back to article Working with Asperger's in tech: We're in this together

Some time has passed since my first article on the subject of being an Aspie in the work world. So, I thought it may be time to cover a subject closer to my heart, namely being an Aspie in social settings. Work, after all, isn’t just about what you do – it’s how you interact with people as well. First, let's start with my wife …

Interesting article.

As a mental health nurse myself I have worked with many people whom are on the spectrum. (I have also come to ascribe to the view that the 'spectrum' is in fact not distinct from NT experience; that everyone is on the same spectrum and that for certain characteristics it is simply how far along the spectrum you are. Everyone has 'traits' to some degree or another and I certainly include myself in that).

Something you did not mention in this article, (you may have before, did read the previous article but can't remember), is honesty. Nearly all of the people I have worked with have been almost brutally honest. I always enjoyed this about working with them and see it as a positive overall. However I know that it often caused them some interesting situations when interacting with NT people!

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Having worked abroad for years I also value brutal honestly. When you are working in a multinational environment one man's subtle response is another man's half million euro cockup. I've been called an idiot to my face in an important meeting an it wasn't an insult. The British were shocked and the Dutch took it in their stride. I was being an idiot so I just agreed. I find project managing the Dutch and Scandiwegians refreshing - though you learn to develop a thick skin.

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You've got to understand culture though.

I've encountered a situation where someone called a very key member of staff "an idiot" or something similar because they came from an "in your face" culture.

The person handed in minimal notice and went on sick leave for the majority of it and provided bare minimal handover notes, nearly killing an entire project. Then actually changed their mobile number when people called them afterwards looking for info.

Arrogantly not adapting to a particular culture or understanding that culture is not universally understood is a recipe for serious conflict.

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RE: the Dutch and Scandiwegians refreshing - though you learn to develop a thick skin.

Something for those carping about Linus to take heed of.

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Yes, I miss working in Netherlands for that reason

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I employed a techie with aspergers. He was fully aware of what he was strong and deficient in. The main thing he had an issue with was re-tasking, he simply couldn't stop a task till it was complete. Obviously don't give him research if it meant the job couldn't be done but he was perfect for solving "known" problems or issues that most likely could be fixed one way or the other.

Was a damn good worker and didn't slack off either (if he had a job to do he did it)

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Anonymous Coward

Asperger's has been very good to me

I can't complain.

What's the opposite of 'Disability' ?

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Re: Asperger's has been very good to me

Disable --> Enable

Disability --> Enability?!

Perhaps it's time for a new word in the English language?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Asperger's has been very good to me

What's the opposite of 'Disability' ?

You leave the "dis" bit off, so "ability".

I have no complaints. Well, OK, apart from a non-social life, but the kind of work I can do thanks to a fairly acute ability to sense patterns makes for quite interesting projects.

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Re: Asperger's has been very good to me

It can be. I know both a highly paid lawyer and a banker who have done very well out of it.

But excuse me for writing this - I think that while the diagnosis of autism is understandable (the medical need to classify and provide resources) it is not really a "spectrum". It's a lot of different personality traits which may or may not occur together (high functioning) along with other personality traits which are harmful; and I understand it may stem from a variety of not-that-related mutations, and gene expression which may be affected both by parental and prenatal conditions.

At the moment it is like classifying everything infectious as being "on an infection spectrum" and not regarding the common cold as being essentially different from sepsis, just a less severe version.

In an ideal world being classified as "Aspergers" should be irrelevant; it's more a case of "X has these behavioural traits and this is how we minimise misunderstanding and friction." Because, to be brutally honest, it is much, much harder to have to work with a "neurotypical" with an average IQ than with someone with borderline OCD and an IQ of +3 sigma, if you want to get anything done properly. In today's world, being an average neurotypical is actually a mild disability.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Asperger's has been very good to me

In today's world, being an average neurotypical is actually a mild disability.

It is if the person involved is subjected to the usual office politics. I found myself unable to deal with that because, quite frankly, I'm too honest and it doesn't make me feel good to have to play a game of which I can barely understand the rules in order to get promotion. Ability only makes you valuable in the role you're already in...

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Re: Asperger's has been very good to me

"a game of which I can barely understand the rules in order to get promotion"

A person of average IQ is unlikely to get promotion. I suspect that just posting to the Reg puts you in something like the top 10% of the IQ range; illiterate posts are very uncommon here.

