Interviewing Individuals with Aspergers Syndrome

1. When interviewing candidates-for-hire on the autistic spectrum, either remotely or face-to-face, individuals may appear as one of two extremes: 1) overly confident with an almost false persona or 2) extremely nervous and apologetic.
2. Rarely, during an interview, is a person with Aspergers/autism feeling at ease and content and able to present a comfortable version of self. This is not an attempt to fool or falsify self, but instead an effort to try to blend in and be part of the ‘norm.’ This is a result of a strong intrinsic desire to meet others’ expectations in order to fit in and avoid ridicule or miscommunication.
3. Without a rulebook or list of how to act in a specific role, in this case as interviewee, the candidate can present as anxious, tense, aloof, frightened and/or extremely nervous.
4. Partaking in an interview can cause extreme stress for days before the interview. The interview process will more than likely be over-thought and imagined repeatedly with multiple outcomes and scenarios. The candidate on the spectrum will typically relive the actual interview itself repeatedly after the event.
5. What might appear as a simple ‘not a fit’ or ‘no thank you’ to the potential employer or company can be devastatingly emotionally (and sometimes physically) crushing to a person with Aspergers. He or she will commonly obsess over the reasons he or she ‘failed’ and quite possibly catastrophize the outcome, incorporating all-or-nothing thinking, and self-torture, in the form of repetitive, obsessive thoughts regarding the ‘whys’ and ‘what ifs.’
6. During the hiring process, the participant with Aspergers might be set at ease with frankness, direct instructions, consistent reassurance, and clear expectations and goals. While such measures might seem as special treatment or deemed as ‘making exceptions,’ when given the fact that Aspergers is primarily centered around social challenges, taking such measures to decrease social anxiety caused by socializing and communication barriers ought to be considered an essential priority in recruitment.
7. Knowing exact timelines and being exposed to consistent communication can alleviate all candidates’ stress levels, but this is particularly true for people on the spectrum. The sense of unpredictability and not-knowing can overcome and consume a person with Aspergers, and this consumption will directly affect their relations with others and behavior/actions until resolved. In addition, sudden time changes, tardiness, and rescheduling on the company’s part can lead to candidates experiencing increased stress levels, panic, and nervousness.
8. Before an interview occurs, individuals with Aspergers, particularly females on the spectrum, will create scenarios in their mind of failure, miscommunication, and the fear of not being able to express their true intentions and true self. They often have a fear of not appearing genuine and honest enough. Much time is spent wanting to be the best she can be. As of such, females on the spectrum, and some males, will be their own worse judge, critic and enemy, dissecting behaviors and speech, and even analyzing the purity and honesty of their thoughts based on self enforced rules of conduct.
9. Oftentimes the individual with Aspergers will want to be seen, heard and understood. As of such, it is commonplace for both genders on the spectrum to over share and give information that the interviewer many not deem appropriate, necessary or beneficial. Most individuals on the spectrum will in fact share thoughts and insights to their own detriment, unable to stop the need to be transparent and forthcoming. While the observer might find this refreshing and/or curious, the candidate will often feel baffled and embarrassed by his or her own actions, feeling once again he or she has revealed too much and not followed the ‘correct’ rules.
10. The candidate with Aspergers will wish to have a chance to process with the interviewer as soon as possible to know exactly and specifically ways to improve presentation and more so self. For this reason, in some cases if opportunity allows, the candidate with Aspergers will benefit from careful explanation regarding the reasons why he or she wasn’t hired or considered for further recruitment.
11. As individuals on the spectrum do indeed have special needs and comorbid conditions such as OCD, mood disorders, post-traumatic stress, and aforementioned patterns of thinking that create a type of self-badgering, it is vital for companies hiring people on the spectrum to be sensitive to the possible emotional and behavioral effect the interview process has on candidates on the spectrum. They simply are not going to respond like most neurotypical candidates. What might take a neurotypical person a week to overcome, might take the person with Aspergers years. Often events, particularly a sense of failure, become ingrained in the psyche of a person on the spectrum for a lifetime. While it is impossible for companies to take measures to consistently provide potential candidates reassuring feedback after an interview, it is plausible that interviewers be trained in measures to take to prevent further trauma.
12. While some individuals on the spectrum prefer phone calls without face-to-face correspondence others will feel more comfortable with a face-to-face video conference. As social interaction is the main challenge for people with Aspergers, ideally a company will be sensitive to how communication needs vary from each individual. There is no one way that is best as each on the spectrum is unique in his or her challenges and level of social comfort. Some will have little to no trouble expressing self in various communication venues, but the large majority will have specific triggers to communication that can bring on various outcomes, including panic attacks, insomnia, inconsolable anxiety, and nonstop rapid thinking.
13. While the individual is undergoing an interview, he or she will often be acutely self-aware and preoccupied by his or her own nervousness and internal coaching. He will simultaneously be experiencing two conversations—one that is shared aloud between the interviewer and interviewee and one that is internal dialogue. Often the internal voice will overshadow the external conversation and gaps of time in the interview will be lost. What might appear as behavior on the interviewee’s part that denotes not being present or distracted is typically the individual attempting to balance the internal voice with the external interview.
14. It is suitable and advisable for the interviewer to provide ample time for restating questions, reassuring statements and redirecting the candidate with ideas and positive input.
15. Candidates on the spectrum will sometimes panic with open-ended questions, as most are very quick thinkers able to connect dots at rapid speed and reach multiple conclusions in a matter of seconds. While deliberating over a question, the candidate is also contemplating about what the interviewer expects, wants, and is hinting at. The more specific and direct a question is the better.
16. Some candidates will give quick, short, abrupt answers and be mistaken for non-personable and not forthcoming, while others will overstate, be long-winded and go ‘on and on.’ This tendency for over-sharing or being short will also be present in written documents, such as resumes. It is often difficult for a person on the spectrum to judge when written word and spoken word is deemed ‘enough’ by the observer.
17. Efforts to clarify, probe and retrieve more ‘substantial’ information might cause further panic.
18. In most cases people on the spectrum communicate better in written form with time to process, rethink and edit thoughts and ideas. When possible, some type of written form ought to be utilized during recruitment screening, such as an essay or instant messaging service.
19. People with Aspergers are used to being judged, ridiculed and told how to fix their behavior. People on the spectrum are often subjected to unsolicited advice, tips and direction their whole lives. It is best not to offer assistance or help, or a point of view, unless asked.

