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.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Recovering from an interview mistake and showing your worth

The Undercover Recruiter is one of my favorite blogs about looking for a job. Their tips are excellent and articles provide real value. The latest post talks about a man who committed a colossal blunder in his phone interview (he revealed he had pirated their software) yet still managed to get hired with an amazing cover letter.

And it helps illustrate a point I try to make often. Most times a cover letter is way to get yourself invited to an interview but we place too much emphasis on the 'letter' part. Think of it as a chance to show off what you can do and make it relevant to the job. In lieu of a cover letter is there a way to be well known at what you do so that people come to you and ask you to apply or better yet say "We'd like to work with you, how about it?"

Use your attention to detail, obsessive interest in learning and non-standard way of looking at things to be so kick a** at something that it serves as your cover letter... or at least try to write one really good, relevant to the hiring manager cover letter.

Customized Employment: US Department of Labor site

One of the ways that the US Dept. of Labor suggests accommodating those with disabilities is via Customized Employment. They have an excellent document dedicated to it that is full of tips for employees and employers as well as the benefits of Customized Employment.

You can find it here:

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

If you spend your days ripping things apart you become jaded to the process of creation

I posted a link over on Wrong Planet regarding Ian Ford looking for programmers to work in his ASD friendly business. One respondent lamented that it was for technical people and that he needs a non-computer job. I can understand his frustration.

I have posted before about whether Software Quality Assurance is the best job for people on the Spectrum due to the conflict that can be innate in many software development environments. However, while contemplating another set of articles I want to do I came up with another reason that Testing may not be the best.

Don't get me wrong, I love Aspiritech, Specialisterne, Autism Works UK, Uzmanlar and Kaien and their goal of providing well paying jobs for ASD folk. But the constant analyzing and picking apart someone else's work does something to people (NT or ASD). I think it devalues the original work in our eyes and possibly bleeds over to original work in other areas. How many times do you see someone post something original and get torn apart for it?

Georg Hegel posited that the creation of something with our hands and minds is essential to our well-being while saying nothing of critiquing someone else's work. It is an important developmental step in our life when we learn we can create even if it was just finger painting or coloring a picture with Crayons (r).

So even if you are just evaluating someone else's work take the time to create with your own hands & mind. The sense of self and accomplishment that comes from it will help be an antidote to the cynicism that comes from always finding something wrong with someone else.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

ASD folk start as rookies at every new workplace; take advantage of it

The Harvard Business Review blog ran an article by JD Schramm about the benefits of being a rookie employee. In many cases I think any of us on the Spectrum are rookies when we first enter a workplace when it comes to the interactions between people. It is a new environment with new personalities and while they may be similar to past personalities it is difficult to abstract that past experience.

So Schramm's points are valuable for any new job you encounter. Some of them are very useful to those of us moving from one place to another:

The blog will be changing brands

Just a heads up that Google will be re-branding all Blogspot/Blogger blogs (sometime in the next six weeks). Probably will not be a huge change but figured it would be nice to give a heads up:

Google to Retire Blogger & Picasa Brands in Google+ Push

Aspies and Authority in the workplace

Garry Burge has another of his excellent posts on having Aspergers and trying to survive in the modern corporation. Check it out at:

Empathy scripts for the workplace

I read a post and comments from an April 23rd recently reprinted at Autism and Empathy that got me to thinking about the scripts we use to get by in our lives, especially at work. It can be a bit overwhelming to keep track of all the programmed responses we keep in our heads when it comes to the dynamic environments of work or school.

For me it is not so much that I lack empathy but that I have to fuel my empathic responses with sympathetic statements. The initial impact of a co-worker, friend or acquaintance telling me that they lost a loved one, are getting married or feel guilt at some action of theirs kind of gets lost in my struggle to keep up during the day. Later, when I get a moment, it may hit me "oh, I should have said..." and then I am sending an e-mil trying to repair any damage. To compensate I drilled into my brain responses and even ways to color the responses so that they do not sound programmed... this has been helped by my experiencing many of the common events people encounter. Still when a good friend of mine mentioned that he still felt guilt at the last conversation he had with his niece before her fatal car accident I was at a loss and could only speak gentle platitudes.

So much in the vein of the blog post I did on remembering periodic tasks I suggest you transpose the scripts from your head to a document that you review occasionally. Things like "what to do when a co-worker tells you of the loss of a loved one" and "congratulations on the birth of a child" can go a long way to helping you maintain and extend the social ties at work. It may seem silly but really is it any more silly than trying to understand the emotional drama that seems commonplace in the NT world? And if it helps you keep your job or even advance at work then it might be worth it.

Post that got it started:

Update: another article I found on Autism & Empathy: On the matter of Empathy

Monday, July 4, 2011

Posting for programmers needed at an ASD company

Saw this over on GRASP's (the Global and Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership) Yahoo Forums. Not sure about the validity but the guy claims to be ASD.

I'm hiring contract programmers, so you can now actually work for an
autistic run company! Must be experienced in c# web programming (not
entry level). Send resumes to (Please forward this
note to others as appropriate.)

Ian Ford 505.908.9426

Sunday, July 3, 2011

My Account as an Aspie: The few Aspies in employment

Garry posts another amazing in-depth analysis, this time on his working situation. Keep in mind he is in Australia so legal/social responses are different than you might find in the US. Still setting aside the geographic disparity it is still a wonderful read.

My Account as an Aspie: The few Aspies in employment: "I was talking recently with another Aspie about employment. This other Aspie said that holding down a job for anyone on the Autism Spectrum ..."

NYT Opinion Piece on Aspiritech & Specialisterne

An Opinion Piece in the New York Times gives a nice rundown of both Specialisterne and Aspiritech as well as a mention for Customized Employment. I wish they had mentioned Uzmanlar, Autism Works and Kaien too but any news is good.

If you have not hit your cap on the NYT paywall check it out.

NYT Article:

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Creating a job proposal with impact: marketing your work instead of you

I have talked before about creating Job Proposals; a document you send to someone saying "I can do this for you". In light of a recent article I wanted to revisit this as the article offers advice on how to keep the proposal short; a key attribute if you want to get it read.

The article makes a point of sharing examples of success that will help show what you can do. If you have read many of my posts you know what is coming next: take it one step further by sending links to examples of your results. Using a personal website, blog, Flickr or Youtube you can post videos, documents, programs or pictures of what you have done either on your own or for other people. Remember, results put results on the table.

Or if you really want to impresses them do a piece of work that fits in with their business and offer it along with your proposal. Imagine if you wanted to redo someone's website and you sent a link along to their new website (partially done) that they could look at? Even if they do not buy it you have done a piece that you can show to others when you approach them. In this way you are not selling yourself, you are selling your work and in solid, tangible, believable ways.