Having completed the friendship series, I was at a loss on what to write about for the blog. So I asked my family about possible topics and my next topic is: Why do Aspergians have troubles working with others / on teams?
Living in the science and technology world, I have experienced many times working with someone who has the brains and ability to do the job very well but cannot function on the team. But why?
As I explored this topic and many, many anecdotes about it, I found issues in three main areas: Social, Focus, and Sensory
Aspergians often have issues in the workplace due to their inability to notice and process social cues such as facial expressions or body gestures and many Aspergians do not look people in the eye. For NT’s, they may feel disrespected by the Aspergian. My son’s elementary school principal made a BIG deal that he would not look her in the eye. She interpreted it as he was up to no good. I didn’t realize at the time what it meant. (Honestly, she was a martinet who couldn’t handle new ideas so no surprise she had no clue what Aspergers was and the indicators for it)
Aspergians are often blunt. Yes, utterly and completely. Why should I have to add extra words when I can describe it simply as bad or worthless or crap? You can either find that bluntness refreshing or painful. Guess what many NT’s think?
Voice control is another area where many Aspergians have issues. Often they talk too loudly or they sound angry when they are excited, but when the volume/tone is discussed with them, they don’t understand. My son talks louder than necessary and the volume increases as he gets excited or upset. I often need to indicate to him (via a hand signal) to reduce the volume.
Small talk? Many Aspergians don’t need no stinkin small talk. At least you won’t get much from them. And if you do get some, it will probably be about some obscure topic.
In summary, for social issues, many Aspergians are hard to work with if you have standard NT sensibilities. They may not know last night’s baseball score (but they might, it involves numbers…). They will not notice that they grossed you out with a discussion. They may be too loud in their speech, or most impossible to engage in conversation at all. And if that shirt makes you look fat, they will tell you.
In the original Star Wars movie, there is a scene near the end of the movie where the rebels are attacking the Death Star. They are overwhelmed with Empire ships chasing them, Empire guns shooting at, and when one of the rebel pilots begins to unravel his commander says “Stay on target”. At my job, this phrase is OFTEN used to rein people back into the work they should be doing.
Aspergians often have issues keeping focus on a topic. At work, it is necessary to be able to integrate what you see, hear, remember, and what is documented to do your job. At this point, multi-tasking isn’t just good, it’s required (ADHD people take heart, your multiple thread skills can actually help as an adult).
Many Aspergians tend to focus on one idea at a time. So if the project is to create a new application for a cell phone that allows you to find a restaurant and order from that restaurant’s menu, the Aspergian may focus on one issue: inaccurate map data. Even when informed that map data is a lower priority and will be resolved later, the Aspergian may continue to work on that issue. There will be an argument/discussion.
Aspergians often like to have all of the information they need at the start, and many times, what you know at the beginning of the project is NOT everything you need to know. So motivating them to begin work, noting the holes, is hard.
Aspergians often need prioritizing which task to perform first.
And of course, many Aspergians resist change. For all of the latest technology many of us use, often it is very hard to convince an Aspergian to change how they get to work, what car they drive, what foods they eat, let alone to make changes to an existing function/application/you name it.
In summary, successful working with Aspergians could include a list or board listing specific tasks that need to be done and a way to document progress on the task. The Kanban scheduling system, which consists of small tasks or stories moving across a board as they are worked on, works well for many Aspergians. And be prepared to answer why: Why are we doing this? Why are we doing it THIS way? Why, why, why. Somedays, it is like working with a group of three year olds. That Super Bowl commercial with the cowboys herding cats? My life – daily.
Many Aspergians have sensory issues. They find work environments too bright, too loud, too smelly. To the NT, Aspergians appear very touchy or childish in their wants/needs. From the Aspergian point of view, they are inundated with sensory information, just too much of it, and they need ways to filter it out.
Some people may work with some lights off. I know that when I was small, I could HEAR the ballast in fluorescent lights, especially when they were about to burn out. I asked my parents about it, they hadn’t a clue. My sister didn’t hear it. I was sure I was an alien left here by mistake. Thankfully as I have aged I do not hear that sound anymore as most workplaces have fluorescent lighting. Unfortunately, when the same lights start to flicker as they die, that gives me a headache.
Some people use headphones at work to filter out the conversations. I use them often.
Many people have issues with smells. I try NOT to eat in my work area and certainly do not throw away food in trash cans in my work area. Burnt popcorn and fish smells are the worst.
In summary, a work environment that accommodates sensory issues is great. Encouraging people to get up and walk around, take a real lunch, etc., does help to diffuse sensory issues.
At my current job, many of us have Nerf guns, and when it just gets too much, a mini battle rages, we run around for a few minutes, collect our spent ammo, and refocus.
Overall, working with Aspergians can be more difficult, especially for the NT’s in the group. Jokes told may fall flat, food brought in may be disliked, minor issues overblown. Extra work is needed so that everyone is comfortable. The Aspergians AND NT’s all deserve a comfortable place to work.