The Balance Beam

I have a hard time giving to me. It’s not about esteem, as far as I can logically decipher. Nor is it about being selfless or completely altruistic; though I strive for those ideals, I highly doubt they’re attainable in my human suit.

I have a hard time feeling my achievements and accomplishments. It’s not that I don’t take note of my hard work and efforts, and even the path I climbed, (or sometimes slid down rapidly screaming for help), to get there.

More over, I don’t think I have the capacity to feel, essentially, who I am.

I can see that I am intelligent, kind, and for the most part understanding and forgiving. I recognize what could be quantified as a kind of ‘goodness’ in me, and even an over-riding sense of wanting to serve to serve and not to gain approval. I get all this about me. I see it. I recognize. But somehow I can’t feel the experience.

I don’t know if one would call it a sense of pride or fulfillment, or other abundant amounts of labels—but whatever it is that other people seem to get and obtain, in an abstract way after achieving a goal, I don’t seem to have that. I can’t even say if it’s a feeling or outcome, simply because I don’t understand.

Perhaps this inability to understand is because I don’t think the race or game, or what-have-you, is ever over; and to top that off, I don’t even believe that the race or game actually exists. I see the process of achievement as a cluster of something or another, all unrecognizable and indistinguishable amongst the rest of life’s happenings.

To me, I do to do. I give to give. I care to care. I exist to exist. There isn’t this motive or agenda underlying my actions or ways. And if there is, the motive, if not for others, feels heavy, poisonous, and akin to wretched waste.

