The other day hubby and I were having a conversation with collegeman. The topic of the conversation is not what is important but what is important is the fact that he did not understand the idioms used in the conversation. It never dawned on us that he didn’t understand our use of idioms. I know that idiomatic speech is very hard for aspies but this is a young man who gets As in college. How he does that and yet doesn’t understand idiomatic speech is a testament to his innate intelligence. But I have to tell you we felt so bad for him. What must it be like to live in a world that you do not understand and because you do not understand that world, the world does not understand you back? He is like Alice through the looking glace, lost in Wonderland, afraid of some misstep that will get your” head” chopped off.
While I talk about hiring an aide for collegeman, and a social/life skills coach, and psychologists and write about my own angst associated with giving collegeman the freedom to make mistakes that he needs, I am also faced with a new realization. One day collegeman will face a hostile, unforgiving world where people do not have to try to figure him out. That reality actually has set in more profoundly recently than it had been earlier. No not just because he will be going to school without the aide, but because he has faced some professors over the last few years that did not get him and did not really want to get him. Now there have been wonderful professors who went out of their way to understand collegeman and his little idiosyncrasies and let’s face reality he has plenty of those. But these men and women did what they could in the context of a college classroom to incorporate him and teach him at the same time about proper college class decorum. Now the aide helped too of course and I believe it is through the efforts of all involved that he has gotten to this level of propriety.
But the professors who did not want to or just could not get themselves to go that one step further to understand collegeman seems to me to be more of what he will face in the real world. They work with collegeman to teach him because that is their job, but his disorganization sets them off at times. You can see it in their body language. They seem unsure of how to stop him from being tangential, which luckily has really lessened on its own as he becomes more secure in his environment. It’s almost as if they are afraid to say no at one point to him. They are uneducated about autism and they did not try to learn anything about autism or about him. It’s almost as if they just want to get him through so they do not have to deal with him anymore. I don’t know if they are really interested in his learning, just him not being in their way and hoping the end of the semester comes sooner rather than later. They have even yelled at him when he tried to make amends for his social missteps as if in reality he is just another student and saying the wrong thing (anxiety provoking poor word or idiom choices or tonal quality) is on purpose. Luckily collegeman has grown into his sophomore year at school and is better at his behavior. But that doesn’t change the fact that there are things he just truly needs explained to him that other students do not and yes it takes extra time and effort from the teacher. But I always say that is their job even in college. I had wondered in an earlier post if the hallowed halls of ivy were ready for collegeman. The answer is at times yes and at times no. It really is dependent upon the individual professor.
But what concerns me in the long run is the regular world. The work-a-day world is very unforgiving. If you do not produce you are not needed. If you do not produce you become a drag on the business and are let go. If you are not social and know how to play the political office games, which most aspies cannot, then you can get walked on by the corporate snakes. If you cannot understand the assignment fast enough and efficient enough you are not wanted. If you are disorganized, no matter how smart, the clients will not forgive lateness. If you need a different way than the boss uses to explain an issue or a project you cannot ask for a redirection. You need to figure it out on your own. No one is going to take the time to teach you the ropes. People expect you to learn as you go. Unfortunately as with most things, aspies do not learn that way. They need a concrete approach to every aspect of their lives. So once again, the aspie is Alice in a world that they do not understand and does not understand them nor does this world I think really want to understand them. The work-a-day world just doesn’t seem to have anytime for anything but survival, especially lately.
So what do we do to lessen collegeman’s feeling of being lost in Wonderland? Actually that is the 24 carat question. We try to teach him to use his strengths and reasoning skills to figure out a problem on his own without any outside help. We try to teach him to be independent in his learning so that he is more self assured, not asking so many questions and sending so many emails. We try to teach him to understand the people around him. We try to teach him to take in his surroundings and to be aware of what is going on around him. We are teaching him to add things up in his head and project what could be in any situation so he is mentally prepared.
But I know that there are things he is just not going to get. He will never understand the corporate snake, nor would I really want him to other than to protect himself. I would not want him to turn into such a horrid excuse for a human being. He may not get the corporate social structure or signals. I am not just talking about a fortune 500 company here. Every job has it hierarchy and set roles. He needs to understand them and to play along. He won’t get the subtle rules of the game. He will just do his work to the best of his ability and hopefully he will have enough of a handle on his gullibility to make sure someone doesn’t co-opt his intellectual output. I want him to be able to get the job done with minimal instruction and feedback from a boss. They never want to be bothered once the assignment is handed out. They have their own job to do. I want him to be able to be independent just like his neurotypical peers and to enjoy success in his chosen field.
Advocates for person‘s with autism want to get the world to change. Well I do too, however I do not think it will be changing fast enough so that it will have an effect for collegeman by the time he enters the work force. He has been the tip of the iceberg his entire life. He has been the experiment and the guinea pig for those that came after him. It was like that in our school district. It is like that at his college. I believe it will be that way when he enters the adult world of work, deadlines, bills and responsibilities. He has always been Alice trying to figure out the meaning of the Cheshire cat, the social rules of the tea party and which tart to eat without losing his head. I am afraid it is going to continue for him. We are going to prepare him as best we can. It is all we can do. Meanwhile I wonder what it must be like to be Alice in Wonderland, existing in a strange but beautiful world that you will never totally understand, and will never totally understand you.