Asperger’s, ADHD and Life In List World

—— DRAFT —–

Most who know me aren’t surprised to learn that I have ADHD. And that I’m on the extreme end of it. 🙂  Many are surprised that I’m an Aspie (I have Asperger’s) which is part of the Autism Spectrum. I didn’t know about the Asperger’s myself until well in to adulthood. 

The following is mostly about Asperger’s but includes a bit of ADHD. It leans a bit towards my own experience but I’ve tried to cover Asperger’s and ADHD generally.

The purpose of this is twofold. First is to help me to better understand Asperger’s. I’ve found that writing about something for others helps me to sort it out for myself.

Second is to help others to understand it. An estimated 1 in every 300-500 people have Asperger’s and it becomes increasingly prevalent with higher IQ’s. Very likely the vast majority of people with an IQ over about 145 have Asperger’s and a sizable chunk and possibly majority of those over 130. If you want to hire or work with the brightest people they’ll likely be Aspies and you’ll need to know how to work with them.


Table of Contents:

  • Perspective
  • Aspieness – A Huge Heaping Dose of Directness
  • Aspergers (and Autism and ADHD and …)
  • A Lot of Good Traits
  • Some Challenges
  • And Other Stuff
  • Thinking Differently


What do you envision when you think about someone with Asperger’s? Or Autism?

It’s often not very obvious and contrary to some myths many people with Asperger’s are quite successful. Anthony Hopkins and Elon Musk are but two of thousands of good examples. It’s not unusual for medical doctors to have Asperger’s, especially orthopedic surgeons, and you’ll see Aspies throughout the science and tech communities.   Here are some famous/successful people who are on the autism spectrum.  

It was often joked about one software development group I ran that having ADHD or Aspergers was a requirement for employment. There was more truth in that than joke. Temple Grandin once commented “Half the people working in Silicon Valley probably have autism.”

By almost any measure I’ve had a good successful life, despite my autism. I’ve a wonderful wife and terrific kids. Our kids have been successful and most importantly are people of good character who you can always rely on to be honest, kind, considerate and dependable.

I’ve some of the best friends anyone could ever ask for.

In my younger years I was somewhat successful racing bicycles, cars and motorcycles. I toured with some well known bands as a sound or lighting engineer, I’ve had a successful career including being COO of two companies and I’ve made some money. None of that was on my own though. A successful company for instance also needed Wayne who, though not having as high an IQ, had other skills that made him a great CEO.

There are some definite challenges to a life with Asperger’s or ADHD but with effort these can often be somewhat overcome. So put away any preconceived ideas you have about Autism, Asperger’s and ADHD and let’s see what these really look like.


Aspieness – A Huge Heaping Dose Of Directness

The way that people most often experience our Aspieness is, thank’s to a limited neural executive function, we tend to be very direct and perhaps overly thorough with communication. We don’t sugar coat what we say or wrap it up in a culturally sensitive package. 

While a U.S. American who does not have Asperger’s might take a considerable bit of time for a long meandering journey to slowly lead someone to near to where they are going, Aspies take a very direct route to the exact point. We might use 7 words for what others might say with 40 or 4000.

In this we are perhaps not a lot different than Dutch (or Finns, Swedes, Germans, Austrians or a few others) in how we interact. What often differs is people’s reaction. They might excuse the directness of a Dutchie as ‘that’s just the way people from The Netherlands are, isn’t it refreshing’. Not so much an American Aspie who’s expected to meet a different set of cultural expectations, is expected to sugar coat stuff and so is judged on that. Some Aspies have said that they feel they are punished even more severely because people expect someone with high intelligence to be better at this than others.

On an online forum a Finnish friend and I swapped ID’s for a few months. I said what I normally would with his and he said what he normally would with mine. It was fascinating that he suddenly found himself being criticized for what he said while I experienced the opposite, and this even when I was more blunt than usual. I was a Finn, that’s just the way Finns are!

Aspie directness does appear to be a much bigger issue in the U.S. than other countries. The U.S. has become much more of a feelings focus culture – how does what you say make me feel… Most other developed countries, like Aspies, tend to be more facts focused – just give me accurate facts so that I can make good decisions.  Japan is interesting because it is traditionally much more feelings focused than the U.S. but it’s a very different thing with normalized rules. 

Neural Executive Function – Most people, those who do not have Asperger’s and who are commonly referred to as neurotypicals or NTs, have a quite powerful executive function in their brain – it takes a thought, judges it, formats it and presents it in a timely and culturally acceptable way. This function, perhaps part of our Cerebellum or links with our prefrontal cortex, is somewhat lacking for Aspies so there’s limited judging if something should be said nor formatting it to be said in an extra nice culturally sensitive way nor presenting it at a proper time. Rather there might just be a quite blunt statement that comes crashing out. 

