Asperger All Stars
Asperger All Stars is a compendium of stories written by various authors. Malcolm Johnson is one of them.
Each story conveys a message or experience and what I have done is to try and identify some of the key lessons that cut across most of them.
It makes for an interesting, useful "dip-in-dip-out" read for those with AS in the workplace.
This is a book about people who are in different ways exemplars of success in life and work.
Asperger Syndrome is often described in terms of a deficit model – defined by the things people cannot do. For example, most of us will be familiar with Lorna Wing's characterisation of the triad of impairments as a diagnostic criterion for Aspergers. This book takes a different approach.
While not denying many of the challenges that individuals with Aspergers face it is in a sense essentially a celebration of difference - as Wendy Lawson, one of the contributors puts it: 'diffability ' not disability.
The book consists of 5 parts, and while the whole book is a good read, the most relevant section from the perspective of people with Aspergers’ in management is Part 2 : Careers. There are five contributions in this section: two of these were very well known to me (Malcolm Johnson and Temple Grandin) and there were three with whom I was less familiar: Roger Meyer, Damian Santomauro and Sondra Williams.
In the next section of the review I will draw out some of the highlights in the form of the key principles that emanate from the text, together with a personal comment.
Principle 1: Play to Your Strengths
• “People on the autism spectrum often have uneven skills ...success is more likely if the job requires use of the individual’s area of strength” Grandin, pages 37 and 38;
• “My mind thinks differently and this offers tremendous advantages” Johnson, page 65;
• “I also hold many strengths, and when properly exploited can express them in successful ways “ Williams, page 71.
The writers give a rich variety of personal examples of how they put the above principles into practice in their own situation. This idea seems pretty key to success generally in life for anyone; however what makes it much more significant for people with AS is the uneven profile of skill that Grandin refers to.
Gaining personal insight into your own strengths and then having the courage to act on them (for example see Malcolm Johnson's insight that for many people with AS their personal profile makes them more suited to a No. 2 role rather than a No.1 role) are recurring themes in understanding how individuals with AS become successful.
Principle 2: Understand Yourself
This is a direct consequence of the first principle – to play to your own strengths you need to have good self-awareness.
• “ Before I was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome , I spent 20 years in psychotherapy” Meyer, page 48;
• “The amount of effort I had put into my social investigations seems to have paid off in the end as now people find it difficult to believe I have Asperger Syndrome” Santomauro, page 59.
The writers provide insights into the kind of help and support that is more likely to work for people with AS as well as offering an optimistic (and in my view well founded) view of the capacity of individuals with AS to create effective strategies for surviving in a neurotypical world.
Given the relatively small number of people with AS, and their relative lack of economic and other power , the implication is that levels of support will continue to remain uneven and in many cases inadequate. This book goes some way to bridging that gap.
Principle 3: Be Aware of High Risk Areas and Develop Strategies to Manage Them
Because of the nature of AS there are certain situations which are likely to have a severely compromising impact on a person with AS' ability to succeed.
• “ I was fired from an equipment company because I reported engineering mistakes on a project to the president of the company instead of reporting to my boss” Grandin, page 42
• “ I had to learn not to tell other people they are stupid even if they are stupid” Grandin, page 42
Most of the material in this area comes from Temple Grandin's contribution and this provides an important counterbalance to the potential impression that a reader of the book might get that simply having talent is enough to succeed. She gives some very practical and sensible suggestions for handling these difficulties.
To be fair, the book is essentially about using AS and autism traits to shine in life, but I think that from the perspective of a manager with AS it is best read in conjunction with another book e.g. Malcolm Johnson's Managing with Asperger Syndrome .