Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Guest Blogger - John Elder Robison

John Elder Robison is another pal I met online, in a writer's group. His writing and psydo-friendship has been inspirational and encouraging as we have walked this Aspergian journey with Dude. John is from the same place as Dude and I'm not sure but I think John may be king of Asperger Planet! At any rate, he is funny, insightful and full of good, old fashioned common sense. I love reading John's words and I hope you do too!

This post is one I stole, with permission (John is neck deep in writing his third book so he told me to help myself to his blog), from John's blog Look Me In The Eye ... be sure to have a look at his blog and pick up his books, Look Me in the Eye and Be Different.

A blind guy and an Aspergian walk into a bar and each one picks up a telephone.

That sounds like some kind of joke, but it’s not. I actually credit the insight for this story to Paul Van Dyck, a well known radio personality in Portland, Oregon. Paul happens to be blind, and we had a fascinating talk about our respective conditions.

What do Asperger’s and blindness have in common?

Both conditions leave us unable to read body language or visual cues in others. We can’t instinctively read faces, like sighted nypicals (I know, that sounds like some kind of bird. For the rest of this little story I’ll say nypical but I mean sighted nypical. Blind nypicals aren’t nypical anymore. They’re blind) To succeed in life, Aspergians and blind people need to develop other skills to compensate. And some of those skills become very apparent . . . you guessed it . . . on the phone.

When we speak on the phone, all we have to work with is the spoken words and the melody of the voice coming through the phone. For nypicals, sight is the brain’s top priority when engaging other people. Much of their brainpower is focused on the other person’s face and occasionally their body, to divine those important unspoken messages.

Blind people and Aspergians can’t do that instinctively. Aspergians can only do it with conscious effort and practice, and blind people can’t really do it at all. But we can do something else – we can pay very careful attention to the words and inflection of people who speak to us. Since we’re not tying up brainpower reading nonverbal cues, we are free to deploy those resources to analyze speech. And we do it well.

When I spoke with Paul, I was struck by the clarity and precision of speech, and the way he immediately “got” what I said. In the middle of our conversation, I had an epiphany of sorts. I realized that telephone conversation is a place that both of us can really develop a competitive advantage in life. In face to face meetings, we’re disadvantaged because we don’t see what’s obvious to most nypicals. But on the phone, the tables are turned. We’ve compensated for part of our disability by increasing our ability to process and interpret spoken words, and when sight is taken out of the picture . . . voila! We’re on top.

There have been many times that I've done a phone interview and the other person says, "You sound so good on the phone . . . I can't believe you have trouble connecting to people in person." It took a conversation with a blind man to show me the answer to that.

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