This works on the receiving side as well. We often take things quite literally. What someone says, the very exact words, is what we hear. We are quite awful at getting hidden meanings, reading between the lines, interpreting sarcasm or reading facial expressions – things that require the powerful executive function that we partially or totally lack. We don’t have a Wink-And-A-Nudge function.

The Executive is also where it’s believed that lying, deceit, conniving, cunning, sly and other traits originate. Yeah, we’re not so good at politics.

This all varies a bit among individuals. I have perhaps 30% of the executive function that most people have. Some Aspies might have 50% and others 10%. So I might be able to understand some nuance that someone with 20% might not but not as well as someone with 50% and nowhere near what 99% of people can. On this scale it becomes obvious at perhaps 20% or less. If you have a conversation with someone who has 15% of the executive function then most people will notice that they’re definitely different. My 30% gives me just enough to not be obvious.

This is all not much of a problem in scientific and some business environments where it’s expected that people will state things truthfully, directly, succinctly and correct mis-statements – so we fit in well to that space. And many Aspies are indeed quite successful from a career standpoint.

It’s a bigger problem outside of work settings where people, particularly in the U.S., are often not expecting nor desiring such directness.

An Aspie friend once said “There’s not enough talk about how weird Neurotypicals are.” And went on, somewhat tongue in cheek, about how NT’s need things candy coated and are too easily offended and alienated.

People from other countries often face similar challenges in the U.S. Their culture is much more direct than the U.S. and they find Americans to have thinner skin and to be much more easily offended or hurt. They have an advantage though in that, thank’s to their neural executive function, they can moderate their natural cultural directness to better fit U.S. culture. For Aspies that’s not a realistic option.

If we’re so smart and logical, why can’t we just figure it out? Well, I think in some cases we can but that requires enormous time and effort. What the executive function does is quite amazing and is not easily replaced by general purpose brainpower. And sometimes it’s simply impossible – what’s needed isn’t there. A quadriplegic friend told me it’s like asking her to plant a tree or juggle balls – she does not have the neuromuscular capability to do those.

An analogy might be automatic transmissions – most people have a high performing automatic transmission that they don’t even have to think about. With our manual we not only have to figure out when to shift and what direction but then have to reach down and manually move each of the various cogs and plates separately in just the right order with perfect timing.

What a neurotypical brain does autonomically in less than 1/40 second could take 2 to 20 minutes or more for an Aspie. And even then often very imperfectly.

I can spend considerable time thinking about how to respond to someone in written correspondence, only to later learn that they were still hurt or offended. What I said was truthful and accurate, I thought I wrapped it up in a culturally sensitive package, why are they so offended? It can then take considerable time for me to figure out what I did wrong and all the while I’m feeling quite terrible that I made someone feel bad.

Sometimes, hours after having written a response, I’ll think of some way to say it softer or less direct and I’ll go back and change it.

We are perhaps a square peg in round holes. If only the holes were a bit larger we’d fit just fine. 

It’s important to understand that this is a communication issue, not a personality issue. Underneath we are the same and have the same feelings and desires for companionship and human interaction. 

Aspergers (and Autism and ADHD and …)

Aspergers is sometimes referred to as the high-functioning portion of the Autism Spectrum which is somewhat true, though not really. If you have above average intelligence and certain Autism traits then you are likely an Aspie, though not necessarily. High functioning and IQ are not the same thing so there are many high functioning Autists who would not be classified as Aspie and there are people classified as Asperger’s who are not high functioning. 

Note: In 2013 with the release of DSM-5, what had been diagnosed as Asperger’s was now classified as Autism-I. Many in the Asperger’s world don’t agree with this. Not because of the association with Autism which Asperger’s certainly is a part of but because the newer definition muddied the waters even more than they had been before. This especially for people on the bubble between what had been traditionally Asperger’s and other forms of autism. 

Autism is a spectrum and a quite wide and some say too wide of a spectrum. It includes some of the most brilliant and successful entrepreneurs, artists and inventors in history as well as people who are so disabled by autism that they cannot function in this world without considerable assistance. The definitions are also changing with even psychologists often unsure what to label someone but knowing that for various systems they need to figure out a label.


There’s a spectrum within Aspergers as well – with each person having different bits of various traits. Having a limited neural executive function is a core requirement while only about 50% exhibit strong bits of other elements such as an intense interest in a single subject or a strongly monotone voice. I think all Aspies have some form of repetitive behavior though it’s very mild for some and quite prominent in others.

My autistic traits are not generally very strong, perhaps averaging a 2 or 3 on a scale of 10. My strongest is a limited executive function. I have, I think, only a slightly more monotone voice than most NT’s. I’m very sensitive to sounds, light and smells but special interests have been minor as I find pretty much everything fascinating. I do very much prefer routines but can usually adjust when necessary (though as my wife points out – advance notice is a very very very good idea). 


