Saturday, October 8, 2011

Inconsistency and perception

Two thing occurred to me today. The first is that I have been in an extreme introverted space for quite a while now. I barely interact with people at work and have limited my social interaction outside of that. It has gotten so bad that I have even dreaded posting; here, WrongPlanet, anywhere. I am not real sure what triggers these spells. Usually I make an effort at some extroversion if nothing else than to bolster my position at work.

The other thing that occurred to me is that this sort of inconsistency can be a real drag for people who experience you one way and then see you change. I wonder that my wife does not go crazy waking up one day and finding she is married to a different person. In the workplace I think that people are more offended by the effort it takes to get to know a 'new' you than they might have been annoyed by the old one. Maybe that is why meltdowns have longer impacts for ASD folk than for egotistical CEOs. The CEO has been known to do that and people have adjusted... the ASD person tries hard not to have meltdowns so it comes as a shock when they do happen.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Ignoring social mores

All pictures of lynchings are disturbing to me at some level but the one below haunts me like none other. It has the usual horrific scenes... the victims; the jubilant crowd; someone pointing with pride to the evil work. However the thing that stands out is the couple in the lower left. He has a tie on, she is conscious of being on camera but not ashamed. I do not know their story but it appears that they are on some sort of date... to see men murdered by a mob.

I cannot say that I would not have gone to look out of curiosity but I pray that I would have the decency to be ashamed of the entire thing including my curiosity and presence. Indeed if my image was captured for posterity at such a tragedy I might not be able to live with myself. Part of me wants to grab the people here who are the curious bystanders, the gawkers, the lookie-loos and demand an explanation of why they are not outraged.

So how does this apply to work and having ASD? For some reason that various scholars from multiple disciplines have studied, for centuries really, people as a whole can suspend their rational senses and act in inhumane ways with stunning rapidity. We tend to focus on the most egregious examples: lynchings; genocide; internment. But if anything Groupthink showed that this happens when the impact is not so high.

How often though, are those of us on the Spectrum left out of the mass movement? Not because of any immunity to racism or stupidity but simply because of a resistance to change? An adherence to 'the rules' as we learned them? This resistance may lead us to question mass delusions in business settings where an idea takes hold and suddenly the leadership and our peers believe that some idea or process will save the day. Our lack of joy, much less our outspoken skepticism, is seen as a betrayal; criticism and ostracism follow. It is painful but it does not mean that you were wrong.

I cannot offer a clear piece of advice because mob mentality cannot be broken down to simple actions. If you see someone pulled from a jail with the intention of being hanged by a mob be sure to speak up. On the other hand if the Director of your department calls a meeting excitedly talking about a new way to do business that involves semi-comical chanting and wearing taupe bandannas is pointing out that it is silly really worth losing your job? That is up to you.

For myself I can only say that more often than not I have spoken up and while I have the knowledge that I was true to myself I also know that it has kept me from better salaries, projects and positions. There are consequences to our actions.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Career Advice

I have a stock response for people who use the line "Do what you love!" as career advice.  Here it is:


Sorry, the internet seems to be censoring swear words today. Anyway, I hope you get the idea. First off it is a dicey proposition that whatever you love will be economically viable. For instance I love petting cats but cat sitting is not really that lucrative; I am sure my wife would be a little annoyed if I quit my job to go and pet cats.

But more that that, I have noticed that among the ASD crowd we love accumulating knowledge about something or somethings. Knowledge is great; I love knowledge... the money comes from the application of that knowledge. Just accumulating it is not as valuable. Sure you may carve a niche for yourself in a company as a go to person for a specific subject but that is an uncertain position.

One of my best positions was one where I was required to learn calculus, statistics, financial mathematics (really an extension of calculus and stats) and programming. Of course that was all in order for me to understand a system/series of programs that were poorly documented and understood. When I was done we had a baseline for another five years worth of work that I was involved in.

So my career advice to you is find a way to apply what you learn. You will enjoy the learning aspect of it and benefit from the security of being a subject matter expert on something your business values.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

RIP Michael Hart, founder of Project Gutenberg

One of the greatest sources of literature on the web is Project Gutenberg. It's founder, Michael Hart, passed away Sept. 6th at the age of 64. You can find his obituary here:

Monday, September 5, 2011

Volunteer for MIT

MIT's Open Courseware is looking for someone to help them add subtitles to some video lectures in Electrical Engineering. I imagine this could be a remote job and rather interesting too:!/MITOCW/status/108230839736864768

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Are you a stalwart?

The Harvard Business Review has an article about the types of employees in an organization. Rather than your standard 2x2 grid it identifies a fifth group they identify as stalwarts... people who are not motivated by advancement or money but simply want to do a good job. They form the backbone of an organization yet are frequently overlooked by management because they are not 'stars'.

Unfortunately managers often overlook stalwarts primarily because they are not stars. Managers want stars but an organization made up of entirely stars will be mired in politics, backbiting and intrigue as not all stars can be treated equally.

Take a look at their discussion and keep in mind the myths the article debunks. The logic may help you in your next review.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Missing the truth of a position

One time a friend and I interviewed for the same position; it was offered to us both and we both wound up turning it down but for very different reasons. For me the money was not good enough to change jobs. My friend rejected it because he thought it was a horrible job. Turns out he was right and I totally missed that it was not a good job.

In examining why and how I missed that the job was not good I realized that I got trapped into seeking the approval of the interviewers rather than looking at the cold facts of the job. I cannot say whether other ASD folk experience the same thing but I can certainly hypothesize that our shared experiences might drive us to seeking approval and ignoring things that can harm us. And certainly our difficulty in realizing when someone is lying to us or doing a good sales job does not help.

In previous posts I have spoke about red flags to look for when interviewing but I will add a new piece of advice here. See if you can find someone else who interviewed for the same job or a previous holder of the position to see what they think.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Recently out of touch

Sorry for the lack of posts recently. Our house was repaired following the flooding and we have been busy moving back in.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Online training: Ruby on Rails

Jobs in Information Technology are certainly out there and lend themselves to Aspie/Autie style of work... at least better than others. If you are starting from zero or beginner level it is hard to know where to go. One particular language that is en vogue now is Ruby on Rails. To be accurate, Ruby is the language and the Rails part makes it a lot more human friendly.

A friend of mine put me on to an hilarious training system for Ruby on Rails called Rails for Zombies. It is an amazing teaching tool with some serious thought behind it. If you do not know Ruby it points you to a tutorial to start with and then will take you through creating a web application with Ruby on Rails.

At the end of the tutorials you will be in a place to start experimenting yourself with the idea of producing a Rails application that will go into your Career Portfolio and demonstrate your new skill to prospective employers. If you want to see the marketplace for Ruby/Ruby on Rails developers go to Dice or Monster and do a search on jobs with Ruby in the description. You will be amazed.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

She’s Geeky: The Performance of Identity among Women Working in IT

Recently my wife and I have been watching NCIS. Neither of us is sure why we are so into the show but it is a guilty pleasure we enjoy. One of the characters on there, Abby Sciuto, is the current media incarnation of 'the hacker girl'. Prior to Abby, another famous one was Chloe on 24. While I understand and even applaud the idea behind showing women in IT/Science oriented roles I have always felt like the reality of the life for a woman in IT and male dominated science fields bows to the Hollywood need to move things to the lowest common denominator.

In a recent article in the International Journal of Gender, Science and Technology, Rhiannon Bury takes a look at women in IT from a poststructuralist gender theory point of view. I imagine women on the Autism Spectrum who find themselves in IT face a unique set of challenges where their autism may be an advantage in a field where their gender can be an obstacle. Bury makes a compelling case for defining a feminine role identity... and I imagine it will have little to do with the media representation of women in IT & Science.

