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Dealing with the Workplace Bully: Tips for Aspergers Employees

Bullying is something we all hope not to have to deal with much beyond the 6th grade. Unfortunately, workplace bullies are a problem many people face. Unlike playground bullies who often resort to using their fists, workplace bullies generally use words and actions to intimidate their targets.

If you would like to try to deal with this situation before you are so demoralized that you contemplate bringing a gun to work, here are some tips:

1. Understand that all bullies first test the waters by saying or doing something provocative and then very carefully gauge your reaction.  Responding with hesitancy shows the bully you will make an ideal victim. When you respond confidently, a bully is far more likely to categorize you as someone who would make a lousy victim.

2. Build yourself a support network. Bullies separate and isolate their victims, sometimes going as far as to cause division within the victim's family. The bully may be manipulating your work colleagues into distancing themselves from you, either by sweet-talking them with charm, or by playing on their vulnerabilities.

3. Carry a notepad and pen with you and record everything that the bully says and does. Also make a note of every interaction with personnel, management, and anyone else connected with the bullying. Beware that you may be accused of "misconduct" and "unprofessional behavior" and a few other things when you do this.

4. Consider leaving. Regard it as a positive decision in the face of overwhelming odds which are not of your choosing, not of your making, and over which you have no control. In some cases, walking away is the best thing to do, for in doing so, you regain control. If you are forced into leaving, make it clear to your employer “in writing” that this is due to bullying. Get professional advice before signing anything. Choose to move on and find an employer who truly values you and your skills and where your career can flourish.

5. Criticisms and allegations, which are supposedly about you or your performance, and which sometimes contain a grain (but only a grain) of truth, are not about you or your performance. Do not be fooled by that grain of truth into believing the criticisms and allegations have any validity – they don’t.

6. Do your best work. The bully's behavior will seem more justified if you aren't doing your best work, or if you do things like come to work late, take long lunches, turn in work late, etc.

7. Don't allow the bully to isolate you from your colleagues. Keep up your workplace friendships.

8. Don't blame yourself. Acknowledge that this is not about you – it's about the bully. Don't lose your confidence, or think you are incapable or incompetent. Bullies are usually beating you at a mind game, not based on your actual work performance.

9. Don't expect to change the bully. Real behavior change is difficult and it takes time. You have no control over a bully's willingness to accept that they have a problem and to work on it. You can do your best to manage the situation, but it's really the company's responsibility to be observant and responsive to the needs of their workers and the general work environment.

10. Don't get emotional. Bullies take pleasure in emotionally manipulating people. Stay calm and rational to diffuse the situation.

11. Educate yourself. Learn everything you can about bullying, your company's policies on inappropriate behavior, and occupational law regarding this kind of experience. The more you know, the better your chances of successfully dealing with this situation.

12. Evaluate the situation. It's important to trust your instincts in situations like this. If you feel bullied, you probably are a victim. But look closely at what is happening around the person in question. Is everyone afraid of them? Do they have a reputation for this sort of thing? Are you not the only one experiencing this?

13. Follow the grievance procedure, but beware that such procedures may be biased in favor of management, as well as possibly being ill-prepared for dealing with bullying on any significant level.

14. Get counseling. It will help you deal with the stress, especially if the bullying is already affecting your physical and mental health. You have to take care of yourself. Maintain a healthy and balanced lifestyle outside of work to help you cope with the madness at work. Work out, get a good night's sleep, and eat a healthy diet.

15. If you are being physically threatened, don't waste a minute before you report it to both your employer and the police.

16. In some cases, depending on the damage done, you may want to get an attorney and file a law suit.

17. Make sure your superiors are aware of your work. Workplace bullies often try to spread the word that you are not doing your job well and will even go as far as to report the smallest infractions to your boss. Your actions will carry more weight than his/her words.

18. Seek the advice of a trusted mentor who may have dealt with this situation before.

19. Stand up to the bully. Depending on the gravity of the situation, tell the bully that the way he/she is choosing to handle the situation “doesn't sit right with you.” If the bully doesn’t understand (which he/she may not due to his/her nature), then you may want to forget constantly confronting the bully and go straight to the manager. If the manager is the bully’s best friend, go even further up the ladder until someone tells that jerk to knock it off! If everyone in that place is corrupt, then consider going to the police!

20. Understand that the bully’s objective is to have a good time at your expense. One strategy to consider is to simply ignore the bully. “No reaction” on your part equates to “no fun” on his/her part.

