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    Well, guess I’ll share my story and thoughts here too; please note this is in no way intended to invalidate or challenge anything in your article; contrasting your own story and experiences with someone else’s can sometimes come off as being dismissive of the other person’s story, and that’s absolutely not my intent. I’m simply describing my own experiences. I just wanted to state this clearly up-front in case I accidentally phrase something in a poor way 😅


    When I was 15 I was diagnosed with PDD-NOS, or Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. I was a shy and socially awkward kid, very insecure, struggled with authority (still do), and was generally not in a happy place for several reasons (education system didn’t work well for me, shitty toxic parents, bullying), which eventually led to the school concluding “there must be something wrong with him”, culminating in the PDD-NOS diagnosis.

    I haven’t talked about this in, ehm, almost 15 years mostly because I feel it just hasn’t really been relevant to my life. Quite a few points in your article sound familiar to me (easily distracted, getting a bit to obsessed with things) but there are quite a few differences as well (I’m not forgetful for example), but I mostly just see these as personality traits, rather than a “disorder”. I guess this fits with the neurodiversity movement, but I’m only superficially familiar with it (and some of its proponents seem a bit, ehm, too far out).

    For example, take the negativity you mentioned in your article; this sounds awfully familiar as well. But then again … I remember family birthdays when I was younger where the entire family would complain about everyone and everything, and let’s not even get started about my mother specifically: she complains about everyone and everything. Negativity feedback loops are a very real thing. Is this a “disorder”? I don’t know… It’s entirely plausible I would have been a lot less negative if I had grown up in a different environment (and how would this have affected my other traits?)

    I was a scout leader for many years, and at the time it was somewhat popular for GPs to refer autistic kids to scout groups “as it will be good for them”. As a consequence we had quite a few autistic kids, and some were genuinely impossible to deal with and clearly did have a disorder. We eventually had to tell some of them that they were no longer welcome; we hated doing this but a bunch of untrained volunteers dealing with autistic kids freaking out every weekend ruining the entire atmosphere for all the other kids as well was unsustainable :-( I’m not so sure if it’s useful to lump everyone who is a bit socially awkward, easily distracted, and can be a tad obsessive in the same group as them. I think it’s doing neither group any favours (never mind stuff like “rain man autism”).

    Counselling, for me, has probably been more harmful than helpful. Much effort was spent on validating the worst parts of my personality, which only strengthened them and didn’t help me grow at all. Simply put, sometimes you need a swift kick in the backside and people telling you you’re a fucking idiot rather than an empathic voice. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of being empathic with people’s struggles, but sometimes being brutally direct has value too. It certainly had for me. Looking back, much of my early to mid 20s were kind of wasted because of bad counselling and I didn’t start actually solving my issues until I stopped listening to them. Don’t get me wrong, I know many people for whom counselling has worked out great – even literally life-saving – so I don’t want to discourage anyone from seeking out counselling if they think it might help, but I would encourage people to carefully evaluate if the counselling you’re getting is helping you grow or if it’s merely making you feel better (it certainly made me feel better about myself) and either get different counselling or try something else if you feel it’s not.

    The entire description of PDD-NOS is essentially “there’s something wrong, but we can’t quite say what so let’s just label it as this”. Meh. In some cases this is probably justified, but in others probably not so much. In fact, only “Difficulty with social behavior” from that “signs and symptoms” list sounds familiar to me. My own experience made me very wary of these kind of “labels”, or treating them as “disorders”.

    I don’t really have any special techniques to deal with any of this, other than being very open to introspection and taking extra effort in not being defensive when someone is being critical of my behaviour. From the looks of it, I think I’m probably “less autistic” than you are, so I probably don’t need it as much. Part of this means is that I’m fine with my more “distracted” and less productive moods, and that I try to capitalize on my more obsessive and productive moods as best I can. There are weeks where I do almost nothing, and there are weeks where I quite literally do nothing but work just for the craic.

    This means I’m not a good fit for, say, a company with a rigid structure where you’re assigned a task every morning that you’re expected to finish in n amount of hours. I’m okay with that; not everyone needs to be a good fit at every company.

    The best thing I probably did was to actively seek out social situations. Turns out that social skills is a, well, skill, and skills are things you can learn (unlike what those darn counsellors implied). In retrospect, I think a lot of it was just insecurity rather than a true lack of social skills anyway (although there was certainly some of that too).


