Skip to main content

Adults with Autism: My Big Challenge

I have posted a follow-up to clarify "The Mediocre" for myself and others.  See "Who Are The Mediocre People?"

The essence of the latest "Ask a Question" submission:
What has been the biggest challenge for you in the adult life?
I've had a few weeks to ponder this, but a recent incident comes to mind and I think it encapsulates the greatest challenge from my perspective.

There are bullies in adulthood. They try to ruin you to make themselves feel better.

Bullies are those people who don't want to understand my challenges or anyone else's challenges. They want to dismiss me as "strange" or "weird" and ignore any responsibility they might have for creating overwhelming situations. People can be mean, pushy, aggressive, and generally rude. Such attitudes exhaust me. Eventually, the rude person wins, and I have to leave the situation. I can't handle pushy people, yet many people are pushy.

Dealing with the best of people isn't easy for me. Dealing with the mediocre bullies, who are all-too common, is nearly impossible. At least the evil are evil, period. Most adult bullies we encounter in the workplace, school, or in organizations are something else. They aren't evil, but their effects can be.

Those pushy people convinced they are right and you are wrong about everything are the ones I cannot understand. These people stand behind you at the self-checkout line in the grocery store, sighing loudly because they are "too polite" to yell outright that you're too slow. These mediocre people talk behind your back, because they're "too polite" to argue or make claims to your face. What is most annoying about mediocre people is that they believe they are the best of best.

I don't understand most things people do, socially, but I really don't understand tearing down other people to make yourself feel good.

I met someone this week who "jokingly" insisted other people call her "The Queen" of an organization. That's not funny, nor was her attitude towards other people. Someone should remind her the Queen of Hearts loses in the original Lewis Carroll stories. Pride leads to an eventual fall from power.

During the same trip, I met another person who insisted a waiter, yes a waiter, address her as "Doctor." Get over yourself. You aren't better than that waiter. If anything that poor young man has to deal with all manner of jerk during his shift. He was a good waiter, in my opinion, and didn't need to be told what to call a customer. An outright bad person would have been less offensive to me than the mediocre person trying to pump up her own ego.

UPDATE (2011-Jul-28): The doctor involved sent me a note explaining her experiences. I owe her this clarification and an admission that I hadn't thought about how much things have changed. It wasn't that long ago that women in health care were not treated with respect. To be a woman Dr. of any sort was rare. A female doctor was still referred to as "Mrs. X" instead of as "Dr." in many formal and social situations. People called men by their formal titles, but not always women.  My generation is far less formal, overall, something I attribute to social media. I can't recall any professor using the title "Dr." and many of my physicians use their first names. Times have changed, but it was wrong of me to forget the past. 
Mediocre people don't always intend to be mean, self-centered, bullies. I wonder if insecurities are to blame. I have no idea. These people don't realize they're being mean. When they are told they are being jerks, they can and do honestly deny meaning any harm.

These mediocre people don't get it when a waiter no longer smiles, or when people no longer believe it is funny to shout "Off with her head!" during meetings. Mediocre people don't have a clue how mean they are, because they can't imagine they are anything other than perfect.

Self-important people don't ask what's wrong when you start shaking. They don't wait for an explanation when you are trying to say the lights or sounds are giving you a headache. The mediocre not only cannot appreciate your special needs, but they dismiss your challenges as being imagined or the latest trend. They can't imagine you really have a cognitive challenge. You can't be autistic. You can't have a learning disability. The only way the mediocre admit to your challenge is if the mediocre get to offer you advice and "help" you.

I tried to explain to one of the mediocre people that I have some serious medical issues. How did she respond? She posted to a listserv that I stormed out from a dinner and exhibited "strange behavior." She didn't hear a word I said about seizures, palsy, or anything else. She made up her mind to dislike me because I wasn't perfect like her. I didn't know she was brilliant, which would have proven my brilliance in her mind.

Those people, and there are too many of them, are the challenge of daily life. They are the middle managers (our bosses in many cases). They are the customers who "know" how to use the computer and try to tell you how to solve the problem — the problem they called tech support to solve. They are the parents of "geniuses" who threaten to file a complaint because their perfect child does "B" or even "C" work.

People aren't all mediocre, but a great many self-important people are. If you don't play along with their self-image, they can and will try to damage your reputation. I've had professors, doctors, and lawyers try to play the "I'm important and you're not" role.

I try very hard to be a good, decent person. I sometimes fall short. But at least I know I'm not better than anyone else. I don't feel entitled to anything. I believe I have a responsibility to help other people when I can, and they owe me nothing for choices made and actions taken.

If I were a better person, I wouldn't let the mediocre people ruin my days. But, they do.

My wife says this is the simple summation of the challenge I'm describing: There are bullies we will encounter throughout life. Bullies are all ages, and they always have a rationalization for being jerks.

I can't deal with bullies, but I sure meet a lot of them.


  1. "Bullies are those people who don't want to understand my challenges or anyone else's challenges. They want to dismiss me as "strange" or "weird" and ignore any responsibility they might have for creating overwhelming situations. People can be mean, pushy, aggressive, and generally rude. Such attitudes exhaust me. Eventually, the rude person wins, and I have to leave the situation. I can't handle pushy people, yet many people are pushy."

