Phillip McKay



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When should you , if at all tell a work colleague, he an Aspie?

Excuse the grabbing questrion I dont mean to be so blunt. I have worked with a colleague for some seven years. I had always known him to act strangely (strange for me anyway) but always accepted and worked around his peculiarites. I need to add that i wish only to act in his best interests. I value him as a team member and would never look to lose him from the team. There has been an occassion where , I believe, he may have unwittingly put a client at risk because of his condition and his behaviour does at times come across as rude, though I'm sure this outcome is often not intended. I am reading Attwood to garner as much knowledge as i can and to seek ways of moving forward. But I am left with still the unenviable possibility of having to broach the subject with him,. He's 48, lives at home with parents and just recently told me he had never heard of the word Aspergers when it came up innocently during a conversation. I have read that a diagnosis should be sought only when the dysfunction may intolerably affect relationships and work security. I know he has lost sexual relationships because of his syndrome and I have this feeling that letting him know would benefit staff in supporting him and for him to be more open to such. I have a feeling it might free him from the disguise and the sometimes elaborate and tiresome intellectualising he engages in to be seen as typical. In an often social setting at work I see and feel some of his pain, anxiety and coping. I felt if it was out everyone would feel better and most importantly, that he would. Apparently some feel liberated but the odd few can react poorly and become depressed. Help!! Thoughts Advice please. Particularly if you're an Aspie.

  • Feb 25 2012: Just try to understand him as a friend. Make sure to articulate how you feel about something to him, be supportive, and tell him about his strengths (in which aspies often can exceed everyone else at the workplace by a horse length or more). I think that will be a big enough of a catalyst for him that someone understands him. Let him set the pace and if/when he asks, tell him about Aspies, but don't forget to put out the opposite label at the same time - NT (NeuroTypical). If there is a label for not having a neurological diagnose I think that a lot of people (and maybe in particular aspies) can use the opposed label to allow them to view you and him as equals - because it's not his fault that you all are NT. :-)

    And if you have been diagnosed with ADD or similar it may also help to tell him about that once you present aspie, that he's not the only one that's not NT.

    And just general advice, I don't think that it may be suitable for him to be alone with clients/customers, and it maybe stresses him as well since he's probably aware of that he doesn't always know what other people expects from him.
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      Feb 25 2012: i have a problem with that term "neurotypical". it lacks the necessary mocking or taunt factor. my recommendation is "sociolocked" or "sociocaptured". those, who can not ignore social stimuli, but must follow social rules even against their reason or ethics.

      "sociocapture" is the most important pandemic today.

      (disclaimer: not to be taken 100% seriously)
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      Feb 27 2012: Great words of advice, Thanks Daniel.
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    Feb 24 2012: Yes, the labelling really is a big problem. Not just for Aspergers, but also other conditions we have chosen to call 'illnesses'. On the one hand it can direct us to information, but on the other it encourages the stigmatising of a condition that probably is not even an illness.

    We seem to be stuck on the negative aspects of Aspergers, which may explain the stigma, but there are also a lot of positives about it. Why don't we see the ability rather than the disability? Many Aspergers people have incredible mental acuity - something I know I could never hope to achieve. Such ability should be admired rather than derided. We are all - every one of us - placed somewhere on the autistic spectrum.

    My own take on it is that it is all to do with 'propensity' of an individual towards function or dysfunction within society. We function well if we abide by the subliminal rules that western civilisation gives to us. If we don't, we are seen as mad - or ill.

    Individual propensity is not illness.

    Is it totally out of the question to state that the illness lies in westernised society itself rather than the individuals who function (or struggle to function) within it?

    If we call any mental health condition an illness, it allows the floodgates of medical intervention to open. The pharmaceutical industry is a huge money-spinner...
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    Feb 23 2012: first, you no psychologist, so it is a vague assumption at best. weird can sometimes just weird. antisocial sometimes just antisocial.

    second, i don't exactly believe in such blunt categories. unless somebody shows me the exact gene or biochemical/neurological disfunction behind aspergers, i refuse to treat it anyhow differently than an artificial categorization of social inaptness. we don't have a name for people that are bad at recognizing flavors, we don't need a word for those that read emotions and social situations badly. certainly, he has specific problems that need specific solutions. putting him in a box won't help.

    third, you don't need to treat him special. if you have an advise to him, tell him. if he is hurt by honest words, it is his problem. your job is to behave responsively and with good intentions. if he has aspergers, and not something very different, he reacts well to reason. on the other hand, he might react not so well to "handling". don't handle. be straight. beware though, because he can be something else, like simply sociophobic, or whatever. one can never know.

