Saturday, 14 April 2012

The Dating Game: Laying the foundation.

At the request of Steph Diorio I was going to do a quick post about learning the basics of dating for Aspies. However, this is such a huge topic, I decided to break it down. This first post I am going to talk about laying the foundations.

Many people will disagree with me, but I actually think that in the long run an Aspie has no net disadvantages in the dating game. We do face slightly different challenges, mostly revolving around social skills and obsessive tendencies. However, we also have major advantages. We are more inclined to be truthful; - this makes us trustworthy - the foundation of any relationship. We don't play games and tend to be relatively straight forward - so many people really want this in their partners. We are passionate about our interests - this makes us interesting. We are a little bit odd - this also makes us interesting. We have fewer inhibitions about crossing social boundaries - this is a double edged sword and can be really helpful but it can also damage relationships. Lastly, and most importantly, Aspies tend to be genuinely kind people and this will endear us to those that get to know us well. 

I am going to look at three corner stones of dating skills. A solid foundation of basic social skills, actual and demonstrated self-confidence and finally, small talk for Aspies. 

Basic Social Skills
As I am sure you are aware if you are reading this post, Aspies and others on the spectrum do not pick up their social skills in the normal way. We have to learn it cognitively and then apply the principles. Dating is just another form of this, but it really helps to have a good foundation on the basics. Awareness of social etiquette, how to read body language clusters, appropriate eye contact, smiling, personal space, reading tone of voice and awareness of basic social boundaries etc. If you feel you do not have these yet, keep practising at every opportunity and they will come. 

Some of you are lucky enough to get therapy/lessons on this. Others have to do what I did, which is a process of study combined with trial and error. There are masses of books on this subject. I recommend covering topics of; body language, social psychology, comedy performance, goal setting, and I have also found books about networking useful. No one book will contain all the answers, not all of them will be helpful or useful. But this is the subject of another post.

Don't worry about mastering these topics, there are too many variables in social interaction and many NTs are still very bad at it. You just need a broad basic understanding and a little bit of confidence to go out and use them. 

Actual and Demonstrated Self-Confidence 
Having difficulties with dating is not unique to Aspies or people on the spectrum. I have NT friends who have disastrous or even non-existent love lives. A lot of the problems we face in dating are the same as NTs, and the biggest culprit is often poor self-esteem. Aspies do not, I believe, have naturally low self-esteem or social anxiety. However, years of bullying and social exclusion (which we are often exposed to) will cause it when combined with challenges in processing emotions. Recognise it for what it is. The words and actions of cowardly bullies, the ignorant and the malicious. Choose to not let them dictate how you fell about yourself, focus on the good stuff, let go of the rest. This sounds flippant when pinned to the page. 

I cannot tell you where to find self-confidence - it is a personal journey. But do not build it on the judgements of others, or by comparing yourself to others. A couple of simple exercises that might help: Sit down and write out a list of all the things you are proud of that you did over the last 10 years, do it year by year. I guarantee you will surprise yourself.  Think about what is important to you, your personal values, and make goals based around them. If you want to go into it more I recommend this book.

The only other thing that I can say to help is a personal story; my first full time job when I was 18 was working in a hospice in a city in the middle of a terrorist bombing campaign. Caring for people in their final days, combined with a situation that made me realise the brevity of life. As an atheist I do not believe in a continuation of consciousness after death, this makes the little time we have on this earth so precious. Talking to patients I found those who had led full lives passed more contentedly, often with family and friends beside them.

My biggest stumbling block was self-confidence, stemming from the problems above. By the time I was 20 I had only had a casual and brief relationship with an older woman and a had dated a girl with manic depression who fatally overdosed a few weeks after we met.  Then something happened. I took an opportunity to spend am exchange semester at a University in the USA.  Apparently American girls like the English accent – there was much fun. On my return to the UK, although I no longer had the exotic accent, I realised just how much my lack of success had been down to anxiety and lack of confidence. Nothing had changed in my circumstances, but by approaching things with greater self-assurance and having an openness to new possibilities that comes with the realisation that anxiety causes self-limitation, I had a much more active dating life. 