    That's not an uncommon problem for all people, especially those that work for a living. This is a typical experience of nearly everyone.

  2. Other people seem to deal better with bullies by just dismissing them and moving on. I can't forget dealing with bullies, even though I know that's just part of life. Yes, workplace bullies are among the worst.

  3. "Other people seem to deal better with bullies by just dismissing them and moving on. "

    I'm not so sure. Have you ever managed people in the workplace and outside a University?

  4. Yes. I returned to graduate school in my late 30s. I've co-owned two retail stores and have had several other jobs. I've watched the dynamics and generally a good manager can deal with a workplace bully. It's harder to deal with rude customers, but at least they leave.

    Persistent bullies are rare, but once you run into one of the more talented, you realize how good they are at deflecting and creating all sorts of excuses for whatever they've done.

    Other people deal with bullies much better than I do. I've had some leave me with nightmares for days, weeks, or even years. No many are that bad, but they are out there.

  5. My experience is that the "mediocre" people are in mid-level jobs, frustrated because they imagine they are smarter than the boss, the other employees, and the customers. Usually, there's also a bit of a persecution or "bad luck" thread to their logic: "If only X, I'd be the boss/owner of this company."

    I have no idea why they can't see they truly are at their limit. But, pure snobbery knows no bounds, either.

  6. "My experience is that the "mediocre" people are in mid-level jobs"

    Hold on there. Some people choose to be mid-level because they have home commitments. I suspect that many parents of autistic children have chosen to divert off the career path to take care of their children. I'm one of those. I was a high paid Quant on Wall Street, making close to 7 figures when I "down-graded" my job to spend more time with my son who needed me. Many parents of other autistic children I know, particularly one that is a corporate lawyer on the fast track to become a General Counsel diverted her career upon her daughter's diagnosis.

  7. That the mediocre end up on the middle in no way implies that all people in mid-management are mediocre. I simply stated that the worst bullies I've met are in that large middle-rank population.

    You read into it more than was written. There is some research on mid-management personalities, but that also doesn't mean every mid-level person has those traits.

    People at the very top have to be able to ingratiate themselves to others. They generally *must* have social (sells) skills to convince their contacts to support their rise to whatever the top is. It takes political skills to rise in most large organizations.

    The phenomenon is called "status inconsistency" and you can locate several papers on it. I located four studies dated since 2008 on the mid-level management / bully problem. People who aren't promoted, but believe they should be, attack their fellow employees. Often this is passive-aggressive, but it can escalate.

    These mid-level managers are not in their positions by choice.

  8. "My experience is that the "mediocre" people are in mid-level jobs, frustrated because they imagine they are smarter than the boss, the other employees, and the customers"

    I don't see where you put any qualifiers in that sentence?

    Thanks for qualifying it in your response.


Post a Comment

Comments violating the policies of this blog will not be approved for posting. Language and content should be appropriate for all readers and maintain a polite tone. Thank you.

Popular posts from this blog

Autism, Asperger's, and IQ

"Aren't people with Asperger's more likely to be geniuses? Isn't genius related to autism?"

A university student asked this in a course I am teaching. The class discussion was covering neurological differences, free will, and the nature versus nurture debate. The textbook for the course includes sidebars on the brain and behavior throughout chapters on ethics and morality. This student was asking a question reflecting media portrayals of autism spectrum disorders, social skills difficulties, and genius.

I did not address this question from a personal perspective in class, but I have when speaking to groups of parents, educators, and caregivers. Some of the reasons these questions arise, as mentioned above, are media portrayals and news coverage of autism. Examples include:
Television shows with gifted characters either identified with or assumed to have autistic traits: Alphas, Big Bang Theory, Bones, Rizzoli and Isles, Touch, and others. Some would include She…

Listen… and Help Others Hear

We lack diversity in the autism community.

Think about what you see, online and in the media. I see upper-middle class parents, able to afford iPads and tutors and official diagnoses. I see parents who have the resources to fight for IEPs and physical accommodations.

I see self-advocacy leadership that has been fortunate (and hard working, certainly) to attend universities, travel the nation (or even internationally), and have forums that reach thousands.

What I don't see? Most of our actual community. The real community that represents autism's downsides. The marginalized communities, ignored and excluded from our boards, our commissions, our business networks.

How did my lower-income parents, without college educations, give me a chance to be more? How did they fight the odds? They did, and now I am in a position of privilege. But I don't seem to be making much of a difference.

Demand that your charities seek out the broadest possible array of advisers and board members.…

Life Updates: The MFA Sprint

Life is okay, if more than a little hectic at the end of this first month.

With one month down, I'm 11 months away from my MFA in Film and Digital Technology. Though things might happen and things do go wrong, so far I'm on schedule and things are going well —— though I'm exhausted and working harder than I did for any other degree. Because the MFA requires projects every week, this isn't as easy to schedule as writing. Even researching a paper can be done from the comfort of home, at any hour.

You cannot make movies by yourself, at any time of day. It doesn't work that way. Filming takes time, and often requires a team of people. It's not comparable to working alone on a degree in writing or rhetoric.

The team-based nature of film is exhausting for me, but I enjoy the results. I also like the practical nature of the skills being taught. You either learn how to adjust ISO, f/Stop, shutter speed, and other variables or you don't. You can have theories …