    if you want to be cautious though, try to recommend, maybe not to him, but in a "broadcasted" form, some "pop" materials dealing with stuff, like temple grandin's TED talk, or the feature film about her life. grandin's TED talk even fits to a "team building" setup.
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      Feb 24 2012: Thanks Krisztian. Yep i never claimed to be a psychologist but that doesnt excuse me from acting on my 20 years experience working in mental health and reading psychology texts as well as associating professionally and personally with professionals. Not being a psychologist doesnt minimise my concern. Incidentally he has been to a psychologist for depression and none of the social stuff was picked up on at all.Yes we all hate the labels but labels can direct us to information and that has been useful - what is in the box can teach us much.People with aspergers can also react poorly to criticism. he can become defensive in order to cover up his errors.Krisztian, my research of Aspergers and looking at diagnostic assessments and having known him for 7 years points to Aspergers. (there we go there's that label again but it does help to identify the social and cognitive differences). I hear your thoughts and i have been there with you but further reading is swaying me in another direction. I want to help him and thec best way forward I am thinking is for him to be able to discover what it is that makes him different. This way, I believe from personal accounts from other Aspies, is that it really can make a great difference in their lives. A positive difference.
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        Feb 24 2012: i'm a little troubled that you replied to everything except my recommendations. maybe you "react poorly to criticism"? :)

        okay, srsly. why do you think that calling someone an aspie is criticism? make it sound not like criticism. i hope you don't think that being and aspie is something to disdain. you would not have this problem if you suspected him being color blind.

        anyway. if you get rid of that "how can i help this poor guy out of his misery" attitude, he might take things much better.
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          Feb 27 2012: You're right Kris, If i may? Tomorrow I shall go with great news . Hey man you're an Aspie , how cool. Reality is I do think its cool. But that's my facination with the novelty and interesting processing and behaviour. For him i believe it has been difficult, has led to anxiety, depression and isolation. It has probably led to huge cover ups and I know it has led to failed relationships. I dont see him as some poor guy and i'm not sure why you suggest that i think Aspies are someone to disdain? I am acting as i would with any other friend who i thought needed help. He just happens to have Aspergers. Whole point is Krisz, I actually feel compelled to bring about change that will firstly benefit him, the clients and the team. and will ensure that everyone is safe.By the way it was remiss of me not to respond to your recommendations. (You're not an Aspie are you?) I will view the talk you suggested and i am hearing what you are saying. I cant locate the gene and the diagnosis has not been made. Geeeze Krisz, there's no problem at all! Take care.
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        Feb 27 2012: "You're not an Aspie are you?"

        i will not ruin the game! use your "20 years experience working in mental health and reading psychology texts" to find it out!

        btw, how weird it would be from me to say i'm an aspie after i declared that i don't believe in such categories. i'm a follower of a lesser known psychologist Andrew Feldmár, who even rejects the notion of schizophrenia, depression and other blunt labels, and calls for focusing the actual problems of a certain individual.

        one of my favorite advises of him is this: for no mental condition it is helpful to allow the person to act irresponsibly or rudely or anyhow inappropriately. empathy is good, but we can't just let some people get away with inappropriate behavior because they are labeled X or Y.

        ah, btw, your deadline of watching the grandin talk is tuesday midnight. i dare you to miss it.
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    Feb 24 2012: Allan,

    There are indeed many positive aspects of Aspergers syndrome. Research shows that there are some positive aspects of depression (depressed people view situations more accurately, etc). Even with the benefits, people with Aspergers often experience profound isolation and difficulty dealing with day to day social interactions. I think that it would be difficult to argue that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

    Every human being exists along a psychological continuum. Society has chosen to label certain traits and behaviors 'deviant' once it pushes past a certain point on that continuum. Right or wrong, good or bad, I don't know. Certainly people who have been 'labeled' as depressed or Aspergers or whatever can find relief in their diagnosis or seek help to move to a more 'balanced' part of the continuum.

    But the reality is that people with psycho/social problems existed long before the field of psychology blossomed into existence. People simply dealt with these 'outliers' in their personal and professional lives and didn't think too much about labels.

    Did that help the people who were afflicted with the psycho/social issues better adapt to society? Probably not. Friends, neighbors and co-workers knew that something was wrong with them. They just didn't have a name to put to it.
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      Feb 24 2012: Hi Robin, I hear what you say and agree with much of it. However I have the following provisos:

      "...I think that it would be difficult to argue that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks."

      If an Aspergers person was forced to socially interact on someone else's terms, then it would indeed be a drawback. If he/she was able to interact on their OWN terms, it would most likely be beneficial. I guess this is down to what we in the end, regard as 'normal' - a profound mismatch with an Aspergers person's view of what normality looks like.

      The drawbacks do outweigh the benefits, but only when things are not tailored towards aptitude. In a work situation, higher-functioning autistics excel in jobs involving intense preoccupation and concentration, order, repetitiveness - but without much in the way of 'team playing' due to difficulties in social interaction.

      "Certainly people who have been 'labeled' as depressed or Aspergers or whatever can find relief in their diagnosis or seek help to move to a more 'balanced' part of the continuum."