Self-confidence is not only important for opening up new opportunities but also a very basic fact of dating - you have to like yourself. If you cannot like yourself then why are other people going to? Whilst there are those who like to date people with low self-esteem, I do not recommend them. At best they have Messiah complexes, this leads to an often unhealthy relationship dynamic. At worst, they are looking to exploit and manipulate you through a perceived vulnerability. This latter category should be avoided at all costs; it can leave you damaged. Be happy with yourself and you will find you are happier with other people. 

Aspies have a wonderful tendency to rationalise everything. It can lead you into rationalising a large quantity of limiting beliefs. Learn to recognise when you are building a narrative which tells you that you cannot do something. Take the view of 'how can I do this?' over 'I can't do this because 'x''. 

Finally, the Aspie tendency to get fixated on single things and a lack of confidence can lead to so called 'one-itus'. Getting fixated on one particular person for whatever reason. Do not do this to yourself! The whole idea of there being only one person for you in the whole wide world is Hollywood nonsense. Dating is a numbers game, there is the better part of 7billion people on this rock, statistically there are several million who would make a good too ideal partner, working your way through the unsuitable ones until you find one of the right ones is the challenge. Getting fixated on one person is unhealthy for you, and is likely to come over badly to that person and alienate them. Getting fixated on a single person is often away of limiting yourself from exploring other opportunities. Fixation is unhealthy, it is obsession, not love and it is a one way ticket to misery. 

Finally, demonstrating confidence. Aspies are not very good at this, but it is actually quite easy and mostly about non-verbal communication; body language/tone and semiotics.

First, building on what you learn about social skills, identify those parts of body language and tone of voice which demonstrate confidence and utilise them. You are aiming for 'quietly confident'.

Second, semiotics - the power of symbols. We all make judgements based on the appearance of others, it is normal. You need to tap into this to present the best of yourself, dressing well and doing simple things to improve your appearance can do a lot to maximise your appeal to others. This is easy; dress well and dress appropriately to the situation. I know, the tatty jeans and old hoody are comfortable and natural, but they do not present the best of you, they say "does not care about their appearance, therefore they have no self-esteem". It is something that is easy to fix - get books on the subject and read up.

The most important thing is to get clothes that fit well. The next are that they are coordinated to each other, suitable for what you are doing and are comfortable.

On top of that get healthy; exercise has important benefits for Aspies that include stress management and relaxation. Eating well can also help manage emotions by controlling your blood sugar levels. They also combine to make you look slim and healthy.

A little bit of attention to grooming goes a long way. No need to go overboard, just make sure your hair looks good before heading out the door, if you are a girl, then some basic make-up can also help. Do not get fixated on one look, experiment with different ones, but there is no need to start doing anything elaborate. 

So to summarise - be confidant, act confident, avoid ‘one-itus’ and make an basic effort with your appearance. 

Small Talk for Aspies.
Small talk often seems pointless, and an irritating distraction from what we are doing. 

First off, it is never pointless. Small talk, even about inconsequential things, is absolutely essential to building social capital with people. Social capital is the foundation on which we build friendships and other types of relationships. NT's use small talk at a subconscious level to sound people out and make judgements about who they are and their suitability as a friend/partner/lover/colleague etc. Flirting is also a form of small talk, get the hang of small talk and flirting will be easy. 

The best way to deal with the 'irritating distraction' aspect is to understand that the source of irritation is your brain is trying the think about two things at once and it is not very good at doing that. You can turn off the irritation by consciously putting the task you are currently working on to one side for the moment and giving the conversation your full attention. 

