Imagine for a moment that all the road rules you know were suddenly gone, and a series of new rules had taken their place, however you have no idea what those rules are. What do you think your chances would be of getting from point A to point B without breaking any rules?
How would you feel to have everything you thought you knew pulled out from under your feet as a surprise to yourself? That is what life can often feel like for someone with Asperger Syndrome.
If you spend any time with me, you will quickly discover that I love rules, procedures, policies and especially, Having These Things Written Down. I suspect it is the same for many who are diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome. I can’t speak for all Aspies, of course. The ones I know personally feel similarly to me.
There is one important reason I prefer rules to be Written Down, VS just unwritten type rules. It has been my experience that unwritten rules change regularly. People would say to me X is ok, so I would do X, and all of a sudden guess what? X is not ok. X will in fact get me in a lot of trouble, maybe even fired from a job.
Even worse than those rules are the rules that Do Not Exist Until You Break Them. Today I am going to tell you about one such incident.
I worked for an insurance agency once, in a call centre taking calls. I worked the late shift, midday to 8pm, or 11 to 7pm. The office was split over two floors and once 5pm hit, the late shift people would have to move downstairs for security reasons.
I had been working at this place nearly 6 months, and I had a desk I would always use when we moved downstairs. On this particular day, the computer would not work at that desk. Myself and my team leader spent nearly 20 minutes trying to work out what was wrong with it to no avail, so she said to pick another desk. I just went to the next closest one.
I did *not* know that I had Asperger Syndrome back then – nor did I know about light sensitivity. This particular desk had a lighting issue, for me. When I sat there, a light was shining directly into my eyes. I actually could not see the computer screen very well and after about 10 minutes of working there a headache began to develop.
Once I got off my call, I went over to the team leader and said “I’m going to have to move again, that light there is shining in my eyes”. She said “Here, put on my baseball cap, see if that fixes it so you won’t have to move”. I did what I was told and it worked – the light was no longer a problem. I finished my shift and went home.
At my 6 month probation review, I was told they wanted to extend my probation as they had some “issues” with me. I was told that my personality was a problem for them. I asked too many questions, and I “talked back” – interpretation, I tried to discuss the answers I was given so I would understand them better. Those ones, I won’t go into right now – other than to say these were all Asperger related, I can see that now.
The fourth and final issue was so petty, ridiculous, and stupid. I almost quit on the spot.
The fourth issue was that I was seen by management wearing a hat inside. I was not given a chance to discuss these issues at the meeting – which was held on a Friday afternoon – I was told to go home and think about what they had said, and return for another meeting on the following Monday to discuss things further and sign an agreement to extend my probation for an extra 6 months.
I went home absolutely furious – hello, there were no rules about hats that I had been told about. Furthermore, it was not even MY hat, and I was TOLD to wear it by the team leader! When I got home, I dug out the dress code from the code of conduct. There was nothing about hats.
I remember having an major meltdown that evening. I do not remember specifics but I do remember being curled in a ball on the floor, crying and screaming. I do remember thinking I had enjoyed that job so much and now I never wanted to go back there.
By Monday, cooler heads had prevailed somewhat. I went into that meeting ready to sign whatever they wanted me to sign – but having applied for a multitude of other jobs over the weekend. I was fully prepared to argue the hat issue, having spoken to the team leader involved who was also furious that had been raised, and I was ready to discuss all the other issues as well.
Mostly I felt that I wanted to keep my head down until I could find another job and get the heck out of there. Sometimes incidents like this show you who people are, and these people were not people I wanted to be involved with long term.
Three months later – three months where it was Not Ok to be ME every single work day, remember my personality was a problem for them – I resigned and was out of there. They weren’t paying very well, anyway!
This was not the first time this kind of thing has happened to me, nor was it the last. I have finally got to a point where I would rather not put myself out there to be rejected yet another time, even though I follow any written rules more than 99% of other people would – because I love the rules, you see.
