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Techies with Asperger's? Yes, we are a little different...

Solving fiendishly intricate tech problems? Love it. Office politics and subtext? No thanks

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Don't write us off yet...

Sure, there are negatives but we also have plenty going for us. We are some of the most loyal staff you will find. With the technology, we don't just "get" stuff, we live and breathe it. We find the real complicated issues easier than most. We revel in the complications and details. It's part of the condition.

We will stick around for a while because we are comfortable inside our routine- and standards-driven world. It is not uncommon for a settled Aspie to be in the same job for more than a decade with very few of the issues associated with "normal" staff. (We don't really do drama).

Management and survival in the real world

If you a sufferer, diagnosed or not, this is my advice to you. Firstly, there are support groups. I was referred to one. They are usually bi-monthly and quite local. It's not just a bunch of Aspies lumped together, by the way. There are specialists who help you deal with all the crap that comes with Asperger’s.

Your GP can refer you easily enough. Back when I found out about my condition several years ago, there was not much help around, but a good deal more is available now. When I visited my doctor with a list of all my symptoms (we love lists!) the first time around I was told: "You don't seem very Asperger-y to me." All I could think was: “WTF! Who made you the expert in Asperger’s?” Luckily there is a growing awareness of Asperger’s and its diagnosis these days.

If you are lucky and you are in work, you can hopefully get your company to get you a mentor. They can usually be subsidised by the government, as mine was. In my new job I have a very active mentor. What does she do, you may ask? It's all about “bounces, filters and workarounds”. Stop sniggering at the back!

Firstly, as you know, we can sometimes come across as terse to the point of rudeness and if we are backed into a corner use words that really shouldn't appear in business communications. Some of us can be exceptionally good with words, but if we are flustered, we can fumble the niceties. A good mentor will help you with the communication, not telling you how to write, but acting as a sanity check before you hit that awful send button. This is ideal when you have to write emails to the higher-ups.

Mentors will also help you to cope with issues you may have around planning or timing. A good mentor will help you develop ways to accommodate change and planning. An example for me is that I hate anybody seeing what I write (yes, yes, I get it!) but the way around that is to use my laptop to take notes, so that none but I can see what I am writing. The result: I now have extensive notes to refer to rather than trying to remember everything. It means I get more done and things don't drop off the list.

It's the people, stupid

Even if your company can't afford a mentor, a good boss alone is worth an awful lot. I was honest with my boss(es) from the outset. I had the normal embarrassing "explain it to us" bit, but in the end it was worthwhile. They asked how they could help and we came up with a number of ways:

If I wanted something proof-read or checked prior to sending as it was important or needed to have the language validated, they would take five minutes and do it for me. That way there were fewer "whoops" moments and it made sure everyone’s face stayed free of egg.

Making sure you are on the same page with planning is always important. Having weekly meetings on an informal basis with just your Aspie and yourself will allow you to set targets for the week. Prioritise those targets so that we know what we have to do for the week and what is most important. We suck at prioritisation.

And I have one final thing of note. To me and my fellow Aspies it may seem obvious, but to the world at large, it will not. We don't pretend to know our areas of expertise. We do know them. What is not helpful – even to non-Aspies – is seeing management try to start the blame game before we have even finished fixing their precious machine(s). A good manager will step in and take the flack and explain to Mr Important: "He is fixing your stuff. It is not just a trivial X,Y,Z".

Too many times I have been knee-deep in a broken but very expensive machine and been forced to field phone conversations which ran along the lines of: "We have x-thousand users who can't do email. What is taking so long?". It is not right that I should be left to deal with management four layers higher than me.

Given a chance, Aspies can be fantastic employees. Those enlightened enough to have tested the theory can attest to that. We are hard-working, understand our areas of expertise in great depth, and can run with the best. Sometimes, however, we just need a little extra guidance and attention. If we get that, we will repay your trust in spades.

If you would like some more information on help available to those with Asperger’s and others on the autism spectrum, you can find some good information at The National Autistic Society. This is one of the best sites available and is designed for not only Asperger’s sufferers but also the people they interact with. The charity also have an offshoot that deals with placing people into work. ®

Bootnote

The Register is aware that the character of "Moss off the IT Crowd" has not necessarily been identified as being an Aspie by the writers of the programme, but individuals within the community have pointed to his character as having some of the traits, which is why we used the character as an illustration for Mr Burns' comment piece.

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