Making the conversation interesting can be done in a number of ways. I personally like to play a little game whereby I assume that someone is interesting and then have to find out why they are. People are these amazing and complex balls of consciousness and experiences, I very rarely meet someone who are truly boring. This approach can lead to very interesting conversations. Listen to the conversations and spot opportunities to ask questions and make enquires. People generally like it when others take an interest in them. 

Another way to build social capital with a person is by listening to the conversation and identifying the things you have in common; interests, experiences and values. By raising these things in the conversation and discussing them you will build a powerful sense of connection with the other person – this is superb social capital. 

One very common pitfall for us Aspies is monologuing about one of our special interests. Watch yourself for this, If you realise you have been doing all the talking for the last few minutes, or if the person you are talking too has adopted a cluster of body language that suggests boredom, you should pause the conversation and make a small apology. People usually do not mind as long as you realise and acknowledge to them that you are hogging the conversation. They will recognise your passion for a subject, you just have to allow for the fact that they are unlikely to share your level of interest, or that they are getting irritated because they are not able to get a word in. Do not continue with the monologue unless you are invited to do so, and often you will be, self-acknowledgement of your domination of the conversation is often enough to re-engage the person and people often admire people with a passion for what they do.

To summarise: -  Small talk is vital to building social relationships, give your conversational partner you full attention, make it your job to find them interesting and learn to recognise and limit monologues.


Learning about this stuff is an on-going experience. Look for opportunities to practice in your everyday life; at work, at school, whilst out shopping.

All of this is based on my personal experience. It has worked for me, I struggled with dating for so long, but finally got the hang of it in my mid and late 20s, and learned to really enjoy the whole experience. I am now in a long term relationship with an amazing and gorgeous NT girl, who likes me for my Aspie weirdness. We have also been experimenting with polyamory (that definitely comes under the advanced manual!) which has opened up a whole new world of learning opportunities.

If this helps anyone at all, in anyway – then I am absolutely flattered and delighted.

All the best


Saturday, 7 April 2012

Asperger's High

Ronal the Barbarian

OK, more random stuff I like.

This is a very funny Danish animated film. Did come across a properly dubbed version of it, but cannot now find the link. 

Thursday, 5 April 2012


This post is dedicated to my parents, even though they will never read it. 

I was a difficult child. Angry, volatile, violent, unreasonable and generally difficult to deal with.

I have been reading the blogs of others on the spectrum. I have been lucky. I have come across stories of abuse and trauma. My parents were not perfect. I get my temper from my father, my intensity from my mother. They struggled. They meant well, they did their level best to get me well educated, to teach me to socialise and to widen my horizons. 

I was lucky enough to be diagnosed when I was very young, even though my mother never accepted it. I never had anything worse than a few bruises and cuts and one time I was compared to Hitler. These things occurred in moments of weakness on their part. Generally they have always tried to help and do, what to the best of their knowledge, was the right thing. A lot of the bad stuff happened when my dad lost his job and we were really in trouble. 

People know more about the condition now. My parents were never well educated, my mother in particular, she has never passed an exam in her life. There is greater understanding now.  

A lot of the blogs I have come across are done by parents of kids with Aspergers/Austistic Spectrum. I am not going to lie, it will not be easy. But I have turned out pretty well, there's hope!


Bosses are important. They manage you at work and control what you can do. That is a huge amount of power over a large slice of your life. They write your reports, which go a long way to defining you eligibility for your next job. Most people whine about their boss. This is unfair, very few people are natural leaders or natural managers. Most of them give it their best shot but the human intensity of managing someone will always leave a bone of contention. I have noticed those who whine less about their bosses, or not at all, tend to be the ones who do well. Is this because they have good bosses, or because they are good at managing up? Obviously it is both. However, the part we have to focus on is the latter. You cannot control how good a boss your boss is. You can control how you interact with them, and it is your responsibility to get as much out of the relationship as possible. 

