The Characters that ‘Get Me’ Pt 1 – Temperance Brennan

Temperance Brennan is an interesting character, because, of course, like most characters of her era, she is never actually diagnosed with anything. Fans say she is autistic, the creator says that they chose not to diagnose her because they didn’t want any bad mojo to impact the show because of people’s prejudices, and that she based the character off of someone she knew with Aspergers (supposedly, I’m not real hip on following Hollywood or TV news, honestly, but this was sorta what I gathered during some of my research, feel free to correct me if you know better!).

To back up a wee bit, Bones first aired in 2005, and I first watched Bones in probably 2009 or 2010. I was definitely immediately drawn into the entire show because of Temperance Brennan. Never in any show have I ever related to a character half as well as I relate to this lovely character.

Can she be overwhelmingly annoying at times? Hells to the yes. She definitely puts entirely too much emphasis on IQ being almost an actual measurement of a person’s value, which is just incredibly obtuse. But, I’m known to be a little bit of a know it all and don’t always know when to stop talking and when it is really better to just let the mild differences between what someone said and what I think or know to be true just slide on by without saying something, so who am I to talk?

In the early episodes, Temperance is brusque but damned good at her job (the best in the world, as she’d love to remind you). Her inelegancies are more than made up for by the fact that she is literally unmatched by any other forensic anthropologist in the world. And of course she is a beautiful and somewhat naïve woman, albeit very liberal in her views on romantic dalliances.

Throughout the many seasons of Bones, Temperance makes very few good first impressions on anybody (unless, of course, it is men who want to sleep with her, because you know, it looks good on TV). She puts people in their place, corrects them, often bluntly and somewhat rudely. She has no patience for fools or inaccuracies or well, pretty much anything that is irrelevant and takes her time away from doing things that actually matter (like, you know, her job).

Learning about her is a little bit of a love story in and of itself, its a slow burn. You don’t get to know her just by watching one season. You learn that as a teenager she had a special interest in anatomy and would perform dissections in the basement of her high school with road kill and that all of the other kids would bully her for it. She had heaps of family drama and spent some time in foster care (because her dad was on the run.. it’s TV drama y’know).

Over time you get past the prickly exterior and the brusque outer shell and you learn to see the inner workings of a character with an inner wealth of empathy. A woman who has untold depths of empathy for kids who are in foster care and the challenges they face and have to endure. A woman who has to be cold and look at the facts because if she stopped and saw the bones on her table as a person she would never be able to find their killer. A woman who almost never understands her best friend but always stands by and supports her anyway. A woman who comes back multiple times from once in a lifetime anthropological finds to help someone else’s career and who helps save a former intern and friend held hostage in Iraq.

Watching her deal with romance was even more enlightening for me, as it was like holding a mirror to myself. Some things came easily for her, others not so much. Letting down her guard and actually allowing herself to fall in love? That was definitely in the “not-so-easy” camp.

Somewhere in the middle of the seemingly never-ending amount of seasons, Temperance and Booth nearly have their moment for a serious relationship. Booth tells her that he is the gambler and he knows that she is the one and he wants to make this work. Temperance tries to brush it off with a casual, “No, the FBI won’t let us work together” because she doesn’t even know how to process this moment. But Booth won’t let her do that and pushes back and she breaks down and tells him that all of this time he thought she was the one that needed protecting, but the truth is that he is the one that needs protecting — from her.

Special Agent Seeley Booth : Protection from what?
Dr. Temperance ‘Bones’ Brennan : From me. I don’t have your kind of open heart.

Bones – “The Parts in the Sum of the Whole” (Season 5 Episode 16)

She’s crying, and I’m crying because I can’t even tell you how much I relate to that line. I remember every single heart I have broken in my time. Each one takes its toll on me, because many of them I didn’t want to break and I don’t know how I did it or any way to prevent it. Breaking them was like breaking a piece of my own heart and each time I would get sick afterward. I started trying to come up with ways to protect people I cared about from myself, because there must be something wrong with me. I had convinced myself for a long time that I must not be worthy of love because it seemed like all I ever wrought was pain.

Over time and throughout the seasons, she slowly opens herself up to the family she created with her friends, the love she wanted but was afraid of, and even to the family she yearned for but felt she didn’t want her (her father and brother). We watch her grow and develop skills that were missing in the early seasons while still keeping her sometimes oafish blunt edge about her.

I’ve basically already written an entire book about Temperance at this point, but there are two more major quotes that I really think that pretty much any autistic person can likely relate to, but I especially do.

After the years of slowly opening herself up to the hurt that other people can (and will) cause her, Temperance realizes that she has grown beyond what she was and how she perceived herself.

For so much of my life my intelligence was all I had. I may not have had a family, but I understood things that nobody else could. My brain, the way I think, is who I am. Who I was.

Temperance Brennan – Bones – “The Final Chapter: The End in the End” (Season 12 Episode 12)

This entire quotation hits me in a way that is hard to explain. For so much of my life if you had asked me what the best thing about myself was or what my strengths were, you would pretty much only get one answer – “I’m smart”. Being smart was pretty much my identity, even though I tried very hard not to rub it in people’s faces (which is hard when you’re a know-it-all-type). And it’s true. I am smart. I have had so many people comment on it, call me smarter than they are, all of that lovely jazz. But it’s not all that I am.

I am extraordinarily compassionate, I am slow to trust and loyal to a fault, I will fight your battles for you when you aren’t sure you are strong enough to fight them anymore. I have a knack for pattern recognition and a fantastic memory, sure, but they aren’t what make me a good mother for my child, they aren’t what make me a good spouse or a good friend.