If they tell me I can’t use my mobile phone at work, I will never take it out of my handbag. If they tell me I can’t use the internet for personal stuff, I never ever will, while people around me are breaking these rules constantly and my team leader is Facebooking up a storm even though Facebook is Not Allowed.
This is one reason computer games can be so reassuring and appealing for me – once I know the rules of a computer game, they rarely change. This is also why I need to be the person making – and enforcing – the rules in future.
Previous posts in this series – I was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, then we talked about My Aspie Super Powers and My Aspie Limitations – then I spoke about a concept with The Cup Is Full.
11 thoughts on “The Rules”
This is a fascinating post and gives me a look inside the head of many of my students. They crave structure and rules, and have made me a better teacher because I have tried to fix my own inconsistencies and “unwritten” rules. That hat incident would have enraged me too!
Thanks Margaret – this particular incident was very difficult for me in so many ways – the hat part was something I could laugh at later, however my personality being a problem I have never quite got past it, and it did cause me to hide who I really was for a long time in workplaces.
In some ways that hiding was a good thing because I learned to keep my mouth firmly shut 99% of the time. I got a lot more work done that way.. :) However that can also be a bad thing because people don’t quite understand why someone wouldn’t want to put their 2 cents in regularly. :)
I like rules too, but I also like flexibility within those rules. I see them more as a frame, follow the rules to get the job done, but have a little fun in there too if you can.
River – I don’t mind a little flexibility within the rules though myself, once I know something is a rule I tend to stick pretty closely to it. I do mind rules appearing as a complete surprise to me. :)
It’s great to get an understanding of these issues from a different perspective. I don’t understand why OHS doesn’t seem to focus as much on caring for people’s mental wellbeing as much as their physical – probably because its easier to buy someone a new ergonomic chair than it is to sit down and genuinely discuss what they need
Kristy – I think there is a lot of semi-hidden bullying that goes on in work places and this is one way people tend to bully – by making up rules where none actually exist. It is unwise to try that with the present Aspie I have become when I have a copy of the rule book, though. That is not going to end well for the rule maker upper – and my last manager found that out, I shredded her so finely in front of the owner of the company, she was demoted not long afterwards. And not just slightly demoted, but essentially pushed aside into another role until her contract is up. :)
Back in the days when this hat thing happened, I was a go along to get along type of person.. I sometimes wish I could go back and get shredding, though. :)
My brother (55) is learning disabled and also lives with autism. The autism was never diagnosed when he was a child because at that time his higher level of functionality was not considered on a scale of autism. We are similar in many ways. We both like to know what the rules are, too. We both can be obsessive about where things “belong.” But, he can’t tolerate a change in the rules or plans or schedules, whereas I relish change… but not “Surprise! We’ve changed the rules, so now you’re wrong!” I’m so glad you learned about your Aspergers. It doesn’t mean life is suddenly easy, but it does mean you have a clearer understanding of why you react the way you do and that it’s OK to set parameters. Thanks yet again for sharing your experience of life!
Mitchell, thank you for this comment. The spectrum runs in our family, I have a high functioning nephew, and a cousin of mine has a low functioning child which is heart breaking for everyone involved. That is one reason I am not prepared to risk the genetic lottery and create my own kids.
Knowing the diagnosis does make life a lot easier – it has been a relief to know there is an actual explanation for some things that have happened to me. :)
I am so sorry. Shifting ground rules are difficult for anyone, and must be even more confronting/disorientating for you.
I like to be clear about what is and isn’t permissable too. Very much indeed.
I really felt for you reading your post Snoskred, it brought back to me the rage, frustration and helplessness of covert bullying, inequity, lack of compassion and shifting rules. I think that workplaces like this are rarely held accountable – it’s a sort of ingrained culture.
Thanks Annie Jay! ;) I’m glad I got the heck out of there – who knows what kind of person I would have been turned into? :)