      Yes, there is relief in having such a diagnosis, but I have found that people sometimes have a tendency to move more 'into the diagnosis' and are quite happy to stay there, rather than seeing it as something to either move away from, or to come to terms with.

      Usually the help people are seeking, lies within themselves. All too often, labels and diagnoses attract a medicalised approach, ignoring the internal helper that nearly always exists autonomously.
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      Feb 27 2012: Thanks Allan, I am back and forth with this topic and people's views here in this forum are taking me back and forth again. working with at risk young people where he is unsupervised, poses a few risks. On the social side of the job there are obvious shortcomings but he has over time learned to listen and pass on info that he hears. This is useful. His job is to work with young people and panel beat and spray paint cars. He is brilliant at doing this and providing tasks for the yp. His knowledge of cars and their parts and when they were made is amazing. at team meetings he zones out and misses a lot. he does not do very well at remembering stuff said in conversation , probablypartly because of the anxiety such situations create and possibly because he simply has difficulty processing social interaction from the typical perspective. I am thinking that if he actually had literature to work with and the problems (and they are problems) were out in the open then we could better manage the situation.
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    Feb 24 2012: I agree that you have to be very careful when giving someone a profound psychological label that can change their lives. You may also be putting yourself in liability way (or perhaps the target of a workplace lawsuit) if you label him as an Aspergers and he is not or subsequent testing shows that he has something else.

    You also said that it may benefit the staff to be aware of his syndrome - please don't tell me that you are planning to share this 'diagnosis' with the staff!! You may inadvertently ruin this man's career!

    I remember that someone told me, "people with psychological issues have to pay their rent too." (She said that 'crazy people got bills too', but you get the point). People enter the workplace with all sorts of personality and psychological issues that we simply have to work around. You may be 100% confident in your assessment - and you may be right - or maybe not.

    My point is that you are not a trained professional in diagnosing personality disorders and it will likely create more problems to label someone. As his manager/team member, its your responsibility to accept this man for who he is, put him in roles where he will excel and minimize the roles that he is deficient in.

    If you truly feel that this man's psycho/social problems are too profound to be able to contribute and do his job, it may be time to get HR involved or develop a plan for transitioning him out of his current role.
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    Feb 27 2012: Thanks Allan and Robin and Daniel for your thoughts.
    I must get back to my original plea, that I truly respect the man in question. I consider him a friend as well as colleague and I am acting, I hope, with his best interests at heart. I wish for him well being as i do for most.
    I hear your words about being straightforward , sensitive and honest. I hear your criticisms re. judgement and labelling. And i hear the words about friendship. In the end i will decide my way forward from the perspective of a friend. I'm not so worried about being sued, only that i take the right approach to benefit him and the clients. I'm not particularly happy about broaching this subject online but i needed some guidance and further food for thought. I appreciate all your comments. I am particularly agreeable to the suggestion of providing supervision but the money is not there to provide this all of the time. It would be the best answer.

    With regard to the suing, I might also be sued for trying to save a drowning man or hugging a participant at graduation but I'll always take that risk if i think its the right thing to do. The alternative is that I might not take any responsibility at all. Let it go. Let someone higher up take responsibility. Simply address the various behaviours in performance review and if he doesnt meet them, then what?????????

    This issue is so hard for me not because he is a work colleague but because he is a friend. I need to take some action and i want to get it right.

    Thanks again and i really wish i could speak to an Aspie who has been in a similar position. Perhaps this is the advice that i would cherish most. I'm guessing none of you are? Do any of you have Aspie friends?
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      Feb 27 2012: Oh how many disasters have occurred from people 'acting with someone else's best interest at heart'. Remember that there is a considerable difference between intent and impact. Your intentions may be good. Your impact may be disastrous.

      It appears as if you are pretty determined to share your 'diagnosis' with your co worker (for his own benefit) and are looking for advice on how to best broach the topic. You are getting repeated warnings, 'don't'. But you seem pretty set on doing it anyway.

      I hope for your co worker's sake and your own that things do turn out well. I am not an Aspie (and your co worker may not be as well) but I'd be pretty pissed off with a co worker with no professional background in counseling or therapy that came up with a pretty serious psychological diagnosis - and potentially shared their 'diagnosis' with my co workers. Angry enough to get a lawyer and sue.

      You really are walking the road to hell with good intentions. But who knows - everyone may be wrong and your 'diagnosis' may change your co workers life for the better. I wouldn't bet on it, but stranger things have happened.

  • Feb 27 2012: dear Philip,

    I agree with Daniel.
    I also see that you are an artist. And well, now society looks at artists in a positive way, but it has not always been the case, it is very recent. This could be a way of starting the conversation?
    I think that the world needs all kind of minds.
    Have you watched this talk:
    All the best.
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      Feb 27 2012: Thanks for that Daniel.
      • Feb 27 2012: I am Manue, but no worries!
        I think you will like the link.