Our brains are, based on brain scans, physically different, literally wired differently, which results in them functioning differently. Above on the left we can see the extra neural pathways for associative visual thinking compared to that of neurotypical people (right). The executive function for communications likely appears the exact opposite. “People with Asperger’s have significant reductions in grey matter volume of frontostriatal and cerebellar regions. In addition, people with Asperger’s have white matter excesses bilaterally around the basal ganglia, whereas they have deficits mainly in left hemisphere.” (From here.)

There is also some evidence of lessor connectivity between the frontal lobe and the rest of the brain.

Aspies (and Autists) are also believed to take in much more information than NT’s. Where most people see a simple leaf, an Aspie sees; chemical compounds, cells, atoms, a spectrum of colors and textures, a unique design, a part of a tree, something that makes noise, has a distinct smell that changes over time and rather miraculously produces O2 from CO2 to keep us alive. And this happens with everything a thousand times a day. Driving down a road we notice the design elements that make the road dangerous (U.S.) or safe (EU). This is why sensory overload is such a problem.

Asperger’s is also totally different and separate from Savant Syndrome. Only about 50% of savants are on the autism spectrum and only about 3% have Aspergers. While some savants do have a very high IQ, most do not with an average of about 83.


A Lot Of Good Traits

There are a lot of quite good traits that come along with Aspergers. Many people are surprised when they hear someone with Asperger’s say that they’d not trade away their Asperger’s to be Neurotypical and these are why. For some or even most people with Asperger’s these good traits outweigh the challenges. 

There is an effort to find ‘a cure’ for Asperger’s but many Aspie’s don’t want a cure and don’t want to ‘be cured’ because we don’t want to also loose these good traits. We could argue that the folks who need to be cured are NT’s who are often lacking in many of these 🙂 

Logical. We are typically very good with logic and can be extremely logical in our approach to things. Interestingly even with logic based on human reactions – yet we have a rather low EQ – go figure.

Honest & Altruistic. Aspies tend to be extremely and sometimes un-tactfully honest. This even when it doesn’t serve our own interest. Dishonesty …isn’t logical. There’s a problem related to this though, we can have difficulty understanding how others can be dishonest which can result in our being taken advantage of. Unsurprisingly, we’re not very good at politics.

Fairness & Justice. We often have a quite absolute sense of fairness and justice. Anything that is unfair or unjust can drive us bonkers. I think like with honesty & altruism, this is because unfair and unjust aren’t logical. But these are illogical on another level. I really really hate seeing people misled or taken advantage of for instance. This has caused problems for many aspies in the business world if someone wants them to fudge the truth when talking to a client for instance. 

Straightforward. We say what we mean and mean what we say. Otherwise just isn’t logical.

We Don’t Do Political Games. We are quite bad at politics whether polis, business or personal. We are not sly or cunning, don’t have a Wink-And-A-Nudge function and we’re not good at predicting people’s reactions to things. We prefer straight-forward direct accurate truthful communication.

Caring. Though we’re not necessarily warm and fuzzy and may not display emotions so much, we generally care very deeply about people. 

Thinking Outside The Box. When someone encourages others to ‘think outside the box’, there’s no need for Aspies, especially those with ADD – for many of us there is no box.

Detail Oriented. Can’t see the forrest for the trees? Not a thing – we see them both …along with the leaves and the cells and the atoms, electrons, fermions, bosons and other bits that make up the leaves. And the planet, solar system, galaxy and some of the universe. And at the ends wondering what the elementary particles are made of, what’s beyond the universe and what dimension are we totally missing. And all at once! We are often very good at understanding if you tweak something over here that this, this, this and this will happen elsewhere. This is one reason Aspies are so good with science and computer programming.

Pedantic. This may sound like a negative but is actually a positive. Aspies tend to value accuracy & precision. This one for me is interesting because I actively tried to suppress this in conversations for many years (I would provide much too much detail, or noted every exception that might exist for what I was saying or corrected minor errors in what other people said) …and was perhaps too successful.  

Immune to influence. This one’s complicated because on the one hand we can be overly trusting. On the other hand we often see through misleading marketing better than most. 

Emotionally Stronger. We have had to overcome a lot of challenges in life and this tends to make us stronger. That said, we can very definitely still be hurt. I think it’s also important to recognize that some Aspies have been criticized and mistreated so much that they’ve been beaten down and are emotionally weaker rather than stronger.

Intelligent. Aspies by definition have a higher than average intelligence simply because the diagnosis requires it. But there’s more to it and overall Aspies do tend to have higher IQ’s and similarly people with higher IQ’s often have Aspergers (and ADHD and are Bi-Polar – the MENSA cocktail). It’s critical here to point out that while having some highly intelligent people around is definitely a good thing, it’s not singularly valuable. A good community needs people of varying abilities and IQ is only one of these. We also need people who are outwardly caring and others who are wise (wisdom is related but also quite different from IQ). We need people who are able to build and grow things, people who are good leaders and people who are good project managers. We need artists, architects and designers. 

