Thursday, March 28, 2013

Jennifer Cook O'Toole Book: Longer Review

I am reviewing the following book. The Asperkid's (Secret) Book of Social Rules: The Handbook of Not-So-Obvious Social Guidelines for Tweens and Teens with Aspergers Syndrome by Jennifer Cook O'Toole with Illustrations by Brian Bojanowski:
I am an autistic adult woman in my mid-30’s.  I was self-diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at the age of 35 and officially diagnosed by a psychiatrist at the age of 36.  I am an Ivy League graduate who nonetheless never learned even the most basic elements of social interaction.
I bought this book in hopes of improving my social skills and found it to be very helpful, humorous, well-written, and insightful.  I greatly recommend it for Aspies of all ages.  Ms. O’Toole’s book is highly effective because she understands the mind-sets of both the mainstream NT (neurotypical) social world and the Asperger’s population.  As an Aspie herself, she knows precisely which social rules are most likely to confuse and trip up teenagers with Asperger’s.  She is an excellent translator and interpreter between two very different cultures.   I gained insight into the NT world-view mind-set from her writing.
I only wish that this book had existed when I was a teenage girl because knowing these social rules might have helped me avoid many costly social mistakes.  I figured out most of the principles discussed in this book through a painful process of trial and error, but her book was a helpful reminder of some social rules that sometimes continue to stump me.  For instance, I faced one major problem on the job.  I didn’t realize that NTs typically don’t really mean it when they say they want your honest opinion.  I unintentionally offended my bosses by giving them my honest view in a situation where they simply wanted me to praise their work or their company.  If I had known this principle earlier, I would have understood that the boss was not opening the door to freewheeling discussion by requesting my opinion on a subject.
Similarly, when NTs ask you how you are, in most cases they are not looking for an honest answer.  They don’t really want to know how you are feeling and want you to say you are fine even if you are facing a major life catastrophe such as a cancer diagnosis or a divorce.  The question is a formality and not an invitation to a meaningful discussion. 
In addition, the book explains that students should never challenge authority figures.  I know from painful personal experience that challenging authority figures can be a deadly career mistake.  In my freshman year of college, I challenged a senior professor in class for his views on a political issue.  He reacted in a harsh manner that helped derail my plans to pursue an academic career in my special interest.  I hope that other Aspies can avoid making similar mistakes and thus achieve greater career success.
I also learned a few new ideas from her book.  For instance, Ms. O’Toole suggested one possibly effective way to deal with your opponent.  She recommends that rather than confronting your opposition directly, you should invite your rival to consider the facts together.  In this way you allow him or her to save face and can conduct a more respectful dialogue with him or her.  I never would have thought about taking this approach to this situation, and I thank Ms. O’Toole for suggesting it. Ms. O’Toole proves that it is never too late for an autistic person to improve their social skills.    

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