In my experience the cause of office politics is people who are not quite intelligent enough for the job they are doing or aspire to. Either they become the office politicians, or others have to work to get them onside. I hope that in my time I've fallen into the latter category, but that may just be my own Dunning-Kruger effect.

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Re: Asperger's has been very good to me

"Superpower", natch ;oD

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Happy

Re: Asperger's has been very good to me

advantage

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Re: Asperger's has been very good to me

As an old wisecrack goes - "What do you mean by "suffering from x"? I'm not suffering, I'm enjoying it!"

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Re: Asperger's has been very good to me

I suspect that just posting to the Reg puts you in something like the top 10% of the IQ range; illiterate posts are very uncommon here.

According to Mensa I'm in the top 2%, but I pay for that with an EQ that is probably a negative number although age seems to help :). I tend to make few mistakes in spelling because I read by pattern recognition, misspelled words simply feel "wrong" (sorry, hard to describe). That doesn't work for every language I speak, but I reckon me English eez akzeptable. Sorry, slipped there for a moment...

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Re: Asperger's has been very good to me

So what you're suggesting is being NT is a disability?

Given the rates of detection of Asperger's syndrome has been on the rise for years, I guess some day it'll be the "normal" condition: we aspies will take over the world and start treating people for what we now call "neurotypicalism".

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Re: Asperger's has been very good to me

>So what you're suggesting is being NT is a disability?

In my line of work, being the one in the office without a maths PhD means you are handicapped - yes !

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Re: Asperger's has been very good to me

I second that motion on misspelt words feeling 'wrong' it's wonderful when you code for a living........

On that note though it was why I got taught to touch type when I was 8 in school. They felt the pattern recognition might be better since its a different sort of muscle memory. Personally I just think it makes it easier to correct.

Oh and regarding iq I'm mildly above average save for mechanical /spacial which is off the scale. Never done much with it since I hate studying and tend to learn as I go along.

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Re: Asperger's has been very good to me

You just nailed it there...

.... cause of office politics is people who are not quite intelligent enough for the job they are doing or aspire to. Either they become the office politicians, or others have to work to get them onside...

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An excellent article that really helps NTs to understand and see the world from an Aspies perspective. Thanks for sharing. :)

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Really

Really? It barely covers anything to do with being on the spectrum.

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To avoid the wife home early causing you hassle.

Wife works varying hours (time she can leave work heavily depends what issues & their urgency level arise in that particular work day), and will text me with earliest possible ETA once she knows what train she is catching (based on "perfect travel" i.e. no train delays & no congestion delays on road part of journey - so "perfection" usually only occurs rarely)

I know to treat the ETA as having very wide margin of error due to the dismal road & rail networks involved, but does give earliest possible time home to work on & if there are massive delays will usually get update from wife.

That generally avoids surprises (unless mobile network down / wife forgot phone / phone out of charge)

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Anonymous Coward

I was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome about 30 years ago. A few points:

1) I'm not an "Aspie" any more than I'm a "Myopie". I have no shared identity with people just because they happen to have the same minor disabilities* as I do.

2) Normal* people are not responsible for dancing around my abnormalities* just as I'm not responsible for pandering to people who are clinically normal* but hopelessly thick.

3) An Asperger's diagnosis does not mean someone is magically inoculated against stupidity. Inability to learn that a stock phrase like: "When you've got 5 minutes.." has a broader meaning is evidence of poor language skills or stupidity, not Asperger's per se. If one cannot learn that then how can one learn that DBTransaction.Commit may (or may not) imply OSFile.Write, depending on context and external flags?

4) Uncontrollable fear of enclosed spaces is claustrophobia. I don't like my personal space invaded, but I'm not going to belittle genuine phobias by pretending it is uncontrollable. Normal* people ride the Northern Line in the morning and so do I. If I dislike it more than they do then it is my damn problem, not theirs.

5) Lists and routines are like single thread procedural programming. Nice and simple but not how the world actually works. If I can ignore asynchronous callbacks, thread pre-emption and (horrors!) polymorphic variables then it makes my life simpler. Amazingly enough, that applies to normal* programmers too!!

An abnormal* mind has advantages, once you learn to use it. Almost by definition, you can see things automatically which normal* people find harder to grasp. I don't have to make an effort to follow opcodes, I just relax and think lazily (meaning literally and procedurally).

If you find any of this annoying then I'm afraid my Asperger's manifests as an intolerance for patronising excuses, euphemisms, special pleading and playing the victim. The fact that I can be an annoying jerk is a character flaw, not a psychiatric diagnosis ;)

* Words selected intentionally.