    I guess all of this is a bit rambly; but I figured I might share my own personal story and I fear that if I don’t hit the post button now I probably never will 😅 ASD as currently defined is so broad and encompassing that it’s almost impossible for any single person to comprehend all of the different experiences. My own probably reflects some other people’s experiences as well (I’m not that special or unique), but many people have markedly different ones. It always bothers me when people point to a single experience and think that describes the entire matter; it rarely does on any topic, and certainly doesn’t on this particular topic.

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      Thanks for taking your time to share this.

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        Yep, it’s a wide spectrum and no two people are the same on it. There’s nothing wrong with that, nor dealing with things differently. What works for me may well be a horrible idea for others, and I acknowledge that.

        If anything I wanted this to serve as a point for others to tell their own stories of who they are and what they’ve experienced.

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        I really like parts of this, and the structure of “problem, solution, how it turned into a strength” is really cool. I’d like to hear more about the interpersonal issues related to ASD the author or others may have experienced and how they navigated that.

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          The fun part is I’m talking to several others in the industry on the neurodiverse spectrum about writing similar posts to try and give a wider view of how more senior engineers work with that.

          Perhaps amusingly I don’t have many issues with being social or a lot of the faux pas that seem to be associated with aspergers, well, at least not where I’m currently at. Years ago maybe, but as of recently I’ve been able to adapt pretty well. I’ll have to do a followup on that some time later.

          Feel free to ask whatever though in the mean time here or over on Twitter @keystonelemur, I’ll answer both.

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            I think the social issues are a bit more nuanced than ‘is social’ vs ‘is not’. Also I think age and experience help everyone with social skills (as long as they are getting practice and working to get better) so that means on the non-neurotypical spectrum too. ‘Just get older’ doesn’t feel like the best advice though!

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              It doesn’t, and there’s certainly more to it than that, hence the mention of a followup some time later to explain some more concrete steps about what I did. While age and experience do help they won’t have nearly the effect they could have with more deliberate practice, observance, and introspection.

              Take for instance that I play guitar. I’ve been doing that for some 15 or more years. By time and age I should be incredible, but considering I’ve more of dabbled instead of putting in serious dedicated practice under mentors and by myself I’m no where near where I could have been had I done those things. Same with social skills I figure, time helps but that’s one factor among many.

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                Some of the perceived change could come for shifts in one’s social group, too. It’s my understanding that people on the spectrum (likely myself included) aren’t “anti-social” so much as wired to socialize in a different way than neurotypical people. It certainly feels like I have an easier time socializing among groups of autistic people (regardless of shared interests) more so than other social groups.

                It may be a lack of autistic peers that constrains one’s success with socializing more than the neurodivergence itself, not unlike being the only expat among a group of locals.

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            I’ve personally found note taking (on pen and paper) to be a secret weapon so to speak, one that seems often overlooked. I have about 5 years worth of notes/ideas/etc, spread across 8 notebooks (5 big ones, 2 small ones, one tiny one for on the go), and I quite regularly revisit them. I too keep record of what I do, though this is mostly limited to just simple checkboxes ([✓] Scheduled meeting with Bob for example). I also deliberately keep these daily todos/logs somewhat messy. I find this quite “therapeutic” compared to the very rigid/well-defined workflow that usually comes with software development.

            Looking back at the last decade or so, I think my advice for a new developer would be as follows: get a good (fountain) pen, a good notebook (Dingbats Wildlife is really good), and take notes; lot’s of notes.

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              a good notebook

              I’ve been using a nice notebook, similar to that one, for a long time, but I’m starting to wonder whether it’s the best option. I’ve recently been considering using a binder (or just binder clips!) which would add the options to:

              • Have a smaller ‘notebook’ on the go, or a big ‘notebook’ at home
              • Remove pages without tearing
              • Add blank pages (!), with whichever pattern is necessary (college ruled, square grid, dot grid, blank, etc)
              • Add other documents (tickets, business cards, etc)
              • Transfer documents between notebooks
                • Maybe my grocery list for this week shouldn’t be attached to my writing about my emotions for the past few years

              Have you had any experience with this? I haven’t used a binder since high school, but it actually seems like a pretty good solution.

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                I’ve experimented with various paper and digital based solutions. At present, I’m using Joplin and it’s working well for me.