Women in IT/Science do not have to look like this

Monday, August 15, 2011

Transferable job skills for non-"job" activities

Here is a post I ran across discussing the transferable job skills you gain while getting a grad school degree. As a straight forward analysis I think it does a good job of translating some of the tasks involved in getting a traditional Graduate degree into phrases that you can use on your resume or cover letter.

In a more abstract sense I think it can be instructive in finding ways to describe your volunteer work, side projects or not so explainable jobs into powerful items for your career portfolio. For instance the table item "You attend a meeting where you devise a plan for future research endeavors with your colleagues" could just as easily be "You attend a meeting where you devise a plan for future project with your co-volunteers" and use the same benefits/phrases as they do on the grid.

The beauty of transferable skills: How grad school prepares you for careers off the beaten path

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Using Reddit for your job search

I have become active on Reddit recently. Sadly my most popular post was a video of a lave lake collapsing... not my original content. Still it has been informative and I have has several mildly popular posts of stuff on my blog. I figured it would be nice to do a post on the Job Hunting resources out on Reddit.

If you are not familiar with how it works people post articles, questions etc and then others vote them up or down and/or comment on them. Rather than have all articles all in one massive page they allow people to create subreddits which cluster posts around a specific topic. Some are hugely popular like science (600,000 readers) others have one or two readers. And be warned, some are NSFW or might be considered offensive.

Reddit - Jobs: How to get work and how to leave it. Employment, recruitment, résumés, CVs, interviews.

Reddit - ForHire: for posting open positions or looking for work

Reddit - Freelance: Articles of interest for freelancers and people who want to become one.

Reddit - Resume: A place to post resumes

Reddit - Work: intended to be about life at work, not for people offering or looking jobs. [has specific locations/countries as subreddits]

And this is just a start. There are special subreddits for Sysadmin work, CS work and AskReddit is a catchall for any general question you have. Additionally there are subreddits for Autism and Aspergers that offer additional resources for help beyond work.

Another useful site is Metareddit which attempts to corral the 75,000+ subreddits in a way that you can browse and see what some of the most popular are.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

How to start a social enterprise

One of the things that I have always encountered with my jobs is that in some ways they seem meaningless... it matters to only a few people and the company itself may not be helping that many people. Even when they are 'helping' hundreds of thousands of people the benefits are debatable and occasionally lawsuits occur... or major financial meltdowns (i.e. sub-prime crisis).

The many Aspies and ASD folk I have spoken with feel the same way. More than that they see even entrepreneurial efforts as simply a way to make a buck and provide little real meaning. As an alternative I have suggested looking at starting social enterprises... not quite altruistic endeavors but certainly not cash cows either. Dowser has a wonderful article on how to get something like that going and can be found here:

Thinking of going back to school?

Kim at the Autism Blogs Directory requested that I write an article on the issues adult ASD folk face when deciding to go back to school. Check it out here:

Thursday, August 11, 2011

How to dispute Credit Report Errors

If you are considered for a job there is a good chance the employer will check your credit report. It is a good idea to scan your reports periodically and challenge anything on there that is incorrect.

The Consumerist has a quick How To here:

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Potential connection between Autism and gelotophobia -- the fear of being laughed at

Andrea C. Samson, Oswald Huber and Willibald Ruch in the April 2011 issue of the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders found that 45% of their subjects with Asperger's Syndrome had gelotophobia-- the fear of being laughed at-- as opposed to just 6% of the control group. This is an extraordinarily high percentage and may be an anomaly; the authors are attempting to replicate their findings.

However, presuming it is even half that number, it is worth an examination of the link between Autism and gelotophobia. Before an further comments let me state that it is clear most of us do not like to be laughed at derisively or in a humiliating situation regardless of ASD or NT classification. Gelotophobia is a more extreme reaction to laughter that interferes with the daily activities of the individual including limiting actions, intruding upon thoughts and physiological responses like tension, headaches and sleep disturbances.

The study also found that the AS group had less capability to laugh at themselves and an increase in the ability to laugh derisively at others, a.k.a. katagelasticism, which runs contrary to earlier studies without ASD/NT differentiation showing a link between laughing at yourself and at others.

It would be very premature to speculate if there is a causal relationship (e.g. Autism leads to gelotophobia) so preventative actions are not easy to suggest. In the The Mirror of Laughter p.77, Alexander Kozintsev discusses the processing of humor in the brain in depth including a mention of several studies showing the perception of humor being processed in the emotional centers of the amygdala, a familiar area of study for the Autism spectrum.

So we must turn our attention to aftercare. The Gelotophobia Assessment and Research Association offers several links to online assessments at that can help indicate the level of gelotophobia you may or may not posses. While not the same as a trained professional it is a good starting point to see how aggressively you would want to combat the phobia. Due to  the complex nature and lack of understanding on causality it may be that a symptom by symptom approach would work best such as addressing social anxiety through medication, therapy and social exercises or body awareness work for the Pinocchio syndrome (Ruch, 2009).


Kosinzstev, A. Trans: Martin, R. The Mirror of Laughter. Published June 2011.

Ruch, W. Fearing humor? Gelotophobia: The fear of being laughed at Introduction and overview. Humor: International Journal of Humor Research; 2009, Vol. 22 Issue 1-2, p1-25

Samson, A., Huber, O. and Ruch, W. Teasing, Ridiculing and the Relation to the Fear of Being Laughed at in Individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, April 2011, pp 475 - 483

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

How to follow-up with slow paying clients

Being a freelance or entrepreneurial Aspie/ASD person can be a nerve wracking process requiring dealing with unfamiliar people and unfamiliar situations on a regular basis  If you are freelancing or have a business that you run getting payment can be an excruciating task requiring a lot of time and causing headaches. For those of us on the Spectrum asking for payment can be difficult, waiting for payment can be anxiety provoking and a failure to adhere to the contractual guidelines may cause a meltdown preventing future business with that person.

First off, keep in mind, things do happen in business and not everyone is a cheapskate trying to screw us over. And even if they are a careful, measured response will help when it comes time to escalate the issue (e.g. small claims court).

Erin Russell at Biz 3.0 wrote a very helpful article on how to deal with such a situation.  It offers very useful advice on how to set up and follow through with clients on payment in such a way that you are in a decent place. I suggest that you use it as the basis for a step-by-step guide that you look at when it comes time to deal with money as it will remind you of the necessary tasks and point you to your previously created resources (e.g. follow-up & termination of service letters).

As an adjunct to that keep up on your state/municipality laws on small claims court and see if someone has created a how to for your specific state.

Update: Link to the Consumerist's Guide to small claims court:

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Thinking Person's Guide to Autism: Fit to Work in the UK, but Where?

The Thinking Person's Guide to Autism: Fit to Work in the UK, but Where?: "Rory Patton Most sick benefit seekers ‘are fit enough to work,' the London Evening Standard recently reported..."

5 tips for shaking off job interview anxiety

It has been a while since I posted anything from the Undercover Recruiter which is more about me being busy than their lack of quality. Once again they provide excellent tips for the job search, this time on combatting Interview Anxiety:

Number 5, be open about your nervousness, is an excellent way to let the interviewer know that something about the conversation may seem different without flat-out admitting you have ASD.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Beware the recruiters who don't believe in you

Recently an Aspie friend of mine contacted a major recruiting firm to ask about potential openings. He has some accounting and some technical skills and certifications in his background. He had been working at doing web site design on his own but, being an Aspie, networking was difficult and he needed to find soemthing stable. His skills and experience are a good mix and even in a down market should get some interest. This one said that he would not find a job since he had been 'out of work' for three years and vaguely wonder why he was wasting the recruiters time.

I have a couple of issues with this. The first is the tone of the response. Seriously? That is the best you can do? Not looking for a lot of repeat customers are you. I would write it off as the individual recruiter's style but actually this entire firm is well known for their attitude. They are just as bad when you are the hiring manager as when you are the potential employee. Their entire business model seems to be 'we don't give a bleep about future business; we place bodies'. How it works for them is a mystery to me.