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#2 FTW

Never suffer fools.

Glady or otherwise.

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I've never been diagnosed with Asperger's (or Autism Spectrum Disorder as is the PC term now), but have some traits that could be considered as such, just not enough of them to affect my day to day functioning.

"Inability to learn that a stock phrase like: "When you've got 5 minutes.." has a broader meaning is evidence of poor language skills or stupidity, not Asperger's per se."

I get that. What I don't get (and never have) is whenever someone says "I have a 5 minute job for you to do", almost invariably means it's going to take four hours out of my time that's been allocated to something a little less important, like trying to recover from a pabx fault that resulted in in a quarter of the several hundred phones being borked.

For some reason, that bugs me more than society says it should.

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"What I don't get (and never have) is whenever someone says "I have a 5 minute job for you to do", almost invariably means it's going to take four hours out of my time"

That's easy. It's the same reason "From nothing" or "Not to what" means "You are welcome" if the speaker is Spanish or Russian. In your case the speaker is fluent in PHBish or Idiotese. Context is everything. Misleading statements and outright gibberish may become comprehensible once you factor in the context of the speaker being a complete and utter idiot.

The specifics in this case being that the idiot actually has no idea how long the job will take so he is pulling a random number out of his ass based on magical thinking and blind parroting of cliched time intervals. "About 10 days" is another common choice for jobs self evidently bigger, even to idiots.

This is not really the speaker's fault. Being an idiot is a far greater mental disability than being on the autism spectrum. However, we are all prone to some degree of wishful thinking and it can be hard for the rest of us to grasp the neutronium levels of density that professional buzzword bingo callers and "Consultants" (but I repeat myself) are capable of.

Personally I find it helpful to remember that MBA stands for "Middle Bronze Age" or "Maldives Basketball Association" and calibrate my expectations of technical competence accordingly.

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Sorry AC. I think you misunderstand what "It'll just take five minutes" really means.

The "just five minutes" is not a measure of quantity, in the speaker's mind, but is a measure of quality.

It's actually "five minutes worth" of time.

Underlying it is an unconscious belief that four hours of your time is only worth five minutes of theirs

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we have a "no politics" rule in our office. Politics with aspergers is not a good combination we have found.

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Stop

Different NOT broken

People with Asperger's (or even just Introverts) are not wrong or broken because we don't like socialising, etc.. We're just different. I don't want someone to try and "fix" me by making me more socialble. I'm happy as I am.

You could argue that extroverts are broken and need reigning in to be more like introverts.

The world needs both extroverts and introverts (and everyone in between) We all just need to appreciate the others needs.

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Re: Different NOT broken

"You could argue that extroverts are broken and need reigning in to be more like introverts."

Technically extraverts are people who take their social cues from those around them, while introverts are people who are self-directed. Extraverts need people around them to know what to think; introverts only need enough people around them to form the basis for some interesting disagreements. Extraversion often gets confused with hypomania but is quite different. Some hypomaniacs make excellent salesmen but you don't want them running QA. Some introverts, on the other hand, can end up running large projects or enterprises and will stick to their guns against the herd instinct, which means they may either be very successful or huge failures.

(Please do not take too literally).

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Facepalm

Re: Different NOT broken

"People with Asperger's (or even just Introverts) are not wrong or broken because we don't like socialising, etc.. We're just different. I don't want someone to try and "fix" me by making me more socialble. I'm happy as I am."

It's those last five words that I find is the problem. It's the same for me - I'm happy as I am - but when I'm sat quietly in a corner minding my own business, other people think that means I'm not happy, and feel they need to do something about it. Which has the opposite effect.

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Not socialising?

Have you SEEN the people out there in 'the World'??? Jeepers, no wonder ;o)

I think the DK effect applies equally outside the workplace, also... much evidence.

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Re: Different NOT broken

That's because it's them that has a problem ! Maybe they're bored or simply "do gooders", either way, I know what you mean.

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Re: Different NOT broken

"We all just need to appreciate the others needs."

Perhaps this is the core of the issue. It's not people "on the spectrum" that have an issue, they are just normal people with differing attributes. We should instead try to diagnose those who are intolerant and incapable of dealing with people of a more...ordered...nature. Those people could then be treated for being on the...ass-hat scale?

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Re: Different NOT broken - @Lusty

I completely agree with you, and I'm "neurotypical".

