Aspergers can affect a person’s ability to communicate and relate to others and is part of the autism spectrum. The severity and the characteristics vary for each person. Medibank’s Customer Insights Lead Mark Solonsch was diagnosed with Aspergers nine years ago, and he continues to learn more about his condition.
“People with Aspergers generally have a structured approach to thinking and interacting with people. This can often present some challenges in social interactions,” Mark explains.
“Everybody with Aspergers is slightly different. It’s on the high cognitive functioning end of the autism spectrum. The struggles that people have can often be offset with the streaks that they have at the other end, which is being more structured and detail oriented.”
For Mark, receiving the diagnosis as an adult has been a huge learning curve for him as opposed to it being a burden.
“It’s helped me understand my strength and my weaknesses. And I’ve been able to re-orient myself towards being more successful with the things that I’m good at. It’s helped me be more understanding of where my weaknesses do impact other people, which allows me to do something about it.”
Mark goes on to explain that for him, having Aspergers means facing challenges when it comes to interpersonal dynamics.
“Before I understood the challenges I was having – and still do – it was quite easy for me to act in ways that were inconsistent with the expectations of the other person,” he says.
“Now that I have an understanding of how I can better interact with others, I’ve been able to be myself whilst interacting in a way that works well for others too.”
Mark further explains that especially in the workplace, it’s important he is given as much context as possible for him to carry out his role as best as he can.
“I have something the Aspergers community, as well as professionals, would call ‘context blindness’. A lack in context could mean I find myself not following instructions because I haven’t been given enough reason or transparency as to why something has to be done,” he says.
“A neurotypical person will intuitively ‘get’ the concept and understand the context. For me, a short explanation as to why we’re doing something really helps.”
Mark acknowledges that being direct with him is something people may not be comfortable with but he’s quick to reassure that it’s something he appreciates.
“It’s better if people tell me how they’d want something done. Being clear is the best way to give me feedback although I do understand that this approach can be somewhat confronting. It’s an approach people may feel is rude or too direct but likewise, if I’m the one giving feedback, I’ll be quite direct because that’s how I prefer to receive information.”
Although social gatherings are often daunting affairs for someone with Aspergers, they are also perfect opportunities to engage those with the condition.
“Our recent Christmas party was at my local lawn bowls and I was in charge of organising quite a complex tournament, so I was able to engage with all the staff within that structure. The whole day worked brilliantly, everyone had a great time, including me,” he says.
“It’s about working to each other’s strengths and valuing the distinct abilities that those with Aspergers bring.”
Mark is determined for Aspergers to be seen as a different culture rather than a drawback.
“If it’s seen as a problem, people think it’s something which can be fixed. Instead, if we look at it as a different culture that the world can adapt to or work with, it’s when we’ll see the benefits.”
Mark, a Board Member for Aspergers Victoria, at a recent event. Photo credit: Brian Gregurk.
He chose not to disclose his condition during his recruitment process with Medibank because of the general prejudice surrounding the Aspergers.
“I’ve kept it very private because of the lack of understanding. If you want to get yourself a job, the last thing you want to do is position yourself in any sort of negative light. You want to show the best version of yourself,” he says.
“If we can break down the barriers, what we’ll find is a community of people who have so much to offer to society. It’s just unfortunate that up until now – despite continuing to spread the word – people with Aspergers haven’t been given enough and equal opportunities because the workforce hasn’t been necessarily set up to accommodate us.”
Medibank is a strong advocate of creating a diverse and inclusive working environment for employees of every background and abilities. This is something Mark has strongly felt since he started letting his colleagues know about his condition.
“I had fears and worries of course, but I think Medibank is so amazing at showing support for all situations in life. One of the things we do well as an organisation is show heart. I’m so proud of how the business acknowledges, understands and supports different abilities, and I can’t wait to keep being a part of Medibank’s conversation.”
For those who fear disclosing or sharing their journey with Aspergers at work, Mark has one message.
“Value your strengths and acknowledge your weaknesses, and then work on those. You must remind yourself that you have a lot of different strengths you can build on. That’s extremely important.”