An Asperger Day

Two weeks ago, I had at work what I describe as an “Asperger Day”.

These are days when, not only little goes right, but when many of the negative aspects of Asperger syndrome come to the fore and become more pronounced and so cause me significant difficulties.

They are not, therefore, great days and I can’t say that they are particularly enjoyable. However, they do occur and as a person with Asperger syndrome, I have had to learn how to cope with and accommodate them.

The Asperger Day mentioned above started after my boss asked me to attend an open evening to talk to prospective customers about what my company does and what it has to offer.

I didn’t prepare for the evening and, if truth be told, I hadn’t learnt the material sufficiently beforehand which meant I stumbled and couldn’t fully answer the questions that were being put to me. My boss received negative feedback and has asked me to prepare a presentation on the subject next month to test me on the content.

The core of the problem was twofold. Firstly, the material in question didn’t directly affect me. When this is the case, my Asperger dictates that I tend not to bother learning the material as it is largely irrelevant to my job tasks and what I personally am trying to achieve.

The material did affect me of course and what invariably happens – as it did in the this instance – is that it bounces back on me and causes difficulties.

The second reason is that the subject matter didn’t interest me. If it doesn’t interest me it becomes a low priority personally and, unless something happens which creates a sense of urgency, then I will simply put it to one side and not worry or address the issue. When this occurs, I simply do not “code” and retain the information. Instead, I work in my own vacuum on those things, and those things only, that are important to me.

With the latter reason, I hadn’t been referring fully to the manual which acts as a content guideline. Part of the reason for this is that, as a result of my Asperger, I also like/tend to “work in my own way”. The manual did not fully register with me in terms of my working practice and so I did not use it as fully as I ought to have!

These issues though were symptoms of the core problem. I have decided that the job that I am currently in is not the one that I want to remain within for the rest of my career. I miss entertainment – which is where I have always worked – and it is where my heart is.

Deep down I don’t, therefore, want to work where I am. I have, therefore, made a conscious decision and am determined to be decisive and move on by securing another position.
The danger is (a mistake that I have made before in my working life) is that I take the eye off the ball in my existing role and allow the situation to deteriorate. As a good friend said to me “you need to retain a positive attitude and make the most of things whilst you are there”.

During my “Asperger Day” I felt extremely anxious, worried and apprehensive. The cause of this were issues that presented difficulties for me that day as well as feedback from my manager on the open evening.

Firstly, I got the titles of six, different documents mixed up which caused difficulties with my boss when she asked for the relevant examples as I was unable to say with certainty which was the “final version”.

When this occurs it not only creates a poor impression with the other person, it also becomes very stressful for me. Its about attention-to-detail of course or, perhaps more pertinently, stopping before I commence the task and ensuring that I am clear in my own mind what-is-what and what example I am working on and not getting confused in the first place.

I had a similar experience when I was at the BBC. I was one of four people working on a document and I was the person collating everyone’s views and controlling distribution of the document as work-in-practice.

By not making clear what the “live” or master version was, confusion developed and which caused me enormous stress. It was the catalyst for what remains to this day the only serious [cognitive] “meltdown” that I have experienced in my working life.

What I should have done is stated to my colleagues that I would hold the master copy and that people should feed their comments back to me and highlighting their changes in colour so that I could update the master version.

In both the above cases, it was not just a case of inefficient processes but also my poor administration. Both contributed to me getting confused, disorganised and in a muddle which was the subsequent cause of my anxiety.

What I have tried to do – and need to do even more effectively going forward – is to organise the material within my workspace more efficiently so that I can locate information and data faster when I require it. I also need to pay greater attention to “process” and issues that do not immediately affect me directly, especially where colleagues are involved.

My ex-boss at the BBC was hot on process and taught me a lot about it. Central to his approach was outlining to begin with what each individual involved responsibility was and letting people know early what was required of them.

Listing associated timescales and the methodology involved, i.e. that one person will retain ownership of the master document, was also explicitly explained, along with other process elements such as meetings.

I have found that a real danger from allowing situations described above to deteriorate is the impression that other people have of me. This is especially so given that I have Asperger syndrome; in other words, the problem exacerbates wider issues.

One example is the need to ask other people for assistance. In another posting on my website, I talk about the need to ask others for help when I require it whilst, at the same time, not requesting assistance unless it is truly necessary to avoid creating a negative impression and a sense of inadequacy and dependency.

In the case of the documents outlined above, I found myself asking my boss for the latest version of a document that I had sent her so I felt certain that it was the final version I had amended. Needless to say this irritated her. The greater danger, however, was that, if I had fed her an incomplete version she would then have been working on a document that was incomplete.

All these factors came together to ensure that an “Asperger Day” developed. So how can I prevent such days” from occurring and what can I do if they do?

Well, the first thing that I accept is that, in the world of work – and especially so if I am a senior manager with greater levels of responsibility – I am going to have to face days when things do not go to plan. In fact, there are going to be days when things are going to go very badly.

Accepting this means that I keep the situation in some sort of perspective: I know that such days will not last forever and their effects will pass. Cognitively, I retain this mindset whilst, at the same time, focusing on trying to complete the tasks in hand. Doing so helps to ensure that I worry less and remove some of the backlog (tasks) which is the cause of the anxiety in the first place.

Not outwardly demonstrating anxiety in front of colleagues is also important. My experience has taught me that it is absolutely essential to retain control and gravitas. If the effects of a meltdown are outwardly displayed I know that it can destroy personal credibility.

Extricating myself from such a scenario can be helpful here. Leaving the office and either going for a walk or locating a place of solitude can enable me to re-compose myself and enable to me get into an appropriate cognitive frame of mind.

What I also did when I got home on the evening in question was just forget about things and basically switch off. I had a glass of wine and watched a TV programme that I had been looking forward to. There was no point in worrying excessively and so I refused to allow myself to do so. This gave me the opportunity to mentally relax and re-charge.

Secondly, I try to avoid such occurrences in the first place. Central to this is being proactive. If I can keep ahead of the game and complete tasks whilst not under pressure then that helps enormously in stopping problems from building initially.

Process? Before I commence tasks which I feel may be problematic, I try to think through cognitively about how I am going to approach the situation. What is involved and what am I trying to achieve?

In the above example with the six documents, this would necessitate being clear in my mind about what each document is, consists of and what I need to do to them, and in relation to each other. By doing this, I believe that I would have been consciously more aware of what I was working on when I made any changes and have avoided getting them mixed up.

If I do feel a “meltdown” coming on, then I do ask for help and insist on receiving this. Though I accept that this can have negative connotations, I know that not doing so can cause even greater, longer lasting problems.

Finally, what I suspect may have been the root cause of my above-mentioned “Asperger Day” was that I was in a situation – or more pertinently a job role – that I simply didn’t want to be in.

I know that, if this is the case, I need to condition myself mentally to ensure that I focus on and complete tasks that are part of a job function that I am obligated to respect and satisfy.

The optimum solution however, is to ensure that I do not remain in such a situation indefinitely. I am accelerating my job search with immediate effect…..

Managing with Asperger Syndrome