AlienBeing.org is one person’s story. This site just passed 12 years on the web and this is an update.
I was born in 1961, and I was expected to be an achiever. I had academic success, graduating cum laude from a good small college and earning an MBA. I had the opportunity to interact with a few people in school who would become famous, but my work career did not blossom, as I became isolated doing work on spreadsheets behind a computer. The climax was in 1995 when I was fired from two jobs in which I was expected to perform like an MBA. I was told that I had an “interpersonal skills” problem. I turned people off by being opinionated, yawning, speaking too long and in a monotone, stuttering and hesitating, being a poor listener. I did not know it was that bad.
In the 1995-1998 period, I did soul-searching and research, seeing a therapist thanks to personal connections. I discovered Autism after reading "Diagnosing Learning Disorders" by Bruce Pennington I discovered Autism after reading "Diagnosing Learning Disorders" by Bruce Pennington after seeing the connection between struggles with listening and poor body coordination. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) recognized Asperger Syndrome in 1994 after Asperger became a diagnosis in 1992. I was told I had High Functioning Autism in 1996, which is slightly different from Asperger because as I understand, my strengths were in math versus verbal. I found out in 1998 that I had been medically diagnosed as an autistic child at age 2, but I was never told about it and it was assumed it could be outgrown.
I felt like an alien being because I knew I had neurological challenges that I could not overcome. I had to accept both being at the top in some skills and near the bottom in other important skills. I had to find a way of participating in life while being happy yet not letting others around me feel uncomfortable. I wanted to live independently. I had to interact with family and others that had worked in sales and had excellent social skills while being on the Spectrum. I have to be patient and hope that others have understanding for me. Some social situations are truly hard - when I am sitting at a table with highly social people and being overwhelmed by listening to the back and forth of group conversation.
I have not wanted to make my identity public yet because I am still working, and I do not want the web site to be a distraction. I admit that I have not updated the site much, or chose to have photographs and publicize on other color social media sites. I also have not read that much recently about Autism and Asperger and so this site is based on my opinion and experience alone.
Recent years have been fine – I finally found a woman who is willing to tolerate my strengths and weaknesses, who introduced me to dogs. I did not grow up with pets except two cats for a short period of time as a kid. Pets are good in teaching people touch skills – a problem for me as I was overwhelmed by touch and sensory integration. This aside, the neurological issues never went away, and so most of the original site is still applicable.
AlienBeing.org is a resource for highly functioning adults on the Spectrum with an emphasis in social skills in work environments. The site has limited application for people who are unable to work. Going to school costs money and time – it is helpful – but may be costly if the student fails at either the academic or social expectations of the institution. I have no advice about picking a career or a school – I deal with advice about the act of participation.
For me, the world operates at a faster pace than I like. While socially participating, I wear out faster than average to the point where the people see the frustration on my face, especially at a table of people talking around me. I was too slow to laugh and pick up what is going on. It is easier one-on-one than in a larger group.
I can learn but over a longer period of time requiring patience and dedication. Improvements can be made through practice and self-awareness. You can be different but try as hard as possible to be different in a beneficial way. I have to work every day and slowing improve the condition of my mind like one conditions the body in a gym. Studying various web sites, meeting the right people - I am conscious that work is being done on personal improvement programs for adults. It is a very new field, and a great opportunity for the next 20 years.
I remember asking whether I should just take an isolated behind-the-computer job or work on my interpersonal skills and try to be normal. You are better off with trying to maximize your interpersonal skills to be "normal" as you would be able to be qualified for more job options.
How do you improve your interpersonal skills?
My strategy is to
1: Fix problems that are not directly autism but arose from bad habits developed due to your autism 2: Somehow improve your neurological prowess
One has to know as much about yourself as possible. I researched my early life up to age 5, where I did not have memories and there was trauma as I did not develop speech and play skills normally and had to have medical intervention referenced above at age 2. I then had to recall social struggles, looking terrified about being photographed, limited social participation in high school and college.