Secondly, running your own business for three years is not the same as 'out of work'... not by a damn site. Many employers look for entrepreneurial types as they show initiative and problem solving ability not casually found in your standard employee. Holding having your own business against you is a sad way to handle a very strong benefit.

So my main point is that even if you do fit the narrow view of employable to some of these meat grinder shops you may want to stay away from them. If the recruiting firm cannot care enough about you to be polite and consider you a potential future customer then their placement is suspect. They are simply looking for bodies to fill out the cannon fodder of the world they see. Not all of them will go to the ends of the earth for you (though I have found a few) but general respect should be a bare minimum. And if they cannot see value in your skills then find someone who can. They should be placing *all* of you in the job; not just one skill they find useful.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Start a company... and sell it for a dollar?!?

Or a Pound, Euro or whatever your local currency might be.

Penelope Trunk has an amazing tip for building your career portfolio. Start a company and sell it for next to nothing. Instead of looking at the company as a way to make money look at it as a way to boost your value to the next person that considers hiring you. I will leave it to her to go into the details but it makes sense in a weird sort of way.

Penelope's Post:

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Study shows video modeling improving work performance for ASD individuals

In the August 2010 issue of Education & Treatment of Children, Allen et al, discuss their study showing a marked improvement in four ASD youths/young adults in the performance of a socially challenging job... walking around in a big costume in a store to generate business. While not the best paying jobs (part time; $12 - $20 an hour) it is worth noting that success in a social occupation like this is remarkable for people on the spectrum. And when I thought about it the costume does lend quite a bit of help in that it takes care of the bright, sunny dispositions needed allowing the person inside to concentrate on movement and body language.

As part of a collaborative project between a University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities and a local private business, we examined the effects of video modeling to teach vocational skills to four adolescents and young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Video modeling was used to teach the participants to wear a WalkAround® mascot and entertain customers in a retail setting. Observations were conducted before and after participants watched a video model of the skills performed in both scripted and naturalistic scenes. All participants learned to use the targeted skills after watching the video model and all reported that they enjoyed the work. Implications and vocational applications are discussed.

This article, in addition to the main thrust of the study, presents a potential form of accommodation you may be able to request in your workplace; namely a video of someone else doing the job effectively.  Since AskJan-- the Department of Labor's Accommodation initiative-- suggests alternative methods of communication and training in their discussion of accommodating Aspergers. It is well worth pulling out this study when working with your employer on your labor situation as it shows verifiable results to the effort. A video program like this is more than simple observation as it will stress retention and provide repeated viewing if lessons are confusing or moving too fast. Additionally it is repeatable with future employees.

So consider this the next time you get a review or are interviewing; it may help both sides.

Allen, Keith D; Wallace, Dustin PView Profile; Renes, Diana; Bowen, Scott L; Burke, Ray V.; Use of Video Modeling to Teach Vocational Skills to Adolescents and Young Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders; Education & Treatment of Children, Aug 2010, pp 339-349

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The use of antioxidants along with Omega-3 fatty acids

Previously I wrote on the potential benefits of increasing your Omega-3 fatty acid intake as a means for improving your mood stabilization and neurotransmitter function to combat comorbid conditions of Autism (e.g. depression).  I Just came across an article from BMC Psychiatry (2008 Supplement 1, Vol. 8, Special section p1-3, 3p) by Tsaluchidu, et al regarding the potential need for antioxidants with patients showing many of the comorbid symptoms. Oxidative Stress is increased in people with the various conditions and the addition of antioxidants helps reduce the impact of that stress on brain tissue.

While no specific dosing recommendations are made they do suggest switching to a whole food, plant based diet in order to achieve results. The National Institute for Health (NIH) also suggests using dietary based increases in antioxidants rather than supplements. For specific antioxidants you can cross reference the list on the Wikipedia article here for antioxidants with the NIH list of nutrient values in various foods.

As with many things moderation is key; antioxidants can impair your ability to absorb iron and calcium in your diet.

Tips for Employers: What not to do with Aspergers workers

Don't let the title mislead you, this article is actually aimed at helping people with Aspergers in the workplace. From Psychology Today:

Monday, August 1, 2011

Making small talk is not lying to the other person

I had a client at one point refuse my suggestions on small talk as it felt like lying to the other person; "I don't care about what interests them and it feels false to pretend I do." It made me re-evaluate my suggestion to clarify what small talk meant both for the interview and the workplace.

Before I get into the tip part though I will once again plug the need to connect with people interviewing you or that you work with. It makes hiring smoother and retention easier if the person knows that you see them as a human being. You do not have to suck up with pointless comments or pretend to be interested in something you do not like. Rather you just need to let them know, even once, that you see them beyond the facade we erect at work.

So when interviewing try to Google your interviewers and most certainly the company. Look for a 'human interest' angle that you like and can talk about. Be sure to bring it up. Say you do not know the name of the person you are interviewing with but you found out via Googlebating (or masterGoogling if you prefer) the company that they recently moved to the new office. Even though it is likely that the person you are speaking with is NT, office moves are still sources of stress and humor. Mention the move and let them talk about it for a while. You will find a sympathetic response in yourself that is a surrogate for empathy in that you likely hate that sort of disruption too. That will come across in the interview.

If you are working with people just keep an ear out for their interests and look for news items that tie into that interest and mention it. Certainly you will illicit some sort of response from them and again, choose something you can tolerate. I have had several conversations with plane owners even though I have never actually owned a plane or even have a pilot's license. In fact it was one of the first things that I spoke about with my future father-in-law (got a good review from him too).

Making small talk with co-workers and interviewers is an effort but does not have to be a lie (or painful). Just keep on the look out for something that interests you too. Read blog aggregators, news web sites or some of the Gawker family of sites for general things to speak about.

And keep the stuff non-controversial (i.e. no religion or politics ).

Saturday, July 30, 2011

How do you look for your interview?

There are many tips for how to dress and groom yourself for an interview. Google is a great tool for that so I will not recap that here. However, if you are like me (and many others on the Spectrum) checking yourself in the mirror just before an interview can be as rough as making eye contact. When I first read Dracula by Bram Stoker I thought that not being seen in a mirror was about the coolest thing I ever heard of and not a sign of Nosferatu.  Yet it is essential you do one last check before you go into your interview to make sure your tie is straight, make-up is not smudged or a leftover from lunch is not stuck in your teeth.

To get over the anxiety from looking in the mirror at yourself you should practice this at home long before it comes time to go to an interview. Pick a big mirror and start by looking in the mirror only at a spot that feels the safest-- e.g. your belt buckle, the reflection of the wall behind you or a hand. Slowly move closer to your eyes until you feel the anxiety kick in. At that point stop looking in the mirror and let the anxiety subside. Keep trying to push the anxiety barrier closer to your eyes every time you try it (say daily).

It can take a while. If I remember right it was about five months for me before I could look into my eyes. I also noticed that if I had a meltdown or a poor social interaction the 'anxiety line' would move back out and I would lose ground requiring me to recover the lost ground (it went quicker the subsequent times).

Once you have conquered the anxiety of looking in the mirror you can then focus on the main point which is making sure your appearance is good for the all important first impression you make on someone.

PS I found my anxiety with eye contact in general lessened too but I am not sure this is because of my mirror work or not

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Improving your life with Fish Oil

I have always been rather skeptical of the quick cures and solutions in a pill that get promoted for various things like weight loss, hair restoration and autism. So when I read that Fish Oil had some efficacy in helping with autism I had to investigate. Turns out that it might help and I would suggest you look into it as a potential and inexpensive (compared to psychoactive medications) addition to your diet.

