On September 21, 2009, Penelope Trunk, a divorced mother of two, aka The Brazen Careerist, was sitting in a board meeting when she realized she was having a miscarriage. Penelope decided to tweet the workplace event.
To hear Penelope explain it, she had no idea that people would take offense at her personal feelings about the miscarriage. That may sound unbelievable until you realize that Penelope has Asperger's Disorder, something she decided to share with her readers this week.
People often tell me that I should write career advice for people with Asperger Syndrome. This is because I am surrounded by people who have Asperger’s, and I have it myself. Please, do not tell me I don’t have it. First of all, it looks very different in men and women, and most of you have experience with men. Second, I’m way more weird in person than I am on the blog. And surely you thought it was the other way around.
Gail Hawkins is recognized as an international authority on helping "Aspies" enter the workforce. She founded the Hawkins Institute in Toronto, Canada in 1995, just one year after Asperger's Disorder became a "standardized diagnosis."
With funding from the Canadian government, people who are diagnosed with Asperger's can participate in the Institute's three-year program that provides job counseling and placement. Hawkins says there is no similar service in the states.
Hawkins has never met Penelope Trunk and until today, had never read her blog. However, in preparation for our interview, Hawkins said she read several entries and found it "very Asperger." In particular, Hawkins said Trunk's problem with food is very typical with women with Asperger's.
Given a choice, I eat a Power Bar for every meal and snack, (two= a meal, one= a snack,) and I hate if the store is out of both peanut butter and vanilla. I don’t like variety, even in Power Bars.
Hawkins understands why many might be surprised that someone as successful as Penelope Trunk has Asperger's. "Asperger's is a spectrum disorder. Some people on the spectrum are closer to autistic behavior and others are high functioning," she explained. "It is not uncommon for someone with Asperger's to be a good writer with a sarcastic, dry sense of humor."
What is it like to work with someone who has Asperger's? Hawkins says it's important to remember that people with Asperger's have individual personalities but they are hardwired in such a way that they miss social cues. "They operate in black and white. It's either all this way or that way. Yes or No. There's no room for maybes."
Hawkins also says there are two extremes of Asperger's in the workplace. There's the person who misses all the information that typically floats through the ether in the workplace. As a result, unless someone tells them information directly, they miss all the stuff that is obvious to everyone else. Then there's the other type of person with Asperger's who inserts themselves in every conversation in the workplace, never understanding when they have said enough.
"You'll rarely find someone with Asperger's in management, unless they are managing a team of computer types, because managing requires judgment in decision making and most people with Asperger's don't have that ability." Hawkins says most physicians who have Asperger's are surgeons or in research, and she says other careers where someone with Asperger's is likely to succeed include: actuaries, accountants, artists and musicians."
As a writer/columnist/blogger, it is Trunk's ability to ignore social cues that makes her such an engaging writer. She says things that many of us think but would never dare to say. Our social filters won't allow us to go there. Without those filters, Trunk's writing has a freedom that many of us lack.
So, to all of you who think the twitter was outrageous, think about this:
Most miscarriages happen at work. Twenty-five percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage. Seventy-five percent of women who are of child-bearing age are working. Most miscarriages run their course over weeks. Even if you are someone who wanted the baby and are devastated by the loss, you’re not going to sit in bed for weeks. You are going to pick up your life and get back to it, which includes going back to work.
This means that there are thousands of miscarriages in progress, at work, on any given day. That we don’t acknowledge this is absurd. That it is such a common occurrence and no one thinks it’s okay to talk about is terrible for women.
For more on working with people with Asperger's:
My Asperger's Child: Dealing with Asperger Employees:What Employers Need To Know
Aspie Teacher:WhyYou Need A Mentor At Work
Zikkir: Working with Asperger's
Elana writes about business culture at FunnyBusiness
More from living