Writer Rachel Lerman discovers the importance of considering how others think, and perceive our words.
I’VE NEVER GIVEN much thought to the way I think.
Before writing about people with autism finding jobs, I took my internal monologue and thought-processing stream for granted. I knew, I suppose, that all people must think slightly differently, but what that really meant or looked like eluded me.
When I was at Microsoft doing an interview for this story, the engineer I was chatting with hit it right on the head: I was asking him to describe to me the way he thinks. It would take him a minute to find the right words, he said. That got me thinking — how would I describe to someone how I think? How I absorb statements, hear questions, come up with responses? I’m not sure how to do that.
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The engineer, David, can tell he often thinks differently than those around him — more literally, he figures. That literal thinking is one of the more commonly seen characteristics of autism, which David was diagnosed with years ago.
The few months I spent reporting this story gave me a lot of insight into the worlds of a few people with autism, and the services built through the state and local school districts to support them. One of the biggest things I learned was that getting people with autism successfully into jobs is a two-way street. It’s not just about training people for specific skills — it’s also about educating hiring managers and co-workers about how people with autism communicate, and how they themselves can think about the ways they connect at work.
It got me thinking about how I speak at meetings and give suggestions, and about how much I assume others already know about what I’m saying. One hiring manager at Microsoft said that after the company hired a couple of employees with autism, that communication improved for everyone on the team.
It makes sense to keep in mind how others perceive our words. After all, we don’t all think in the same way.