In the April issue of Human & Experimental Toxicology, Taha A Kumosani and Said S Moselhy found that the use of Cod Liver Oil helped increase levels of DHA and EPA fatty acids in the brains of rats. This in turn caused significant changes in the acetylcholine & norepinephrine neurotransmitters similar to medications used for treatment of depression, OCD, Alzheimer's and ADHD. This neurotransmitter activity is seen primarily in the hypothalamus though the additional benefits to Na+/K+-ATPase and Ca2+ ATPase can improve the circulatory system.

Considering that medications like donepezil (a.k.a. Aricept) show similar functions, though much more targeted-- as described by J. Helen Yoo, Maria G. Valdovinos and Dean C. Williams in the October 2007 issue of the Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders-- the addition of Fish Oil can be viewed as a potential alternative with fewer side effects. Still it is worth noting that the actions of Fish Oil have a limit to their effectiveness so medication may still be indicated. If you are going to try the homeopathic route first keep in mind that it might not work or work as well as needed.

For dosing regarding Fish Oil in adults start with ~1000 mg a day and look for improvement. At about 3000 mg you will have capped out and if you have not seen the desired improvements by this time it is likely you should try another course of action. Above 3000 mg and your blood may have issues clotting. Additionally there has been no official governmental sanction that it will work, only peer reviewed studies indicating it might work. Here is the National Institute of Health's statements on the benefits of Fish Oil:

Jobs for Aspies - Astronaut

Hey, while you're dreaming, why not dream big?

Given that, depending on the criteria used for what constitutes space flight, there have only been 520+ people that have flown in space, ever, being an astronaut might be the most difficult position to obtain for anyone, much less someone with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder. Still it is not impossible if Lisa Nowak's (keep this name in mind) pretrial claims are true. Additionally it is likely that people with hidden or undiagnosed ASD have been able to make it into the military even as a pilot though any obvious mention or diagnosis could eliminate them from consideration.

With the addition of the Mission and Payload Specialist classes people outside of the traditional test pilot subgroup have been able to make it into space with NASA. This means that those with advanced education and training in various types of engineering or science have a shot at being selected for a mission based on their area of expertise. Given the high prevalence of ASD folk in engineering and science and the obsessive interest they take in specific areas, ASD may actually prove a strength.

As some with ASD experience clumsiness and a lack of coordination this alone might get them eliminated during the extensive screening process used by NASA. Should that not be an issue then it will come down to the mental evaluation part of the screening process. This process is not widely published (as near as I can tell) and that makes sense, it would be easier to game the system if the screening was known ahead of time. Following Lisa Nowak's highly publicized incident, NASA did a review of its behavioral evaluations (see here, here and here) and found that though their processes for screening were stringent they could be arbitrarily applied and lacking in overall consistency. What was good to see from a psychological evaluation point of view was that they do not claim to eliminate the chance of an 'act of passion' or development of an issue; just reduce the likelihood of such an occurrence. This does not necessarily mean removing the person from the program either, especially once they are selected. Keep in mind that even though you might pass the entrance criteria you will still be evaluated on an ongoing basis so mental health is a premium.

In the previously mentioned reviews Aspergers was never mentioned specifically even after the claim came up in Lisa Nowak's pretrial statements. Still NASA is a highly political environment and any such diagnosis of an ASD issue would likely result in some sort of disqualification though maybe not specifically mentioned. And even if the ASD does not get you the depression, OCD or even social interaction issues may rear their head and cause an elimination.

Aside from NASA there is now more serious commercial efforts to obtain space flight. At this time there is scant information on the selection process as this is still in the pioneer stages. Still with some effort you could find yourself attached to one of the projects (e.g. Virgin Galactic) already in place or even on your own coming up with some method. No one asked the Wright Brothers about their mental qualifications when they set out to achieve powered flight and as long as you obey airspace and safety regulations no one will stop you if you can raise the money and create a craft capable of reaching 80 to 100 km above the surface of the planet.

There is also the concept of paying your own way though if you had that much money would you really be reading this on how to get a job as an astronaut?

For more information on NASA Astronaut Selection go here:

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Aspergers: Why Programming?

I know, I know... the stereotype of the Aspie programmer is a hard one to bear for ASD folk not inclined to computers. However, there are three reasons that I want you to consider regarding programming:
  1. A level of oddity is expected from programmers in general making things easier for the behaviors that might hold you back in other jobs
  2. Scarcity is the rule for programmers so jobs are easier to come by, with less competition and more opportunity
  3. Pay is generally better than average
I know it is hard for some of us to overcome the barrier of doing something we do not love but think of it as supporting yourself to do what you really want to do. And if comes down to it would you rather sling coffee or create things?

It can be a daunting task to learn the languages on your own. Google is an extremely useful tool when you combine the name of the programming language and 'tutorial' in the search. And open source projects offer an ability to hone your skills along with more experience programmers.

However, I found a more interactive form of learning recently on Reddit and Stackoverfow. Stack overflow is straight forward, enter your question and check back for answers or search for someone else who had the same question. Reddit has some sub-reddits (i.e. sub-categories) like Learn ProgrammingLearning Programming Resources and Programming. Due to the voting nature of the site useful content rises to the top and with so many people answering questions you gain the help offered by Stack Overflow.

Starving for a job

Hunger drives us to do strange things. I wonder how much of human endeavors could be traced back to being hungry. Societies undertake major migrations in search of food; humans will attempt to eat things previously not considered edible when they are hungry. Each of these are risks with either great or tragic outcomes; as an example consider what sort of trial and error went into realizing that rhubarb leaves were the toxic part of the plant.

Consider then how each of us may get when it comes time to evaluate if a particular job is good for us. Given the chronic under- and unemployment of ASD folk it is not surprising that many of us want any job as long as it shows promise of being better than where we are at. And it is hard to argue against that when we and/or our families lack something... especially food.

However how are you to protect against eating the toxic leaves and joining a place that will ruin you? Given the horrendous working conditions at some places it is possible that a bad work environment will harm you, your relationships or even drive you to attempt to harm yourself. If nothing else you could find yourself out of work soon enough.

Turning the traditional logic on its head-- it's easier to look for a job when you have a job-- it is easier to conceptualize your ideal job when you are not looking for one. So take a moment when you have a job to write out the criteria you would want in an ideal job and then stash it with copies of your resume on your machine. Later when you have to find a job you will have the clarity of the good times there to ground you when you go back out to find work. You may still not be able to find your ideal job but at least you will know how the current job in question deviates from your ideal and consciously know the deficiency rather than be surprised later.

Monday, July 25, 2011

New T-Shirts from Dude, I'm an Aspie

Matt at Dude, I'm an Aspie has some new T-Shirts out. I especially like "No evolution without Autism"

Aspergers Software Engineers: a 12 question list by Joel Spolsky that you should use

For those of you in software development who are looking for a way to determine if a place is good to work for or with, I suggest you look at the Joel Test created by Joel Spolsky.  While not oriented towards Aspergers or ASD specifically it does address a major concern that many of us have regarding a workplace; namely, does it aim to produce something that we can be proud of. If there is one unifying thing I have noticed about ASD folk in software development is that we hate putting out schlock.

Joel's test focuses on asking questions about whether the tools and material are present in a company to produce quality software. Even non-software Aspies can identify some of the questions as useful: do you have quality testers? do you have a product specification? Seriously, some software shops are so bad that these would be revolutionary questions. The most appealing question for ASD folk would be: do people have a quiet working atmosphere?

So those of you in IT, the next time you go to interview, take these questions along and check them off as they are answered in the interview or ask them when it is your turn to interview them. Asking questions in the interview is strongly encouraged and here are ready made questions for you that will at least give you an idea if it is a good place to work for you.