Dealing With An Aspergers Husband: Tips For Married Couples

“I am married to a man with Aspergers. I must say this has been the biggest challenge in my entire life. Although I do love my husband dearly, I am finding myself slipping into feelings of resentment quite often. What advice would you have for a couple that is experiencing marital problems due to the fact that one partner’s brain is wired differently?”

Click here for the answer...

Learning How to Chit Chat: Tips for Adults with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

Chit chat and small talk is often seen as meaningless conversation by adults with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism. But silence isn't necessarily golden. Sometimes it's just plain uncomfortable to find yourself with strangers and nothing to say.

Here are some tips for Aspies who hate chit chat – but feel they should be more conversational (if for no other reason than simply being polite):

1. Be a good listener. You can give visual clues that you are listening. You can nod your head, lean in towards the speaker to let them know you are paying attention.

2. Be a warehouse of information. This entails reading a lot and watching many documentaries on television. But information does not have to be encyclopedic or boring. Read and learn about things you are interested in, but take time as well to learn about things you think other people would be interested in. Knowing a few good facts that other people can relate to is better for chit chat purposes than having a head full of information that makes the eyes of other people glaze over.

3. Care about the “vibe” more than the topic. A conversation is much more than an exchange of facts and ideas. It is an exchange of energy. What many people miss is that when you know how to make chit chat, it means you can create a positive exchange of energy. The topic is just an excuse, so it doesn’t have to be a deep topic. When you’re making chit chat, you want to focus more on being friendly and positive than on picking the right topic or saying the right things. Smile, relax, joke around, be spontaneous and be silly. Remember that your vibe comes mainly from your attitude.

4. Don’t get “stuck” on the trivial stuff. Keep in mind that chit chat is not a destination. It’s just a temporary station. If an interaction with a person goes well, do move the conversation to deeper and more personal topics. You can talk about topics (e.g., family and relationships, career plans, life goals, challenges, etc.). You now find yourself in a new land: the land of bigger chit chat. Ultimately, a strong bond between two people is created when they talk about the most meaningful things, in the most meaningful way. Knowing how to make chit chat is one of the key people skills to master. From there, if you also know how to have charisma and engage others in more intimate conversation, you can get outstanding results with people and you can build a highly fulfilling social life for yourself.

5. Don't melt-away from conversations. Make a graceful exit. Try and shake the hand of the person you've been talking to. Show appreciation by saying, "It was interesting hearing about your job."

6. Greet warmly and use names. Make sure if you don't remember someone's name to ask. And, be prepared to introduce people to each other. It's also important to smile and be the first to say hello.

7. Get a life. It’s easy to make chit chat when you have a lot of things to chat about. People who know how to make chit chat well have a rich inner - and especially outer - life. Conversation is for them just a matter of expressing that. It’s much harder to make chit chat well when all you do is work a repetitive job or play on the computer all day. A rich lifestyle creates content and it helps you engage others. If you don’t have one, it’s time to create it (e.g., read, travel, try new things, take on various hobbies, do some charity work, socialize, etc.).

8. Keep a diary. This will serve as a repository of any information you feel is worth collecting. Anecdotes, important pieces of facts, names of people you need to remember - anything can go in that diary. The point is to read through the diary to bone up on the information that you feel is important to remember.

9. Keep it meaningful. Making chit chat makes a lot of sense with people you’ve just met. Imagine asking a person you know for 30 seconds: “So, how’s you sex life?” That is way too intrusive! Chit chat on the other hand provides a method to ease into the discussion. When you make chit chat, the subjects may be superficial for comfort, but they should be subjects you care about and approach in a straightforward manner, staying away from clichés. In this way, you can make the discussion meaningful for you – and for the other person. Focus on what is interesting as a topic and on what is real within you. You’ll make the talk fun even though you keep it small.

10. Learn to listen to what people around you are saying. Did your doctor just say he wants to go on vacation? Ask him when and where. Has your mother been telling you that she has back pains? Inquire whether they are getting worse. Did the cashier inform you that she is banking on being promoted soon? Congratulate her in advance. These are all opportunities to make chit chat, because you cared enough to listen to what they were telling you.

11. Make it a point to join groups of people anywhere just to make chit chat. Have you noticed that when many people are gathered together in one place, someone inevitably strikes up a conversation with another person there? Some people are quite shy though and leave it to other people to make the first move. That is okay, so long as you try to join in the conversation as well.

12. One of the best ways to learn about another person and help them feel as though you are interested in them is to ask questions and listen carefully to their responses. It may help you to prepare questions beforehand for the person you are meeting. Also, you can take a few minutes to learn something about the person you are going to meet before you meet.

