By September 12, 2012 21 Comments Read More →

An Awakening, A Story About Asperger’s

My wife knew before I did, she is in her second year of grad school working on a Special Education degree with an emphasis on autism. She would give me hints that behaviors that I had were behaviors that were on the Autism spectrum. I thought some of what she said made sense because our youngest son is a high functioning person with autism, but it really didn’t sink in. I didn’t really think much of it at all, and then one day it hit me. I might have Asperger’s Syndrome.

I’ve always known that I was different from other people. I could come up with processes that were pure genius and I knew it. Twenty years ago that very skill helped me to quickly become the Repair Manager of Supra Corporation in Albany Oregon. A company that manufactured computer modems and peripherals. I liked the people who worked for me, I had hired most of them, and they liked me even though I could be brutally honest at times. I worked well with my boss Tom Perry, and life was good. I had turned Supra’s Repair Department into a world class warranty repair depot with a fast turnaround time and high levels of customer satisfaction. I had systems in place to catch intermittent products, I had systems in place to catch just about any problem. I loved my job, then one day things changed.

Supra had been purchased by Diamond Multimedia a California Bay Area company that manufactured video cards. The new company went about forcing their processes onto us. I was told by upper management that “There is no room for artists in our organization,” so in other words there was no room for someone who was able to creatively solve problems. “Their way or the highway” was Diamond’s rule of thumb. Even with this mindset in place I was able to creatively use their system to keep our department a very efficient machine that quickly took care of returned products, and satisfied our customers. I remember trading places with my counterpart from San Jose for a week, and I remember how his department had returns stacked to the ceiling unprocessed, and how in San Jose following the bureaucracy was the first priority. I wasn’t very good at the politics that were needed to buck up and mindlessly follow stupid orders. I had been fed up with mindless stupid orders from my stint in the military, and didn’t have a lot of tolerance for it. I had a tendency to voice my opinions about the stupidity of blindly following inefficient mandates. So I was quickly branded a rebel, and I didn’t last long after the takeover.

After some searching, I landed a job at a small barcode scanner manufacturer named Percon in another town, and before you knew it I was in charge of their Repair Department. Again I developed processes that gave them a one day turn around and that ensured quality of repaired customer product. I had a knack for troubleshooting and some of the technicians that worked for me couldn’t understand how I could so quickly repair some of the problems that had them stumped. I don’t know if I could fully explain it myself but I’ve always been able to quickly troubleshoot problems. My boss thought I was great, I was going places. Then they sold the company to a larger barcode scanner manufacturer, and I found myself not even allowed to work in repair. I watched my elegant processes get cast aside for their own time and money wasting ways of doing things, and my one day turn around turned into two weeks. I spent the next couple of years lying low re-writing assembly line processes and that kept their production lines running smoothly. I lasted eight years and really didn’t have any real issues until I transferred into an outsource procurement department. Again I was in an “our way or the highway” situation were my creative thinking wasn’t appreciated, and it didn’t take long for me to be irritating my autocratic boss.

It had always confused me. Half of the people I worked for thought I was fantastic, the VP of Operations at Percon called me a pocket knife, his version of a real renaissance man. My Manager at Supra thought I was his savior. The other half thought I was an irritating employee that they wanted to get rid of. I knew that I was always better appreciated in smaller companies that needed me to solve their problems, but I never knew why I had a hard time towing the company line in larger companies. It started making more sense just recently while I was reading a book entitled “Look me in the eye, my life with Asperger’s” by John Elder Robinson that it started making sense. I’m an Aspergian I just hadn’t realize it.

I’m not going to attempt to explain exactly what it means to be an Aspergian because it would take too long, but it does means I’m wired a bit differently than most people. What it means to me is that I now have some explanation as to why I am who I am. Why I have a tendency to talk over people in conversations not knowing when its my turn to talk. Why I can look at a problem as a whole and come up with quick and efficient solutions in my head. Why I can sit there stone faced when you tell me a joke, I may think it’s funny but I may not show it. Why I may forget your name even if I’ve known you half of my life. Why I may not answer you right away when you’ve asked me a question. (I had to learn to tell people I’m thinking the question over). Why I want to be fidgety if I sit in one place too long. Why I have to concentrate on looking at you while you talk, because it would be more comfortable not to. The list goes on.

