Some of the traits listed here are highly visible and commonly associated with high functioning autism. Others may be invisible to the outside observer, but I think most of you autists will see yourselves here. These traits often develop as a result of the effort required for a high functioning autist to exist in a neurotypical world.
It is fascinating that these very traits are among those frequently outlined by neurotypical people as required for success.
And we high functioning autists have them.
In fact, sometimes we have to bring them down a notch!
So what are these traits and how do we harness them?
1. High Functioning Autists Live with Intensity
We characterize high functioning autists as demonstrating limited intense interests. More importantly, these interests rise to a level of intensity that sometimes confuses, intimidates, or even threatens others. Further, thinking or working with this level of intensity results in losing track of the rest of the world if one is not careful. (I regularly forget to eat meals and sleep often alludes me!)
Yet, great achievers in history share this characteristic. I imagine that their intensity also confused, intimidated or even threatened others and sometimes disturbed their normal functioning, and even then, they intensely pursued their passion.
These great achievers refused to allow let the confusion and fears of others stop them from achieving success, and neither should you.
2. High Functioning Autists Rely on Their Strengths
Today, many employers focus on strength-based leadership while downplaying the weaknesses of their employees. This focus represents a change from the old days in which employers spent more time on shoring up weaknesses. Employers value a strengths-based approach in employees, especially managers.
For an autist, relying on strengths is essential, and even better, the list of their strengths includes “compensating” for weaknesses.
By “compensating,” I mean that like me, autists know how to find ways to make these weaknesses strengths in order to optimize what they can do. Determining strengths and weaknesses also depends on the context.
- Many label the extreme honesty of an autist as a weakness, but when used properly, that honesty can help build relationships.
- I single-task. I lack the ability to multitask. Please don’t ask me to talk and text at the same time. (My kids do this for fun because apparently I look hilarious when I try to do both at once!) Where some see weakness, those who receive my full attention appreciate my single-tasking.
- One of my daughters possesses an intense need to know how much things cost. She always seeks the most cost effective solution. This habit sometimes exhausts the rest of us. During tight financial times for our family; however, we realized that her weakness became our strength. She functioned as the “money police,” greatly helping us to live frugally.
You can check out a more in depth example in my post, “The Strangest Thing about My Autism.”
Autists already rely heavily on their strengths and take a context-based approach to determining which strength to apply. Their survival depends on it.
If you haven’t already, take it one step farther and apply these strengths and converted “weaknesses” toward those things at which you want to succeed. Let them thrust you forward!
3. High Functioning Autists Work Hard
Few achieve at high levels without working hard.
By hard work, I really mean OUT-working others.
Many autists intentionally hide this work from the average observer in an effort to fit in. In that way, they make their efforts invisible. A number of neurotypical parents claim that their autistic kids refuse to work hard, but I believe these parents underestimate just how hard those kids work just to survive in a world that was not built for them. It is hard work. Really hard.
High functioning autists thoughtfully process information others manage effortlessly. They develop systems to overcome things others do naturally. They create other work-arounds for things they just can’t do.
These examples barely scratch the surface of some of the extra efforts autists engage in to keep pace with others. Just living, for the autist, requires hard work. It becomes habit and so, somewhat contradictorily, it requires no extra thought or effort. Thus, where others participate in the conscious effort of engaging in hard work, the autist performs it subconsciously.
Quite a flip!
Being intentional about which things you want to devote this hard work toward can transform your efforts into big results!
4. High Functioning Autists Live by Trial and Error
Autists describe their efforts in trying one new thing after another to see what works, meet expectations, and be successful.
One natural result of such efforts – creativity.
A lifetime spent looking for solutions and ways to get things done gives autists who well direct this skill a leg up on the competition. Autists hone and fine-tune this skill. They can become leaders in innovation where their efforts are encouraged and recognized.
A second result of such effort – acceptance of failure. Autists learn to try and try again. Inherent in this system of trial and error is coming to terms with, well…error. They may develop an unnatural ability to keep going. Many of these trials are actually invisible to others, but they are there, they are real and success requires overcoming many, many failures.
Just like it took Thomas Edison 1000s of tries to develop the alkaline storage battery, it takes the autist crazy numbers of trials to understand social rules.
We focus on success, i.e. a battery, but the acceptance of failure is what defines character and allows this success.
What will you apply this skill toward as you focus on your goals?
5. High Functioning Autists Reside Outside Their Comfort Zone
Autists live outside their comfort zone. In fact, it is so normal for them that expanding their comfort zone to include that which is outside it – to accept that they are going to be uncomfortable – becomes a way of life.
Thus, where others feel the stretch and burn of reaching outside their comfort zone, autists simply live there.
Jack Canfield, co-author of the popular series Chicken Soup for the Soul, has been quoted as saying, “Most everything you want is just outside your comfort zone.”
Cool. You are already there! Since you live here anyway, you may as well make it count and accomplish things you didn’t think you could!
6. High Functioning Autists Know How to Stand in the Face of Doubters
More than once, every autists probably faced someone who believed they could not do or accomplish something they absolutely could complete.
Many parents of autists heard that their kids would never speak, never show affection, never read…all kinds of stuff. And, in fairness, some of them never will. Let’s be real though, starting with “can’t” or “won’t” never got anyone anywhere. Thus, autists learn from the beginning to fight to achieve according to their abilities and not the measuring stick of others.
Disbelievers may have encouraged autists to set goals below those they could reach and have probably cheered for them as they were met. Interestingly, if they truly believed in the autist, they would have seen these accomplishments as merely foundational for the amazing things that were about to be accomplished.
I do want to be careful here. Every win is just that – a WIN. And all wins, big and small should be celebrated! But thinking small will only produce small results.
Behind the success of many autists exists an attitude of sheer determination that no doubter can diminish. Behind the victories of many autists is a willingness to look at the doubters and see someone (the doubter) who will never be all they could be.
You know how to overcome doubt and disbelief. Go do it. Be amazing!
7. High Functioning Autists Know How to Be Different
Excellent! Because the world needs “different” and you will be more successful being you than trying to be someone else!
Driving to Success
Not all autists demonstrate all of these characteristics. Most autists have some or many of them. Those that they do have can be channeled and developed to enable greater focus and success (or maybe that is already happening in which case, well done!) We will leave for another day how to define just what success is.
It interests me, and I think deserves noting, that many of the characteristics here whether demonstrated by neurodiverse or neuortypical people draw criticism to people as they work toward their goals. It is not until these people meet success that those same characteristics are applauded by the general public.
As much as we want results, we fear intensity until we benefit from it.
Even though we know we need change to grow, we leave our comfort zone only when someone has already demonstrated we can be comfortable there.
Most noteworthy, though we say we want diversity, we understand “different” only when it actually gets us somewhere new – on arrival.
You get my point.
But what if rather than spending a lifetime pursuing conformity, we pursued those things and developed those characteristics that made us unique, that comprised our strengths? What if we worked to develop these traits in people and in ourselves so that we could be genuinely successful?
We should be making these characteristics work for us
Finding life pursuits that celebrate the traits we have mastered, locating companies that value what we bring to the table, and exploring for opportunities that fit our styles and abilities may seem hard, but may actually be easier than morphing into something we are not.
After all, being yourself in an environment that suits you seems much easier, more efficient and more natural than being someone else in an environment that does not.
The drive to success should include the use of the amazing traits that come from Her Autism!!!
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