And if you are not in IT, consider how they may apply to your own job hunt or check back here... I hope to have my own 12 question check list for Aspies that I shamelessly admit was inspired by Joel's questions.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Round-up: Autism & Hofstede's Cultural Dimensions Theory

In response to some discussions I have seen on Wrong Planet and other ASD forums I decided to delve into the concept of an autistic culture. Having been familiar with Hofstede's dimensions I decided to use it as a framework for dissecting what it would mean for ASD folk to be a culture or subculture and how that group would react, as a culture, to the parent cultures of their respective societies.

Listed here are the articles and resources from the series. After careful consideration I decided that ASD folk, while numerous, probably do not constitute an independent culture but are rather a subculture influenced by the national culture that they reside in. Most of the dimensions apply to the subculture with a strong response in the Uncertainty Avoidance Index dimension. The recently added Indulgence v Restraint dimension posed the most difficulties in my analysis though that may be due more to my ignorance of the dichotomy than a lack of fit.

I think it would be interesting to use the cultural tests created by Hofstede or Minkov on a population of spectrumites to see what the true measure for each dimension would be. Given the growth of the ASD population and the need to analyze culture beyond traditional ethnic, racial, national or religious grounds this would be an informative study beyond the boundaries of ASD.

I hope that you find the articles provocative, insightful or at least entertaining. Please feel free to leave comments on any one.


Introduction - discusses Hofstede's Cultural Dimensions theory

Part 2: Autism & Culture - analyzes autism as a potential culture or subculture

Part 3: Autism & Power Distance Index - an analysis of autism, ASD folk and the Power Distance Index

Part 4: Autism & Individualism v Collectivism - looks at how ASD folk might place on the Individualist v Collectivist dimension

Part 5: Autism & the Uncertainty Avoidance Index - dives into the ASD spectrumite's anxiety with uncertainty and how it mirrors cultures on the Hofstede UAI index

Part 6: Autism & Masculinity v Femininity - a perspective on the Hofstede Masculinity index and if it applies to ASD

Part 7: Autism & Long Term Orientation - where does an ASD peson land on the Hofstede LTO dichotomy?

Part 8: Autism and Indulgence v Restraint - an exploration of autism and the recently added dimension of indulgence v restraint

Helpful Resources:

Kwintessential - Country Etiquette Guides

Kwintessential - Discussion of Hofstede Dimensions: Jumping off point for many of their Hofstede specific resources

Target Map for Indulgence v Restraint

Cultures and Organizations: Software for the Mind, Third Edition

Culture's Consequences: Comparing Values, Behaviors, Institutions and Organizations Across Nations

Wikipedia on Confucianism (applies to Long Term Orientation)

The Analects of Confucius (applies to Long Term Orientation)

5 tips for overcoming anxiety

25 ways to relieve anxiety

Hofstede's academic site

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Part 8: Autism and Geert Hofstede's Cultural Dimensions Theory - Indulgence v Restraint

->Part 7<-

The last of Hofstede's dichotomies, Indulgence v Restraint (IVR) was introduced via a study performed by Michael Minkov in 2010. It is the least studied of the dimensions and I only include it here because Hofstede does so on his site. At times dimensions are introduced and removed or changed later so this analysis is bound by the uncertainty of the dimension.

Generally Hofstede defines the two parts as:

  • Indulgence: a tendency to allow relatively free gratification of basic and natural human desires related to enjoying life and having fun.
  • Restraint: a conviction that such gratification needs to be curbed or regulated by strict social norms

[p232 - 232 Cultures and Organizations: Software for the Mind, Third Edition]

While Kwintessential does not have a map for this dimension (yet) I did find this map of scores corresponding to the Minkov study results. Venezuela comes out at the top of the chart with a score of 100 (this study used a 100 point scale rather than the 120 Hofstede had originally introduced). Pakistan came in at the other end of the spectrum with zero. The English speaking cluster all came in at the high 60's to low 70's indicating a fairly permissive society.

From a theoretical perspective this is the hardest for me to place in regards to the Autism subculture. Many forms of stimming for the longest time was looked down upon as unacceptable regardless of the society and certainly our general behavior has been identified as outside the norm. In the Hofstede book mentioned above there is a quote about IVR that "In loose societies norms are expressed with a wide range of alternative channels, and deviant behavior is easily is easily tolerated (p.233). I imagine a poll of most ASD in the loose English speaking cluster societies would not find them all that accepting. True Autism is not punished by death (for the most part) in these societies but when that is the measure of acceptance I think we lose any fine analysis.

On the flip side the adherence to routine and internally defined norms would indicate that as a subculture we are more on the restraint side. However each of these are defined individually and while there might be some similarities it is unlikely that ASD folk share a majority of routines/norms. Additionally the difficulties in forming relationships would pose a pseudo-caste system where everyone is broken down into degrees of how much we can communicate and relate to them.

I think it is safe to say that this debate will continue on for some time and there is no satisfying conclusion for-- or from-- me here. In the meantime I suggest we consider our parent culture's leanings in thinking about our own and then refine our thoughts on a case by case basis. In my own case I am in the United States which tolerates, and even encourages the accumulation of wealth, yet personally I have an antipathy towards people I perceive as greedy. Therefore when encountering a situation along these lines I might scale my response more along the lines of me dealing with a 'more indulgent than I' person.

And while Kwintessential does not have tips specific to the IVR dimension they provide guides on specific countries that will help. Consider Pakistan, which scored a zero, and Venezuela-- a 100-- and the tips provided there. Unlike the previous dimension (Long Term Orientation) where China could serve as a proxy for a tip sheet I think each country should be taken on a case by case basis. As an example much of Pakistan's rigidity might be attributed to the influence of fundamentalist religious views and certainly certain parts of the US could be found just as rigid. In these cases the difference is simply in which is more institutionalized at the moment.

Helpful Resources:

Target map on Indulgence v Restraint - 100 point scale rather than the 120 used elsewhere

Cultures and Organizations: Software for the Mind, Third Edition

Tips on Countries from Kwintessential

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Part 7: Autism and Geert Hofstede's Cultural Dimensions Theory - Long Term Orientation

->Part 6<-

After Hofstede's initial research various researchers explored his findings and looked for areas that might have been overlooked. In 1985 a group of primarily Chinese educators administered a test that showed a fifth dimension, one that by its very nature was bound to escape European researchers as it was alien in many aspects. Originally called Confucian Dynamism it was later renamed Long Term Orientation and China was the bell weather example scoring at 118 out of 120 for the category. The basic premise is that a Long Term Orientation culture is focused on thrift, persistence and a stolid social order with rankings and duties for each ranking. While an underling might be obligated to follow their boss without question the boss is also obligated to care for the underling; this concept alone would be very alien to many Western managers. Short Term Orientation cultures are focused on the past and present, respect for tradition and fulfilling social obligations such as reciprocal gift giving.

The English speaking cluster of the US, UK, Australia and Canada all scored low (the US was the highest at 29) on the scale indicating extreme short term orientation; indeed every colonial power and subsequent filial colony (e.g. Canada & US with Britain) scored on the low end. China was already mentioned as being the extreme top with Hong Kong reporting a score of 96 which I suspect was diluted due to long time British occupation. Taiwan, Japan and South Korea also scored on the higher end of the dichotomy. India was almost dead center with 61 and probably showing influence of the multiple subcultures that make up large parts of the Indian nation. Considering Pakistan, a neighbor and similar ethnicity to many in India scored a zero on the scale one could surmise that that influence alone is weighing the score for India.

Given the issues with executive function (Source) and the general travails of the ASD subculture I suggest that as a subculture ASD folk would score on the Short Term Orientation end of the spectrum. Whether dealing with the trauma of growing up in an NT society or combating addiction (substance or behavioral) used as a coping mechanism many ASD folk are literally taking it 'one day at a time' almost necessitating a short term outlook. Additionally the resistance to authority figures would be well within the Short Term Orientation mode.