13. Prepare for conversation. Before going anywhere, you need to make sure you have two or three things to talk about. It only takes a couple of minutes to prepare. The worst time to think of what to say is when you actually have to say something. You can talk about current events or what you already know about the person. But you have to be prepared.

14. Show an interest and dig deeper. Everybody should avoid clichéd questions that merely lead to clichéd answers that no one really cares about. "How was your day?" is one. You'll never know how someone's day was unless you dig deeper. You could say, "What went on at work today?" That kind of question will bring a more detailed, thoughtful answer, and you can follow up with another question. You have to actually be interested in the other person to have a good conversation.

15. Stop being an advisor. There's a real temptation in the course of conversation to respond to someone with advice. Resist that temptation. No one asked for advice. They just want to be heard. You don't have to solve people's problems in your conversations.

16. Treat chit chat with strangers as a skill you want to master. That means you need to have plenty of opportunity to make mistakes. Give yourself permission to make mistakes. That means you are experimenting and learning. Eventually you will become better at making conversation with new people.

17. Try talking to yourself in the mirror. This allows you to practice your chit chat skills in private. You can then catch any bad habits that you have, like pursing your lips or licking your lips when you speak.

18. Try to overcome any feelings of shyness or lack of self-confidence by participating in more opportunities to do chit chat. There's no getting around it - you learn how to make chit chat by doing chit chat whenever and wherever you can.

19. Practice your chit chat skills on people you encounter in your daily life such as the gasoline attendant who fills your car tank with gasoline every week, or the bus driver who accepts your fare for the daily commute to the office. Practicing hones your chit chat skills so that when you have to attend that important community function you will find chit chat to be easier (if not second nature by then.)

20. Be patient with yourself as you learn the fine art of chit chat. Start very small with small talk. Then move on to bigger small talk.

Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples

Aspergers Adults and Difficulties with Theory of Mind

Research reveals that adults with Aspergers (High-Functioning Autism) appear to have trouble using theory of mind to make moral judgments in certain situations. Specifically, the study found that Aspergers adults were more likely than neurotypical subjects to blame someone for accidentally causing harm to another person. This shows that the judgments of people with Aspergers rely more on the outcome of the incident than on an understanding of the person’s intentions.

For example, in one scenario, James and a friend are snowmobiling in an area known for loose snow. The friend asks James if he should take an easterly route around a row of pine trees. James has just read that avoiding the west slope is the safest way to go, and so he tells his friend that it should be O.K. to head east. The friend takes off in that direction and starts an avalanche which quickly overtakes him and buries him alive. In this scenario, the researchers found that Aspergers adults are more likely than neurotypicals to blame James for his friend’s death – even though James believed the slope was harmless.

Most kids develop theory-of-mind ability around age 4 or 5, which can be demonstrated experimentally with “false-belief” tests. For example, a youngster is shown two dolls, “Jane” and “Barbara.” The experimenter puts on a skit in which Jane puts a marble in a basket and then leaves the scene. While Jane is away, Barbara moves the marble from the basket to a box. The experimenter asks the child where Jane will look for the marble when she returns. Giving the correct answer (that Jane will look in the basket) requires an understanding that others have beliefs that may differ from our own knowledge of the world – and from reality. Previous studies have shown that kids with Aspergers develop this ability later than neurotypical kids.

Individuals with Aspergers often develop compensatory mechanisms to deal with their difficulties in understanding the thoughts of others. The details of these mechanisms are unknown, but they allow the person with Aspergers to function in society and to pass simple experimental tests (e.g., determining whether someone has committed a societal “faux pas”). However, the scenarios used in the study were constructed in a way that there is no easy way to compensate for impaired theory of mind. The researchers tested 13 ASD adults and 13 non-ASD adults on about 50 scenarios similar to the snowmobiling example above.

On researcher used the same hypothetical scenarios to test the moral judgments of a group of patients with damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPC), a part of the prefrontal cortex (where planning, decision-making, and other complex cognitive tasks occur). Those patients understand other people’s intentions, but they lack the emotional outrage that usually occurs in cases where someone tries (but fails) to harm someone else. For example, they would more easily forgive someone who offers mushrooms he believes to be poisonous to a friend, if the mushrooms turn out to be harmless.

While some ASD adults are unable to process mental-state information and understand that other people can have innocent intentions, the issue with VMPC patients is that they could understand information but did not respond emotionally to that information. Putting these two pieces together could help neuroscientists come up with a more thorough picture of how the brain constructs morality.