And, when her father dies, Temperance’s friends are doing kind friend things where they keep trying to check up on her. Lovely people and all.

Angela: How are you?
Brennan: Everyone keeps asking me that, I don’t know how to answer that question.

Bones – “The Final Chapter: The Grief and the Girl” (Season 12 Episode 8)

Hearing this quotation, even in the context of the episode honestly made made me laugh because I have pretty much literally answered that exact same thing verbatim in similar types of situations. It’s such a complicated thing to answer in such hard situations but people expect you to be ready with something on the go.

I definitely need time to process everything and I would be much happier if people would just let me do my thing and come back around when I am ready and have processed what I feel (and maybe figured out what I feel) instead of trying to hound me about it.


So there you have it, honestly, probably a bit too in-depth, but it is what it is. I definitely love Temperance Brennan and have spent way too much time thinking about her in the universe she lives in and how I relate to her.

There are definitely more of these to come, as I have a couple of these “probably autistic” characters that have always been super close to my heart.

Perception and Intent

With (very late) respect to Autism Awareness month, and also with a lens cast on my own personal history, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on a sentence that I read on reddit quite recently.

“I learned to take people at their intent rather than their words”

The context was heartbreaking in and of itself, but the sentence itself hit me like a freight train. I have learned to live my life by an entirely different motto.

Perception matters more than intent

I spent nearly every waking moment of my life thinking about all of the ways that my words or actions might be perceived differently than I intended them to, and that it matters much more than my intent did. I have basically gaslit myself into believing that the neurotypical world is right and I have to adjust.

So hearing someone say something that basically just shows that people actually can sit there and show the leniency to understand each other?

The context, by the way? Her daughter died. So she had to deal with people saying ignorant things like “I know how you feel, I lost my dog” and the like. So instead of being angry she chose to understand that they likely knew that they couldn’t truly relate to her immense grief, but the closest they could come to it was losing a pet. So they were trying to relate to her. They were showing a kindness in a pretty ignorant and rude way, but still a kindness.

I still, in a lot of ways, agree with my life motto. If I hurt your feelings, it really doesn’t matter what my intentions were, your feelings are hurt and no amount of me doubling down on my intentions is going to make this situation better. The best solution is a heartfelt apology, deep communication, and finding ourselves a new common ground.

But I didn’t learn to live by this phrase because of having difficult arguments with loved ones, or needing to remind myself to put myself in others shoes (I’m overly empathetic and compassionate — but don’t worry, I still show the very stereotypical autistic lack of skills at showing the empathy and compassion the way the “normal” humans expect). I taught myself to live by this motto because of the number of times I had people react to my statements of fact as though I were being bitchy and rude.

Because of the number of times I’ve had people tell me that I’m “sassy” and “feisty” and “don’t care what other people think about you”. Which was just not even close to the truth. I said what I thought or felt as I thought it or felt it. It usually ran through my filters, I tried to imagine a way to make it neutral. And I still came out like a bitch to so very many people.

Even recently, my husband revealed mine (and my child’s) diagnosis to his sister – a teacher. She had a lightbulb go off and said “Oh, that makes sense. She is super smart but not very friendly”. We’ll sidestep the stereotypes there just for the sentiment of the statement.

I am now a fairly well-oiled machine. I have been living this motto for nearly a decade. I have practice and years of phone and chat customer support under my belt to give me the practice of at least sounding friendly and approachable in short bursts as needed. I can quickly run through options of phrases and think about all the potential ways that my statement could be misinterpreted.

But… Imagine if I hadn’t had to spend so much time and energy learning how to fit into a world that wasn’t meant for me? If there were social ramps for those of us sitting in a social wheel chair who really can’t take the stairs.

“Real Autism”

The title of this blog is a phrase I have now heard a few times from friends of mine who have been involved in education. At least one of them has been involved in educating autistic youth. The others mostly teaching mainstream or specials classes, so loosely involved in autistic education.

This always gets brought up as a talking point along with “autism is the new candy diagnosis, everyone has it”. “Everyone has autistic traits now! If you don’t like loud noises and prefer to be by yourself, then you must be autistic!”. It’s the new catch all diagnosis like ADD was in the 90s!

Rolls eyes.

Yes, “rates” of autism are “increasing”. That happens when your understanding of a disorder increase and more studies are conducted and you realize that you have actually missed people from being included in the diagnosis. The inclusion of Aspergers into ASD increased the rates for one. Further studies into women with ASD is doing this as well. Further studies into the now bad-form “high-functioning” label are also increasing the rates. This is a good thing in so many ways. It means that people will feel accepted and they won’t feel alone.

Personally, the label was like a giant weight was lifted off of my shoulders. I cried from the relief. There are people out there who actually know what it feels like to be like me. People who actually understand me? Increased understanding and knowledge is what led to this moment of relief and people deserve to have this moment for themselves or to grow up understanding why they aren’t quite fitting in or being understood.

“Real autism is isolating”

As if we need to gatekeep Real Autism™ to only those with nonverbal autism who need higher amounts of assistance in school/work who may stim in most “normal” environments.

It is absolutely infuriating to hear someone trusted and loved diminish my own existence and feelings with “real autism” because I look normal from the outside. Because she respects me and sees things in me that make her envious. Because I fit the mold that people are supposed to achieve in life. I have a job that I worked hard for, I hit the success mark, a husband, house, kid, pets, the whole nine yards. I’m doing alright, everything is fine, right? Autism is just some weird label that they give to people who are extreme introverts now, after all.