I have a history of having poor relationships with my superiors. Not bad, generally people respect my intelligence, tenacity and enthusiasm.  But they find my behaviour bizarre to say the least. My Platoon Sargent in the Army was puzzled by my relative lack of response to his 'robust' encouragement and, what seem to him, odd reactions to particular circumstances. My line manager in my current job also finds my behaviour bizarre. I don't realise that what I do is held to be so odd. Sometimes if I sit down and think about it afterwards I can work out why, but it never occurs to me at the time.  I also struggle with following instructions in my current job, this was never a problem in the army. I put this down to differences in styles of communication. The Army specialises in clear, direct and precise communication. Not to mention clear and direct feedback! 

Communication is a problem. I cannot ask a current or future boss to make big efforts to adapt for my benefit. I am one employee amongst many, and absorbing their time is anathema to what I should be doing, making their life easier and helping achieve the unit's objectives. I need to change and adapt to make this less of a problem.

 I have tried various ways to do this, I think it mostly needs a combination of me being less intense and self-absorbed, combined with better use of my notebook. 

Behaviour is a problem. I am less sure about this, I don't see why it should be a problem, as long as I respect social barriers. Which I do, it took me a while to learn where they were, but I am generally pretty good at it. Just to be safe, I am more formal and deliberately well mannered at work. What others see as bizarre behaviour, I am sure is affecting how I progress at work, but I am not usually aware of being weird and I am not sure how that bizarre behaviour is creating a problem. 

This I am less certain about how to address. I already have a range of strategies to help manage with my emotional intensity and obsessiveness. 

Emotional stuff can be dealt with through a range of strategies. One of the key strategies is recognising that you can, to an extent, choose how to engage emotions. I had this epiphany whilst sitting in a glider about to be propelled into the air by what was, to all intents and purposes, a giant elastic band.

 My stomach was churning and I was sitting bolt upright with a white knuckle grip on the joystick. It occured to me that the cause and physical experience of both fear and excitement were very similar. Adrenaline flooding your system causing muscles to tense and your stomach to become unsettled. You can, to a certain extent, choose your emotional response. In this case mentally brace yourself and choose excitement. It is the more positive emotion of the two, it gives you more mastery and enjoyment of the situation. 

Likewise, anger and depression are very similar in their physical experience. However, they are both negative and potentially destructive. Depression is destructive of the self, and anger makes me a liability around furniture and walls . I generally choose anger because it can give me the energy and drive to engage with and resolve the cause, I also choose it because you can always fix the wall and buy a new chair. Fixing holes in yourself is more difficult. I will discuss anger in more detail another time. In the mean time try here

Choosing the emotion does not reduce the intensity. This intensity is what I suspect unsettles many people. The default setting is to hide it, or too physically leave the situation that is causing it. This is often unsuccessful, and can even be counter productive. One of the problems people with Autistic Spectrum difficulties have is signalling their emotions in a socially acceptable manner, or hiding them effectively. We appear to shut down and go really quite, then all of a sudden an event or comment will trigger a sudden and dramatic outburst of emotion. An yes, this causes people to stare at you when it happens in the middle of the supermarket! It unsettles co-workers because there has been absolutely none of the normal escalation of social signals that flags the emotion that is building up. Further, the trigger can be minor and unrelated to the cause. To co-workers it can seem like a major over-reaction to something small and trivial. That is why my nickname in the Army was 'Pyscho'.

One way to deal with this intensity is to look to maximise the positives in your life and minimise the negatives. There are many ways to do this. For example, if you suddenly start feeling depressed, instead of letting yourself slip into a deep dark cogitation of all that is wrong in your life, see if you can ascribe the feeling to something else. When did I last eat, is my blood sugar low, how much sleep have I been getting lately etc. Other simple things include listening to a favourite song or taking a break and going to a different physical environment. This book is fantastic, ignore the annoying series cover - the rest of the 'Brilliant' books I have read have been pretty second rate and I generally dislike self-help literature (more about that later), but this is good and presented in an easily consumable form. 