I just am. And this way that other people sometimes maneuver through life baffles me: the secret schemes, the plots, the webs spun and re-spun. And furthermore, along the same lines, in comparing the declared ‘loser’ to the announced ‘winner,’ the latter seems nothing of grandeur in comparison to the agony of the defeated one.

With this said, I cause myself great harm in overanalyzing my every move. The spectator I am, observing self, tinkers about with scoping tools, contemplating if my action is suitable representation as reflection of interior. If, in fact, in the light of the day, what is said or done, matches my intention or desire. In a constant state of analyzing, I am aiming for the path that is in direct resonance with my soul self.

In addition, I cannot detect the idiosyncrasy of common conversational rules spawned by the associate facing me; yet, I can dissect with fine-fashion the inner-weavings of my own motives. So much so that I deliberate with self questioning if my words are appropriately suited for ‘proof’ (to self) of authenticity.

Is the exterior self accurately representing the unspoken self? I ask. Still with this perceived self-harm, I need this way of being. The manner in which I tread upon a dreamland stage, whilst all about more selves collectively critique the actions portrayed by the exterior, is a proverbial limb of my essence. To be without such manner of existence, I would find myself broken and obsolete, and abandoned, the same as wood for fire. And as tree, I would weep.

In honesty, the worst of the matter is when another enters my zone: the place in which I sit unsettled watching for discrepancies between what is intended and what was produced; distinguishing the gaps, molecular they might be, between what is felt intrinsically as truth and what is displayed as reflection. I hide within, in constant wonder-state, questioning if what I have done is honorable. And here the pain comes, as the mind blunders and rallies for evidence of what is honorable.

Again, I find myself today, in the balancing act of striving for neither perfection nor satisfaction, but rather the gentle center point that does more to extinguish self and lighten all. It’s a varying balance beam of grace that beckons me to be all I can be, but not too much.

Just Three Minutes of My Day (Aspie Exhaustion)

Ironically, after posting about ‘small talk’ on a social media site, I was in Trader Joe’s grocery store last night and the male checker locked eyes with me and asked, with a toothy-grin, “So, what have you been working on?”
What have I been working on? My face squished up in confusion.

Number one thought barged in: Glad I am wearing a winter hat to hide my burning red ears.

The bombardment of thoughts that followed went something like this: What does this question mean? I am embarrassed. Can he tell I am beet red? I wonder if it bothers him he is balding. I wonder if he is single. What does he think of me? Why would he ask this? What am I supposed to say? He is staring at me. Can he tell I am embarrassed? What is he thinking? How should I respond? I am taking too long. Do I look autistic, shy, or stuck up? I don’t want to look at him. I don’t want him to think I am in a bad mood or mean. I am not. I thought I was better equipped than this. I thought I was prepared. I bet I look stuck up. Just like in high school, always misinterpreted. The people in line are looking at me. I wonder if they are married? I wonder if they can tell I am so embarrassed. They are frowning. Are they tired or sad, or mad at me? I look flustered. How much time has gone by? Why did I choose the shortest line and not the line with the female checker? (That’s about half the thoughts, anyhow.)

Only seconds had past, but in my reality it seemed hours.

I refocused. All l I could think to say was: “What made you ask that question?”

I realized immediately that I sounded evasive, suspicious, and even perhaps flirtatious. Not my intention.
By this time, I wondered if he was perhaps psychic, and could sense I was working on many projects.

The checker responded quickly and easily, in a manner that screamed ‘this is so easy for me. “Oh, I was just making small talk to pass the time.”

Small talk. Small talk. Small talk! Should I explain there isn’t such a thing in my mind?

He stared at me, and I knew as the blood-shot through my cheeks and up to the bridge of my nose that in this communication game it was my turn to speak. I stuttered some, and then formed some shaky sentences about my new job and such, remembering of course, with screaming reminders in my head, to ask him about himself. By the time the three minutes were over and the checker had scanned and bagged my ten items, I felt I’d been to war and back.