I am, however, unable to metabolise alcohol, and since I won't want to die of acetaldehyde poisoning, I don't drink it. The efforts made in the past by people telling me "one drink won't hurt you" (add slurring to taste) has persuaded me that intolerance is the problem, not behaviour outside +/- 1 sigma of the average.

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Re: Different NOT broken

My concern is I think that some people are getting to the stage that they're describing personality types as pathologies.

I had a huge argument with a parent who was actively discouraging their daughter from building Lego models because she was "fixated on one thing". The kid is probably going to be an architect or something. She's super creative and can build complex spaces in 3D at age 6.

Likewise I've seen a parent "concerned" that their kid is spending too much time mastering the guitar!

If you push things too far, you'd be describing every academic, every researcher, every PhD candidate, artist, journalist with a special interest, engineer - basically anyone with a passion for a narrow range of subjects as somehow "broken".

Without people who can pick apart a single issue, humans wouldn't have progressed and technology, art, music, science, investigation, social change etc etc wouldn't happen.

We can't all be super-socially aware all-rounders all the time. Some people are highly specialised and interested in a narrow range of things. That's just life.

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Re: Different NOT broken

Half remembered quote from years ago -

Extroverts relax with other people, introverts are drained by them.

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Re: Different NOT broken

> What's the opposite of 'Disability' ?

Genius~for not choosing an accomplishment that stands a cat in hell's chance of coining money.

I can't help wondering where my ability comes from. It is the only problem I can't resolve. Yet.

That and making money that is:

http://weatherlawyer.altervista.org/do-you-remember/

I couldn't even manage to get Aspergers' enough to be able to write the code that will solve all my problems in forecasting or even make a video to popularise it or set a video recorder for that matter.

> If you push things too far, you'd be describing every academic, every researcher, every PhD candidate, artist, journalist with a special interest, engineer - basically anyone with a passion for a narrow range of subjects as somehow "broken".

I have yet to meet anyone in earth-science I consider useful. all the really good ones have me killfiled. Quite frankly they just don't want to rock a boat that is about to submerge under them. Shouting at the stupid bastards doesn't seem to help me or them.

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I thought Aspergers has been dropped as a diagnosis

My colleague's son is on the Spectrum, and tells me that Aspergers has been dropped as a specific diagnosis because the boundaries between it and the rest of Autism are too difficult to define. His son has a diagnosis of high functioning autism, whereas in the past it may have been aspergers.

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Re: I thought Aspergers has been dropped as a diagnosis

That's correct. The latest DSM manual removed a lot of specific criteria diagnosis. I'm against this as Asperger's is pretty definitive and did have an extensive list of traits which the severity of others juxtaposed against the more serious diagnosis. For me, the diagnosis of Asperger's that I had at the age of 5 helped defined me with the way I act differently with my peers, but not enough to make me alien among a group of neurotypicals. In a sense, that term shouldn't exist because "what's normal?" No one acts the same.

I'm also against the use of the word "Aspie". It makes the condition sound like it should be a minority group. Apologies to the writer which I relate to a lot of the situations described, but it's a word I can never relate to and should be discouraged.

However, to offer my perspective of the world; people on the spectrum can offer so much more if we all had more tolerance towards people. I live/work in London that can be extremely stressful (also becoming a Dad also recently!) However, there's a risk that the perception is that we have to treated differently. That should never be the case. I will struggle with instruction sometimes; but I've personally developed coping strategies to ask for those instructions again or clarify it. The person offering those instructions should just ask if the person understood the instruction.

I hope we can see more people on the spectrum in workplace and living world. We can offer a perspective others might not see and totally honest/dedicated to whatever we focus on. I cannot be less than honest with my work colleagues or friend/family. Lying causes a web of confusion and stress personally.

One last thing, I'd recommend anyone to purchase/read

"Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and How to Think Smarter About People Who Think Differently" by Steve Silberman. A great book on challenging how we percept people on a different level to ourselves.

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Childcatcher

Re: I thought Aspergers has been dropped as a diagnosis

Yes, the DSM-V eliminated Asperger's Disorder and a number of other diagnoses and replaced them with autism spectrum disorders. This has caused concern for a lot of people as it can complicate their lives - patients had one diagnosis that now no longer exists in a clinical setting. On the plus side, the change was at least in part because of better models for cause and treatment of these disorders than were previously available.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I thought Aspergers has been dropped as a diagnosis

There's been a lot of anger about the removal of Asperger Syndrome from the DSM. It's mainly a practical thing for the US, since a lot of medical insurers were putting in exceptions for AS. This has angered many health practitioners, since the DSM is supposed to be a general mental health manual, not something that's manipulated to get around the vagaries of the US health insurance industry.

