Making Friends on the Spectrum

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Dear Don, You did try awfully hard… I’ll miss you very, very much… maybe it was all for the best. I doubt it, but MAYBE. Love,

I remember reading this inscription in my high school yearbook as if it was yesterday. My school assigned homerooms alphabetically, so I sat next to this girl for three years. I never imagined that she cared who I was. It was high school. We were in different groups.

This is how it goes for me. Introverted and on the spectrum, making friends is a mystery, and identifying friends that I have is still as much a surprise as it was over 50 years ago.

During my teen years, my mother who had similar struggles passed on some advice she’d read in a book. “You can’t meet anyone if you stay at home.”

I took this advice to heart. I remember attending school dances where I initially sat alone. In later years, some people sat with me. A strong recollection was a dance where I spent the entire time expounding on tesseracts. Yes, I was that guy.

In retrospect, the people in that group must have been my friends, but that was lost on me and I never made any overtures to spend time with them.

Over the years, that single piece of advice dominated my relationships. I showed up, but rarely sought or recognized one-on-one relationships. Unfortunately for me, I went to a virtually single-sex college with little opportunity for my low-key approach to have much success with women.

That said I’ve had successes. I’ve been married for over 45 years, have a nice family, and had a successful career. At work, I spent enough time with people to make friends. I also learned to recognize my friends. I developed a small cadre of people interested in working with me and together we formed a small itinerant band of engineers and managers moving from one start-up to another in Silicon Valley.

Still today, my primary way to meet people is to show up. Every day I walk around my neighborhood and after five years, people know who I am and wave, talk and smile. These are my friends. I am a substitute teacher. The other day at the county fair, some college students recognized me and came up to say hello. In a similar way, a parent stopped me on my walk and told me how much her child liked me as a teacher.

In conclusion, I found how to meet people and make friends even though I still have difficulty reading reactions and asserting myself in interpersonal relationships.



#Careers #Advice for Six-year Olds

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Why career advice for a six-year-old? First of all, twelve-year olds don’t need career advice. Many of them make up their minds to be doctors, or teachers, or chefs, or whatever they decide, and twelve years later that is what they are going to be.

The salient thing about six-year-old is they have short attention spans. They can’t make up their minds like those twelves. Many of us continue to have birthdays, lots and lots of them, but never out grow that six-year-old attention span.

These are the people who might need some career advice: adolescents and adults with six-year-old attention spans. I am one of those, so I know a little from my experience, but let’s look at a famous person who seems to be in a similar situation.

Here is the career path of Sunita (Sunny) Williams as rceounted to the NPR news quiz Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me
(listen to the full interview here:

Her first career goal was to be a veterinarian. When she didn’t get into any of her pre-vet schools. Her brother advised her to attend the U. S. Naval Academy. He said that they liked to camp, so she would like it. Did she worry about where she would camp when the Navy was all about ships? No, she just went.

When she graduated, she wanted to be a diver, but she wasn’t accepted. Her backup this time was to be a Top Gun pilot. She didn’t get to be a jet pilot either, but she did fly helicopters.

As a helicopter pilot, she was curious about how helicopters worked, so she enrolled in test pilot school. In that school she met some astronauts, and decided she’d like to do that.

Now she is an astronaut and holds the records for total spacewalks and most spacewalk time for a woman.

Stating the obvious, interviewer Peter Sagal remarks, “This sounds very accidental.”

I believe three things lead to her success, in spite of her rather non-traditional path.

1) Be fearless. She didn’t let rejection stop her. She took the opportunity in front of her and moved forward. When she couldn’t be a vet, she joined the Navy. When she couldn’t be a jet pilot, she became a helicopter pilot.

2) Be curious. She wasn’t complacent. She looked around. At the Naval Academy she discovered diving, and as a pilot, she learned about astronauts.

3) When in doubt, go to school. Each change in direction was accompanied by a school: Naval Academy and then pilot school.

Thus, if you are going to act like a six-year-old, it helps to emulate six-year olds: Be curious and fearless, and go to school. 

That is my career advice for those of us with six-year-old attention spans.