Tuesday, October 7, 2008

AA Code of Ethics


We Aspies and autists have our strengths and our challenges. Of course, every individual has his/her own strengths and challenges too, but we have some common attributes.

As we all know, we have adjustment issues between Aspies/autists and NTs. Not only do we find it frustrating to deal with the NT world - but also, vice versa!

We have reputational issues. Some folks think we're sociopaths. A lot of folks think we're just plain pedantic, rude and obnoxious.

Yes, as individuals we may have few (or no) friends, bad reputations and difficulty finding and keeping jobs.

Collectively, especially as AS and autism become better known, we've got an image problem.

The fact is, many of the things we tend to do cause problems for others.

We can do three things about it: minimize the things that cause problems, show compensating attributes that make others happy and model the attributes we need to ask that others show to accommodate us. For example, we can learn to speak more tactfully, show how we're definitely more likely to be honest and faithful and show that in turn we can handle honest feedback.

So, as a group we need to bolster our image. I hereby propose a Code of Ethics, which if we adhere to it will make NTs more willing to deal with us.

Right now, I'm going to focus on the third objective: modeling what we need to see in others. The worst thing we can do is be hypocrites and punish people for going out on a limb for us.

In particular:

  • Accept and embrace honest (and reasonably civil) feedback. Not necessarily agree with it - though we should give it every benefit of the doubt, especially given that we likely won't have the same understanding of the social environment as the person giving the feedback. If someone tells us that we need to do or stop doing something, s/he likely knows what s/he's talking about. Even if s/he's wrong, we can always say we'll give it serious consideration - because we should. We should also thank him/her for having the guts to do that - because it does take guts to confront someone privately about a sensitive topic.

  • If someone tells us something we already know, maybe let him/her know we know it - but still give strong positive reinforcement. Once NTs realize they need to spell things out for us, they will likely do so for pretty much everything. Yes, we Aspies know quite a bit - but they don't know what we know or don't know and they certainly don't want a repetition of whatever situation caused them to be willing to go the extra mile in the first place. For that matter, maybe we can sometimes (not always, but sometimes) give up the credit for a particular insight or fact in order to encourage the NT to do it again. Also, if it's an idea - or related to an idea - we've been thinking of for some time, such as a way to enable everyone to work together better while accommodating us, we should give the other people credit so they know it's their idea that we're helping to carry out, not them accommodating our request. Trust me, that will make them a lot happier about doing it. It also shows we recognize good ideas in others and thus aren't insufferable prigs.

  • If at all humanly possible, do not lie or break a promise. One of our most important gifts is our honesty, sincerity and loyalty. It's closely connected to certain things people find less appealing. The last things we want to inflict on people who have to put up with our occasional tactlessness and inflexibility are the opposite downsides. Do not give people the worst of both worlds or they will hate you. They will feel - and probably rightly - that you have few principles and tend to just do what benefits you in a given situation. That makes them think you might be a sociopath.

  • Be consistent in the accommodations you request, especially if they tend to be absolute. Do not refuse someone's request to change a picnic lunch to a rock concert outing one weekend on the grounds that you like to keep plans the way they are and then, an hour before an art gallery tour, call them up and ask if they'd rather visit the circus that just came to town. See above. The Golden Rule really is a great place to start.

  • Do not look down on people who don't know things that you do, no matter how obvious that knowledge may seem to you. If you do, you are begging for a smackdown at the hands of people who know a lot more than you do about social interactions. Besides, the more you're willing to admit you don't know something, the more they'll respect you and the more they'll be happy to teach you.

  • Think twice - maybe three times - before denying requests for special accommodations for others. Yes, there certainly is a line to be drawn in every situation. For example, we don't let vision-challenged people drive. But we need to keep firmly in mind how often we implicitly and explicitly ask things of NTs that they don't have to even consider when dealing with the large majority of people. We need to set the example. If we don't, we are begging for a smackdown.

  • On the same note, be quick to stand up for despised minorities and unpopular individuals.

  • Recognize the virtues behind the things NTs do even when we ourselves have to do, or ask to do, things differently. For example, even though it may confuse us when NTs use understatement, innuendo and euphemism with us, recognize that they may have reasons for using it with each other based on how their brains are wired. As long as they let us know straight out what we need to know, and don't judge us either for missing a point or for communicating in the way we do (and the closer to halfway we can meet them the more it would help), what they do with each other is their business. Heck, maybe we can even learn a thing or two from NTs. Stranger things have happened.

  • In general, make it as easy as possible for NTs. For example, if we happen to know something such as what someone means by a hint, or that someone may be unhappy based on body language, don't pretend to be ignorant in the name of consistency (or worse motives). Show that we're trying the best we can to communicate with them, and they'll be more likely to understand when we miss the point sometimes. Also, put as much of the burden of accommodation as possible on your own shoulders - for example, if you want to meet only one-on-one with someone who also wants to meet another friend at some point that same day, and if your schedule is very flexible, offer to let the other person decide when to meet you in case his/her friend is on a tighter schedule.

What do you think?


Static Mom said...

Wow, I think that is a wonderful code of ethics. I just found your blog. I like it!

Maddy said...

The art of diplomacy, is just that! To be fair, on many occasions I've learned to appreciate the 'honesty is the best policy,' though as it keeps me on my toes, keeps me guessing and often helps take me to a different perspective point.

Jeff Deutsch said...

Hi Static Mom and Maddy,

Thank you very much!

Maddy, I agree with "honesty is the best policy" - diplomacy does not need to be dishonest. (Though once in a while we do need to call a spade a spade, as we Americans say.) In what way does it keep you on your toes and guessing, and what kind of perspective does it bring you?


Jeff Deutsch

Sharon said...

I especially appreciate your suggestion on keeping it "honest" ALWAYS! I constantly remind my son that our Aspie honesty is an admirable quality....one to be embraced as it oftentimes endears others to us as well. Keeping it "real" will continue to help us succeed in communicating with others.

My son & I are really enjoying your blogs Jeff - thanks!