Playing Checkers in a Chess World


Foiled again.

A few weeks ago, I got a call from a local organization looking for someone like me to interview for an open position.  I was quite excited and hopeful that I might get a new position to supplement my pastoral work and other part time job. They had talked about getting some information to me soon.

This is where I made my big mistake more than once.

When you tell someone with High Functioning Autism that you will do something soon, we expect that you will do this….well, soon.  In job speak, soon could mean later today or it could mean a week from now.  But not knowing the difference, I called back.  A week or two passed and I was still expectant.  I had already checked in a few times and when I last called, I could tell that there was a bit of impatience, which is understandable.  The job had to be posted, they had to wait for resumes and then a committee had to look those resumes over.  I get that now, but my brain was focused on the word soon.  And it has probably become my downfall.

Looking for work with autism can be challenging. In many ways it’s just like meeting new people. Because of our lack of theory of mind, we don’t really know what the other person is thinking.  I can be unsure as to how to respond to people.  Sometimes I don’t respond, and that gives people the belief that I am indifferent.  If I respond to forcefully, I come off as desparate or an irritant.

Also, so of what employers say is not to be taken literally.  If they say they will get back to you in a few days, there’s a good chance that it will be more than a few days.

The interview is no better.  You have to meet someone you’ve never met before and allow them to ask questions that you have to try to answer at that very moment. All the while you wonder what they are thinking and you are wondering if you are saying everything they need to hear.

It’s also hard to not get over-excited when someone contacts you about a job.  It’s already difficult to find a job, so when someone contacts you, you feel like someone actually wants you.  But job hunting is more of a game of chess, trying to look out several moves ahead to plan the move that might get you the job.  You can’t or shouldn’t get over-excited about a phone call because it is the first move in many moves. But someone with HFA is probably focused at that beginning point and not looking at all at the moves coming up.

Actually, the person with HFA is probably playing checkers instead of chess. As a business blogger noted, one game is rooted in the moment, while the other is based in the future:

Want to know one big difference between a game of checkers and a game of chess? It’s the number five. That’s the average number of moves ahead that a Class A or better chess player will generally be thinking throughout the course of a game. While checkers is primarily played in the moment, chess requires a complex strategy that is often won by thinking ahead.

With this prospective employer, I was playing checkers.  I was living in the moment which is usually where my brain resides.  But in this situation the person on the other side of the phone has to play this as a chess game, having to look at several moves ahead.  This person might have said something that made it seem he was playing checkers, but like all employers he was playing chess.

But that’s hard for someone like me.  What I hear and comprehend is more checkers; bounding and leaping all over the place.  It’s hard to not take the words of someone promising good times ahead start leaping all over the place.  But overeagerness can turn an employer off.  It’s like starting to play checkers on a chessboard.

Like I said earlier, I probably ran this poor person off with my eagerness.  A lesson learned.  I just have start to remember that this is all a chess game and while my brain chemistry isn’t easily programmed to think ahead, I have to  learn.

If this person did show interest in spite of what I did, I will be a happy man.  But in the meantime, I need to bone up on being a better chess player.


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