what I gather, this is quite different from the way that neurotypical people work.

And the point is...
I guess the main points of this post are;
  • Those of us with aspergers need to be mindful of the sorts of inferences which can be projected from our behaviour and take care to not become too reclusive.

  • One or two 15 minute intervals of social contact per day, is often all that is required to follow the pulse of an organisation.

  • It usually doesn't matter how you work, just so long as you get the job done.


eaucoin said...

I knew I had problems with PR from my first part-time job. When my concentration was required, I would forget about my face. I have one of those mouths that falls into a frown when I'm not trying to lift it (the beginning of jowels). I had to struggle to concentrate to get all the work done and that meant I didn't socialize much. Once a coworker expressed surprise at something nice that I had done for her, and tried to tell me that people had me all wrong. She inadvertently repeated to me my co-workers description of me, that I "only smile three times a day--at breakfast, lunch, and supper." It was a complete surprise to me to hear that my coworkers thought that I don't like people. Since then, I would much rather work alone, not because I don't like people, but because it's like trying to do two jobs, and even when I'm working at it, I'm still not sure what kind of impression I'm making. Once I was told not to work so hard because it was "making my co-workers look bad." I went from believing that the quality of work was the most important thing to knowing in my gut that I was my own worst enemy and that I would probably never understand "the rules." I do know my strengths though: put me in a situation where nobody knows what to do, and I'll figure out what to do, who best to do it, and get their co-operation. This usually only happens in a leadership void, and then the issue becomes one of accepting responsibility while having not been given authority.

M said...

thanks for this's one of least favorite myths about AS, that people with it want to avoid people. i know when i was a kid i had zero friends, and to an outside observer it might have looked like i wanted no contact. i i was terribly alone, wanted friends very much, just couln't work the social mechanics. and even though it's an old myth, this idea still pops up, over and over, that people on the spectrum prefer isolation. it's terrible, though it does seem to be gradually improving...i'm starting to see more posts like yours dispelling the myth. hooray.

pastgrace said...

I'm a mother of a girl that I think may have Aspergers. She's 7 yrs. old now and I remember when she had her social "awakening". She was 4 and suddenly she wanted to have friends. Everything she tried just seem to push people away. To this day she just doesn't seem to be able to make the social connections.

It's funny to have read your post about how tired and drained you feel when dealing with people. I too prefer to be alone much of the time. Being with people just sucks all the energy out of me.

Anonymous said...

It often feels like learned helplessness- even when you reach out you make so many mistakes that it doesn't go well or as expected, so while someone with AS may crave social interactions they may find that the negative reactions or mistakes make it so unpleasant that they avoid it anyway. It's easier to fail to try than try and deal with failure sometimes.

Anonymous said...

Hi Michael here from Australia. Love the blog, I decided to comment on this one for one reason. I disagree. I avoid human contact as much as possible. That isn't practical, but I would prefer to be on my own.

With work, I find that when I had jobs where I was out of the office politics and not facing someone/s day after day, I did great, like my job i have now. But with an office situation, I hate it as I feel I have to perform when I want to get away from others.

Good post.

Anonymous said...

This was an interesting post. I dont prefer to talk with co workers because most of them are there for the cash anyway, and saying "Hi" to me is not needed. Do I work in an elevator? Why do I need to say hello to anyone unless they interest me? None of the coworkers interests me and I would rather talk with none of them. So while I could have friends, having them is work that I can do without dealing with all the subtleties and inconsisties of human behavior: "Hi Jack," says Tom. "Do you like my tie?", says Jack. "Yes it is a nice tie,"says Tom. <<<<waste of time conversation, total bs I prefer to have none of it because most people are not trustworthy. When people talk to you at work it is because they want something, not because they care about you. I can do without this.

Anonymous said...

I rarely have any desire for human contact, I'm far more comfortable and relaxed on my own in an empty house and this way I don't have to make any awkward conversation or be forced into the will or desires of others. A lot of the things others like to do for fun and relaxation just causes me to be bored, frustrated and anxious. I spend my work time (sound engineer) acting as best I can and I'm pretty sure I get away without coming across totally weird though there are cracks in my performance and it can be a little inconsistent as I have no real vision or sense of who or what I'm exactly trying to be. I do occasionally borrow certain traits from people I have known or worked with in the past. I like to take drugs to alter my state of mind as most of the time it feels flat, anxious and a little bit dysphoric. I rarely feel any kind of good feelings and never really get excited about anything. I do enjoy a stimulating conversation but it seem to me that 90% of people don't really want to talk about anything and rarely spend much time thinking about anything meaningful. I can never tell if a person likes or dislikes me and their words and behaviour at times make no sense to me, I can spend many hours and nights feeling anxious about what a certain person might have meant by their comments or what they might have felt about my own. I'm 33 and only last year learned the importance of making eye contact and had been looking at peoples mouths whilst having a conversation only to finally be told that it's obvious. Oddly I can be extremely charming and engaging in short bursts and when on a roll can convince and talk a person into just about anything though there are many other times that I can barely speak or look at a person at all. So I dispute that not needing human contact is a myth but I will dispute the opinion that those with AS/HFS lack empathy. I do find peoples "emotional needs" a bit confusing and repugnant but I have seen the kind of cruel treatment and total lack of consideration that "neurotypical" people can have for one another and for victims of this I have the utmost empathy.

Miguel Palacio said...

I've been told the same thing "slow down, you're making everyone else look bad", "you must be a union-buster. I see what you're doing there. You're trying to prove to the bosses that they can squeeze more productivity out of us".

But, on the other hand, I've been told the opposite "you make me sick! You're always so cheerful". That was in a workplace where people seemed to like to complain as as tho it were a sport.

And, in my last job I was labeled by my co-workers as "Mr. Professional", probably because that was my "game-face" and outward attitude while on the job.

But I tend to be more formal anyway than the situation would merit. People sometimes say I'm too formal with loved ones. It doesn't mean at all that I love them any less, but to some it comes across that way. I'm sorry about that, and it's certainly not my intention.