Autism is isolating. Extremely isolating. I cannot speak for everyone on the spectrum, because the spectrum is vast and we do not all share all of the same traits and experiences but I can speak for my experiences. I come from a family that made it clear I was not to ask for help, that it would not be given and I should learn to stand on my own two feet. No support network. I had two best friends in grade school. Both of them stopped talking to me before we graduated. I stopped talking to literally everyone else pretty much as soon as I graduated. The door was shut so let’s move on, so to speak.

I have no one I could call to go for a beer after work because of a stressful day. Might be able to convince some co-workers to go to a local nearby bar after work, but that’s not the same thing as a trusted friend to blow off steam. I wouldn’t even begin to know who to call if I had to unexpectedly get someone to watch my dogs for a weekend emergency (I’d pay extra for a kennel or take them with me).

I worry because if some freak accident happened that killed or incapacitated both myself and my husband while my daughter was in school who would even pick her up while her godparents were traveling to be able to take care of her?

This isn’t to say that I’m totally friendless. I do make friends, but making friends comes at a cost that it seems neurotypicals don’t quite have to pay? I moved to a new city in early 2017 and I have focused on career advancement. I have done amazing things with my career — gotten certifications, degrees, promotions, and landed my dream job! But it came with switching companies and teams and being exorbitantly busy and socializing fell drastically to the wayside. How do normal people manage to do the career push while still gaining and maintaining friendships?

There was a time in my life when I felt like I had the most “normal” experience. I fit in, had a nice group of friends. I found my people. I still talk to people from that group regularly almost ten years later even though I don’t even live in the same state any more. I can’t even tell you what spell I cast to have this happen, it just seemed to fall into my lap. I also wasn’t chasing a career, I was complacent at my call center job.

“Real autism is debilitating.”

Again, with the gatekeeping. I don’t think I really need to point out that it’s not really for people who aren’t experts in the whole spectrum disorder to really be trying to gatekeep what autism is. It’s definitely not for someone who isn’t on the spectrum to be telling someone who IS on the spectrum that their experiences aren’t valid enough to be classified as Real Autism™.

I am soon to be 32 years old, and still slowly untangling the webs of mess of years of masking and trauma that came from not even knowing what and why I was different. Realizing that I have had so many years of training to just be the perfect paper doll of whatever anyone wanted me to be so that our interactions were easy and simple and could go away.

I was pretty much always taught as a kid that I had to avoid and resolve conflict and it was expected that I would give people the answer that they wanted, so I basically learned to do this with everyone, in all situations (guess how fucked up this gets in a lot of questionable situations…) I’ll just put on a new mask for any situation and be a perfect little chameleon as a survival instinct to get through pretty much anything.

I also realized that there are people who know and intentionally seek out autistic individuals because we are more naïve and trusting and take them based on what they say more than their actions. They are manipulative little jerks who will use you for their own gain and do not care about the harm they do in the process. It only takes one of these people to do some untold damage to a psyche.

Autism is real, no matter the support level needed. No matter how real it looks to you on the outside, from your curated exhibit view of their life. Just because you can’t see someone freaking the fuck out in the shower because they landed their dream job and that is terrifying. Or because they are driving in the rain and their husband is snoring in the passenger seat and the sound of the snoring and the rain on the car roof is causing a sensory overload that is making them want to scream and run away and pull their hair out. Or because you don’t realize that the normally verbal person is incapable of getting the words out right now and there is an entire paragraph screaming and beating against their brain burning to get out that they literally can’t let out and its tearing their brain and entire body apart. Just because your curated view looks intact and fine, doesn’t mean that it’s not Real Autism™.

Quick Personal Update

I almost hesitated to even really write this. It seems kind of silly, overall. But, y’know, autism, and I struggle to see why it matters or why this is important to anyone.

But January I started a new promotion which is basically my dream job and super, amazingly exciting. And also takes up mental energy while I’m getting used to the new flow of things. In the land of an autistic brain, it also means that I struggle to exist more days than others and as such, I look at my drafts I have half written and can’t even figure out how to even add another word or make sentences happen.

Then the whole events of January 6th happened. That was frightening and disturbing, and the general lack of accountability for many people involved is still disturbing, but we don’t need to really press into that too much.

I can barely recall what happened to the rest of January after that?

I am in Texas, and last week was yet another failure of a government to properly look after and prepare for its people. I do not want to bring politics here beyond that statement: but people froze to death from not having power, I couldn’t sleep from worrying about providing basic needs to my daughter, and I still don’t have water that I don’t have to boil available in my home despite the fact that we are now five and a half days post thaw and nearly every other water utility provider nearby has removed the water boil notice. This was categorically a disaster.

My kid’s school has extensive water damage from burst pipes, they still aren’t letting kids back into the campus until next week at the earliest. There are other campuses in the district with extensive damage as well, and it looks like it is going to cost the district a hefty amount of money to fix this all (which they are hoping will be reimbursed by the state.)

Silver linings on the horizon! Little Miss has her sixth birthday this Friday. She is very excited because we will be making a dinosaur cake that I bought a pan for many moons ago and haven’t used yet, so she has been dying to use it.

The Current State of the World

I’d be lying if I said that the current state of the world didn’t make me want to shut down a little bit. It’s been hard.

I don’t want to get too political, that’s not what this space is for, but this entire situation has been strange and scary. The holidays were interesting at home, and then there was a bombing. That’s enough to make me want to shut down a little bit already.

And then it just.. got way worse?

Things seem a little bit scary and uncertain right now, it seems to be all anyone is talking about, and I had to tune out. I wasn’t able to keep my focus on anything important while I was thinking about insurrectionists and gallows and explosions.