I then had some reading and courses in adult schools and seminars.
To fix your bad habits in Point 1, I found in my research that one can attack the edges of the problem, working on correctable weaknesses. Examples are: make voice less monotone with emphasis words such as front door, pronounce consonants at end of words, somehow be aware of body position, breathing, head movements and eye contact; stretch mouth, clean teeth, maximize physical condition, healthy diet, go to bed early to maximize sleep.
Keeping a straight posture without being hunched over is a challenge when one works behind a computer. However, one's speaking voice is clearer and less likely to be trapped in the throat while standing up straight.
Point 2 is harder - helped by more social interaction assuming the mind is a muscle. Isolation can result in social skills regression.
After fixing the problems at the edges, I got better at some social interactions say for under15 minutes. I could tolerate listening some – and not over talking – completing a rambling monologue. It is important to know when a person has mental fatigue (tunes out listening) after participating in a group (30 minutes, 1 hour?) after they start being in a group. I think I can appear to be a person not on the Spectrum for a while until I get tired or overwhelmed.
After clearing the rough edges, part 1 above, the person has to identify its potential. School is not necessarily social so an autistic person can get an advanced degree. For me, I needed to use an advanced degree to have a position that is less social than normal.
I assume family is your best resource, then friends, then somehow meeting strangers and making new friends. You have to like to so something and seek that career. You have to admit you are good at this and bad at something else. I would be good at numbers and accounting, bad at being a waiter and running around in a restaurant or being in a meeting with social interaction with six people, having to speak on my feet.
I agree with the concept of "Applied Bahavioral Analysis" - break down social interactions step by step, like watching every action in a TV comedy. Autism can use time and memory - alternative learning methods to osmosis or fast learning skills that smart non-autistic people learned on their own. Whether 10% or any percent actually "beat autism" is less important to me than alternative learning methods. Sometimes, I feel I beat autism - other moments - I still just miss signals other people can pick up.
The challenge in a conversation is making the comment that would offend someone. A conversation is hard - listening takes a lot of effort and often, I don't have the luxury to consider the other person's situation and context. I can sense something is wrong but I don't know why because when I made the statement, it did not appear to be a problem to me. Then the meltdown continues with visual frustration and bewilderment - what is going on? I have to retreat, be alone, buy time. These difficult encounters can happen in work or social life outside of work. You are better off doing things you like to do, most likely outside of the most socially sophisticated circles.
I feel people under the Spectrum need to hear from others within the Spectrum, not be lectured by someone who cannot put themselves in your shoes, speaking to you theoretically. I have to help others like others helped me. It is amazing that I can put up a website and communicate with people from all over, compared to what was available before the Internet.
The emphasis is on autism in the workplace. I do not advise on childhood therapy and brain science, or dating (I never married, not sure if I can advise). I had childhood therapy, and try to keep up with developments online.
Socialization, like everything else, takes hard work and concentration. You will be tired at the end of each day, yawning. Socializing can require being uncomfortable - halting and confused when shifting thoughts. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I don't and people catch on that I have a "problem" and thus do not fit in.
I am one of those people who experienced a life track that is not possible today because I would have been given a label as a child and would have gone to a college with more structure and forgiving for the autistic. I will talk about this more at the time my identity is revealed.
An person on the Spectrum can have hobbies. I researched my geneology online, liking to be a detective finding unknown ancesters as far back as 1600. I like photography, wanting to visit and photograph historic buildings in every town in my area – like other autistic people, I feel smart learning trivial facts. There are enough activities that I can do well enough to be happy - I just have to accept that I cannot do everything.
Aging is similar to autism - the body slows down, I do not do things I did in the past such as riding a bike 50 miles (never did a century). Just think and find other things to do, such as reading books and maybe go on a bus tour.
I really don't want to feel like a victim. I just have to find my role given the way my brain is wired. I can find opportunities that others don't see or bother with, and take as long as necessary to get the work done, with alienbeing.org as an example.