Life as a developer on the spectrum 2/4

Former chef and soldier, then turned developer. I love outdoorsmanship, and all things technology.

Chapter two

This is the second chapter in my life as a developer on the spectrum. In this chapter, I am exploring where I fit into the spectrum after accepting that I am a person on the spectrum.

Where do I fit into the spectrum as a person?

From an early age, I thrived in mathematics and brainiac efforts. IQ tests are fun and rewarding; scoring high on them comes easy and naturally to me, both in my mother tongue, Norwegian, and in foreign languages. Yet, social interactions are a nightmare. I don’t know what to say or how to react or behave. I avoid eye contact as I do not know how to read people, get confusing signals when I look at people, and so much more. I even avoid eye contact with actors on television!

But despite it all, I am a highly functional developer with a lovely house, a sweet family, and a tremendously eventful past.

What does this look like from the spectrum side? I want to share a Venn diagram that clarified some things for me:

The Venn diagram shows the three main pillars of Autism blended to see where high-functioning Autism sits and where Asperger’s sits. Both of these types of disorders are highly functional but with different struggles.

In this case, I fall under the Asperger’s category.

Though I have never officially received a diagnosis from a formal process, my daughter, aspiring to become a doctor in psychology, has provided insights that resonate with my life experiences as an individual and a developer. This personal perspective shapes my understanding and approach to my professional and personal life.

Man in counseling sitting on a couch with his hand on his forehead
Photo: Nik Shuliahin via unsplash.com

As an adult coping with a highly functional disorder on the spectrum, I don’t need to go through an actual diagnosis process. As long as my work and life is balanced and I am coping, a diagnoses in itself does not help. The most important thing is to be open about it and learn to acknowledge the things I did not realize before. However, if any of you have children who struggle with Autism symptoms, mild or otherwise, then please have them go through the diagnosis process. It might help you understand them better and help them understand why they feel confused and different from others. It is better to be on the safe side and figure it out early. Also if you are an individual that struggles with the same things that I do or other symptoms. It might be a good idea to go through the diagnosis process, as you might learn something new and also find coping strategies that you might not have realized that exists.

There is also medication, treatment plans and healthcare options that might be available to you if your struggles affect your work life balance and it might be smart to seek them out and leverage them if it helps you with your symptoms. In most countries these might not be available to you unless you have a proper diagnosis.

What are my biggest hurdles?

  1. Social interaction difficulties:
    My biggest struggle is coping with difficulties in social interaction and spending a ton of energy in social situations. I get reenergized by being alone and focusing on a single task. To be social, I have to mimic and fake my social face, which is a struggle.
    Among the difficulties is understanding social cues, especially when telling stories like my own, talking about myself, and being direct and honest. Another one of my struggles is maintaining eye contact without freaking out about it, leading to other people finding it a bit strange to interact with me.
  2. Communication challenges:
    I struggle with nuances in language especially where there is room for interpretation, and I much prefer direct and literal communication. This results in people thinking I am rude or short-sighted.
  3. Fixed interests and routines:
    I strongly prefer a routine and intense focus on specific tasks or topics, which puts me in a challenging position regarding unforeseen or abrupt changes I do not control. Diving into unprepared challenges can be a huge struggle unless it is an area I have mastered fully.
  4. Sensory sensitivities:
    I quickly become overstimulated by sound, light, and/or texture, but especially texture and touch. Keyboard, mouse, computer, human. My overall well-being is tied to touch and sensation.
  5. Motor coordination:
    While I was good at team sports as a young boy, I struggled with clumsiness or uncoordinated motor movements, primarily when interacting with others. My ability to read the game helped me a lot, hiding my clumsiness.
  6. Speech impairments or slowness
    As a young boy I never had any speech impairments or slowness but as an adult I have realized, in the later years, that I can have occasional slowness especially if I find it important to get the right words or emphasis out. Particularly in different languages than my mother tongue.

These are my atypical features that tie in with Asperger’s. I could list many more, but they would be nuances of the five or six main difficulties. As I have mentioned, there are a lot of individual nuances for people who suffer from a neurodiversity standpoint, and two people with the same diagnosis might have totally different symptoms, or people with the same symptoms with some nuances might have different diagnoses.

Introversion vs Autism

All my life, I have looked at myself as an introvert, not knowing or understanding the difference between introversion and Autism. Though some of my traits are commonly associated with introversion, they are, in fact, not the same.

Confused man touching his forehead with both his hands
Photo: Nathan Dumlao via unsplash.com

Introversion is a personality trait in which individuals prefer solitary activities and get drained by social interaction. People like me with Autism or Asperger Syndrome might exhibit the same behaviors. Still, it may not necessarily be a preference. Instead, it would be a sensory sensitivity. The difference is that while an introvert might feel exhausted after extending social interaction, for people with Autism, it can lead to compulsive feelings of stress or anxiety.

In other words, an introvert can “choose” not to be introverted, resulting in exhaustion. In contrast, an individual with Autism cannot choose to become social. They can fake their social facial expressions, but that gets to a point where they need to leave the social event or face anxiety and burnout. Strangely enough, an individual with Autism can sustain the social aspect of things if there are interesting people to talk to or exciting topics. So, we do not fear or dread social events like introverts. We can find them uninteresting, and faking social interaction burns us out.

Why emphasize the difference?

Why is it vital for me to emphasize the difference between introversion and Autism?

People tend to draw the wrong conclusion when experiencing my actions, mainly because of my actions. An example of that is meetups like the RnD Conference in Mews. I spend the whole day interacting with people and “faking” my social interactions here. Then, during lunch or dinner, I might skip out early, heading for my hotel or staying out of sight for a while.

This is a non-acceptable social trait. Most people assume it is introversion, which is fine and should be accepted. But an introvert can go home and rest, then show up the next morning rested and ready for another day as an introvert. For me, I have to portion out my social interaction in order not to get burnout. Hence, I can’t rest myself in the same manner as an introvert.

Photo: Yosi Prihantoro via unsplash.com

Previously, I thought I just had a severe form of introversion, as I struggled with social interaction for a long time after such an event. Also, one thing that surprises me to this day is that I can be social and do meetups over several days without feeling exhausted at all. So, what is the difference?

It turns out that it is, in fact, two different things altogether. So, when I have to fake my social interaction based on my interpretation of my surroundings and the people around me. I get a slight social burnout. Which needs time to be controlled. On the other hand, if I dive into interesting discussions with interesting people, I can be social for hours and hours without being exhausted. Even getting back at three o’clock in the morning fully energized and up at six. My problem is that I cannot control it, so I never know how it will turn out.

Outro

Now you have gotten a glimpse of where I place myself on the spectrum with the help of my daughters. Also seen some of my struggles. If you are experiencing similar things along side depression please don’t hesitate to seek professional help. Or at least take the opportunity to show this article and talk to someone about it.

If you missed the previous chapter you can find it here:
Life as a developer on the spectrum – Chapter 1 (mews.com)

What’s next? Next I will explore thriving as a developer on the spectrum. Looking at my nightmares and coping mechanisms. You can find the next chapter here:
Life as a developer on the spectrum – Chapter 3 (mews.com)

Former chef and soldier, then turned developer. I love outdoorsmanship, and all things technology.
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