However, even this has it's problems. When I got my current job I had spent the previous year doing dull manual and socially isolating work. I was so thrilled to get this job, especially after the incredibly disappointing attempt at a military career, I went at it with an enormous amount of enthusiasm. This caused a problem all of it's own, not only was my boss finding my behaviour weird and intense, but in this bubble of intense happiness and enthusiasm I failed to notice the warning signs that things were going very badly. Although intense positive emotions are by definition a lot nicer than intense negative emotions, the intensity still has detrimental effects. Recognising when this is happening and winding yourself in a little when it does occur should be easier than when it happens with negative emotions, right? 

I need to work to understand why my behaviour bizarre and why it is not helping build positive relationships with my boss. I have learned that intense emotions, weather positive or negative can also affect relationships with the people you work with, and they can blind you to the important things that are going on around you. 

Felica Day


That is all...

For those of you who do not know who Felica Day is; go to the fishmongers, buy a large whole fish, slap self with said fish and then watch series one of her web series. 

Wednesday, 4 April 2012


 An attribute that is not essential to a particular class, but is common and peculiar to it. 

I like this word, it encapsulates many aspects of how I view particular set of personal circumstances that I wish to address in this blog. 

I have Aspergers Syndrome. I also have a variety of other related conditions; Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, and I can probably include attention deficit disorder and scotopic sensitivity syndrome

These things are part of who I am, how my brain is hard-wired, how I experience the world. Everyone has a physically different brain, I just happen to be a little bit further away from the centre of the bell-curve. This has resulted in a collection of labels being applied to me in order to map out how I am a little different; - a rationalisation for being a bit weird

However, this do not define me, does not limit me, and will not prevent me from living to my full potential. 

Despite what many people will tell you and the medicalisation of these labels, these are not problems. Yes, they make certain things challenging and it is very frustrating when these are things that the majority of people find natural or instinctive. That does not make them problems.

The 24 year old with terminal leukaemia has a problem, the squaddie who lost both his legs and most of his genitals in a roadside bomb has a problem, the heroin addict has a problem, someone born into crippling poverty has a problem. I have known these people, and my stuff is trivial in comparison. It is important not to lose perspective. 

I have specific challenges, I also have specific advantages: Most notably an off the chart verbal reasoning ability, an analytical yet creative mind, a passion for what I do and a decent IQ score. Not to mention an amazing, glamorous girlfriend who actually seems to love me for my oddities. What I want to do with the blog is to explore how I can engage with some of the challenges more effectively and exploit some of the advantages.  

I do not fit easily into a box. Most people on the autistic spectrum seek jobs that limit the often painful experience of social interaction. I firmly believe that we need to be bounced around by the brownian motion of society to keep us sane and remind us that we are human. I have cared for the dying in a hospice, I have been a soldier and now an office worker. None of these experiences have been easy, and in the latter two I have become very frustrated with my apparent inability to progress as I would like to for reasons linked to my specific challenges. I have nonetheless gained useful lessons from all of them.

My excellent education and verbal reasoning ability got me on to much sort after graduate scheme at a time when 20% of graduates were unemployed; a job with great promotion prospects, good work life balance, great personal development opportunities and an unrivalled opportunity to feed my information addiction. Frustratingly, challenges in communicating as well as performing and behaving in line with my managers expectation meant I was taken off this scheme. This was in a large measure due to personal idiosyncrasies arising from my various difficulties. Thankfully I retained my job and pay, just without the training and promotion prospects that I had before. 

I already deal with my difficulties very well, my experiences have taught me to cope and function well (most of the time), but I am nowhere near to exploiting my full potential. Life is all about self-improvement - I want to do better and I want to help others do better. That is the aim of this blog.

Enough pontificating for one night. 

If you go this far, thank you for reading. Please drop me a message if you have any questions or want to discuss anything.