Life and work with Asperger syndrome
Monday, January 17, 2011 12:56:05 PM
At the end of 2009, Opera Software was approached by the University of Oslo wanting to know if we were interested in offering Erik an internship with us. The goal was for Erik to gain practical work experience. After learning a little more about Erik, we were of course interested! Wilhelm, at Opera, saw this as an opportunity, and Erik joined Core Technology in January 2010.
What makes Erik’s case special is that he has Asperger syndrome. This is a disorder on the autism spectrum, characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction, as well as restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior.
We spoke to Erik and Wilhelm, to hear about their perception of how it is to live and work with this syndrome:
Erik excelled at school and had a particular interest in mathematics. In his last year of junior high school, he had already completed his high school mathematics coursework and was accepted to the University of Oslo to study mathematics and informatics at the age of 16. In comparison, regular students complete junior high the year they turn 16 and graduate from high school three years later.
According to Erik, having Asperger syndrome brings another dimension to work. “I can read 2000 words a minute,” he explains. This is about ten times the speed of the average person! He does not watch TV and rarely watches movies because the speed at which television programs run is too slow for what he can normally process. We found this impressive and figured it must be useful for Opera. We asked Wilhelm about Erik's core responsibilities during his time here. "Erik worked with a number of different tasks, including bug analysis, exploratory testing and test automation," he explained. When asked about his expectations about working with someone with Asperger syndrome, Wilhelm said, "I didn't have any particular expectations. All employees have distinctly different personalities that require different management styles. Asperger is a variable I was previously unfamiliar with, but I got to know Erik in the same way as anyone else--by working together. After a few months of iterations and testing, I think we found ways of working together that both of us were happy with."
People with Asperger syndrome often have difficulties in social interaction. Erik gave this example of his experiences with socializing: “My answers are first and foremost honest, and I cannot lie about my perceptions.” It is not uncommon for the rest of us to tell a white lie from time to time, to avoid hurting others or saying something inappropriate. With time, Erik learned what is generally accepted by society and what is not, but he still cannot tell a lie, no matter how white.
When we asked Wilhelm what he would remember from Erik's time working at Opera, he replied, “I very much appreciated Erik's rational approach to his surroundings. Whenever he was unsure about what would be the correct approach with regards to work or social interaction, he would ask me directly. I would answer to the best of my ability, and he would adapt based on the new data.”
When asked about his experience at Opera, Erik said that his biggest challenge was lack of documentation, but he did appreciate that he could learn on the job; “It was interesting to learn about site compatibility and why things work or do not work on the Internet.” One of Erik's favorite memories from Opera was when a vegetarian user filed a bug on a bacon advertisement.
Thank you, Erik, for sharing your insights with all of us!