So I took a step back. Focused back on the smaller things in my life that I actually have some power over. A small sense of normalcy is returning for me even though a chunk of myself is telling me that I’m just the cartoon ostrich sticking my head in the sand.

Do what you need to do to keep yourself together in trying times. We all need to do it. Take care of yourself.

Questions to ask in an Interview

The interview is wrapping up, you’ve (hopefully) dazzled them with your thorough knowledge of your subject matter. Maybe cracked an appropriate joke or two and built up a nice rapport with the interviewer, this has been going great, right? Now we’re in the last little bit and we’re down to the last leg. Here comes the dreaded last mile of the interview “Do you have any questions for me?”

This is one of those things that is autism adjacent, but can really help anybody. While autistic individuals are more likely to not understand this entire song and dance, it’s definitely a challenging experience for anybody out there.

I used to really hate this section of the interview when I was younger. It seemed so silly and pointless. I read your job posting, I generally have a high enough IQ to read between the lines of a job posting to understand what a day to day role in this position will look like (especially as a young adult when most of my jobs were retail or barista related, are you serious?). I don’t have any burning desire or strong opinions on companies so long as you keep up your end of the bargain, why am I supposed to really have questions for you?

Honestly, I don’t really know if my lack of questions here ever necessarily cost me a position, but over the years I have come up with a few good ones that I have gotten good responses from, both in the way of hearing hiring managers say “Oh, that’s a good one, let me think about it” and also because they help me continue to interview the company to decide if it is some place I’d really like to work.

I have read so many different versions of questions to ask in an interview and honestly hate most of them. They sound so trivial and cliche. “What’s the day to day look like in this position?” Well, it’s a chat help desk position, so you sit at the desk and wait for a chat to come in, then you ask the person what’s going on, and solve their issue or escalate.. etc. It just seems kind of absurd to ask that question for a wide variety of positions out there, I’d honestly expect that most people can use critical thinking skills to extrapolate the day to day expectations of the position if they have done something similar before.

So here’s a list of some questions that I feel aren’t quite as cliche and obvious and might actually be somewhat useful while not taking up a whole heap of time at the end of an interview. There will usually only be time for one or two at the end of an interview, so I usually recommend just preparing a few that speak to you personally, or asking any that naturally come up during the interview itself.

“What is your favorite thing about working for {Company}?”

I ask this question to everyone, starting from the recruiter call all the way through any interview I have with the company. As many people as I can get to answer it as I can. Red flag answers to this question is if multiple people answer some variant of “the people I work with”. Not necessarily a hard stop, but it can definitely suggest that the company is generally not a great place to work, if the best thing about working for them is that the coworkers are pretty okay.

Things I generally look for as an answer is a broad array of answers. In a recent bout of interviews I did, I had one person tell me that they liked that they felt like there was a lot of transparency involved and they felt like their opinions were actually listened to by the C suite for development and improvements. Another person I spoke to loved that there were a lot of product changes and that as a result there were so many challenges that would come into play from it. Yet another person I spoke to mentioned that they loved that it was easy to move between a variety of departments in the company because they had so many products so they could switch things up as they felt they needed.

Super different answers that really showcased that the company was meeting a broad variety of needs for different people. If everyone that I ask gives me the exact same answer, I find that worrisome.

“What do you find the most challenging about working for {Company}?”

Similar basic concept as above, honestly. Except it’s a little bit harder for people to effectively sugarcoat issues. This is the one that I’ve had a lot of good feedback from hiring managers about when I ask them it. I think it’s a really good way to get sneak peek into the real company culture without all of the sugar coating they try to sell you on during the interview process.

I have asked a few variants on this question, sometimes its about the current role, sometimes its on the company itself. Red flags will be generally people trying to say that there are no issues whatsoever, because, well, we all know that’s generally not true.

I love the answers that I get for this question. It generally has helped me decide on what kind of roles I want to take. I have had interviewers be very transparent with me that a certain position would be incredibly narrow and would become incredibly boring (and they wouldn’t enjoy doing it) and imply that I likely wouldn’t enjoy doing it for very long. I have had interviewers tell me that the most challenging thing in their environment is that things change so much and that while it can be stressful, they love the challenge and how much it pushes them to grow.

Are there opportunities for professional development?  If so, what do those look like?

I am personally someone always looking for opportunities to learn more and grow new skills, so I love finding companies that are enthusiastic about empowering their employees with the opportunity to develop new skills.

Even better if they aren’t caught in only the old-school versions of “development”. New things like development funds that aren’t tied solely to tuition reimbursement (e.g. can be used for classes that aren’t solely provided by universities/colleges, online classes, books, boot camps, etc). Companies that provide stuff like PluralSight and LinkedIn Learning. Opportunities to shadow and mentor with other departments are also fantastic opportunities.

Basically you want to hear that the company is willing to invest in employee growth and understands that existing employees are assets that can be developed.

What type of employee tends to succeed here? What qualities are the most important for doing well and advancing?

This one is just kind of an idea to help you know if you are the kind of employee that would be able to succeed at the company. It will also help to see if they give you a super general answer or if they seem to give you a pretty well tailored answer that sounds like they are describing some specific individuals that were recently promoted.

I think it can be helpful to kind of hear what kind of qualities a team likes and views as successful. It’s always important to remember that you are interviewing them as much as you are being interviewed. If they aren’t a great fit for you based on any of these answers, it may be wiser to opt out of the company.

Things I personally don’t ask:

I will almost never ask any of the standard stereotypical questions about “anything on my resume you need me to clarify” as, in my experience, this usually gets addressed during the interview process. I’ve had quite a few interviews where they’ve had my resume in front of them and actually said “I see that this is on here and I actually had a few questions about that” so I just didn’t feel like it was worth wasting any air or time on a question that seems to have mostly already been covered.