It’s going to be an interesting road ahead with this new found information about myself. In a way it’s a relief, but it also pisses me off, why didn’t I know about this before? Ultimately I need to use this knowledge to better myself. At least I know were I’m coming from now, and maybe one day I’ll even figure out how to know when it’s my turn to talk.

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An Awakening, A Story About Asperger's, 9.7 out of 10 based on 9 ratings
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About the Author:

I'm a father first, and married to a wonderfully supportive spouse that works her butt off for our family every day. I'm also a writer, techno nerd, potter, and humorist. I always have more interests than I have time to explore. View My Profile

I'm an observer of the human condition, and a lifelong student. The day I stop learning, will be the day I fall over dead.
  • Dani Heart

    I am so moved Dan. I can’t even begin to tell you. How brave and courageous you are to put this out there. I too suffer, with many symptoms not exactly the same as your own. It is tough when you realize as an adult what you are dealing with and were never diagnosed. Good for you. You can move forward now with a greater understanding. I applaud your candor here. You will always have a fan in me. 🙂

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    • Thank you so much Dani,
      I remember you mentioning that you had some symptoms of your own, and it’s interesting how things manifest themselves in different people. Also from what I understand Asperger’s in women can look very different than in men. I think for me the realization validates my strengths, and explains my challenges. I think it’s very empowering.
      Thanks again Dani for your kind words.

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  • Dan, this is a most excellent piece! I, like Dani, and touched that you would share this with us.

    I’ve often wondered about some people I know, and whether they had Asperger’s. A former boss of mine definitely had it, and it made her unbearable to be around. I think her parents always knew she was a bit different and let her run amok as a child. As you know, people with forms of Autism need structure to keep themselves in balance.

    I’m curious, do you feel your time in the military helped you in some way? Because of that structure?

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    • Thank you very much Jen, it’s funny that you brought up the military and it’s structure. I spent half of my time in the Air Force in the Strategic Air Command (SAC) and the other half in the Military Airlift Command (MAC)and the two were as different as night and day. SAC dealt with 2/3 of the the parts of the nuclear triad. Bombers, Missiles, and Submarines. The Navy had the subs of course. SAC was a very ridged organization with more adherence to the rules, which makes sense when your dealing with nuclear bombs. MAC dealt with hauling cargo all over the world and felt more loosy goosey with more politics to me. Consequently I felt more comfortable in SAC.

      I’m sorry you had to deal with the unbearable boss. I don’t think I was ever like that, I always wanted people to work together cooperatively. I received some very good supervisory training in the military. Most people who supervise others are completely clueless as to how to do it. The last thing you want to do is piss off the people who work for you, they will start plotting on how to take you down 🙂
      Thanks again Jen.

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  • “There is no room for artists in our organization.” And these Philistines had the nerve to name themselves -- Diamond! More like a Zircon if you want my candid opinion.

    I always sensed that you were wired differently, but could not guess the schematic!

    As to autocratic bosses wherever they may lurk, i concur with Thomas Jefferson “Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God.”

    As a teacher I had a surprise encounter with a young Aspergian in a fourth grade class. I did not know what his deal was, but he was clearly distinctive. For some reason, he and I hit it off. We kept in touch and by the time he graduated from High School, he was a wonder of civility and social skills. His intelligence trumped all the obstacles the syndrome laid in his way. I was and am glad to have won his trust and friendship.

    From a Pittsburgisn to an Aspergian, right on my brother!

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    • Larry, they absolutely were made of Zircon. I remember flying to San Jose on one occasion to receive a plaque with the action items printed on it for the next quarter. I’m sure I had a look on my face that was unacceptable as I received that worthless prize.