Sadly Kwintessential has not created specific tips for this Hofstede dimension yet. However, due to the strong showing of China on the scale, the tips for China provide a useful alternative. While too long to go into in this article it is worth a read. Additionally, the dimension was not originally named Confucian Dynamism just because it sounded cool. The dimension adheres to the Confucian precepts very well so a study of the philosophy is a good idea. Start with the Wikipedia article on Confucianism to get a good introduction and go from there. One rule that many of us have heard of (and rarely seen practiced in the West) is "Do not treat others as you would not have them treat you" [double negative intended].

->Part 8<-

Helpful Resources:

Kwintessential Tips on China

Wikipedia article on Confucianism

Analects of Confucius at Project Gutenberg

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Part 6: Autism and Geert Hofstede's Cultural Dimensions Theory - Masculinity v Femininity

->Part 5<-

The dichotomy I will be addressing in this post is bit problematic because the naming of it is challenging in its sexist titles. Hofstede decided that countries that show competitiveness, assertiveness, ambition, materialism and desire for power are Masculine in nature while those who value relationships and quality of life are Feminine. Certainly stereotypes of both genders can be used to support the naming but, on the contrary, anyone at a beauty contest can attest to female competitiveness and I  believe Quality of Life (at least in their minds) is pursued by men as well as women. Additionally, gender role distinction is higher for masculine societies than feminine which flies in the face of nearly every romance novel on the market today.  Nevertheless there is a polarization detailed by his research and thus requires some form of labeling. Various people have renamed the poles to Quantity of Life v Quality of Life... still problematic in my view but less sexist. I will stick with the original names to maintain continuity with the original research but keep in mind they are labels rather than descriptors.

Before I list the country scores also keep in mind that this is not capturing Foreign Relations policy but individual attitudes at a group level. For instance the US scores almost in the middle of the dichotomy with a 62. When viewing Foreign Policy over the past fifty years the ambition, power and aggression-- much less assertiveness-- immediately jump out as extreme examples. However that is from a nationalistic stand point and it is often true that national behavior and individual behaviors are different. Another conundrum is that Russia scores a 36 on the scale meaning it is heavy to the feminine side which would also go contrary to its foreign relations since it was first formed. Norway and Sweden fall at the extreme feminine side with single digit scores.

As a subculture in the United States, UK, Australia and other English speaking countries I think we would have the same confusion presented by our societies. However I will go out on a limb and say that we squelch our ambition, competitiveness and assertiveness out of a desire to avoid conflict. Research does indeed show a difficulty in identifying with a single gender (Williams, P., & Allard, A. (1996). Case study: Cross-gender preoccupations in two male children with autism. Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, 26(6), 635-642. Retrieved from EBSCOhost, Aspergirls: Empowering Females With Asperger Syndrome). Additionally the traits of Higher Functioning Autism and Aspergers are more acceptable in women than men indicating that the groups are seen as more feminine from an outside view.

And again, as with Power Distance, you should attempt to make a determination about the nature of the people you work with and use the tips suggested by Kwintessential accordingly here in the US or other of the English speaking clusters.  With those on the 'feminine' side respect the boundary between business and life, expect men and women to have similar roles in the group and work to establish trust. For more 'masculine' individuals keep in mind that your work life boundaries may not mean much, or anything, to them and that business can occur at any time. This is especially relevant in terms of networking. For a 'masculine' person any event can be a place to discuss business and your actions in that setting will reflect on how they perceive you in the workplace. This extends to social sites one the web too. A professional LinkedIn account and an unprofessional Facebook account will hurt you with the more 'masculine' cultures.

->Part 7<-

Helpful resources:

World Map of Masculinity v Femininity

Masculinity/Femininity - Tips

Friday, July 15, 2011

Can posture help your day go better?

Here is an interesting article about how your posture can help lessen stress during trying situations. I wonder if having good posture in general helps lower anxiety?

Part 5: Autism and Geert Hofstede's Cultural Dimensions Theory - Uncertainty Avoidance Index

->Part 4<-

The Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI) from Hofstede measures how a culture handles ambiguity, uncertainty and change. Those groups that measure high on the UAI tend to experience high anxiety regarding uncertainty and seek to limit or minimize the uncertainty in any given situation. Cultures that measure low on the index try to have as few rules as possible, are more pragmatic and are more tolerant of change. Examples of countries that are high on the UAI are Greece, Russia, Poland and Portugal (contrary to popular views of Germany is it much closer to the middle). Countries that score low on the scale are Sweden, China and the UK; while the US is low at a score of 46 it is not the lowest by far.

From a theoretical standpoint I think the Autsim subculture would score very high on this index. In fact I suspect most readers of that last statement said "well, duh". Ritualistic behavior, precision and the need for sameness are hallmarks of of autistic behavior at all levels and sometimes, depending on the situation, this has been included as part of the Autistic Advantage (source).

For those of us in low scoring countries like the UK, Australia, Canada, China and the US (map) I cannot think of a stronger point of conflict between the subculture and culture as a whole. In those countries that are high on the Index many of these behaviors may be seen as well within cultural bounds offering a rare break for ASD folk in their attempts at integrating with society.

I would go into detail regarding Kwintessential's tips for dealing with cultures that score lower than us on UAI but I imagine they are well known in practice, if not theory. All of us in low index countries have had to learn to deal with the changes common to the neurotypical society around us and being told to be more flexible. I would be interested to hear how someone from a high UAI country experiences this dimension.

As suggestions to those of us on the Spectrum I would say focus on the anxiety created by the changes with typical anxiety measures such as meditation, calming talk, a type of tea that works for you and possibly medication.  Xanax has been used for anxiety attacks but the potential for addiction and misuse make it impractical for any sustained usage. Some anti-depressants have been for effective for reducing anxiety in general and may be a good line of defense against total meltdowns.  Here are a couple of articles that offer anxiety remedies to try: 5 Quick Ways & 25 ways to relieve anxiety

->Part 6<-

Helpful resources:

World Map of Uncertainty Avoidance

Uncertainty Avoidance - Tips

5 Quick ways to overcoming anxiety

25 ways to relieve anxiety

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Part 4: Autism and Geert Hofstede's Cultural Dimensions Theory - Individualism v Collectivism

->Part 3<-

Next up for Hofstede's dichotomies is Individualism v. Collectivism. This measures the degree to which individuals are integrated into groups and how they perceive themselves in that group. Individualists tend to use first person singular pronouns, look out for themselves, place their emphasis on personal achievement and choose their own affiliations with others. Collectivist groups (non-political) see themselves  as part of a group, will use first person plural more frequently, look out for the good of the group and take their lead on friendships and partnerships from the group as a whole.

Not surprisingly the United States is one of the strongest Individualist societies measured by Hofstede (source) with Australia the UK slightly behind it. Canada is still strongly individualist as well though not as strong as the first three. At the opposite end of the spectrum you find China, Pakistan and the northern countries of South America [note the split between the northern countries -- Peru, Ecuador, Columbia and Venezuela-- and the Chile, Argentina, Brazil & Uruguay cluster is fascinating].

In a theoretical sense I can make an argument for Autism being either an individualist subculture due to the well documented social issues or a collectivist subculture due to the unifying experience of being an excluded and in many cases severely tormented group. The research in this area has been heavily focused on the issues of ASD folk integrating with the Neurotypical society (e.g. Source 1Source 2) which then tends to lead us on a path of individualism. Countering that is the growing belief that Autism is a variation of the human condition rather than an illness requiring a cure.  Web sites like The Autistic Self Advocacy Network, Shift Journal and Wrong Planet offer a much more communal feel indicating a process of integration not seen among neurotypical groups in the United States and other individualist societies.

