It has been more than a month since I told my boss that I have Asperger. What difference has it made? Apart from the fact that I got to choose a seat which offers a bit more privacy, it did not made any difference. No doubt my boss has heard of Asperger/autism. I’m certain a lot of people have heard of it. But how much do they actually know? From my observation over the past month, I don’t think my boss knows much at all. If he does, he would be giving me clear specific instructions. He wouldn’t have, at the end of a meeting, brought up a different topic, joked about it (I think it was a joke because he and everyone else were laughing) and then suddenly turned to me and said, “you got that down? I want to see a draft of the letter based on what I’ve just said by the end of today.” Then he laughed, “I’m joking, you can give it to me tomorrow” and started laughing again with the rest. He has the kind of personality that makes me hard to figure if he is joking or serious (it turned out he did want me to prepare a letter). If he does, he would appreciate the sensory challenges of working in an open space office. He would have allowed some flexibility to where I work from. He would have stopped or reminded colleagues to keep their conversations down and short or to talk elsewhere, when he saw them talking near my desk. If he does, the following incident wouldn’t have happened, as it did on Thursday, which sparked the Blogathon series.
My boss wanted a word with me on Thursday morning to find out how I’m progressing with the project I’m doing. He started by asking me to whom I report to at work. I told him I’m not sure myself (I should have answered, “shouldn’t you be telling me this?”). We just had a colleague at a managerial level leaving the company, I think the colleague’s departure has made it necessary for my boss to take over and reappraise the management and work operation. My boss appeared concerned about the progress of my work, he said, “I’m concerned because you seem to be hiding.” I felt unsettled by the word, “hiding”. What does he mean by that? All of a sudden, it sounds like a very very bad word. I have thought about the different interpretations of the word “hiding”, none of which sounds satisfactory or justified.
“I’m concerned because you seem to be hiding”…
# Interpretation 1. “I mean I’m not sure what you have been up to with your work, have you got any deliverables so far?”
The main project I’m working on, i.e. my task at hand is to qualitatively analyse 300 interview transcripts, each lasting for about 1-1.5 hour long. If you have some basic knowledge of research methods, you would learn that the process is time consuming because it involves repeated reading of the data and you would realise that 300 is a big sample for a qualitative research. This explains why my project status is still “in progress”. I feel silly to point the obvious to my boss. Sometimes, my progress is impeded by the fact that I’m being asked by other colleagues to help on other projects. I did not mention to him the times when I pointed out important mistakes which other colleagues have made. On these occasions, I would point out the mistake to the respective colleague on an individual basis rather than addressing it in the group email in case it might embarrass them. I don’t want to sound boastful but to highlight the fact that people on the spectrum tend to pay more attention to details. In this respect, I think it is unfair and unjustified for my boss to say that I’m “hiding”. In fact, I care about having something to deliver as much as he does and it is for this reason that I asked to be allowed to work from home where I can work with less distraction.
#Interpretation 2. “I mean you are always so quiet like you are hiding something inside.”
If I interpret the word “hiding” literally, it doesn’t make sense. I’m seated in a corner but I’m visible to anyone who walks past. It is only a more private seat in comparison to the previous seat I had, which was out in the middle where people walk past throughout the day. I’m always one of the first to arrive at the office before 9am and I always have my lunch in the office. In this respect, it doesn’t make sense to say I’m hiding when on the contrary, I’m highly visible. On the other hand, if I understood it metaphorically, maybe he was referring to the fact that I’m always so quiet and as we know, most people in the society are not fluent with silence. They see silence as indicative of guilt and weakness. If this is what he meant, it all comes down to the fact that I’m not sociable and extroverted enough by societal standards and expectations. It doesn’t matter where I sit, I could be sitting out in the open and right in the middle of the office from 9am to 6pm but still be considered in hiding.
#Interpretation 3. “I mean hiding as in hidden youth.”