      I,like you, have a low tolerance for leadership that does counterproductive, hurtful, and yes sometimes evil things. I always stuck up for the people who worked for me sometimes to my own detriment. It’s hard when you’re wired to point out the things thing that need to be changed in an environment that doesn’t want to hear it.

      Thank you very much for the comments my friend.

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  • Dan:

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I don’t know many with Asperger’s or Autism but I am raising two children with ADHD. Structure is essential for them. Their reactions to things causes many to not understand or like them because it may not be the norm. Following rules that are logical and rigid make them feel safe -- probably very much like how you see the world.

    It is a shame more people aren’t able to handle how people like you and my children learn things or function daily. It upsets me that so many get angry at them. Patience is key and not always available to most. It’s saddening at times.

    Thank you for sharing your story. I am sure this will help many. 🙂

    Huge hug!

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    • Thanks for the kind words, and I understand your challenges. Wouldn’t it be nice if your children came with instruction manuals designed just for them. It would make parenting so much easier 🙂

      For myself I don’t think ridged structure is the key, but systems that work and make sense. In my example of the barcode scanner company. The large company had systems that were pretty crappy, and the people running that department were happy with it because it was being run like it’s always been. So it didn’t matter how elegant and efficient my systems were they were cast aside because they were different. Where I got into trouble was when I pointed out (maybe to the wrong people) how the larger company’s repair department was being run by morons. My brutal honesty had reared its head, I simply had a hard time keeping my observations to myself. The morons didn’t know what they were doing and didn’t deserve the roles that they had and I needed to call them out. Not really the smartest move when your being absorbed into another company’s culture.

      Thanks again Katy 🙂

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  • Hi Dan!! Again, let me tell you, this was a such an interesting read and I take my pirate hat off for you for sharing this with us.

    You know, I’ve never heard of Asperger’s before, but many of the symptoms sounds so familiar. I’m not sure if I know people with Asperger’s or if I’ve met them in my past. I know too little to know for sure. I can only imagine the odd mixed feelings of being relieved you can give it a name and the annoyance of not knowing about it sooner. But I am glad you do know about it now 🙂

    It just pisses me off that remarks like “There is no room for artists in our organization..” are used -- I mean seriously, how do people think that new systems and strategies are born? They do not drop out of thin air you know! Either way, me ranting won’t do any good now. It just sucks that creativity can be put aside like that.

    You ARE a Tech Wizard!!! So cool! It must be very interesting to peek in your brain when you solve a problem 🙂

    Big big thanks again *waves around with a light saber*

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    • Hey TJ!

      A hearty ARRRrrrr to you 🙂

      I’m still grappling with sorting out how I feel about the whole thing, and saying to myself ‘Now what?’ What does this new found knowledge do for me? I don’t know. But at least it validates many many things for me and that I’m not some crackpot when I say I can solve that problem for you. It also explains why I have difficulties in some areas and I can work to accommodate them, like I have been doing all along anyway.

      To tell you the truth it’s sort of like being an alien on a foreign planet filled with what appear to be mostly clueless apes doing things that simply don’t make sense. Now before the human race chases me down to give me a wedgie that was meant to be sort of funny. But I think you understand what I’m talking about. I guess I can relate to Vulcans with their sense of logic, but they need a sense of humor.

      Oh and that tech. company I was talking about isn’t really around in the form that it was. Most big tech. companies start going in that direction. When they do they loose their creative edge and fall by the wayside, but not until they are sucked dry by the people running them.

      Anyway thanks TJ!

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      • Such a shame about the tech. companies though.

        And yes, I do understand what you mean with being an alien. I know I joke around about being an alien sometimes, but it’s the best way to describe not feeling entirely like one of the other people who are walking this earth. I’ve been chatting quite often with my sister recently as the world does seem to be filled with people that are doing things in way that make me go like “Seriously. Where is your brain hiding?!” Most things that are happening in the world just doesn’t make any sense at all.

