Software professionals are prone to classic nerdy behavior, but a few may actually be suffering from something deeper that interferes with both their work and their personal life. It may feel like they are from an alien culture and speak a different language, even though they're using the same words as everyone else. In this column, Danny R. Faught describes how this problem has affected him and how you can better integrate into the alien culture if you or someone you know is affected.
If you work in the high-tech industry, you have probably encountered many people who fit the classic profile of a "computer nerd”. For example, someone who has advanced knowledge in a few specific areas, seems socially awkward, has trouble with dating, is likely to be a loner, and can be clumsy. I fit that profile myself, but I have come to realize that the "nerd" label isn't sufficient to describe how I think and act. I have Asperger's Syndrome.
What is Asperger's Syndrome?
Asperger's Syndrome (AS) is a neurological condition that affects more men than women. Most experts believe that AS is a mild form of autism. Though it is incurable, people with AS develop coping skills to various degrees that allow them to function among the "neurotypical" population (people who aren't on the autism spectrum).
I have a diagnosis from a psychologist, but many people with AS are self-diagnosed. Like any syndrome, AS has a cluster of characteristics. Each affected person has a different mix of these characteristics and is affected to varying degrees. Here are some of the most common characteristics that I've observed in people with AS:
· Difficulty with non-verbal communication, such as looking people in the eye and conveying the intended meaning with facial expressions
· Difficulty in forming friendships
· Difficulty recognizing social cues and conventions
· Maintains a small number of intense special interests-topics they want to learn as much as possible about, which tend to shift occasionally, and can interfere with priority-setting
· Difficulty expressing emotions
· Tends to be pedantic and literal, with some difficulty understanding humor
· Difficulty adapting to change and external demands
· Hypersensitive to some kinds of sensory input, like loud sound, scratchy clothes, bright light, or certain smells and flavors
· Normal or above-average intelligence