I have tried the often mentioned “Is there anything that we covered in this interview that perhaps I didn’t answer as well as I could have that I could perhaps clarify for you now” on a few occasions and haven’t ever really had any stellar results from it, so I personally don’t recommend it above any of the questions listed above. It might require a certain personality trait that I don’t exhibit while I’m interviewing.

I have also seen so many recommendations to ask about “when will I hear back” or “what are the next steps” but, in my experience, this is pretty much all covered through a recruiter for pretty much all positions that aren’t retail, so I just don’t waste the time on them at all anymore.

Tantrum or Meltdown?

As a parent of a nearly 6 year old autistic girl, I can personally say from experience that one of the harder things for me, personally, is identifying the difference between a tantrum or a meltdown. Especially since these two behaviors need to be treated totally differently.

A tantrum is happening as a result of things not going her way and needs to be disciplined. Parenting 101, we all know this, right? Basic stuff. Important to make sure that I raise a decent human who isn’t entitled and will play well in society with others.

A meltdown is different. It can look like it’s happening because something didn’t go her way (but it’s actually because things didn’t go as she planned they would) but the basic gist of it is that she doesn’t have the coping skills to handle that things aren’t working as she expected them to. Discipline isn’t the way to handle this. She needs to know that I am here to support her in whatever way she needs.

I always think of nuclear meltdowns…

From the outside, this can look the same, if you don’t look too closely. Screaming, crying, flailing limbs. Generally unwillingness to engage in questions.

Now, I will add in the general caveat of this is my kid, and the standard “if you’ve met an autistic person, you’ve met one person with autism” statement before I go too much further. But I think it’s pretty safe to say that some of these methods can be applied to other autistic children to help differentiate.

For Little Miss, when she is throwing a tantrum, usually I can ask her yes or no questions and get answers. Depending on just how upset she is, I’ll probably only get “no” but she does respond. If we’re in full meltdown mode, we often won’t get any response at all, maybe just head shakes. I will sometimes ask if she wants some quiet time in her room by herself, regardless of if I have identified if this is a tantrum or a meltdown yet, and she’ll either say yes/no or nod or shake her head, and we’ll proceed from there.

If she wants time in her room, then I’ll take her to her room and give her a hug and tell her I’ll check on her in a few minutes. After about 3-5 minutes by herself, I’ll go in and check on her, and she’ll usually be back in a better mood. At this point, if it worked, it doesn’t really matter if it was a tantrum or a meltdown if she’s feeling better, we’ll talk it out and move forward.

She’ll usually cuddle one of her many plushies

If she didn’t want time in her room, that’s fine too! I’ll ask her if she wants a hug. And move on to other relevant questions based on what’s been going on (did the dog get her toy, daddy not listen to her, neighbor kid break her toy, etc). If nothing is working at all I might stop talking and just stay around/near her but stop actively giving her attention.

Like pretty much all child behaviorists will tell you, I have found that when I stop actively giving her attention, if we are dealing with a tantrum, then the tantrum will stop entirely. She will start trying to re-engage me with play. Once she regains my attention, she will start up the tantrum again, and then I know how to proceed.

If it’s a meltdown, the removal of attention won’t do anything to stop the behavior, because she’s struggling and the attention wasn’t what she was seeking. Once I have confirmed that this is a meltdown, it’s time to start trying to isolate what caused the meltdown. This can be tricky sometimes, as it isn’t always the most straightforward thing to an adult mind, but once you find what it was, you can start coming up with coping mechanisms.

One of the most recent gigantic meltdowns that we had in our house was because our wee lass had made plans with some store bought cupcakes in our house that she hadn’t told us. There were three left in the house and she had already assigned them to each of us: there was a specific cupcake that was hers, one for me, and one for her daddy. We also had some cookies in the house, and she wanted to offer a cookie to the neighbor kid’s mom, but daddy misunderstood and gave the neighbor mom a cupcake.

Not just any cupcake. Little Miss’s cupcake. Now Little Miss’s plans of evening cupcake time with Momma and Daddy were ruined because there weren’t enough cupcakes for all three of us and only Momma and Daddy had cupcakes and hers was gone. She was absolutely distraught.

It took a good chunk of time to figure out what about this situation was so hard for her. Daddy was willing to give up his cupcake for her, she wasn’t going to have to go without a cupcake. We had offered the neighbor mom the cupcake already, so it would have been pretty rude to not give it to her. We explained all of this to Little Miss, but she was still so completely upset.

Quite suddenly I realized that it wasn’t even about the cupcake at all. She just wanted to have us all sit down and have a little time together with the cupcakes. Her plan was for family time, and since the cupcake was gone it meant that family time was also gone. This broke her whole heart into a million tiny pieces and she had a full blown meltdown.

So, we talked it over, I gave her a million hugs, and we made a different plan for family time. It’s all a work in progress, but hopefully Little Miss picked up a new coping method. It won’t be her last meltdown. But with careful navigation of her big emotions we can help her navigate them and learn to express them better.

Alexithymia Club

There’d be a description, except it turns out that no one could figure out how to describe the club.

Humor aside, alexithymia is a fun little condition wherein an individual has difficulty identifying their own emotional state. There’s no diagnostic criteria within the DSM V as there are honestly quite limited studies done on it. It was coined in the 70s by a psychiatrist to try and explain why some patients basically have no story to tell for why they do things like self harm or who have severe struggles putting their feelings into words.

Despite there being no diagnostic criteria within the DSM-V, there are, some screeners that you can do to see if you might potentially have alexithymia. Feel free to hit it up here.