A friend of mine does not have a particularly high IQ but he’s good with managing people and has built a successful company that provides some needed products. I cannot do what he does.

Connections and Relationships. We often see connections and relationships that others do not. This a part of associative thinking and is likely a key reason that so many scientific and other discoveries have been made by Aspies. There can be difficulty in explaining these though, sometimes even to people who are quite intelligent but not Aspies. We also have to learn to be careful here. It’s easy to get accustomed to this and not verifying every time which can lead to mistakes.

Forgiving. Aspies tend to be very forgiving, especially of people reacting to our Aspieness.  

Take Life Seriously. I think this is largely because we see problems that many others do not and we care. We are often accused of being too serious though.

Thanks to these benefits Aspies often make for exceptional employees.

Elon Musk is perhaps one of the better official examples. But also Anthony Hopkins, James Taylor, Dan Akroyd and a long list of others. Bill Gates has never said but he and other entrepreneurs certainly exhibit many of the traits. Garrison Keillor is one of the more brilliant people I know and he’s definitely on the spectrum.

Scientific discoveries and inventions often come from people who are on the autism spectrum and most often Aspies. We are generally rather exceptional with cause & effect stuff which is why, for instance, many medical discoveries are made by aspies.

Another great quote from Temple Grandin: “without Aspies we’d still be living in the dark ages”.



Some Challenges

There are a number of challenges that people with Asperger’s face. What’s difficult is that even knowing these often doesn’t help with them. I’ve spent a lifetime trying to overcome many of these or at least do better and I’ve failed time and time again. And I think this is the case with most aspies.

Direct Communication Style. I think this is the big one because neurotypicals, particularly in the U.S., are often put off by our directness. This can make it difficult for many Aspies to make friends, get along with people in some work environments, or find a mate. A lot of Aspies complain of loneliness and suicide is higher among aspies, likely because of this.

For many Aspies the NT or American style communication can seem superficial and imprecise. The extra verbiage isn’t necessary and often results in miss-communication.

I’ve been more fortunate than most as I do have a number of friends, a wonderful wife and a terrific loving family.  On the other hand I’ve seen time and time again when people in the U.S. are put off by my directness and this can hurt.

One interesting aspect here is a high correlation between IQ and reaction. The more intelligent someone is the more OK they are with the direct communication style of aspies. The more average or less intelligent the more they are offended. Some have posited that this is because the more intelligent are likely aspies themselves which is true. But this also appears to be the case with intelligent people who don’t have Asperger’s. It’s likely that the more intelligent someone is the more interested they are in learning and this overshadows any hurt feelings.

Aspies will often ‘mask’ to try to fit in to an NT world better by putting on an NT mask. This can help but is often imperfect, can be extremely exhausting and is frustrating because you’re not simply saying what you mean but trying to imply it instead.

If you work with or befriend an Aspie, learn to take directness for what it is and understand that it’s not in any way a personal judgement.

Honesty and Accuracy – A Challenge? Yeah. We can sometimes get too hung up on this. Someone can say something that’s inaccurate and it will drive us bonkers and we’ll want it corrected even if it has zero real impact on the conversation. 

Honesty II – A perhaps bigger issue is that we can really struggle with people who are dishonest, underhanded, misleading, deceptive, unethical or unfair. This can be a major affront to us and cause considerable anger. We are honest and ethical and fair with others and expect the same in return. 

Why this is such a bigger issue for us is not totally clear. A lot of allistics (people who don’t have autism) figure that they’re dishonest in other ways so it’ll all balance out. But there are exceptionally honest and ethical allistics who are not bothered by this nearly to the extent that we are. They are able to process others dishonesty towards them and move on much better than we can.

We can also have difficulty in knowing how to respond to people who are dishonest and this especially I think with people who are slightly deceptive. 

Routines / Change – I think all autists have a bit of difficulty with change and find that predictability, consistency and routines can make life easier.  

One big issue for me is if someone changes my space.  My offices, garages and shops are spaces that I kind of need to be under my control. If someone moves things or tries to clean them up it can cause considerable anxiety and stress for me.  Even small things like emptying a garbage can.  As disastrous as these spaces might appear, they work for me.

Stress & Anxiety – These can be constant or near constant companions for many Aspies.

One key cause is for those who can see clear cause and effect where the effect is problematic. You know that action A will result in outcome B and outcome B is very undesirable but those involved don’t understand. Sometimes the benefits of A outweigh or are at least equal to the problems of B and so it’s not an issue. But when the problems cause by B significantly and clearly outweigh A then stress and anxiety can ensue. 

Another is over social interactions. Be they in-person, call or email. We can worry that we’ll offend someone with our directness. This one’s interesting because it varies so much. I can have 8 emails to get out and 6 won’t be a problem and are done expediently. The 7th and 8th could take days. And why these are so difficult and not the others I have no idea.

Difficulty Communicating Difficult or Controversial Topics – This is not an issue among peers, especially within a technical environment. Where it becomes a problem is with the general population. 