I think it is safe to say that regardless of where an ASD subculture would fall on the individualist v collectivist dichotomy the extreme individualism of the United States, Great Britain, Australia and, to a lesser extent, Canada requires a work interaction approach similar to someone coming from a collectivist society. To that end the tips from Kwinitessential are extremely applicable:

  • Use your own initiative; do not depend on the group for answers
  • Personal life and business life are usually kept separated
  • People will expect to be given a chance to complete work on their own without intervention from you
  • Co-workers will attempt to stand out in some way even in group settings; this is expected and tolerated

And while the Kwintessential tips do not state this I think it bears exploration in terms of the last tip I paraphrased. It is common for those on the Spectrum to avoid calling attention to themselves and may even resent those who do. In the work setting those who call attention to themselves are often promoted or rewarded meaning that many of us on the Spectrum get left behind. It will feel alien to you to point to your own work but you may have to do just that if you want to get ahead. Come up with a way that works for you and run with it. if nothing else keep a journal of projects and accomplishments that you have done to break out at your review or put on your resume when looking for a job. Resentment and resistance to this are natural for someone on the Spectrum but do not let it paralyze you.

As a final note I want to address the concept of using advocates in the job hunt or the workplace. With limited exception a true agent is not a normal practice in the American workplace (I cannot speak for elsewhere but I would suspect that the UK, Australia and Canada are similar in that aspect). Institutionalized advocates are barely present in the form of the Equal Employment Opportunity officers, Ombudsmen and Employee Relations and keep in mind, they all work for the company too. They may not be totally biased but they do have to balance their considerations.  It is not all bleak though. Recruiters are a common way to find work and given a bit of honesty between you and the recruiter they can be an excellent advocate in the job search even helping you gloss over some of the difficulties you might have. Inside the workplace you can find the people I mentioned above that will help you resolve issues and possibly even get fair treatment. Additionally many companies provide Employee Assistance Programs that offer counseling in psychological, monetary or even legal terms. And then there are the governmental and non-profit organizations such as the EEOC or GRASP that can help with guidance. Check these out and make use of them.

Update: I totally forgot about Unions as a form of workplace advocacy. If you are in an industry with trade union representation it may be well worth the dues and time to engage them with your workplace struggles.

->Part 5<-

Helpful Resources:

World Map of Individualism - Hofstede

Individualism - Tips

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Part 3: Autism and Geert Hofstede's Cultural Dimensions Theory - Working well with those in authority

->Part 2<-

Hofstede's Power Distance Index (PDI) measures how we perceive the hierarchical authority in a given situation (family, work, etc.). On one end you have more autocratic and/or authoritative expectations where someone decides for the rest and with a limited group of influencers making the decision. On the other end are the more egalitarian and/or democratic cultures where everyone has equal rights and decisions tend to be made with a more cooperative input scheme (voting, meetings etc.). For clear examples think of the Big Brother government as one extreme and the Hobbesian state of nature on the other.  The US, Canada and England fall just to the Hobbesian side of middle meaning that as a culture they expect a certain level or power distance but that there is also a sense of equality and expected involvement in decisions.  For more countries please see the World Map provided here.

For those of us on the Spectrum being in the middle is probably a horrible place; I suspect that we would rather know exactly what was expected or that nothing was expected. For instance we may not know when the power role ends and the equality role begins: "I could never tell when he was being my boss and when he was being my friend" (source) and then act in ways that are inappropriate for the expected relationship or, as in the case of the article in question, fail to protect ourselves when the relationship is being abused.

For myself I will often use humor to defuse a tense situation but in the case of being dressed down by my manager for flaws this is a poor course. I may be able to disagree with them but it needs to be in a sober straightforward way or with light humor. To be honest I am still working on that aspect of my inter-work relationships.

Thankfully Kwintessential has a list of tips available on their site on how to deal with those who are above or below the score on scale (tips).  Using the map and the tips you can make a general assumption about the environment you are heading into; be warmed though, an individual boss may be from a different culture in which case their expectations may be different from the general population.  Learn about your boss, watch how they treat others and how others treat them. That should give you an idea of what they will expect and where they might fall in relation to yourself on the PDI.

As for inside the Autism subculture I suspect that we are much further towards the egalitarian side of the index. Whether learned from our experiences in dealing with difficult authority figures (teachers, parents, adults, bosses) or innate is beyond me and I have not found any studies on this yet.  This may come into major conflict where someone expects to be treated with a certain level of respect and instead we are familiar and informal with them.

The conflicts we experience at work may come down to our mis-perception of the Power Distance Index that then colors our interactions with people in different levels of authority. In addition to the normal communication steps we need to follow (eliminate the pedantic conversation, listen well to others, etc) a weather eye on the Power Distance Index will help smooth things over with those in positions of authority.

->Part 4<-

Helpful links:

World Map of Power Distance Index Scores

Tips on dealing with Power Distance Index differences

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Part 2: Autism and Geert Hofstede's Cultural Dimensions Theory

>Part 1<-

Before I jump into Hofstede's dimensions it is worth taking a look at the concept of people with autism as a culture unto themselves.  There certainly has been enough discussion on the concept of those with disabilities or different mental states  forming a subculture or even a culture unto themselves (Example OneExample TwoExample ThreeExample Four) and autism certainly fits into one of those two categories. Even the concept that Autism is a disability is being challenged from the ASD community meaning that there is a form of group identity being formed and debated.

Yet I am not sure I believe that Autism is a culture unto itself yet. My thought is that if you took all Autistic people and magically dropped them onto an isolated world they would go through a similar acculturation process as another group with a unifying factor. Certainly those on the Spectrum  have formed strong subcultures within the framework of larger national cultures but lumping all ASD folk into one large group and calling it a culture seems as problematic as if I did that with Asians, people over 7 feet in height, those who caught malaria or are deaf. The independent subcultures are much stronger than a diluted larger population.

This is an important distinction in analyzing how the ASD culture/subculture relates to the dichotomies that the Hofstede theory puts forth. How a subculture relates to the dimensions is much different than how a top level culture has determined their relationship. The subculture, necessarily, takes its cues from the parent culture and is influenced by the parent culture's views on the dimension.

So in considering ASD and the Cultural Dimension theory I will consider it in the context of a subculture. Determining what the parent culture is will be a bit more challenging as the subculture can have parent and even grandparent cultures. For instance consider myself: ASD subculture and I live in the United States so I have that influence. However is there an in-between cultural layer of affluence level or race that affects my subculture identity? I am not sure.

->Part 3<-

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Introduction to Autism and Geert Hofstede's Cultural Dimensions Theory

This is the introduction to a series of articles I will be producing on Hofstede's Cultural Dimension Theory and how it relates to ASD. Cultural theory is a complex subject and when mixing cultures (such as nationality and the Autism way of thinking) any clarity is useful; if nothing else someone can say "nope, that's not it" and eliminate an avenue of explanation.

Prior to delving into the meat of the series I felt an introduction to Hofstede and his work was needed.