Autistic individuals may find this particularly interesting as while alexithymia may only be present in up to 8% of males and 2% of females, it looks like the percentages go way up with ASD. Various studies have found different numbers, but it looks like it about half of us have alexithymia.

It does kind of make some sense, no? Difficulty recognizing our own emotions at any given point in time might just make it more difficult to recognize emotions in others which can definitely impact social skills and so on, just kind of piling on to the lovely pile of things that comes with the whole package.

For me, on pretty much any given day, at any particular moment. If you ask me how I’m feeling, even if I’m really, really thinking about it and trying. I’m just going to be feeling “meh”. It’s just flat. There’s nothing really going on.

I get heart palpitations that I presume are anxiety related because they only come on during times that are logically high stress, but when the palpitations occur, I am not even aware that I feel any different than any other time.

I usually won’t even realize I’m stressed until I’m way passed the point of no return, so to speak. Easily irritated and wanting to rip my hair out and hide and cry? Yep, obviously I’m stressed. If only I had realized this earlier and could have taken a break.

As I have gotten older, I have gotten better at identifying some emotions. Mostly negative emotions. Have you ever noticed that there are only really focal classes and seminars and such on negative emotions? How to identify negative emotions and manage negative emotions? It’s recently been bugging me that there aren’t really similar things for telling the difference between joy and happiness and elation. What is the difference between these things?

Just like frustration and anger and rage are not all the same negative emotion, even though they are all on the “anger” spectrum, but I honestly have no idea what the difference between the scale of “happy” spectrum is.

There are a few ways to help improve the recognition of your own emotions, even for those of us who struggle: regular journaling, reading, therapy, etc.

Journaling out your thoughts and emotions each day is a great way, albeit it will feel really silly and actually be challenging when you start. Once you start trying to name out what you feel, it’ll help you learn to start identifying them more and more frequently.

Reading, well, of course. I’ve always been an avid reader. Doesn’t even need to be novels or anything, just other people’s stories, manga, or whatever else you can find. You will find that in pretty much all versions of a story out there, emotions are well documented and explained. The more versions you read and explanations behind them, the easier it will get to identify it within yourself.

Therapy is pretty much always a good one, a trained specialist working with you is an unbiased source who has all of the expertise and experience to make sure you don’t get led astray while working on it. They can also help you work through other problems at the same time. I’m super pro-therapy, provided that you can find a therapist that you mesh well with.

For me, personally, it’s been a mixture of a lot of self-reflection and reading to get a better idea of what makes me tick. Reading other people’s experiences. Reading fiction. Reading non-fiction. Reading a ton of stuff on reddit. Reading pretty much anything I can get my hands on pretty much anywhere. Thinking about how I reacted in various situations. Near-constant self-reflection (which is what journaling also touches on).

I’m still not fantastic at it, by any means. But, I will say that I am getting better.

Covid Life and Coping

Like pretty much everybody else in the current fun times that we are experiencing, the covid struggle has been both a blessing and a curse.

I am grateful to work for a fantastic company and I have been working remotely since March. Also, I’m introverted, so that helps a ton with the whole trapped in the house thing. I do have a husband and a smallish child though, so that does hinder the whole autistic introverted thing just a wee bit. I usually need an absolutely exorbitant amount of me-time. Kiddo usually wants an absolutely insane amount of momma time. And we are all pretty danged stressed by the current state of affairs in the world.

I started out pretty okay. I wasn’t particularly optimistic about this. I actually had no faith whatsoever that this would only be a few short weeks and then everything would go back to normal. In fact, I told all of my friends that this was going to be a long haul in early days. As soon as I realized that Italy was getting overrun and they had cases with no known travel, I highly suspected that we were pretty much done for here in the States. Travel was still a free for all here at that time. It was already game over and we didn’t even realize that the game had started without us.

So, overall, I started out pretty strong. I didn’t have a mad dash to buy a million rolls of toilet paper, I didn’t need to stock up on dried goods. I just finally actually did some home improvement projects I had been planning for, well, a while, and just never got around to because I could never find the mental energy to do them.

Put in some ceiling fans. Got my bar for my kitchen looking all spiffy. Kid hates virtual pre-k. Bribe her with chocolate to at least try and participate. I don’t pride myself at being the best parent with that, but hey, at least I did something.

Yeah, I’m not a great photographer, honestly.

Then summer hit. And everything kept lingering on. I think that we all know that this is when the Covid fatigue really start to hit us. It was beautiful outside, and the spread seemed to stop being so scary. I was walking my dog as much as I could, taking my kid outside. We went hiking.

I still hit an autistic burnout. I couldn’t handle anything. My brain was done. I was done. I couldn’t handle doing my job. I couldn’t handle existing. Couldn’t handle doing anything.

That was the roughest spot for me. I should have known it was going to happen. But, I didn’t want to use PTO to just, sit at my house. And some delusional part of me still hoped that by fall/winter we might be able to have some sense of normality.

It turns out that when I attempt to run entirely too many months in a row being super mom, rock star employee, a proper wife, take care of my pets, take care of my mental health, and finish my masters all while there’s something as small as a global pandemic and and some massive political unrest, I might kind of lose the ability to focus just a wee bit. Who’d’ve guessed?

So yeah, I hit the dreaded autistic burnout. I couldn’t function at all. I lost all social skills. Couldn’t make eye contact with a cactus. I had a phone interview during that time period and it was quite literally the worst interview I’ve ever had. Asked if there was anything I could clear up at the end and she was like “nope, I think it was okay, especially if you haven’t interviewed in a while and you’ve lost some skills”…

Ouch. Let me go get a band aid and some burn cream or something.