A good example is perhaps Elon Musk who was was largely thought of as a nut case for thinking he could produce useable electric cars and the icing on this cake of course, rockets.

Another is road design. Among people of higher logical intelligence (not ‘intelligentsia’ which is a label not an indicator or intelligence), including aspies, road and road system designs based on Dutch CROW are overwhelmingly known as the best. The CROW design principles have proven over and over to result in the safest and most functional road systems and this is why nearly all developed countries are adopting them. Among us it’s completely logical yet we have struggled to get U.S. traffic engineers, politicians and citizens to understand. A good example is Prioritizing Driver Speed Over Children’s Safety and Wellbeing.

Forgetfulness – Or, prototypical Absent Minded Professor. I think this is more of an ADHD thing but is common among Aspies. Getting anything done revolves around lists and sometimes almost step by step lists. For example, if I’m running errands and have more than one place to go I need a post-it on my dash as otherwise I’m likely to forget things beyond the first stop. Same for what I’m supposed to buy or do at each stop. Another is remembering to send someone an email to ask them something, say thank-you or invite them to dinner. I can remember it 20 times while driving somewhere but it goes poof as soon as I park and is gone until some time in the future and often when I can’t send myself an email reminder.  And then there’s the issue of remembering to look at my email or the lists on post-it notes.

I think part of this is that we get so bombarded by so many varying thoughts that we can’t manage them all.

Hyper-Sensitive to Lights, Sounds, Smells, etc. I am not as hyper-sensitive as many Aspies. I can startle easily and am much more sensitive to lights, noise and fabrics than most NT people but I think I’m a bit below the average for Aspies. Interestingly I worked in the rock music industry for a few years as both a lighting designer and FOH sound engineer and that was fine and I still enjoy going to concerts. I do sometimes need to hibernate though and when we built our new house I had my office very well insulated for sound so that I have a place relatively free from noise and light that I can escape to.

Hyper Observant / Totally Oblivious – We can often be hyper observant. We notice anything and everything. At other times if our mind is locked in on some thought we can be totally oblivious.

Need Input / No Filter – We can notice a lot of things that others don’t. This can be good because it can help us to solve problems. It can also produce a lot of anxiety because we notice problems or potential problems that others don’t. We can perhaps also have a problem of not being able to filter out extraneous stuff. 

Sleep – Aspies frequently experience difficulty getting a good nights sleep. Besides the normal problems of not getting enough sleep, this can compound Aspie challenges – it’s easier to deal with things when you’re awake than when you’re tired from too little sleep.  

There are three major issues for adults; take longer to fall asleep, don’t sleep for a long enough duration, spend about half as much time in REM as NT’s.  The most frequent problem for adults (and all Aspies over about 12-years-old) appears to be waking up after about 2-4 hrs with our mind ruminating or racing through a variety of thoughts (associative thinking) and so unable to get back to sleep. 2-4 hours sleep per night is not enough. OTOH, many aspies can tell innumerable tales of problems they’ve solved while laying in bed unable to sleep.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the new kid on the block solution that may hold some hope.

There is also increasing evidence that the pineal gland in autists does not function as well and so does not produce the serotonin and melanin required for sleep. In theory melanin supplements should help but since these are not regulated it’s difficult finding one that works. You can have five different brands that are all 5mg but they are all actually different. As well, a brand’s product can change over time. Getting these under FDA and EMA regulation might be helpful.

Aspie Hours / Autism Hours – Many people with Aspergers have difficulty keeping to a normal 8 hrs sleep and 16 hrs awake kind of schedule. Maybe instead awake for 12, sleep 4, awake 4, sleep 4. Or awake 16, sleep 3, awake 4, sleep 1… Or some version of these. For some this doesn’t present a challenge but for others it does as it can make a normal daily work + social life difficult.

Overload / Meltdowns. OK, here some behind the curtains stuff… Sometimes our brain gets overloaded and we have what can best be described as a meltdown.  

A great example is a recent overload of mine. I have a pretty set routine for making porridge and coffee in the morning. At one point I press the ‘brew’ button on my espresso machine (Breville Oracle Touch – highly recommended!) that begins about a 10 second period before espresso will begin to flow. I then grab my cup that’s been sitting in the sink w/ hot water in it, quickly dry it, and stick it under the portafilter. One day my drying towel wasn’t there.

On most days I would simply have put the wet cup under the portafilter – simple. Or pressed the brew button to stop the brewing process until I could get a towel. On this day I overloaded. I sort of panicked. I was jabbing at the buttons on the machine turning it off and on and off and on, I pulled the portafilter out and slammed it on the counter (no idea why I did that), and then walked off to find some place of solitude to collect myself. It took about an hour before I could function at all and about a day before I was recovered.

