My appearance on “Where We Live” on WNPR November 2, 2011

Update on November 5:

I have now listened to the replay, and am totally favorably impressed with the job that John Dankosky did in directing the conversation. He was able to involve many callers in the discussion, and gave each panelist a chance to respond. I, of course, am not a totally unbiased observer, but I do believe the professionalism on display here deserves some kudos!


I haven’t yet had time to listen to this radio show from yesterday, which was a lot of fun for me.

There were three other panelists (as well as a call-in participant), and the host, John Dankosky, did an excellent job of fielding call-in questions and farming them out to the four of us.

I’ll have more to say once I have had time to listen and to read the comments that have been made.



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    • Listener on November 3, 2011 at 9:54 PM
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    It was good to hear someone on the spectrum speaking honestly about the way it is.

    E Drezner was good, too, even though she is a neurotypical, talking about there being nothing mild about having Aspergers, and how those on the spectrum, even though high functioning, have significant challenges. There is next to no one talking about this subject.

    It was a little off putting to hear AANE say the best resource for adults on the spectrum is for them to find a therapist – there are none around me with any experience.

    1. “Listener” — thank you for your supportive comments. I will email you a talk I gave last year about anxiety. I am also writing more about the severity issue, so please check in with this blog from time to time — I hope to have something posted before too long!

      I would urge you to call AANE to see if they might know of some counselor in your area.

      Also, attending conferences and joining support groups is a great way to meet like-minded people. Yes, I know, there aren’t enough of all these resources, but things are changing!

      Again, thanks for your interest and your feedback!


    • andy on November 5, 2011 at 4:31 PM
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    oops – because I am not a techie, I posted my comment on the 6/24/2011 bio. of MFW – ah well …. hope you find it and deem it relevant, have some feed-back for me. Thank you.

    note by MFW: I did indeed find it, and I will copy it here, so that it is (also) in the proper thread:

    “My 35 yr old friend, 142 IQ, lovely young woman, has many of the characteristics you describe. Excelled through Jr. High in public school with ‘friends’ who were usually the slow learners or mis-fits. Suffered through 4 yrs of competitive boarding school, lacking the executive skills of time management to perform at her expected level, and additionally lacking the social skills to find a comfort zone in a dorm of teen-aged, super competitive, often critical and judgmental peers. Left University with a degree in classical civilization (she ‘got’ the Greek mind-set) and has struggled to find a niche in the work world. Succeeded in all post-grad and grad-level business courses, but has not enough to qualify as credentials for the business world where she would like to be. As was described by the panel this not identified aspergers woman is full of empathy, hard-working, loyal, quick to question authority, and funny. She is finding this economy a tough one in which to market herself. In the Boston area, especially, where bright people w/ degrees are a dime a dozen…. and where being a woman with aspergers (harder I feel than being a male, who is given a pass often for less than stellar social skills), she is involved in music, volunteer, civic activities, but lacks a network for that good full-time job goal. Long term contract hires have led to call backs, but in this market employers are slow to take on full-timers w/ benefits. Audits, editing, IT trouble-shooting, data-base design and testing, event planning you name it, she does it…. Is there a network for ‘in the closet’ aspergers?”

  1. I started going to AANE ( events in the Boston area long before I got my clinical diagnosis. In fact, in the early going, I wasn’t even convinced that I was Asperger’s. These conferences, and talks with AANE staff, were hugely helpful to me.

    A lot of my energy these days is devoted to helping remove the stigma associated with autism and Asperger’s, but it is still there. So, it’s sometimes hard for people to embrace the idea that they are different. There is no need for your friend to get a diagnosis, but self-awareness can lead to self-acceptance, which is the key to reducing anxiety and giving one the confidence to deal with the alien world in which we live.

    I used to worry about whether I should “disclose” because I didn’t know how people would react. Now, I shout it from the rooftops, as you’ve heard. Getting from one state to the other, however, is a difficult journey. Encourage your friend to read my blog and study other resources. I would be happy to exchange emails with her.

    I hope this helps. Feel free to continue the discussion; I’d like to help if I can!

    • Lucy on November 5, 2011 at 11:31 PM
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    Good discussion, well done Michael et al.

    There’s always the core problem of how difficult it is to convey what’s outside the NT experience using NT vocab (depression, anxiety, small talk, organization, etc etc….).

    We need an alternative to the high/low functioning lingo. Let’s hold a contest…

    1. Lucy, excellent point(s)! about vocabulary. I have always struggled with how difficult it is convey my inner experience to people who have never shared the same feelings (or at least the intensity of feelings) that I have. And this is a lifelong challenge, dating back to way before I know about AS.