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Re: I thought Aspergers has been dropped as a diagnosis

>That's correct. The latest DSM manual removed a lot of specific criteria diagnosis.

It's use was dropped much earlier here in the UK by officialdom (Health/Education Services) - private practitioners, often with dubious qualifications, are another story.

While Asperger's was presented as a discretely defined condition, its use was quite random. All autism assessments are inherently subjective, spectrum/continuum models reflect this as much as they do the nebulous population.

Most functional adults with jobs and lives (even with a textbook childhood autism history) would struggle to get an ASD diagnosis from a centre of excellence like ARC these days.

An AS diagnosis stopped me getting unceremoniously booted from Uni in the late 80s, but that's probably the only time I ever 'used' it - I've certainly never told an employer. I find the current fad for it quite irritating actually - STEM has always been chocked full of 'Aspies', there's really no need to recruit or pander.

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Re: I thought Aspergers has been dropped as a diagnosis

>DSM is supposed to be a general mental health manual

Although it did still list homosexuality as a mental illness into the 1970s

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Just read an excellent book which is free on Amazon at the moment - "Life with an Autistic Son" - heartbreaking and inspirational at the same time.

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Introversion is orthogonal to Asperger's

I have Asperger's (slash high functioning autism, pick your term) diagnosed about three years ago at the age of 33.

I'm also an extrovert, which makes some of the common generalisations of Asperger's not so closely applicable to me. While I do have a very real need for alone time and a definite draining effect from socialising with strangers, I also have a very strong need to socialise with people close to me, without which I feel like I'm literally losing my grip on reality.

I think the key difference between draining socialisation and regenerating socialisation is, typically for an aspie, more to do with predictability and certainty with regard to social roles and expectations. With strangers I have to be constantly on guard to ensure I don't upset somebody by missing a social cue and worry that my subtle oddness will unnerve them.

With people who I know well, it's easier to read their body language and avoid clumsily stepping on their emotional toes. Critically, I also know that if I do get it wrong, these are people I can trust to know that I didn't mean it as an offence or at least to just ask me to clarify.

The other kind of socialisation I can find much easier, even with strangers, is when there are clear social roles in the conversation. That way I can "play the part" of the role I'm in and interact in a way that sidesteps many of the easy pitfalls. For example, if somebody is asking for advice on a subject where I'm seen as an expert, then the interaction is less about me personally and more about my place in a predetermined almost prescripted routine - much less demand on those complex social subtleties. And when it's a scenario where my role comes with some degree of automatic respect, it can even be an ego massage! Of course, the temptation is ever present to steer conversations into that arena because it's easy, but it's not a good way into a deeper, more personal kind of relationship, so it comes with risks.

I don't know how many others reading this are in a similar category, but perhaps my perspective might be helpful to some :-)

Sam "SammyTheSnake" Penny

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Re: Introversion is orthogonal to Asperger's

Thanks for this. I often self-identify with some of what is written here about "aspies" traits (to a mild degree) but do consider myself quite "extrovert" in the ways you describe at the same time, which I always found odd up until now. I suppose what I thought about it was that I was just NT with some form of self-inspired bias. Your comment on top of some others above gives some invalidation to that self-assessment yet eases the desire for a label. Freeing up some cycles for more pressing shit :)

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Re: Introversion is orthogonal to Asperger's

I Identify with most of what you've said here, though I also have not been diagnosed as on the scale, some close friends have suggested things like I can be very particular at taking things at face value and not getting subtext a lot of the time along with some other few similarities.

I have counted myself as some class of ambivert. I do really enjoy socialising, especially as part of a group if its with people I know less well, but I feel tired and my mind wanders after a certain period of this and need time to do my own thing for nearly equally as long. Socialising one-on-one with people that I don't know or outside of certain fixed perspectives, e.g. work hierarchy, team roles, etc, borders on prohibitively difficult.

Strangely, the thing that has recently helped me most in this regard is Tinder!! I can connect to random new people, that I may never ever see or hear from again (I live in a large city) and I can practice small talk over and over again. It doesn't matter if I make a mistake, if the other person is OK they take it in their stride, if not I can move on to the next random person. When I need down-time I can ignore the message alerts, claim I'm busy atm or put off a date. On the plus side I might also end up with a decent romantic relationship ;)

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