It’s important to distinguish an autistic meltdown from a temper tantrum. This especially with children where it can very much look like a temper tantrum. It’s not. It’s very different and needs to be handled differently. This is not an ‘I didn’t get my way’ but an ‘I’m overloaded, overstressed and my anxiety is turned up to 11’. This isn’t voluntary and the person in the midst of a meltdown doesn’t want to be there more than you don’t want them to be there.

Overload / Shutdowns. Rather than a meltdown Aspies will sometimes simply shut down. One person describes this is their ability to process anything beyond the most basic functions like breathing is gone. Telling someone in the midst of a shutdown to ‘just snap out of it’ does more harm than good. Shutdowns are not voluntary and I think the only way to get out of it is to wait it out. What the Aspie needs is patience rather than feeling condemned. Often physical energy is extremely low so something as simple as walking is difficult.

Some Aspies are sometimes able to overcome or postpone a meltdown or shutdown. This is costly though as it requires an excessive amount of energy and often results in significant anxiety.

Brain Stutter. This is my term for this. Sometimes our brains kind of stutter. It’s like it totally stops processing for a second or two and then resumes. This is most noticeable for me when I’m actively doing something and have to make a simple choice. I have to grab a spoon and turn off the range hood – I’ll stand and vacillate between these for a bit unsure of which to do first. 🙂 

Interruptions. Sometimes we might have a bunch of things in our head and if we get interrupted they all go poof. I think this is a component of our more visual and associative thinking. We can work extremely efficiently and effectively with these things floating around in our head. 

Our experience is that interruptions can be extremely costly though as we may never remember them again or it may take a very long time to get back on track. The result is that we may appear to completely ignore people until we get to a stopping place where everything is saved and safe. I think it can seem like we’re being rude but the cost to us can be quite huge. A one minute interruption could cost us hours or days of work.

It’d be like working on something on your computer for several hours or days without saving it and someone comes along and shuts off your computer to get your attention. On a computer we can ‘save often’ to avoid this problem – our brains don’t have a save function. 

Single Task Focus – We can get very focused on a task to the exclusion of other stuff. 

A good example that happened to me was in a sauna in a resort in northern Italy. It had a larger indoor/outdoor lounge area and then off of this were two hallways; one leading to the Sauna (photo below) and the other to the Bio Sauna and Steam Bath. Each hallway had shower stalls along with hooks for hanging robes so you typically dried off and put your robe off/on in these little hallways.

I was coming in from having cooled off in the outside lounge area after my last sauna round and the task in my head was to get my robe on and go back to our little chalet to get dressed for dinner. There was already a couple in the hallway drying off to get their robes on so I should have waited until they were done (this is not the U.S. so everyone saunas nude and thus this couple were nude as was I) but the task in my head was; get my robe and slippers on and that’s what I proceeded to do.

Walking back to our chalet a few minutes later my mistake occurred to me. Ugh!


Looking in to the sauna hallway from the lounge area. Two shower stalls are on the left, entrance to the sauna hot room on the far end to the right. In reality not as large an area as this photo makes it look and definitely on the cozy side for all three of us.

Small Talk. We’re sometimes not so good at small talk. This again is particularly a problem in the U.S. where it can make us seem unfriendly.

Down Time / Alone Time / Refuge. We need down time. Normal daily life for Aspies can be exhausting. Routine things that require just about zero mental effort for most people can require considerable mental effort for us. We need to be able to totally relax for a bit and know that we’ll not be interrupted or required to do anything.  

Many days I take a short nap after lunch.  This is partially for the benefits that a nap provides but it’s also for a bit of uninterrupted downtime – refuge. It’s one small bit of each day with lower anxiety. Some days this time is critical as is knowing that I’ll not be interrupted so that I can fully relax and recharge.

Special Interests. Many Autists have what are termed special interests. These are much more than just a hobby but are a way to chill or have some down time – a brief escape from sensory overload. Some of us are on the opposite end of this spectrum though and find anything and everything fascinating. Wikipedia, Quora and similar have not helped my productivity 🙂 

Stimming. This is repetitive physical movement or fidgeting. This is something that almost everyone does but is often more prominent with Autists. The two most common forms with Autism are rocking back and forth, and hand flapping though there are dozens or hundreds of other forms. Stimming is not necessarily bad, and can be good when it reduces anxiety for instance, and is really only an issue if it interrupts others or causes social problems. One of the many clues people cite for Bill Gates having autism is his rocking back and forth. A good overview here.

Associative Thinking. Someone might say something that triggers a thought in our head that triggers another thought and another, all in perhaps 2 seconds, so we’ll say something about that last thought because it is extremely interesting in relation to what that person just said. The problem is that nobody else we’re talking to went through the associative links so it sounds to everyone else as totally off-the-wall and unrelated. And quite often explaining the relationship can take a long time. When I do this my friends, who’ve become use to it,  just look at me, grin and shake their heads in wonder at my strangeness.

What can be funny is when some time later one of them suddenly gets it and blurts it out just like I did.