                During my experiences with paper-based solutions, I think the best overall was to use a portfolio binder (representative example – I am not affiliated with this vendor, and have never tried this specific product, just linking here for the pictures). Mine is an old Franklin Covey one from the 90s. It offers the benefits you listed, but also has space for storing bits of paper (handouts, forms, etc.), a pen or two, and some business cards. I think they also look more “professional” for what that’s worth.

                Usually at the end of each semester, I would take out all the pages and put them into folders in a file cabinet, one for each of my classes. In a professional setting, I would probably do this by project, or maybe by sprint. Being able to add, remove, and re-order pages was a huge benefit compared to a traditional paper notebook.

                To echo what the GP comment said, there is definitely something about the physical experience of writing on a piece of paper, as opposed to with a stylus or typing, that makes it worth something. However I found the extra weight and bulk, and lack of search-ability, to be a major detractor of using paper. The benefits of search-ability, automatic backups, cross-device sync, and being able to copy/paste are worth the inferior writing experience to me.

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                  The Dingbats notebooks allow you to remove pages without ruining them, as they come with those tear lines (forgot the term). I personally have never needed anything more than lined pages. Transferring notes is something I haven’t really had a need for either. If that’s something you want to do, you indeed are likely better off with a binder of some sort.

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                    Perforated is the word, I forget it a lot as well.

                    For me a lot of what I tend to do is pick the simplest thing I can and make sure that I don’t end up obsessing over the formatting and methodology of note taking over just taking notes. It’s the same reason why I won’t write a custom blogging engine even though I could, it’d detract from me actually writing which was the original value proposition.

                    The more steps and the more complicated I make it to take notes, the higher the barrier I put up for myself. If it’s high enough I end up in the kick-start problem in which if I can’t get it done one day the rest of it falls apart quickly afterwards. “Well I can do it tomorrow” turns into “I can catch up at the end of the week” turns into “why don’t I have notes for the past year?”

                    That said, do what works for you. Most of my process involves actively foiling my own bad tendencies and acknowledging them, and those are different for different people.

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                  I couldn’t agree more. Bullet Journaling, for example, has saved my bacon countless times.

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                  Hi. My name is Nato. And I’m (somewhere) on the ol’ Spectrum.

                  Question to the author, should you care to divulge: @baweaver, does coding accentuate/agitate some of the ASD-ness? ‘Was curious. I find that coding resonates to that type-a-ness to such a degree, that it’s perhaps the last craft I should have chosen for myself. Perhaps I should have chosen a craft that mollifies all the ASD type feelings.

                  P.S. I mean no snark in the first part of the comment, to be clear.

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                    It does, and to some extent that’s bad but to another it’s amazingly helpful. It’s allowed me a level of focus and creativity that’s not normal, and now I’ve leveraged that into doing conference talks using cartoon lemurs to teach programming as an outlet for some of those crazy ideas:

                    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TVwVLBor8WE

                    There are several such talks of mine in circulation: Reducing Enumerable, Scaling Christmas, The ActionCable Symphony, Tales from the Ruby Grimoire, The Night Before Code Freeze, Professor When and the Timey Wimey Extensions (soon), and more on the way.

                    In a lot of ways I leaned in once I realized that my level of eccentric was not only tolerated but celebrated in the Ruby community.

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                      Thanks for taking the time to reply. Looking forward to going through these. Best to you.

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                    On occasion I will allow myself a few weekends or nights to really dig into an interesting problem, but that too can be a bit dangerous so I try and refrain and budget work time for it.

                    I could imagine that this is super valuable occasionally.

                    I’d be interested in what is dangerous about that. Leading you more astray? A waste of energy?

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                      Mostly dangerous to my already perilous sleep schedule. Staying up until 3-4AM on a Sunday night isn’t a great idea when you have 9AM meetings the next day.

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                      This is awesome. Thank you!

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                        I don’t really consider myself to be on the spectrum, but what IS very much the case is I’m a little bit bipolar. Nowhere near as much as the people I’ve met who have had serious issues with it, but corralling my brain is a challenge I’ve fought with for years nonetheless, and a few of these ring very true for me. The sections on distractability and fixation are extremely useful because those are very familiar for me when I’m in my “up”/manic-ish phases, and a few of the other parts are peripherally useful as well. Even if I don’t have to deal with them much personally, being able to recognize them in others is definitely useful. Very nice to read about other people’s experiences and perspectives and how to turn them into useful traits, thank you.