Thoughts and illustrations on living on the autism spectrum.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Suspend Disbelief

I have been on the adventure of a lifetime.

In the morning, I’ve risen before the sun, awakening to the stillness, the lapping of the water below, the calls of birds, and the distant tolling of the harbor bell.

In the evening, I’ve sat by the fire, detached from my electronic gadgets and not missing them, instead having conversations, and playing cards.

I've seen water so blue, it stops you in your tracks, unable to avert your eyes.

I’ve been to the top of a mountain where the wind stuns, and the mist hangs in plumes at eye level.

I’ve soared over the water aboard a speedboat, along the coast, the ocean spray against my face, past seals, birds, and sailboats, all cares melted away.

I’ve ventured to a tiny island, completely removed from civilization, exploring with careful steps from rock to rock, an otherworldly place all to myself, knowing I would never return to.

I have seen paradise, I’m quite sure.

All because four months ago, I let my old reality burn.

Ten days ago, I returned from a stay in Northeast Harbor, Maine, with my ten co-workers. This was a staff retreat, at my new job. The one I took after I was laid off. The one I accepted with uncertainty, but with a good gut feeling. The one where I had just begun to settle into a new routine and new culture.

One door closes and another opens, I wrote four months ago. But who in their wildest dreams could have expected this? You just never know, when you take a job, what it might lead to, how it might change your life.

As the Asticou jetted along the water under picture perfect skies on a Monday afternoon, I was awestruck simply to be right here, right now. I marveled at the chain of events that fell into place to make this possible. So unlikely, and yet it was happening. I sat and soaked in the constant whirr and vibration of the boat, the wind and the ocean spray, wearing a stupid silly grin. I just couldn't help it. Because instead of sitting at my office desk in Chadds Ford, PA, I was miles and miles away, seeing this,

and this,

and this.

We took the retreat for team building, and it was undoubtedly a success. There was no curriculum. There was no Power Point. We grew as a team naturally, over the five days, by cooking our meals together, navigating our way in the van, and finding fun things to do. We could be people, not co-workers, and so we got to know each other as people.

I talked at length about Asperger's one night, over appetizers of smoked salmon and crackers, at a restaurant called Red Sky. Peppered with questions, I was happy to answer. I coined a classic phrase, "more time and data points." But one question surprised me:

"How come you don’t ask us questions about our lives? Is it because you’re not interested?"

Oh! I didn't realize. Of course I am interested in you, I explained. I learn about you by listening, observing, and asking when I feel the time is right. Please don't be offended if I don't ask. And on and on, we continued to learn from each other.

I wrote back in May:

It can be hard to find guideposts as that reality shifts and reshapes, but I need only remember to be myself, and be proud of who I am, as a person with Asperger’s. If I can do that, I am sure to emerge stronger from this crisis.

I think I have followed this advice, and I think I have emerged stronger. This week you may have read the story of Justin Canha, who found his place in the workplace. I have found mine as well. Even before we went on this amazing trip.

If you’re on the spectrum and job seeking, my advice to you is to be yourself, and good fortune may yet come your way.

If you’re an employer with an opportunity to hire a neurodiverse workforce, do it. Then give them the opportunity to gel as a team, organically. You don't have to take them to Maine. Just let them be people.

And my old job? My replacement quit after four days. And to my knowledge, only a part-timer has been found to fill the position.

In my bedroom at the cottage in Maine, there was a sign on the dresser. It said, "Suspend disbelief." I left for the trip as a new employee; I returned as part of a team. I came in having traveled very little; I returned with the travel bug, and a promise to myself to travel more. It all seemed unbelievable at times, but I suspended disbelief, and returned with more than I ever thought possible.


  1. Wow! Sounds like you had an amazing time. It made me think about the fact that no matter how much people ask me about how my head works, I rarely ask my NT colleagues many questions. It just doesn't occur to me to ask them, I prefer to observe.

  2. Very happy for you. Thank you, Matt, for sharing this life-affirming experience. Photos tell the story they way nothing else can. Wishing you all the very best in your future with this company.

  3. Thanks J and Bev! I know - I never realized people noticed that I didn't ask... maybe I'll do it more now... or probably not. :P

  4. Your post gave me chills. My Aspie spouse is unable to work because having anyone unknown to him is unbearable. I wish I could help him find the sort of peace you speak of. I am happy I found your blog, it allows me insight into the Asperger world that my husband is unable to share with me. I am glad that the trip was so amazing for you. I will show this to my husband. He's been afraid to travel for fear of encountering people. Maybe if he sees it can be a positive experience he will change his mind. I'd love for him to feel that free...

  5. I´m very happy you found your place.
    I believe there´s not much in life that is that important.

    And thank you - for again, helping me learn!

    I never ask. And I never noticed.
    Another point I can implement to make the relationships in my life richer.
    Thanks Matt.

  6. Thanks for your comment, Melynn. I'm sure that must be incredibly challenging for your husband. I certainly had to push myself to overcome fears in going on my trip - but it was so worth it. Good luck to you.

    Jennifer, thank you!

  7. I love every single part of this post. I'm happy you've found such a great place.

  8. I am SO jealous! Such beautiful scenery! Such great luck for you, and so I am now happy! Take care and hope you have more of these wonderful days!!


  9. Thanks Sesha, and thanks Chris!

  10. These are gorgeous photos, thank you for sharing them and your thoughts... I struggle a lot with trying to find my place in my workplace as an Aspie. I've gotten in trouble for being unfriendly because a new chatty co-worker didn't find me chatty enough, I try to be social but it feels so forced it makes me miserable. You're fortunate to have such considerate co-workers who support differences instead of shun them... gives me hope maybe that dream job is out there for me too!


  11. You're welcome, Hanne - I'm sorry to hear about your struggles, and you speak for many on the spectrum, but keep hoping!

  12. Wow, your photos are superb! What camera did you use? And for your the other commentors: My son has Asperger's and we have taken him around the world on many trips. He's the bestest traveler! For some reason, he sheds his anxieties when he's traveling. You should all try it! You will never know until you try how liberating it can be. The world has plenty of love in it...

  13. Thanks, Ullie, it's a Canon PowerShot A590. Many of these photos are printed and hanging on my walls now.