Previous studies have shown that theory of mind appears to be seated in a brain region called the right temporoparietal junction (TPJ). In ongoing studies, the researchers are studying whether ASD patients have irregular activity in the right TPJ while performing the moral judgment tasks used in the study.

Anxiety-Reduction Techniques for Adults with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

Anxiety can be a real problem for many grown-ups with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism, and can affect the individual psychologically and physically. Anxiety can happen for a range of reasons, and Aspergers adults vary in their ability to cope with it.

Emotions are abstract. To understand emotion you need an imagination. One of the areas of difficulty for many Aspergers adults is not being able to imagine things. Thus, understanding emotions can be difficult for them.

Anxiety can affect both the mind and the body, and produce a range of symptoms. The psychological and physical symptoms of anxiety are closely linked and can lead to a vicious cycle that can be difficult to break.

The psychological symptoms of anxiety are:
  • becoming preoccupied with or obsessive about one subject
  • depression
  • difficulty concentrating
  • difficulty sleeping
  • easily losing patience
  • thinking constantly about the worst outcome

The physical symptoms include:
  • dizziness
  • excessive thirst
  • frequent urinating
  • headaches
  • loose bowel movements
  • muscle aches
  • periods of having gas
  • periods of intensely pounding heart
  • stomach upset
  •  tremors

If you do experience any of these symptoms, it is important to also get medical advice to rule out other medical conditions.

Strategies for Managing Anxiety—

Once you understand anxiety and have identified the situations that make you anxious, you can then take steps to cope with it:

1. Consider carrying a reminder card— Sounds rather silly, I know. But many Aspergers adults carry a card around with them to remind themselves of what they need to do if they start feeling anxious. You can also use a stress scale whenever you find something particularly stressful (e.g., “On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most stressful, this current situation is only about a 4”).

2. Find some peace and quite— Any activities that are pleasant and calming (e.g., taking a bath, listening to relaxing music, aromatherapy, playing on a computer, etc.) help reduce anxiety. Some Aspergers adults find lights or running water to be particularly soothing, especially when it is of a repetitive nature (e.g., spinning lights, bubble tubes, waterfalls, etc.).

3. Get physical— Physical activity can help to manage anxiety and release tension. Using deep breathing exercises to relax can be helpful as can activities such as yoga and Pilates, which both focus on breathing to relax. Use a visual timetable or write a list to help remind yourself when you need to practice relaxation.

4. Get specialist help— Some Aspergers adults are not able to identify their anxiety or to put in place strategies to manage it on their own. A specialist or a counselor with experience of ASDs may be able to help you.

5. Keep a diary—Understand the symptoms you display when you are anxious, and try to look at the causes of your anxiety. Keeping a diary in which you write about certain situations and how these make you feel may help you to understand your anxiety and manage it better. Use the diary also to think about the physical changes linked to anxiety. Aspergers adults often retreat into their particular interest if they are anxious about something. Use the diary to monitor this as well. Here’s an example of a diary entry:

Time and date: 12:00 PM on 3/17/12
Situation: Applied for a job
How I felt: Extremely nervous and self-conscious
How anxious I was (on a scale of 1 to 10): Probably about an 8

6. Have a meltdown prevention plan— Create an anxiety plan when you are feeling positive about things. An anxiety plan is a list of things and situations that cause anxiety as well as solutions and strategies you can use to help manage anxiety levels. The plan can be adapted, depending upon how well you understand anxiety. Here’s an example:

Situation: Getting on the bus
Symptoms of anxiety: Hearts beats fast; sweat and feel sick
Solution: Have stress ball in pocket; squeeze the ball and take deep breaths; listen to my iPod

7. Seek personal accounts— It may help to read the personal accounts of other people who also have Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism, and to see how they dealt with certain situations and managed any anxiety they experienced.

8. Use relaxation techniques— You may find it very difficult to relax. Some Aspergers adults have a particular interest or activity they like to do because it helps them relax. If they use these to relax, it may help to build them into their daily routine. However, this interest or activity can itself be the source of behavioral difficulties at times, especially if they're unable to follow their interest or do the activity at a particular moment.

9. Locate various support groups— Going to a support group for adults with ASDs means meeting other people with ASDs, which can be helpful in some cases. Different support groups will offer different activities, from going on outings to discussion groups about particular topics.

10. Talk about your anxiety to someone you trust— Some Aspergers adults find direct confrontation difficult. They may therefore be unable to say they don’t like certain things or situations, which will raise their anxiety levels. Thus, developing “assertiveness skills” is very important for people with ASDs. You can research how to develop such skills on the Internet, so we won’t go into that here.

Good luck!

==> Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples

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