Geert Hofstede founded the office of personnel research at IBM in 1965. Between the research he conducted at the company (well over 117,000 respondents) and further refinement done afterwards he was able to develop a model of cultural dimensions that identified four dichotomies that measured the orientation of cultures to various internal values. Later he would add a fifth dichotomy following the involvement of Chinese managers and students.  A sixth (and so far final) dichotomy completed the theory in 2010. These dichotomies are:

  • Power distance index (PDI): “Power distance is the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions (like the family) accept and expect that power is distributed unequally.” Cultures that endorse low power distance expect and accept power relations that are more consultative or democratic. People relate to one another more as equals regardless of formal positions. Subordinates are more comfortable with and demand the right to contribute to and critique the decision making of those in power. In high power distance countries, less powerful accept power relations that are more autocratic and paternalistic. Subordinates acknowledge the power of others simply based on where they are situated in certain formal, hierarchical positions. As such, the power distance index Hofstede defines does not reflect an objective difference in power distribution, but rather the way people perceive power differences.
  • Individualism (IDV) vs. collectivism: “The degree to which individuals are integrated into groups”. In individualistic societies, the stress is put on personal achievements and individual rights. People are expected to stand up for themselves and their immediate family, and to choose their own affiliations. In contrast, in collectivist societies, individuals act predominantly as members of a life-long and cohesive group or organization (note: “The word collectivism in this sense has no political meaning: it refers to the group, not to the state”). People have large extended families, which are used as a protection in exchange for unquestioning loyalty.
  • Uncertainty avoidance index (UAI): “a society's tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity”. It reflects the extent to which members of a society attempt to cope with anxiety by minimizing uncertainty. People in cultures with high uncertainty avoidance tend to be more emotional. They try to minimize the occurrence of unknown and unusual circumstances and to proceed with careful changes step by step by planning and by implementing rules, laws and regulations. In contrast, low uncertainty avoidance cultures accept and feel comfortable in unstructured situations or changeable environments and try to have as few rules as possible. People in these cultures tend to be more pragmatic, they are more tolerant of change.
  • Masculinity (MAS), vs. femininity: “The distribution of emotional roles between the genders”. Masculine cultures’ values are competitiveness, assertiveness, materialism, ambition and power, whereas feminine cultures place more value on relationships and quality of life. In masculine cultures, the differences between gender roles are more dramatic and less fluid than in feminine cultures where men and women have the same values emphasizing modesty and caring. As a result of the taboo on sexuality in many cultures, particularly masculine ones, and because of the obvious gender generalizations implied by Hofstede's terminology, this dimension is often renamed by users of Hofstede's work, e.g. to Quantity of Life vs. Quality of Life.
  • Long term orientation (LTO), vs. short term orientation: First called “Confucian dynamism”, it describes societies’ time horizon. Long term oriented societies attach more importance to the future. They foster pragmatic values oriented towards rewards, including persistence, saving and capacity for adaptation. In short term oriented societies, values promoted are related to the past and the present, including steadiness, respect for tradition, preservation of one’s face, reciprocation and fulfilling social obligations.
  • Indulgence, vs. restraint (IVR): Societies with a high rate of indulgence allow hedonistic behaviors: people can freely satisfy their basic needs and desires. On the opposite, Restraint define societies with strict social norms, where gratification of drives are suppressed and regulated.
      From Wikipedia

This framework is not without its criticisms but as with any good theory it offers a start for the conversation and a structure on which to hang the pro and con arguments. There are certainly further areas to look at including:

->Part 2<-

A different model for Autism/Aspergers friendly technology companies

Ian Ford, whom I have spoken about before, posted to the Wrong Planet forums about hiring ASD programmers and artists who would work from home on projects he secures. Whether he knows it or not I think he has suggested a new style of ASD friendly company to compliment the efforts of Aspiritech, Specialisterne, Autism Works UK, Uzmanlar [note: in Turkish; Google Chrome does a decent translation] and Kaien.

I see three drawbacks to the current crop of testing oriented companies like those mentioned above:

  1. Geographically bound - each one serves the local Autism/Aspergers community by establishing a traditional office space; if you are not close by or cannot commute you are out of luck
  2. Limited in scope - beyond testing and supporting testing there is little to offer in the way of ASD friendly/compatible work
  3. Crowded market place - five companies operating in the same niche is getting a bit crowded; thankfully they are spread out among various countries with Uzmanlar and Kaien enjoying a natural barrier based on language. Still Autism UK and Specialisterne will start to compete against each other in the UK and those two along with Aspiritech will start to run into each other in the English speaking market as a whole.

Ian's model of employing multiple disciplines (so far he has used artists and programmers and looking for more) while allowing people to work from home addresses all three of these issues. He is offering a service in the 'ASD Niche' not otherwise seen. True he has to compete with the general population of tailored technology consulting but that is something that can be said of the five testing companies for independent test verification as well.

Tomorrow, Monday, I am going to reach out to someone in Tucson who is also interested in starting an Autism/Aspergers friendly company. Her initial idea was to emulate the Specialisterne model but I will be suggesting a new one to her as well.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Subtle workplace bullying; give yourself credit for saying something

I cannot say whether I like the book Moby Dick or not. This is only my second time reading. The first time I read it, 23 years ago, it impacted me so much I ordered a personalized license plate for my car that read PEQUOD.

In any case, on this my second reading, I was struck by the bravery of Starbuck to voice his concerns about the captain's mission of seeking revenge on the whale that took his leg. Captain Ahab is not portrayed as a very open boss and indeed implies that further disagreement from his first officer will be seen as potential mutiny. Faced with that threat and the fact that the crew seemed to back the Captain, Starbuck stands down and in a moment of foreshadowing remarks that he hopes the entire compliment is not doomed (SPOILER ALERT: all but Ishmael die).

It is easy to criticize Starbuck for his capitulation but in reality we should praise him for even offering resistance. How many times have we seen it where no one wants to risk the wrath of authority so does not say anything?

While working in the mortgage industry I saw first hand where people who knew certain practices were wrong or harmful did not say anything because the boss/leader wanted to pursue the course of action. Everyone around them followed the boss because they thought that was where their fortune lay.

It is a subtle form of bullying that comes into play at that time. The leader questions your loyalty, paints you as a traitor and worse, alone in your thoughts. Others see the humiliation or aggression and turtle up abandoning you. For those of us on the Spectrum any one of those things can be a devastating reminder of how we are not part of the majority group. Put together it is a psychological blow that is hard to recover from.

So if you ever have stood up to someone in that setting do not get down on yourself for what followed. Instead, give yourself credit for saying something... and try to find the nearest life raft; don't gamble that you will be the Ishmael of the group.

ASD and 'The Decision'; time for reflection

I had intended for this article to be about Moby Dick, specifically when Starbuck objects to Captain Ahab's quest to go after the whale. However, on the drive to work, I listened to an interview that I cannot get out of my mind. More on that in a moment.

Self-reflective Aspies & others on the Spectrum will probably identify with the guilt and torture I go through when I mis-communicate and people react to my message poorly. I spend long hours analyzing what I did/said and how it could be different; think of ways to make amends; process anger over the NT v ASD communication divide; and imagine all the hidden motives that might have meant I really intended the message that was received. It is really a lot of work.

Then we come to the subject of the interview; Jim Gray on Dan Patrick's morning radio show. A year ago today LeBron James sat with Jim Gray on ESPN and announced he was going to Miami. A year later and Jim Gray, LeBron, LeBron's agent and a host of other people are still defending 'The Decision'. Two arguments that stand out for me as being the hardest to accept from their point of view are: 1. The money went to the kids and 2. The fans in the cities that did not get LeBron are bitter.

I will certainly allow that many fans in the cities that courted LeBron are bitter and angry that he did not go there. However I live in Phoenix and am mildly a Suns fan; prior to that I was an ardent Blazers fan who left during the Jailblazers years. Neither team had a shot at LeBron and I was angry about the show; I do not think I am the only fan in that situation.

And from the first word of the impending TV announcement and how the money would go to the kids I had a hard time not seeing the use of the charity angle as some sort of cynical ploy to deflect the criticism LeBron would take no matter what city he chose.

I know LeBron has a love for the Boys and Girls club but using them in that high profile of a situation really did not sit well with me. And indeed he barely had any time with the kids at the club as he had to fly off to Miami right away (courtesy of this CNNSI article).

Everyone says that they would do it again but slightly differently however they are still baffled by the reaction to the decision and cling to the answers they started with; bitter people & it was for the kids. I am not seeing any of the self-analysis that I and other ASD folk go through when someone takes our messages the wrong way.

LeBron had every right to make the decision he did; in fact I applaud he, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh for stepping in and taking over a piece of the business usually left up to GMs and Owners. However the two year drama culminating in a vanity television show was too much.