Life as a developer on the spectrum 3/4

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

Chapter 3

This is the third chapter in my life as a developer on the spectrum. In this chapter I am exploring how I thrive as a developer with ASD my nightmares and my coping mechanisms.

How do I thrive as a developer with ASD?

One of the key things about working with ASD is the potential to thrive with intense focus and deep concentration on tasks, which can lead to exceptional problem-solving and solutions. 

Early in my career as a chef, one of my best abilities was staying focused, quick, and consistent. I was working in a restaurant called Charly’s in Oslo. It was a regular weekend with a steady flow of customers. I was the only one in the kitchen with four serving staff. Suddenly, it exploded with customers, and the whole restaurant was completely packed. That day, I managed to stay focused and concentrate on feeding the guests, single-handedly serving 180 meals in a single hour. That is three dishes every minute, ranging from steaks to salads, fajitas, BBQ spareribs, and gratinated cauliflower. 

We pushed through no matter how much was thrown my way. Failure was never an option in those work environments. Staying focused and on top of things helped me out in that scenario. Neurotypicals would have called for help, ending up delayed, waiting for the help. They would find themselves in a state called swimming in the restaurant world, referencing swimming in the water, and the moment you lose control by losing focus, you start drowning. And if you drown, the customers don’t get their food promptly or with the proper quality. 

Another much more recent example was when my ASD came to my aid as a developer at Cenium. We had a big customer who wanted a full-fledged POS (point of sale) system fully integrated into our PMS. We wanted a deep integration and decided to do it ourselves, as most POS systems are complete regarding finance reporting and the complexity of functionalities beyond hospitality. 

I was given the task and opportunity to build a module in the Cenium Core solution, a specialized Hospitality Point of Sale. So, from start to production, I spent day and night building out the full functionality of a POS. We went live precisely five months into development, spending a lot of that time on-site with the customer to ensure we met their expectations. I did have help from my team, working on supporting modules and other aspects of our solution, but throughout those five months, I was super focused, dedicated, and fully immersed in that module. That was the perfect setup for me as I could spend all my knowledge and focus on a specific area, knowing precisely what to do and what was expected. A full-fledged point of sale up and running after five months was a big deal for one person. 

What makes my day a nightmare

Thriving with ASD is really lovely, but it also comes with some significant drawbacks. For instance, what challenges me a lot is interruptions when I am focusing. I could improve at handling interruptions, especially if it is something that people should know or understand, like people interrupting me during an essential piece of work, asking if I am done yet.

If I was done, I am pretty sure I would have told you. So, no. 

Another thing that ruins my day is nonlogical or contradictional arguments, especially from management or supporting teams that work with me as an employee. 

Examples would be arguments like “this is not specified in your contract” to turn down a request from me. Then, when requesting something specified in the contract, you get the message “Sorry, this is not common practice and would apply in this manner instead,” which for me would result in “Hey, what you are now saying is not in my contract hence should not apply according to your sentiments on the previous case.” So, feeling mistreated or treated with a double standard upsets me every time. 

It boils down to: don’t say one thing in one instance, before turning around saying the opposite in the next instance, especially without giving a context that makes sense. My sense of right is strong. I might not express it to highly but it sits with me a long time.

Photo: Sherise Van Dyk via unsplash.com

Coping with ASD

According to Chloe C. Hudson, Layla Hall, and Kate L. Harkness (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29497980/), compared to typically developing individuals  (neurotypicals), individuals with ASD are 4-times more likely to experience depression in their lifetime. 

What do I do to stay on top of my ASD? I focus on areas, outside of work, where no one has direct expectations of delivery or where I have special interests. Things like playing around with hardware from Aliexpress, developing ideas in a completely different domain than my day-to-day work, or arranging side projects with others. 

I also focus on doing other things than development. So, in the summer, I go fishing, and in the fall, I go hunting or gathering. It drives my mental health up and keeps me on top. Another thing that keeps me up is focusing on family. 

Others have success exercising or doing yoga. The critical thing to do is be honest about your feelings and then figure out what works for you or ask for help.

Routines

Routines is perhaps the best coping mechanism for ASD people. Having a sense of routine is often key as disruptions in the routine can have a negative impact on work life balance. Especially if the disruptions are unpredictable. Predictable disruptions are fine and a tip for anyone working with or having a family member or friend with ASD, hinting of possible disruptions ahead of time is super useful. As then the disruption is no longer unpredictable and we cope with it much easier.

Photo: Christin Hume via unsplash.com

Self care

Self care is also very important for people with ASD. Like taking short breaks, doing breathing exercises, journaling, making sure your prescribed medication is taken at the same time. Maybe routinely do physical exercises or movements to refresh your mind.

What do you do when routines and self care are disrupted

For me this is where family comes into play. Staying in touch with people that are important to me, that I feel comfortable around. Is super helpful. Go seeing my mom and dad, brother or having my grand children over. Chatting with my daughters. Or just pillow talking with my wife. All super important and brings me back into routine or self care.

Another good thing to do is go through and sort out your priorities. For me this is a difficult one but effective one, as priorities shift all the time. Having a mindful session on priorities might help set the agenda and bring my disrupted day into order.

One super important thing to keep in mind is that people with ASD tend to mimic their piers or people that they are surrounded with. So, we need to be vigilant when we absorb or are fusing emotions with those people. Like anxiety, fear, depressive thoughts etc. Especially for young ones with ASD this is difficult as their understanding of the situation might be limited thus mimicking can result in strange behaviors and even shutdowns.

Lastly for me is realizing that stimming isn’t regression, it’s actually coping. I tend to rely on soothing and coping behaviors. But that is not helping. What I need to do is give myself permission to engage in self regulatory behavior. So, if you are like me feel free to self-stim!

Photo: John H Øien – Self-stimming alone at the beach

Outro

Now you see some of my nightmares and also have a glimpse of some of my coping mechanisms. For me by far the most important is family, even though it took me a good 34 years to figure that out.

If you or anyone you know are struggling with ASD, there are ways to cope with your disorder and if you haven’t already please reach out to professional healthcare.

If you missed the previous chapters you can find them here:
Life as a developer on the spectrum – Chapter 1 (mews.com)
Life as a developer on the spectrum – Chapter 2 (mews.com)

What’s next? Next I will explore my current work and what my employer and coworkers do, and can do to make life better for employees with ASD. You can find the final chapter here:
Life as a developer on the spectrum – Chapter 4 (mews.com)

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