Since then, it has been a hard climb back up from that bottom. The time off from work helped a lot (again, very, very grateful that I work for a super understanding company with flexible benefits). I have had to make sure to take time to just relax. And to be totally honest, stim my poor little brain out.

Probably the best thing I did for myself in the fall is I upgraded my desk from a normal office desk to a sit/stand desk. I almost never sit or stand still. The normal office desk and chair station works, of course, but with the sit/stand I can get more comfortable in pretty much whatever position I want. Along with it I got a sit/stand wobble stool as well as a wobble board to stand on. Basically I have the ultimate fidget all day in whatever way you want desk now. It’s fantastic. Let’s me get all kinds of stimming behaviors out while I’m working.

I would be lying if I didn’t say that a lot of other stuff didn’t fall to the wayside as I’m struggling with the wreck of garbage that everything in these disastrous times have brought to us. I have a list as long as my leg of all of the things that I am behind on and need to get done. I find myself saying “I don’t have the mental energy to…” on so many things lately.

But, I have found, that I’m not the only one in this boat. My boat may look a little different than yours. Maybe yours is a little bit steadier, or maybe you’ve hit a couple more rocks and are struggling to stay afloat as well. Maybe you’ve seen some smoother seas lately. All I know is that it has been rough seas for so many people this year and that even those of us who have seemed to have it so much easier than others this year (myself included in this) have struggled to keep it together.

After the storm blows through, the greens of the plants always looks so much greener than they ever did before. In the eye of the hurricane there is quiet. We can and will persist, I wish all of us the best through what is hopefully the last bit of this long haul of this covidian nightmare.

Behavioral and Cultural Fit Interview Questions

Cultural fit questions are so much tougher for autistic individuals than the knowledge based questions, am I right? So much more anxiety-inducing and if you’re anything like me, you probably lose way more sleep over wondering if you messed these up than you ever did on your actual field-relevant questions.

I definitely know that I nailed my cybersecurity related questions on my recent interviews, but the vagueness of culture fit and behavior related questions can be so thoroughly nerve-wracking. The worst part about it, at least for me, is that I leave the interview feeling fantastic about how I did. And then everything starts to sink in and by about an hour, maybe two hours later, I’m convinced that I didn’t even resemble a human.

So, let’s get to it and tackle some of the questions that stress us out the most, shall we?

Do you prefer to work alone, or with a team?

Now, I always will tell you to answer questions honestly. And, if you love teamwork, good for you, definitely go ahead and answer that honestly. If you’re like me and definitely prefer working solo, this can be a harder question to answer, as it can come across negatively.

My personal favorite wording that I’ve come up with that sounds better is “While I do prefer to do my actual work independently, I like to have a team available to lean on and ask questions and bounce ideas off of”. Basically “I do like to work alone, but play well with others”.

What we’re trying to avoid is trying to sound like you’re too arrogant to like working with others or that you can’t handle any criticism or just generally can’t play well with others. This one can definitely be a struggle for autistic individuals, since we typically aren’t the greatest at first impressions, so we might seem a bit standoffish or short. If you prefer individualized working styles, come up with a phrasing that highlights that you still value your team in some fashion.

What about this role do you think will challenge you?

This is typically looking into how much you really investigated the position, make sure you still have the posting available and have assessed it compared to your skills and have a good idea of where your weaknesses are compared to your strengths. Don’t be too afraid to be honest about it, just don’t simultaneously undersell yourself at the same time!

I don’t honestly come across this question too often, but it stumped me really badly when I was asked it the first time because it was super unexpected for me, so I wanted to throw it in here. My personal opinion on this question aside, it’s a great opportunity to showcase how you want to continue to grow your skills in the position that you want. If it’s a chance to increase your coding skills? Highlight that. Chance to increase your public speaking skills? Perfect opportunity to mention that. Leadership? You get the gist of it now. This shouldn’t be anything that is at the core responsibilities of the position as you don’t want the interviewer to start to wonder if you’re really capable of doing the job after all.

Questions about the company’s core values/How you identify with the core values.

A big part of this is going to be about proving that you researched the company a bit and are interested in the company itself. For instance, some of Amazon’s leadership principles include frugality and always learning and remaining curious, so you’d want to point out that you have a thirst for knowledge and prove it through the fact that you are always looking for new courses on Udemy to pick up new skills while they are sale.

How do you handle when you have multiple situations come in at the same time that all need to be handled?

I am in mostly ticket-related type situations due to the types of positions I have had, however this can relate to a variety of positions as well. It’s typically somewhat related to basically determining how you’ll prioritize in a moment of stress. My typical answer for this is to basically always get an idea of what each situation needs and then do a quick triage assessment and go from there: anything of total urgency comes up first, or anything that can be resolved in a few seconds might take the lead just because we can get it out of the “queue” immediately before moving on. Perhaps there is a customer that is of more importance with a super important issue that we can delegate, etc. Basically the concept of get a triage assessment going so that we can properly assess a proper order to handle all of these situations.

Tell me about a time when you dealt with a difficult customer/client/coworker.

The main purpose of this question is to get an understanding of how you de-escalate an angry customer or situation. The best method is to say that you’ll hear the person out and attempt to resolve the problem and mitigate any issues that you can. It is important for the other person to feel listened to and reassured that they are heard, otherwise you will never be able to make any progress toward resolving whatever the issue is.

It’s pretty easy to shoot yourself in the foot with this issue, if you say that you’ve never dealt with any difficult people ever it’ll sound like you’re lying. If you pick a situation where there was absolutely no fault on your end and communicate it poorly, it could sound like you place all blame on the other party and accept no potential fault and you may not take criticism very well.