      Once, as a teenager, I got into some fairly serious trouble because of some impulsive thing I did. After being lectured about it by all the adults in my life, I “got it” that I had done something wrong. My minister told me that he was most troubled by the fact that I had not expressed remorse for what I had done. I was stunned! Of course I was sorry for what I had done! but that was way down on the list of things that were troubling me at the time. And how could he possibly think, seeing how upset I was, that I could not be remorseful! But I didn’t articulate it, and therefore it didn’t count.

      I have been told that I “have the soul of a poet” and I take that as a high compliment. I think of how Khalil Gibran touched the soul of a whole generation — those of us who grew up in the 1960s. (Of course, I’m sure you’ve heard the joke that “if you remember the ’60s you weren’t really there!”) One of my favorite passages from Gibran’s The Prophet relates to what you said about the AS/NT (non)connection: “Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears. And how else can it be? The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.”

      My feeling is that my sorrow is deeper than it is for most NTs, but how can I really know, since I’ve never been an NT?! Some of my perception around this comes from watching others, as they react to things, compared with how I react, and some of it comes from incidents like the one I mentioned, where it is clear to me that others have no comprehension of what I am going through in my internal struggles. After I got my diagnosis of AS, I was talking to a friend about what I had learned from that. She seemed to have an “aha!” moment, and said to me, “When you used to tell me you were suffering, I thought it was just a ploy for sympathy; now I can see that you really were suffering, weren’t you?” Uh, yes!

      The good news, if I’m correct in my assessment of having extreme emotions (compared with NTs) is that my capacity for joy is also that much greater. So, would I give up my sorrow and my suffering if I had to also give up my joys? No way!

      I don’t know if I’ll win your contest, but I will take up your challenge and write an essay on severity. Several others have picked up on comments I’ve made and asked for more thoughts on the topic. Don’t hold your breath, but I sense it’s an issue that is burning a hole in my chest right now, and it won’t be long before I have some words “on paper” (remember when we actually used that stuff?!).

  2. Peter, I wonder if you meant to post this comment here, rather than on the post about the Globe article.

    In any case, I am repeating it here because I think it is relevant to this discussion.

    “Having just been diagnosed as being on the spectrum in the past few months at the age of 50, I found much of what you had to say extremely useful. Right now I am retro-fitting a diagnosis on some of the key points on my personal and professional timeline and am quite overwhelmed.

    I have worked on Wall Street for the past 25 years and have not balanced a checkbook once in that time period. For much of that time it wasn’t necessary, but in the current environment where bonuses are not necessarily higher than the previous year – or not necessarily paid – this is proving to be a liabililty.

    As a parent I have struggled to transition effectively to coincide with my kids growing into young adulthood, and as a spouse I have unfairly relied on my wife to do much of the (social, parental, organizational) heavy lifting. With this new awareness and the support of my family I am optimistic about the end result, yet am humbled by a process that is entirely new to me – and really don’t want to fail.

    I would very much appreciate knowing more about how you transitioned post diagnosis. My “tip off” came from reading the description of a portfolio manager in a recent book about the financial crisis; the diagnosis followed several months later.”

    1. Peter, thanks so much for sharing your story. I suspect you’re talking about Mike Burry in “The Big Short“?

      You raise some very interesting points about your support network, your lack of money worries, and your post-diagnosis transition. Been there. Done that.

      Re the latter: I will email you an essay I wrote about dealing with anxiety, based on a talk I gave about 18 months ago. I have considered posting it on my blog, but since I continue to “transition” and learn new things, I’m not sure all of it is what I would say today. Not that it’s wrong; it’s just that I’ve continued to learn new things and to gain insight. [Anyone else who would like a copy, just leave a note here in the comments and I’ll be glad to forward one to you!]

      I also have an essay-in-the-making based on a talk I gave to the Hartford QWAFAFEW group a while back. In it, I talked about what made me successful as a financial analyst. I had quite a mind-blowing experience, being a world-renowned researcher; I used to get stopped on the street with some regularity in places like Geneva, Tokyo, and New York by people who recognized me from my many public appearances and pictures. My talk in Hartford was about how my thinking differed from the mainstream, and helped me to stand out from the crowd. I did use examples from my work, but it was not a technical talk. Afterwards, a friend, who has known me for 30+ years and has seen me give countless talks, came up to me and said, “That is the best talk you have ever given!” I think the reason was that I was not selling anything; I was simply being honest (with my new-found understanding that my brain works differently from most people’s) about why I made the many discoveries I did, and why I was willing to share them. A story for another time!