Hidden youth is another word for hikikomori. It is the term used in Hong Kong to refer to people who spend their time indoors isolated from friends, family and society. In our projects and collaboration with NGOs, we come across this population quite often, which is why I have reasons to believe this is what my boss was thinking of when he described me as “hiding” and I feel hurt by this. I feel hurt because despite my earlier efforts to open up to him, he chose to regard my choice and way of life as a behavioural issue and in so doing, he is ignoring and dismissing my autistic needs. I have consistently and openly declined to attend all social and out of work related activities. In this respect, I don’t pretend or hide the fact that I dislike socialising. Other than my boss, I haven’t told anyone else in the office about my autism even though it’s not something I hide. What I did not realise is people might think I am behaving just like a hidden youth and that is all they are seeing. To them, hidden youths are people who need help to get them back into society, they are the ones who have to be fixed to conform to societal norms and behave like everyone else. What are essentially my attempts at mental self-care and damage control are in their eyes, attempts to hide myself from society. Again, it comes down to the fact that I’m not sociable and extroverted enough by societal standards and expectations. It all comes down to the stigma with autism and mental health issues.
What about #Interpretation 4 ~ “You are overanalysing. Don’t read too much into it.”
We are going to have another word this week to talk about the project. The conversation has put me on a defensive mode. I’m not sure if I should take this opportunity to clarify what he meant by “hiding” because whichever way I interpreted it, it was unfair, unjustified, disappointing, insulting, offensive and stigmatising. It is a personal attack on my character and an attack on autism. I need to know if it’s a misunderstanding and given the fact that we are a mental health related organisation, I cannot accept someone in that position to think that autism is simply a behavioural problem. Yes, I am hiding AND so are you. The stigma has to stop there. We need to address the elephant in the room.
Later that day, I was asked to attend and take the minutes of a meeting that was scheduled for later in the afternoon. It was a meeting for the executive committee members where my boss would report on the latest updates and activities. It was a sensory nightmare. There were 8 of us in a small meeting room with a round table. We turned off the air-conditioning because it was too cold but after turning it off, the lack of airflow made the room stuffy, as such, throughout the meeting, we were turning the air-conditioning on and off. The ventilation blades in the room make a continuous clickety-click sound every now and then. There were drinks and fruit plates on the table. Someone has brought in a bottle of red wine, much to my annoyance. I must be one of the rare ones who hate alcohol. The smell of wine and beer makes me sick. The small enclosed space and lack of ventilation makes the smell even stronger. I’m going to digress a bit here, I wasn’t too impressed that the wine was only offered to the executive committee members, this is social hierarchy discrimination. From my autistic perspective, which treats everyone equally, regardless of their social status, I think it is extremely rude and socially inappropriate to only offer wine to the executive committee members. This is inequality. Of course, the society has a different idea of equality, it is socially appropriate to give preferential treatment to people with a higher social status. Besides the smell of wine, on my left was a lady with an overpowering perfume smell. The combination of the perfume and wine smell made it an unpleasant experience. Throughout the meeting, I could hear the man seated on my right eating and chewing the fruits, in addition to the moving of glasses and cups dragging across the wooden table. Sometimes there were more than two people talking at the same time which confused me. Again, the meeting was interspersed with jokes and I had difficulties trying to discern which are relevant or not. When somebody said something funny or which praised the work of our centre, they would laugh then looked at me to indicate that this should be recorded in the minutes. I don’t find it funny at all but rather disturbing that a group of people, presumably of a high social status, behaved so superficially. By the time the meeting ended, it was after 6pm and they wanted to have a picture taken at the reception, for what reasons I don’t know, it seems like a common practice. After the picture, they remained chatting amongst themselves, in fact, I saw no sign of them stopping anytime soon, what satisfaction do people gain from this small talk? I couldn’t fathom and I couldn’t care less. The event of the night before and the events of that day was getting too much, I was starting to shut down. I’m not going to stand and wait till they decided they had enough of the socialising. I took off quietly. I’m not going to apologise for it. Autism is not an excuse to be rude but if the society is not prepared to talk and accept autism for what it is, I’m not going to apologise for being autistic.
It is Chrismas Eve here and I don’t want to dampen anyone’s mood. We were give half day off on Friday to celebrate winter solstice. I took this opportunity to make a quick dash to Mongkok to get the stuff my mum wanted. I even managed to get some retail therapy for myself. I’m just hoping to spend a quiet Christmas with my cat at home. Thanks for reading and wishing everyone a merry happy peaceful Christmas.❤️😻⛄️🎄PS: We still need to talk about the elephant.
Merry Christmas! May hope, peace and love be with you ❤