I am addicted to the TV show Parenthood. In it, a 12-ish-year-old boy named Max has Asperger’s. On a recent show the entire family (and a huge family at that) waited anxiously in a hospital as one of the family was treated following an accident. Max was fidgeting until he couldn’t take it anymore:
“I WANT MY PANCAKES. YOU PROMISED WE WERE HAVING PANCAKES AND THAT WAS AN HOUR AGO AND I WANT THEM NOW!”
His Dad tried to calm him and asked him to be reasonable (something a very literal-minded Asperger’s sufferer defines differently than a Neuro Typical person). “Max. Your cousin is very ill. She may be dying. You’re going to have to be patient. We’ll get you the pancakes as soon as we can, but we’re all worried and waiting to hear from the doctor if she’s going to live.”
“YOU PROMISED ME PANCAKES. I DON’T CARE IF SHE DIES. I WANT MY PANCAKES LIKE YOU PROMISED.”
Max proceeded to ‘have a meltdown’, as it’s called in the Asperger’s world. (My melt downs feel like I’m in a continuous visual/sensory/auditory loop of confusion and expectation that I can’t get out of and I have trouble breathing. Thanks to coaching and therapy, it now happens rarely.)
Later, as he was eating his pancakes, his Dad tried to explain to him about empathy, and that he owed his Aunt an apology for saying he didn’t care if his cousin died. To which Max replied: “Dad, are you mad at me because I have Asperger’s?”
Of course, there is no simple answer to that question.
My ‘thing’ – and Aspies have a ‘topic’ they concentrate on – has always been systems. Of course Aspie’s think in systems, but I can hear, understand, and visualize the full range of elements within people and group systems, immediately notice what’s missing, then translate them into skills for change and communication: how people interact; how decisions get made; the steps of change; how families work; how communication works/doesn’t work. The good news is that even with my differences, my decades of coaching and therapy have enabled me to work with global corporations, and actually do some good in the world, albeit with a charming twist to my personality (I’m told I’m charming. To me, it’s normal; I can’t figure out what is so unusual.).
As an Asperger’s sufferer, I don’t always know the ‘right’, or politically correct, thing to say and people sometimes find me annoying: I too often interrupt others when I hear them speaking in the wrong system; I have a set of time slots in my brain that everything gets compared with (called pushy by some). I sometimes miss nuance, and take things too literally. My speaking patterns are different from ‘normal’ folks, and I relate quite intensely and super-honestly. And certainly I over-talk at times because it seems imperative for all facts to be noted. Not great for social dialogue, apparently.
Sometimes people get turned off because I don’t use conventional speaking patterns. I address this by warning folks upfront what they might find a bit strange; this makes me more acceptable. At an end-of-year sales conference once, I began by saying that I had Asperger’s and folks might find my speaking patterns unusual, but if they could hang in, they’d find my content thought-provoking, useful and visionary. And fun – I’m a lot of fun.
I’ve had years of coaching, therapy, and group work to learn social skills, but I still have an ‘interesting edge’ apparently. With Bethlehem Steel once the head of the group I’d worked with for 2 years was handing me off to another division head. I overheard the new guy ask my regular client: “Is she always like this?” to which my client replied. “Oh, yes. And you will grow to love her.”
Over the years, I’ve been ignored, thrown out of groups, and walked away from, in situations where NTs are thinking in mainstream ideas. (Thankfully, my clients are visionaries who relate to my brain and heart.). I’ve had wonderful meetings that turned to nothing because folks were uncomfortable with my communication differences. I’ve had people refuse to work with me, saying that I’m just too different. When any of the above happen, I’m absolutely baffled. Sometimes I think that folks use my style as an excuse to not have to consider the new models I’m introducing. But I’ll never understand why anyone would respond that way, and it hurts. Especially as my ideas, my inventions, my models, have changed the world.
Internally I can’t understand when or why or how I make some folks uncomfortable (and others not at all), or why when someone says ‘How are you?” I have to respond ‘fine’ even if that’s not true. (Why we ask each other how we are when we don’t want to know the answer is still a mystery to me.).
To be fair, my brain has developed some truly creative/innovative stuff that I’ve taught to many industries, and has been the core of many popular books. And I’ve had many wonderful partners ready to move beyond their immediate comfort zone to think out-of-the-box with me because they easily trust my honesty and care. The truth is that the same problem that causes my social issues gives me the ability to innovate and make a difference in the world.
I was deeply touched by Max’s question: are you mad at me because I have Asperger’s? Unfortunately for me – and for others who don’t fit into the norm – the answer is yes. Many of you are mad at me because I respond differently or ask unusual questions or talk too much or am too intense. But please note that my world inside feels/looks different from an NT world, enabling me to be curious, and recognize problems and solutions that NT’s don’t notice.
So the best I can do is find the right friends, colleagues, and clients who have open hearts, are seeking greater success and authenticity, are excited by out-of-the-box ideas, and can feel/hear/see and love me as I am – with or without the pancakes.
Sharon-Drew Morgen is a breakthrough innovator and original thinker, having developed new paradigms in sales (inventor Buying Facilitation®, author NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity, Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell), listening/communication (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), change management (The How of Change™), coaching, and leadership. Sharon-Drew coaches and consults with companies seeking out of the box remedies for congruent, servant-leader-based change in leadership, healthcare, and sales. Her award-winning blog carries original articles with new thinking, weekly. www.sharondrewmorgen.com She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.