The Blame Game

I have written on several occasions on this blog about people not knowing how Aspergers Syndrome presents itself. Today I am writing about people who know all about Aspergers but twist their knowledge in order to blame those of us with Aspergers when their behaviour upsets us. To me, these people are ten times more destructive in our lives than the ones who lack awareness of Aspergers as at least the latter group can be educated. The first group have no interest in changing their views. 

I should point out at this stage that, proportionately, the number of people who take this approach is small but large enough to cause problems. Throughout my life, I have come across people who behave in offensive and obnoxious ways only to say, when I have become upset by this, “It’s your Aspergers! You’re taking it too personally!” Or variations of the above sentence. From reading several online discussions based around this topic, it is plainly obvious that other people with Aspergers have experienced this too. 

I am willing to accept that I have difficulties interpreting people’s body language and I often struggle to get the contexts and nuances of conversation. However, I can tell when somebody is being obnoxious or disrespectful and, to me, using someone’s condition as a scapegoat to absolve yourself of responsibility for your own offensive behaviour is simply cowardly. Yes I am aware that I often take things personally but I am usually extremely tolerant of other people so, for someone to upset me, the boundaries have been pushed too far. This has nothing to do with Aspergers and everything to do with treating other human beings with respect and compassion. 

This attitude that any offence taken is the result of an individual’s Aspergers Syndrome is completely the wrong attitude to take. If offence is always blamed on our communication difficulties, it conveniently means that the onus is on those of us with Aspergers to “toughen up” rather than on the other person to behave in a respectful manner. People will never change their manner or their personality if there is a scapegoat they can lay the blame on instead. What better scapegoat than an autistic spectrum condition which causes difficulties with communication and interpretation? 

Of course there are occasions where people with Aspergers and people without the condition misunderstand each other in conversations and in daily life and that is something completely different to what I am talking about in this post. There will always be misunderstandings as the way we think and perceive the world is different but what I am referring to is obnoxious behaviour, including bullying. We have feelings and emotions like everyone else in this world-please respect that. If we are upset at something that has been said to us, speak to us, listen to our answers and try to understand why we are upset rather than just blaming our condition in a bid to dismiss our offence as not real or worthless. I would never do that to you so please treat me and others with Aspergers Syndrome with the same respect. 

Finding Employment When You Have Aspergers

Some people may argue that I am not qualified to write about the difficulties in finding employment when you have Aspergers Syndrome as I have had the good luck to be blessed with a wonderful job for the past five years, a job which I got when I had only been out of university for five months. However, along the way, I have received several job rejections and I also have a lot of friends on the spectrum who have struggled to find employment so I thought I’d give this post a try.

According to statistics from the National Autistic Society, around 80% of adults of working age with Aspergers are unemployed. I know that, in this economic climate, everybody is struggling to find work, but it is a particular problem when it comes to those of us with Aspergers. I strongly believe that the only reason I got the job I am currently in is because medical conditions and disabilities is a special interest of mine and my enthusiasm regarding working in this area was strong enough for my lack of social skills in the interview situation to be overlooked. I think people without Aspergers find it hard to understand just how limited our interview skills can be. In one interview I had for a job which I was otherwise really well suited for, I had to concentrate so hard on maintaining eye contact that I was unable to speak more than a few words as I cannot do both at the same time in a situation which is highly anxiety inducing. This is the sort of thing that people without Aspergers just don’t seem to get and, in a way, I don’t blame them. People with Aspergers are often encouraged to disclose on application forms that they have the condition but, in all honesty, I am doubtful as to how much accommodation people are inclined to give us. 

People who sit on interview panels are usually members of the population who are innately brilliant at reading people’s body language-often they have attended courses to enhance their skills in this area so that they choose the candidate that they believe to be the most suitable for the role. The way I understand it, even if they know that the person sitting across from them in an interview room has Aspergers, few of them are unable to see past the awkward body language and the variable eye contact-it’s a prejudice that they’re not even aware of. Aspergers is different from just being shy-people who suffer with chronic shyness know which body language to employ but are put off by their lack of confidence in the situation-we simply have no idea! I know, for example, that most people see the gesture of having your arms crossed as an indication that the listener is not interested. To me, this makes no sense as to why someone could read offence and boredom into a gesture that I make simply because it’s more comfortable to sit with my arms crossed. Some people with Aspergers will cross their arms as a way of stopping themselves from flapping their hands which would also be seen in a job interview as extremely eccentric behaviour. We are constantly told that some of the behaviours we exhibit are not socially appropriate and the rules just keep changing on the whims of other people.

In a way, I do understand why interviewers find it so hard to look past our physical mannerisms. They have grown up with so many social rules-rules that dictate that a lack of eye contact indicates that somebody cannot be trusted and is dishonest (don’t even get me started on that one! I know so many people who can look you straight in the eye and tell you a massive lie!) and rules that reward people who have a normal understanding and normal comprehension of body language. We are constantly playing Catch Up and the rules just keep changing! However, I do wish that, for the sake of people with Aspergers who want nothing more than to work, interviewers would make the effort to look beyond how we appear once in a while.

I know that there are a lot of companies out there who do employ people with Aspergers and there are some people with Aspergers who are hugely successful in business because they have found their niche in the employment market and gone for it. However, there are a lot more people out there with Aspergers who have been for so many job interviews they have lost count and have received rejections from every single one. Over time, their self esteem, often already fragile simply from growing up in a world that is not suited to those of us on the spectrum, dwindles to nothing and they simply give up. They are not emotionally capable of dealing with another rejection so they just stop trying. I have come across this story numerous times in online forums and it hurts me to know that there are people suffering so much out there because of society’s adherence to the social rules. A lot of interviews now are group interviews-situations which the average person with Aspergers dreads. The interview I referred to earlier was a group interview and I was completely overwhelmed by what everyone else was saying and didn’t get the opportunity to say much myself. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t get the job even though I would have been extremely well suited to it (and that’s not me being arrogant-I was genuinely well suited to the role). I believe that people with Aspergers should be exempt from group interviews. I know that the point of them is to assess how well candidates would work in a team but, for someone who is already experiencing so much anxiety, being put in a situation that highlights their weak social skills is not fair. 

I do believe that there is a job out there for everybody. People with Aspergers do need to be positive and keep looking but employers also need to give them a chance. One strength of a lot of people with Aspergers, including myself, is being highly punctual and reliable and having an attention to detail which means tasks are carried out to a high standard. We are often perfectionists so want to carry out tasks to the best of our ability. We are often loyal employees-we just need people to look beyond first appearances and give us a chance. Please, if you ever sit on an interview panel, don’t instantly dismiss the person opposite you who twiddles with their hands or can’t look you straight in the eye. Don’t assume that they are hiding something-delve deeper and, if you feel that they could be successful, give them a chance. You will have more impact than you know on improving their self esteem and making them feel valued in the world.