As an example, very early on my career, I had a very bad secret shop done on me while I was working in a coffee shop in an airport, way before I even knew I was autistic. The secret shopper walked in, high energy, practically yelling hello and waving. This behavior was entirely out of line for normal behavior in an airport so my assumption was that he either knew someone in the shop or he knew my coworker and was addressing them. And then.. Nobody responded to him. My coworker and I looked back and forth between him and each other clearly confused. The secret shopper, perturbed at not being replied to, quite excitedly addressed us again. I basically lost the draw between myself and my coworker, so I went and took his order (and was the lucky one to get the score from this secret shop).

Needless to say, this secret shop was poorly scored because of this first impression. A couple years later, I used this situation in an interview for another coffee shop as a time I had messed up and what I had learned from it. I also did not stop talking when I saw the interviewers eyes go wide as soon as I told her the score I got. I did not stop talking as I continued to watch all of the negative body language as she watched me continue on to explain how he had completely caught me off guard because I didn’t know how to react to this situation that was so entirely unexpected.

At that point, she had basically entirely stopped listening to me and already decided not to hire me. Yet, I was thinking if I just got to the actual apex of this story, the entire point here that I could actually save myself. I had learned from this situation and never scored lower than a 95 on a secret shop again. No luck. I did not get hired at the coffee shop. I don’t think I even got a actual rejection from said coffee shop, just the application black hole. Don’t be me. Don’t pick literally your worst example with a redemption story arc.

Tell me about a time that you made a mistake at work and how you resolved it.

This is a big one, for quite a few reasons. They are looking for you to obviously tell how you handle making a mistake and how you go about fixing it. This is a very straightforward question for me, because I have no issue whatsoever with admitting that I make a mistake and owning it. My general process is to immediately admit that I make a mistake and let’s get this fixed.

My advice for this particular question is to start keeping a situation in mind for it, should it come up. It’s started becoming common especially in tech companies, I don’t know about how common it is outside of tech companies, but just keep a couple of good situations ready to fire away. Nothing over the top bad, but nothing too minor. A typing error does not count as a mistake at work. Be willing to admit that you, too, are in the category of human and, unlike many others, you are willing to admit that you make mistakes, even semi-big ones.

At least it’s kinda hard to kill important documents with coffee now that everything is in the cloud now, eh?

How could a manager best support you?

This is one of those questions where I’d like to remind you that an interview is going both ways. This is a very good question to answer honestly. For me, personally, I am highly intrinsically motivated. I work best when I’m allowed the opportunity to set my own goals and know what my expectations are for my role. I will perform pretty dang well when I’m left to my own devices and allowed the freedom to figure out how to meet all of the requirements of the in and outs of my role. Feel free to give me nudges back to those if I start to veer off to one side, but generally let me have the freedom and I’ll be a happy worker. I personally don’t thrive very well under a manager who wants to manage the nuance of all of my individual goals as well as the fine-tuning of my daily schedule and effectively micro managing my day.

So, again, you are also interviewing the company and team at the same time as you are being interviewed. If the manager that you would thrive under is not the type of manager that is interviewing you and not the type of team that is interviewing you based on your answer, so this opportunity doesn’t work out. That’s perfectly okay! It wouldn’t have been a situation you would have wanted to stay in long.

How do you deal with a disagreement with your boss?

This is similar to the earlier question about the difficult customer/coworker situation, where it’s basically about making sure that you can handle it in a reasonable method. Pretty much everyone has had some kind of disagreement with their boss in some fashion. For me, my example for this question and the next are effectively the same, so I’ll give it with the next and just a general answer here.

Basically you’ll want to provide an example of what the situation was, and how you handled it. Ideally with a conversation with your boss where you spoke it out and how you compromised and reached the agreement.

Have you ever disagreed with a company policy? What did you do?

Again, basically to see what kind of behavior you’ll do and how you’ll approach the policy and what kind of action you’ll take. My example that hits both of these questions was when I was working at a chat center, we had a new head honcho who came in and wanted us to change our process for starting up and closing chats and every single agent using the exact same entrance and closing script so that no matter who the customer was talking to, it looked exactly the same.

So, y’know, the policy was now that the customer should expect a robotic response and closing rather than a personalized greeting and closing from individual agents. My boss expected me to fully back this horse to our team since I was the team lead. Problem? I whole-heartedly disagreed with the entire policy. I thoroughly believed that utilizing the robotic scripts would harm our agents stats because they had personalized opening and closing scripts (the last things that the customers saw before they received surveys) that added some additional flair that seemed (in the past) to have dramatically increased the positive survey totals.

Handy dandy robot chat agent, reporting for duty!

Boss-man wanted me to be positive about it and jazz it up a bit to the team because he knew the team would follow my lead. If I wasn’t so hot on it, then the team would be even less likely to want to follow this new policy. Turns out that was just the right amount of fluffing up my ego, so I agreed to test it out when I would take chats to help out and would jazz it up to our team in spite of my personal feelings.

It turned out that using the required scripts had no real impact on my personal stats and didn’t seem to alter the frequency of my surveys. As a result of my willingness to work with the boss-man through my disagreement with the policy, our team were the earliest adopters of this new policy when compared to other teams on the floor. And it turns out that it did not negatively impact our team’s overall stats, which was my main concern with this policy.

Other good examples for this question would be where you approached a policy and found that the policy was lacking so you found evidence the policy was lacking and got the policy changed or revoked. Basically anything other than “I pretended the policy didn’t exist and repeatedly broke it”.