Sunday, 5 April 2009

On the autistic spectrum

It's often said that many scientists and IT people are on the high functioning end of the autistic spectrum.

It has been quite a release to realize that I should classify myself this way. The clues were there. Getting more than usually worked up about not breaking rules (you should see me making sure my car isn't over the white line in a car park). Very limited social skills. A high emphasis on logic and an unusual focus on task. But I hadn't really accepted it.

Part of the reason is that the social thing can be mostly hidden. When I'm doing anything that's effectively a performance, whether it's conducting a choir or giving a talk, I'm fine - because it is a performance. Conversation is a different matter.

One to one isn't too bad. I'm not great at small talk, but I can do one-to-one communication because I've learned the ways to do it right. It might be done a trifle more consciously than normal - eye contact, for instance - but it's there. And I ought to stress that it's not that I don't like socializing, I do enjoy it, but I have to think about what to do.

Where it comes unstuck is direct interaction with several people. It has been pointed out to me that if I need to speak to one individual who happens to be chatting with a group of others, I'll just speak to that person and not acknowledge the others. I find it very difficult to make eye contact with more than one individual in a conversation. And I realize this comes across as rude or anti-social, but where I have learned to do the right thing one-to-one, it seems almost impossible to learn the approach with several people. A sort of panic sets in.

Accepting that this is mild autism is very helpful in trying to make more of an effort to do it right.

I ought to stress I'm not underplaying the difficulties autism causes in many families. I'm lucky that in my case it's at the high functioning end, and I can see and understand what's happening enough to be able to (mostly) correct for it. But it's amazing how much of a relief it is to understand what's going on.


  1. This is a topic close to my heart. The autistic spectrum is very wide and deep, indeed, and I have known many children, including my own, who have fallen somewhere within it. It is difficult, but the first step is always acknowledgment, and for someone like you to come forward this way can only be helpful to others. Thanks for this, Brian.

  2. I agree, as a parent of a child with Asperger tendencies it's marvellous to see that there is a whole successful future out there just waiting to be conquered. My son has the same problems but through being so high functioning has learned his way round a lot of the difficulties, others he just can't seem to get a grip on at all. It's fantastic of you to come forward with this Brian and to show parents like me where his potential could take him. Thank you.

  3. Yeah, well, join the club currently inhabited by Cromercrox Minor (female, diagnosed with Aspergers at aged 9, now aged 11, has reading age better than mosst adults, and is as barmy as a coot) and her ever-lovin' Dad.