        AYE! You know I LOVE your story! Can’t wait to read more 😀

        Yo ho Yo ho…

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        • Yes TJ, we’ve landed on the Planet Of The Apes. We watch as they run around with their guns shooting everything and pounding their chests. They have conversations with each other and are convinced they are superior to all living things. The Great Ape has laid out his commands in the Great Ape book. We share our bananas with them and try to stay out of the way, because they have little tolerance for those not like themselves, and will turn on us if we take off the monkey masks.

          That was fun 🙂

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          • How cool, Dan! 🙂 I couldn’t have said it better myself. The Great Ape and his minions…such annoyance. However, being an observer while wearing a monkey mask is interesting and frustrating at the same time. I first read “we shake our bananas with them”…I better get my glasses again hehe.

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            • Get those glasses TJ! 🙂
              I kept thinking Grape Ape when I was writing Great Ape 🙂

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              • @__@ … I look quite “shocked”

                Ohh Grape Ape huh? *pondering mode*

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  • Dan,
    I’m raising three kids. They’re all bright with uniques views of the world and they all have Asperger’s. Two of them have mild cases but the third? He’s got it in spades. I won’t lie. It’s been a struggle, but there have also been many blessings along the way. They’re such interesting kids and fun, too. Like you, they come up with such unique, creative ideas. They may struggle socially, but in other ways they excel. I’m proud of them. Can you imagine if everyone thought the same way? How boring that would be. Einstein, Bill Gates, Dan Akroyd are all Aspys and look what they’ve been able to do. Then there’s you. Look what you’ve done. I’m adding your name to the list of inspirational Aspys for my kids.

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    • Janene, I understand the struggle. My youngest son is not Asperger’s but Autistic and has a lot of sensitivity issues. He can get very upset at little things. He is making progress and is dealing with things better as he gets older. We caught this when he was in preschool. He had a speech delay. He can be a total crack up and adds a punch line when you least suspect it.

      It’s very true what they say “If you met one person with Asperger’s then you’ve met one person with Asperger’s,” and I can only imagine what and interesting household you must have 🙂

      It’s funny that you mentioned Dan Akroyd, my wife as always told me that I remind her of him. I think I would rather remind someone of Dan Akroyd than Bill Gates 🙂 When I look back through my past i can remember people who I have had as friends that also were people with autism or aspergians and it makes perfect sense now. I’ve tried to find a friend of mine name Charles Cooper for years. His name is just too common. We were stationed together in North Dakota and I know he was very autistic.

      Thank you so much for the comment Janene 🙂

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  • Dan i’ve read this three times now and the line that is standing out in relation to you discovering your Asperger’s is “There is no room for artists in our organization,”..and that’s the problem, to my mind, not your AS. Their loss of course to not realise what an asset they had in you and that’s the problem with many companies -- the idiots at the top who wouldn’t have a clue how to do the jobs you could do with ease.

    I worked for a company where the logo was “valuing people’s differences’ but it was obvious that they didn’t and simply wanted drones who would keep the money coming in. Thankfully there are a lot of people who aren’t as small minded or limited in vision as the ones you had to deal with but I can understand how frustrating that must have been.

    At least you and others recognise what high value you bring. Great article Dan.

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    • Garry, I recently was talking to a friend of mine that I bumped into at the grocery store and in our conversation he mentioned that companies are always saying that they are looking for people who think “Out of the box” but if they actually get someone who does that then they work very hard at stuffing you back into that box.

      The high tech companies that I started out working for valued someone who could clean up their mess, the larger companies that purchased them had systems in place that they didn’t want messed with. So in the small company I would be considered a highly valued asset who could fix any problem that popped up on a dime, and make their smaller operation run smoothly. Then the larger company who purchased them -who didn’t want things messed with- would regard me as a troublemaker.
      I’m in the process of trying to package myself for helping smaller companies fix their messes. But it’s a challenge trying to package that up for an offering.

      Thanks for the comments my friend.

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      • They don’t call them ‘soulless corporations’ for nothing -- who has every been inspired by a corporation? Your individuality and the way you do things and get things done should be your selling point. Stay an individual Dan, makes life more interesting for everyone 🙂

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        • It’s the only way I know how to roll these days Garry 🙂

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