Pedantic. Yeah, there’s a big negative side to this one as well. We will often think of all of the various possible outcomes, good and bad, and feel that they all need to be addressed for completeness. Boring-R-Us.  

Stubborness. We can seem rather stubborn. Part of this is simply that our very direct form of communication simply comes across that way. But it’s also because we tend to be careful about what we say. We’ve usually thought it through and maybe researched it a bit. We’ll definitely change our mind if we’re wrong but we’ll usually need some good proof if it’s to be different from what our research has already taught us.  We do very much love to learn and have intelligent debates though.

Obstinate. If we know we are right about something we aren’t so good at being flexible about it. We are generally very open-minded but if over time we’ve learned enough to be sure about something then we can become rather obstinate. This especially if we’ve encountered the same arguments over and over and particularly from others who haven’t studied something as much as we have. We often lack the patience to argue the the same inaccurate premise over and over.

Then over our lifetime we learn that 99% of the time that we reach the point of being obstinate that we are indeed correct. The problem is that 1% when we’re not. I try to always keep that 1% in mind but that’s something that I need to work on some more.

Accepting Friends. We can find it difficult to accept some bits of friendship …because we feel like we can’t reciprocate appropriately. I do have some quite wonderful friendships but they took considerable time to develop (and I think maybe some extra bit of investment in this on their part).

Reaching Out To People. We often don’t do this so well, even when we’d like to talk to someone or see them. This is something that I’ve been working on for decades. Sometimes this is fear of bothering people or feeling like we can’t reciprocate their friendship and I think sometimes we have a heightened fear of rejection because we’ve experienced it so often.

Warm & Fuzzy? We often don’t do warm and fuzzy very well. This is often mistaken, particularly in the U.S., for not liking someone. 

Serious R Us. Some aspies are actually quite good comedians but overall that’s not us. Part of this is perhaps that we see a lot of problems or potential problems that others don’t. And these problems concern us.

Reading vs Hearing. We tend to comprehend and remember what we read much better than what we hear.  Podcasts have not necessarily been a good thing and while written transcripts can help they are also much more wordy than if something had been written concisely to begin with. 

Reality Distortion Field. We sometimes confuse imagination, particularly future focused imagination, for reality. We can have such a clear visual image of something, a new product for instance, that we will believe it to already exist. 

Distracted. This is perhaps more an ADHD than Aspie thing. I have periods of extreme concentration but am also extremely easily distracted which can make it difficult to get things done. If I’m heading out to run two or more errands I often need them listed or one might not get done. 

For example, I’ll go upstairs to get my porridge bowl from breakfast, see something that needs to be put away, find my laptop to leave myself a note that I need some storage bins, notice an email that needs responding to, look something up to respond to the email and find a fascinating article on entropy which reminds me that I need to make some cream to fill the whipped cream dispenser for tonight, and on and on. My porridge bowl is still upstairs, I’ve not ordered the storage bins, I didn’t yet reply to the email, but we will have whipped cream tonight. 🙂 

Curious Distracted. There is almost nothing that doesn’t fascinate me. I love to learn stuff. There is also an associative thinking element to this. While reading and learning about something it will trigger an associated thought that leads to more reading and learning and this then leads to another and another. When I was younger I thought reading encyclopedia’s was one of the most fun things ever and it wasn’t unusual for me to have 5 or more on the floor as I searched topic after topic. The internet can be one of the greatest time wasters for us. 

Impulsive. We can be very impulsive. I think part of this is our over-reaction to our own analysis paralysis but I think there’s also a lot more to it. We can sometimes throw caution to the wind.



And Other Stuff

We Analyze EVERYTHING. If we’re sitting in a sauna we’re thinking about the type of heat, how it moves around, why isn’t the steam going down to our feet, what’s good, what’s bad, etc.  We’ll analyze road designs and wonder why they are designed to be so dangerous. Watching a movie often includes being distracted by wondering how something was shot. And on and on.

Desire To Connect. A lot of people find this one interesting because our rather blunt communication style and seeming lack of tact would seem to say otherwise, but most of us do like to connect with people. I love having people over or getting together with friends for lunch or drinks.

I think that many aspies have experienced so many hurtful encounters being rejected by others due to their directness that they choose to not interact with others to avoid the pain. 

Curious – Most aspies have a deep curiosity and love to learn.




Thinking Differently

Like many aspies and as described quite well by Temple Grandin, I think in pictures – I’m Visual. I’m not quite as tied to visual as Grandin, but from conversations with NT’s I’m much more visual than they are. 

This is a great strength for things that can be visualized. I was good at designing heat sinks for electronics because I could visualize heat transfer from a device, through a heatsink, and in to the surrounding air. I’d often still do the math to make sure I’d not missed anything but I could skip over most of the trial and error that others had to do because I could do it in my head in about 1/100 the time. An analogy might be that I was given a physics specific processor while others were given an executive function processor.  

