The Life Autistic: Working for a Boss on the Spectrum


You should watch this story on video instead. It’s 125% more entertaining and informative. Trust me!

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Having an autistic co-worker is one thing, and it’s probably a more common experience than you may think.

But what if it’s your boss?

I spent years of my Apple career in management. People management. Actual, living human people.

Not only that, but I went from managing employees directly to managing their managers, with a business unit of over 115 awesome front-line agents and six stellar team managers. I was a bona-fide organizational leader.

I found my footing in the role, and I feel I did well for my people and their people. Before you shake your head and wonder “What the heck was Apple thinking?” — mind you, I wasn’t bad at the gig!

But I was different. 

And if you have one of those “different” bosses like me, here’s a few things I’d like you to know:

1) We care, even if we have trouble showing it

Expression doesn’t always come naturally to us, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. I had to make reminders to thank my people and highlight their work – otherwise I’d get lost in observing work and fail to recognize the worker.

2) We’re cyborgs, not robots

Routine and ritual are our R&R – if we’re in management, it’s because we’ve likely made the best use of rigid actions and processes to get things done well. Don’t let that intimidate you – we’re just wired that way.

3) Bring a dictionary and a cushion for conversations

If your boss is anything like me, he or she may have affinity for labyrinthine conversations, extended analogies, prolix prosody, and extended stays in the forges of rhetorical wordsmithing. Apologies in advancewe’re honestly not trying to confuse you!

4) . . . or, get ready for blunt feedback

Mind you, we’re not talking “brutal” or “hurtful” – being direct and to-the-point isn’t because we’re malicious. We just don’t always catch the emotional impact of our words. Sometimes our tone is off, sometimes it’s a statement of fact in our minds and nothing more. I’m still working on handling it gracefully.

5) Find the positives

I wasn’t a perfect manager. Most aren’t.

If your manager is genuinely on the autism spectrum, they’re bringing a different mix of imperfections.

They may bring some commanding strengths, too.

Attention to detail. Intense focus. Unassailable determination. Unflinching support. A cool head. A keen eye on your work and ideas to make it better.

It’s a different experience.

And if it’s your experience – I do hope it’s the good kind of different.

For more, check out The Life Autistic YouTube episode on this topic! Hope it helps.

Building Sentence Structure with Style

Hitting a wall with a hammer. With a bowling ball. With a dead seagull. With the codpiece of Beelzebub. Switching back between them, alternating thuds with trinkets and tokens, skulls and bones.

Yeah, we’re pulling out a variety of eclectic items to do the hitting and thudding, but have we done anything worthwhile? Let’s shift this to inferior writing: No matter how you dress it up, no matter what trickery you employ, if your writing style comes across as drones of drumming thuds, then you need to rethink your place in the universe.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

Hey Writing All Wrong,

I was happy to see that you’re accepting some writing samples again. (Editor’s note: No, we’re not.)

Since you obviously hate fantasy writing, I present a more modern opening. It doesn’t take place in a castle, so don’t be too hard on it:

“Barron entered the dimly-lit hallway. His fingers ran over chipped paint. He walked over the shattered glass. The light blinked vaguely through the narrow corridor. He tiptoed further. Blood pooled more thickly around each step.”

“He pulled out a forgotten flashlight. The shattered (Ok, we’re done.)

—Cranston Holloway, Kansas City, Mo.

Cranston, you mistake me for a hater. I don’t hate fantasy writing (ok, maybe I do). I hate bad writing. Genre fiction has become a sinkhole for those of poor talent, bad form, and no sense of how the writing craft works. But nevermind that. I’ll be pulling another item from the inbox to rail on this soon enough.

Good writers, good readers, good people will read between the lines and under the words. Whether you’re aiming for an economic style or a direct approach, you’re not a stylist if your style is dull, redundant, and tiresome.

If your prose reads like you filled in some cheeky “Novelist’s Mad Libs,” then it’ll show, and it’s going to show your book to flight out the window. (Noun) – (verb) – (place). (Noun) – (verb) – (thing). (Noun) – (verb) – (thing or place, take your pick). (Noun) – (verb) – (adverb, ah) – (something boring). (Kill) – (me) – (now).

Don’t write like you’re hitting a wall with a variety of syncopated thuds. It’s not art. It’s lame. Change it up.

If I wanted to throw this writing sample into a better trashbin before taking it out to the dump, I’d recommend tying a few things together. How about using rare and unheard of things like “compound-complex” sentences? If we’re looking at a basic remix:

“Barron entered the dimly-lit hallway. His fingers ran over chipped paint while he walked over the shattered glass. The light blinked vaguely through the narrow corridor. Blood pooled more thickly around each step he tiptoed further. He pulled out a forgotten flashlight to peer into the shattered (ok, I’m done again)

Even without coffee, that edit just flows better.

“But I don’t want it to floooow, I want it to, uh, not flow!” Then what, idiot? Want it to stall? Read it again. It still plods along with a pace foreboding. By contrast, let’s hand it to Fake Henry James:

“Barron, having entered the hallway dimly-lit, one which beckoned his fingers to run over chipped paint during the walk upon shattered glass; this, a corridor with light blinking vaguely illuminating the blood pooling around each tiptoe of a step taken further, pulled out a forgotten flashlight to peer into the shattered (sorry, we’ve gotta pull this plug)

Have you ever caught yourself thudding along before snapping into proper writing? If not, there’s still time.

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email ( and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong). If you want to hire Fake Henry James, please enquire within.