      As to the support network, yes, it was not until I started living on my own that I really got into trouble. Before that, I had always had a spouse or a secretary at work or someone to help me out. I didn’t realize how much I had come to rely on that till I tried to do it on my own! As an example, when I went to work for LF Rothschild Unterberg Towbin (a firm that no longer exists, like so many I worked for!), my boss’s secretary said to me, “Give me your checkbook!” I must have looked puzzled, so she explained that if I just brought all my bills to her she would pay them and keep track of what was in my account so I wouldn’t have to worry about it. Cool!

      Of course, as you say, that was also in the era when I made more money than I know what to do with. It was a very bizarre existence in some ways. I would go into a clothing store when I needed a suit or a pair of shoes or whatever and just buy what I needed, and never looked at a price tag. Today, my circumstances are very different! I stand in the detergent aisle at the local supermarket and do the mental arithmetic required to figure out how many loads of laundry I can do per dollar for each brand.

      I’d love to hear any follow-up comments or questions you have!

        • Peter on November 16, 2011 at 6:19 PM
        • Reply

        Yes it was the Big Short and I remember very clearly the revelation as Aspergers was the diagnosis for the portfolio manager. Since then, of course, I have begun to learn more about AS and its impact on my life; largely by being open to observations from loved ones (read: my wife) and by allowing myself to overcome a sense of stigma long enough to be exposed to helpful media such as yours.

        Most recently I have come to recognize “procrastination” and “introvertedness” as executive functioning and social deficiencies associated with AS. if I only knew then what I know now!?! thrrough an AANE resource I found a doctor in NYC who diagnosed me this past July and who has been working with me ever since, but I feel that a more hands-on approach such as a life coach would be useful. I have shared my diagnosis with some close friends (2 people), whose disbelief only served to confirm for me how misunderstood AS is. At some point I know I will feel compelled to “out” myself so as to strengthen perceptions about this.

        Would it be possible to meet at some point for me to get some advice? Perhaps drop me a note at the email address I used to register in order to reply.


        1. Peter, you say you “have come to recognize “procrastination” and “introvertedness” as executive functioning and social deficiencies associated with AS” — I would hope you would come to a place where you think of these things as “differences” and not as “deficiencies”!

          That said, they can be disabilities because we live in a world where 97% of the population cannot imagine what it is like to be us. And so we are expected to learn their way of thinking, not the other way ’round.

          I used to rail against the illogic of the power company who would turn off my power if I was late paying my electric bill. Don’t they understand that I’ve lived here 20 years and have always paid my bills (eventually!)? I can’t help it if I don’t open my mail for weeks at a time and don’t see the “termination” warnings!

          Well, I’ve come to understand that there is a pragmatic reality here; if I don’t pay my bill, they will turn off my lights; my good intentions and innocent failures mean nothing to the heartless bastards. So, I’ve trained myself to open mail when it arrives (well, okay maybe within a week or so!), and to pay the bills when they arrive instead of saying to myself, “Oh, I’ll get around to that!” — which translates to never. Call it procrastination if you like; it’s more like living in a different universe, where intentions matter more than action.

          As my friend Rudy Simone (an Aspergerian author and speaker) has said, “We may live on another planet, but we get our supplies from Earth, so we need to learn how to communicate with those people!”

          As to disclosure, that is a very difficult and personal issue. I struggled with that in the beginning. I was not ashamed (in fact I was relieved!) but I did worry about what would be the reaction of associates, friends, and family. I was coming from a very low knowledge base, and I assumed others would be, too. I wasn’t wrong. As I started to share, I would get reactions from friends that varied from, “No, I don’t think so! Not you!” to “Well, I suppose it’s like any other mental illness…” and I would have to break in and explain it’s not a psychiatric condition, but a neurological difference.

          For me, it was not an employment issue (which complicates matters considerably), since I basically retired 20 years ago (doing consulting work, but not working for a paycheck). Still, I was uncomfortable.

          I soon realized that all my friends (true friends, that is) already knew I was weird — they just didn’t have a label for it. Having the ability to tease me about my Asparagus Burgers gave them some relief, too, I think.

          As you can see, I now shout it from the rooftops. I’m proud to be autistic. I hope you can find your way there. Good luck! And, yes, I’ll be in touch.

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