I am sitting around with several friends when I’m 18. At this point in my life, these friends I saw often were film majors, and their homework was my enjoyment. I don’t remember the context of this conversation, or what we were watching or if we were playing on someone’s PlayStation 2. I remember asking, “Am I the only one who always comes up with a perfect comeback too late when you leave the place you just were?”
“All the time,” said one of my buddies. “Like when I’m trying to think of something clever and snappy but it doesn’t come to me until a couple hours later. All you can do is say ‘Aw man!'” he continued as he snapped his fingers and moved his arm. I also recall out of half a dozen people around, two or three seemed to feel something similar. Until this moment, I felt like all my screw-ups were because of Asperger’s. It was the first time I said to myself that maybe, just maybe, parts of what Asperger’s is purported to be is shared by a lot more people than we thought possible. Once someone is part of the Asperger’s club, I get the impression that we associate all their actions with it, no matter what. But a funny thing happened. The more I look around, most people with above-average intelligence are going to do a couple things that makes me feel like I’m looking at myself in the mirror as a kid. Sometimes it carried over into school, sometimes into work. Sometimes people make me feel like they have less self-awareness than the character Michael Scott has in the show “The Office”.
Most times, I only talk about my job when asked. Not because of any ill feelings, but because I don’t like bragging and showing off material things. But I meet several interesting characters in the oilfield. I learned about the equipment I have to use on my job from a retired Baptist preacher who decided to try another career because he didn’t want his brain to go to waste in retirement. Oilfield work and conservative news corners brought out his sense of childlike wonder. The guys thought he was set in his ways, or the fact that he cared about all kinds of details indicated he had OCD. But even though he lectured me a couple times about projecting negative body language for getting ornery whenever I was a little more stressed than usual, I saw a few interesting things the more I worked with him. This culminated when he got very amped up over a drilling rate of penetration increase indicated by a sensor that was transmitted to a rig-wide network.
I stop his momentum by saying, “Hey! This is how it’s measured.”
“Neat!” he says after I give a basic physics explanation. “See you in the morning!”
As I get ready to start my shift, I say to myself, “I have to really get in there and explain details to him. I don’t think he doesn’t have OCD, I’ve seen OCD. Mudloggers and everyone on site have to play with oil-based mud. You can’t do that and have OCD…This dude has Asperger’s Syndrome.”
I’ve seen a few people online who don’t like the phrase “has Asperger’s Syndrome/autism” because they get offended by implying that it’s a difference you can’t do anything about. (I’d like to meet the kid who goes up to people and says, ‘Hi, my social skills are awful.’) But I’m not interested in walking on eggshells for anyone. Those who don’t like it should know that no matter how wound up he could get, I will always respect him for learning a completely new career when he could have just coasted in retirement. He also took the initiative to learn a new software program on his own time with his own dime so he could know about geosteering, which is the main way he could learn another skill to advance in that field.
He would have been a good trainer for the Absentminded Professor, who ended up under my wing. A former exchange student who had just earned a Master’s degree was looking to extend his visa, and found the company I work for. He’s an intelligent kid, who’s very curious about what felt like every different facet of oilfield work he came across. But when it came time to do his particular job, he seemed very tentative about what he may have to touch, almost like he had to know what was going to happen ahead of time and was concerned that our gas chromatograph would go haywire if he made the wrong move. Other times, he didn’t move as fast as he could when one of our indicators showed that he should look and see if our equipment was working fine. I wondered if he was cut out for mudlogging. I could have easily written him off as someone who wasn’t up for the job and cut the company’s losses. But a funny thing happened. I remembered how awful it felt the countless times someone lost patience with me when I tried to learn something I had no experience with. He wanted to learn, so the best way would be to hand over what I wanted him to learn and explain what he has to know. I felt like it was my obligation to take a few extra steps to assist him because of those moments where he reminded me of my adolescent self.
More and more, I get the impression that people who first identify Asperger’s in their kids or in other people are playing Whack-a-mole with the different symptoms. If we’re going to do that, then I’ll go toe-to-toe with anyone who sees it this way. Some people struggle with improvised reactions. Others project terrible body language. There are also people who are prone to public meltdowns. But enough about famous, mostly spoiled people. All I want to know is where Asperger’s stops and everything else starts. Maybe beating yourself up too much for the times you feel disappointed in yourself is a part of Asperger’s. It’s hard to know if I’m just living in my own head and not talking about it.
Simon is a Geologist and diagnosed with Asperger when he was a child