Grandin points out that there are two other thinking types; Pattern (Music/Math) and Verbal. Aspies will typically be one of these three or perhaps a combination though visual seems the dominant type. In my case I am strongly visual but not strongly Pattern or Verbal. I’m OK on those last two but not exceptional.

Many or perhaps most aspies are also Associative Thinkers. We make connections between various things and often extremely quickly. E.G., one thought leads to another. If you and I are talking about something and I say something that seems totally unrelated and out of the blue that’s likely a result of associative thinking – something you said caused me to think about something related and then another and another all linked together.

Some of these seem to be somewhat or very Aspie / ADHD specific. Very intelligent NT’s often do not have the visual or associative thinking processes of Aspies. And this is good because their different way of thinking produces different results and discoveries.

Aspies by definition have a higher than average IQ. My IQ is 163 (tested 158 & 168 ≈ 163). I’m generally quick at learning and figuring things out, especially anything dimensional or spatial but generally most technical or logic based stuff.

On the other hand I’m awful at politics, gamesmanship and many similar things. I’ve frequently marveled at people who are good at politics or sales. For a couple of years I worked with a guy named Wayne, he was CEO and I was COO/CTO of a company. His ability to understand things about our clients and say the right things was amazing. 

Interestingly, I’ve never solved a Rubik’s Cube nor do I think I’d be able to and this is surprisingly common among Aspies.

IQ vs Knowledge – Just because someone has a high IQ doesn’t mean that we know things, just that we can sometimes learn and figure things out somewhat quickly. There are a lot of people who know a lot more about a lot of things than me. I frequently learn from a variety of people with a variety of IQ’s and love doing so. Building our new house was for me perhaps more enjoyable than living in it. I loved talking to the various people working on it and learning what they did and why. In many cases I don’t think I could ever do what they do. I’ve also remained friends with a few.

IQ Isn’t Important – IQ is only one element of who we are and not at all the most important. I think good character is overwhelmingly the most important trait that someone can have and this is also one that we all have complete control over. 

Having a high IQ does not make someone a good person. Hitler’s top lieutenants ranged from about 127 to 143 and most believe Hitler was between 140 and 160.  

Different Parts – If we look at the world around us we can see that we need many different kinds of people with different attributes. We need people who can be leaders and people who can be project managers. We need people who can fight to help protect us and people who are skilled craftsfolk. 




For More:

Thinking In Pictures by Temple Grandin

In A Different Key by John Donvan and Caren Zucker


Characters With Asperger’s

There are a number of characters in movies and tv shows who either intentionally have Asperger’s or kind of seem to. One problem with all of these characters is that they are largely universally likable. That is not so much the case with Aspies in the real world, at least in the U.S. Many or most people in the U.S. would for instance find a real Woo Young-woo not nearly so adorable or likable as she is in the series. Whether this is a consequence of making something entertaining, that we are seeing things from their perspective or something else I don’t know.

Temple Grandin in ‘Temple Grandin’ – Claire Danes did a quite good job of portraying Temple Grandin and the movie overall does a good job with how others react and interact.

Max Braverman in ‘Parenthood’ – Many aspies believe Max one of the best portrayed both as the character and their experiences with others.

Mathew in ‘The Chosen’ – This has proven a surprisingly accurate portrayal of someone with Asperger’s.

Carrie Pilby in ‘Carrie Pilby’ – Opinions differ on Carrie. I thought it a fairly accurate portrayal as well as an overall very well done and enjoyable movie.

Maurice Moss in ‘The IT Crowd’ – 

Woo Young-woo in ‘Extraordinary Attorney Woo’ – While overall I think a good portrayal from a character standpoint, this series glosses over many of the challenges.  Woo perhaps has a much easier life overall than the vast majority of Aspies.

Amelie Poulain in ‘Amelie’


Some Definitions

Sometimes it helps to know how things fit together. Asperger’s is a form of Autism which is one of several conditions known as Neurodiverse. Anyone who is not Neurodiverse is Neurotypical. Anyone who is not on the Autism Spectrum is Allistic. For example, someone with ADHD but not Autism is Allistic but also Neurodiverse.

Neurodivergent – Someone whose brain processes information differently than typical. This includes a number of conditions including Autism, ADHD, Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, and Tourette’s syndrome. Dyslexia accounts for the vast majority of people who are Neurodivergent.

Autism, Autism Spectrum Condition, ASD or ASC – Someone who; has Autism, is on the Autism Spectrum. There are numerous forms of Autism including Asperger’s syndrome, Rett syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, Kanner’s syndrome, and pervasive developmental disorder or PDD. 

Asperger’s or Asperger’s Syndrome – A form of Autism. Sometimes referred to as high functioning Autism though that is not necessarily accurate.

Allistic – Someone who does not have Autism.

Neurotypical or NT – Anyone whose brain functions and processes information in a typical way.  Someone who is not Neurodivergent.