Sep 06, 2011 0 Share

Meet Jeff Deutsch


Businessman extending hand for handshake.
iStockphoto

You know how it can be for someone moving to another country, a blue-collar kid growing up into a white-collar college or occupation or a person converting to a different religion, for example? Well, it's like that for an Aspie living in an NT world, too.

I grew up and went to school and college long before AS was even recognized in the U.S. Back then, you were either Rain Man, or normal. So if you weren't Rain Man, and you did stuff like correct the teacher, or ask people about "meaningless" typos, or not respond to "obvious" hints, you were considered a disrespectful jerk (right alongside the many truly disrespectful jerks who did those things and more) and were treated accordingly. Extra demerits if you were smart in, say, math and English. That obviously meant you were smart enough to know better.

You might say I've gone through an elite training program: Decades of Home-based Experiential Lifelong Learning (HELL). As an Aspie, I had a hard time picking up social skills. With history or reading skills, if you don't have them people tend to help you out and not assume you must be acting up on purpose. Whereas if you lack social skills, people assume you're deliberately being rude, and they tend to go out of their way to hurt you.

They certainly don't discuss with you the specific things you're missing. So you go through life just knowing that people don't like you...but having no idea why. (And under those circumstances it becomes much easier to "live up to the label" as Dr. Phil once put it when describing teenagers who had become delinquent after having been stigmatized as abnormal.)

I've left more jobs--full-time and part-time, permanent, temporary and volunteer--on bad terms than most people have ever held. Most often, I'd ticked off too many co-workers, bosses, customers, janitors, saints...you get the idea. I met my first friend and first date (same person) in my second year of college, at age 19. Unfortunately, she and I have long since lost touch.

Now I'm happily married to Emily, who I met at age 29 and is neurotypical. In fact, she's the only girlfriend I've ever had. When we were dating, she told me about AS and insisted I read articles and books about AS and about how Aspies can better relate to NTs. It hasn't been easy, but then again no relationship is. For example, she has since told me that when she first brought up AS to me, I was...well, immersed in a certain river in Egypt. She remembers that it took me a long time to accept that my brain is wired very differently.

While I learned how NTs think, talk and act, I experienced many "Aha!" moments. As in "Aha--no wonder so many teachers were irritated with me! My hand was up in class so many times it became a lightning rod!" And, "Aha--no wonder I never had any friends! Who knew that some folks actually want to discuss something other than Soviet military capabilities and doctrine?" (Answer: Everyone else, including the little kids coming home from daycare.) "Aha--No wonder I kept getting fired! I was supposed to be telling customers how to find books to improve their skills, not giving them critical feedback myself!" That's an eye-opening--and humbling--experience.

Until the day I die, I'll always need to make extra efforts relating to others. It's gotten much better now, and I've dedicated my work to helping fellow Aspies get along better in an NT-dominated world--on the job, with friends and in personal relationships. I also help NTs, including employers, service providers, first responders and friends and partners of Aspies, better recognize and work with Aspies. Basically, I'm becoming the kind of person for others that I wish had been for my family, classmates, teachers, bosses--and myself--20 to 30 years ago.

Some people work their whole lives to tame their inner child. You might say I've tamed my inner Aspie.