Sam Craft, Everyday Aspergers

I Call Out… Aspergers

I misinterpret simple statements. Well, I guess they are ‘supposed’ to be simple statements. But to me they aren’t. Because nothing is simple. I don’t plan it that way—the complexity of my world and my thoughts. It just is, like I just am.

I have learned and relearned that I do to people what I do to my world. And the process isn’t so much ‘doing’ as ‘being.’ I am in a natural state of observation and puzzle-claiming. I am taking piece after piece, some robot-like creature created to decipher, interpret, and solve. And I solve people. Not on purpose or with intention, but more so quite subconsciously, at an interior level, mysterious to even me. I cannot help myself. My actions are akin to breathing, or whatever tells my heart to beat.

I respond to my environment as a detective on the search, the continual search for clues. And in so seeing another human being remark in a particular way, the particulars must be sorted.

I don’t lack the keen ability to decipher social clues and what-have-you. But I do have the over-exaggerated, hyper-mode-chip of discernment that bursts open everything and transforms what is in appearance a simple-nothing—a passing comment, a just meandering—into towering depths of possibility.

I ponder and dissect my own actions, self-correcting in my mind, and teaching myself to do better. I am the way I am, but many times I don’t quite like the way I am. I like me. I even love me, mostly, but I despise the way I work in this world in various moments. By despise I mean I want to change the representation and presentation of said self to better blend in and have a neutral and somewhat positive effect on my environments. By despise I mean I hate in a way that summons up thoughts of constant seeming ‘failures,’ thusly labeled by others, and digested by me as truth.

No matter how much I try, in my exceedingly building efforts, I manage to blunder to no end. I can’t much stop myself from bursts of truth-tellings, or processing delight, or fact-after-fact of the whys and hows of things, and situations, and even people.

I coach me. I truly do. Before and after discourse; however brief or so-perceived ‘minor,’ I beseech the person within this person to be calm, to leave space in the conversation, to not be too logical, to not critique.

And so it goes that each encounter is a great risk to me, and a great stretch of energy exertion: the coaching beforehand, the coaching afterwards, the coaching during. And all the traveling fragments attempted to be gathered.

Always I am wondering what my friend thinks, what he or she is deciphering, regarding my input and approach. And always I am that absent judge, pulling apart the pieces of me, and examining each on their own, in hopes of finding the missing part, the flaw, the inadequacy, so that I might self-correct, and pull myself back into the good graces of the one.

I over-think each and every thing I hear. This goes back to the over-analysis and misinterpretation factor, but it’s deeper than that. I am hearing a symphony of analogies in my mind within minor fractions of conversing.

I am jumping back and forth, reviewing the very rules of my conduct, the rules of his conduct, and the way I ought respond in a manner that is precise, non-judgmental, factual, empathetic, and keen.

I am pressuring myself to deliver the best of what is, instead of partaking in a natural flow of response and conjecture.

I know not how to simply be and take in what is said without wanting to know what is said in exactness, and wanting to respond to what was said with the same elements of truth. I need to be this truth-bearing one who gives out what is authentic, even as I get completely bewildered in regards to what is my truth.

I fear that I am being manipulative, that I am being selfish, that I am not being who I am meant to be. And this doesn’t have to be anything complex from the observer’s standpoint. This happens, this way in which I fall into thoughts inside myself, from the simplest of requests and from the simplest of comments.

I need not be exposed to anything more than one word to become lost in a galaxy of confusion. I know not how to be at times.

Through trial, I have learned to trust who I am, and to trust I am trying my best, and that others’ interpretations are naught. However, this does not carry over always. Sometimes, I somehow think a one is the end-all of who I am. I think what is said IS.

I am learning to accept my mind is eternally blossoming. That I am the seasons, the flowers, the rivers. That I am instant knowledge and instant chaos. I am learning this mirror to the universe named ‘US.’ And I call out to the all within me.