I strongly suspect that one of my co-workers has Aspergers. We are both programmers and he doesn't have any issues performing the technical requirements of the job, but

I'm finding it extremely difficult to read what he is feeling and how he will respond to my communication. This has been especially difficult when situations arise in which he has a strong opinion.

He will allude to his brilliance and the team's lack of knowledge/experience/credibility, and is never open to differing opinions. He constantly alienates members on his team and co-workers on other teams (BA/QA) as well.

How do I best communicate with him in a manner that he can understand and doesn't frustrate me to the extreme?

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    This type of question might be better suited for cogsci.stackexchange.com
    – Zibbobz
    Commented Mar 6, 2015 at 17:16
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    Asperger's is best diagnosed by a mental health professional. Coworkers should expect to be able to communicate with each other without making accommodations for a perceived disorder which they are not equipped to diagnose anyway. I would not assume the person has a mental health issue. Have you guys just talked with him and told him that his demeanor is a problem? Maybe he doesn't know?
    – teego1967
    Commented Mar 6, 2015 at 17:41
  • @gnat I've dealt with some talented but difficult employees before. This is definitely different. Thanks for the suggestion though... Commented Mar 6, 2015 at 17:47
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    @gnat no, thanks for pointing that out. It was most helpful... Commented Mar 6, 2015 at 18:00
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    I have Aspergers' syndrome. The description you give above isn't aspergers, it's obnoxious b***d syndrome. That can be correlated to Aspergers, but not necessarily; in particular aspies (at least those I know) tend not to play a social competition game about how good they are, just focusing on doing the job. That said, this could be someone who has Aspergers' traits but doesn't know what it is, and that is a very uncomfortable place to be in. Handle with care...
    – boisvert
    Commented Sep 6, 2015 at 19:26

2 Answers 2


First of all, don't assume it's aspergers. Autism is a very broad-range social/mental disorder, and very difficult to diagnose even for experts. You, I assume, are not an expert on neuroscience, psychology, or sociology, so you should not assume that this person's behavior is necessarily aspergers, or even autistic.

Second, don't assume they'd want to talk about it if it is. Many people do not feel comfortable taling about a social/mental disorder, so don't treat it as something they would definitely be willing to talk about even if you can somehow confirm it is the case.

Third, unless he specifically asks for it, don't try to provide your own special accomodations. Or rather, be patient, be reasonable, explain yourself, and be courteous as you would with any other fellow employee. If you feel there is a problem with team cohesion, address that, not any perceived social/mental disorder he may have. And if it is not interfering with work in any significant way, consider whether or not this is a problem that needs addressing, or simply an idiosyncratic personality.

I have autism, and I have trouble relating to people and how they feel and express emotions. I'm 'difficult to read' and try to compensate by being a little bit outlandish in my behavior, and I'm very sensitive to high levels of noise (not 'loud', but persistent and multi-directional noise) and high levels of light. And I've learend to situate myself in ways that deal with these issues. I haven't told my boss I'm autistic, and unless I feel it is completely relevant in some way to my work, I never will and don't expect him to ask or address such a thing. And if it becomes a work problem, I will find a way to handle it.

You or your boss interviewed this person, and determined they are qualified for the job. If you feel that is not the case, that specific concern is what you need to address more than anything else.

Edit: A minor correlary, but one that should be addressed - if this person says they have Aspergers, believe them. Don't create an even more hostile environment by trying to deny it, but still treat the problem as separate from the Aspergers. A work-related problem is a work-related problem, regardless of what disability this person may have.

  • Thanks for your answer Zibbobz. I'm trying not to assume it aspergers, but I'm grasping at straws about how to relate and interact. I'll be sure not to focus on it. Commented Mar 6, 2015 at 17:55
  • Thanks for your additional Edit. I want to be clear that this person is definitely qualified for the job. His technical skills and ability and performance are great. The thing I'm most trying to help minimize is that during team meetings, he is focused entirely on pushing everyone to a particular style of development when that is not the topic on hand, and to properly move to that style of development, virtually the whole company would need to change how they operate, which is not a decision that we could make in the meeting, but would require someone with a "C" in their title to implement. Commented Mar 7, 2015 at 14:04
  • "[Coworker], I understand you feel strongly about this topic but right now we need to focus on [topic at hand]. If you'd like to discuss this further let's have a private meeting later." I've seen this approach solve a lot of similar problems in the past.
    – Leslie P.
    Commented Sep 16, 2015 at 15:09
  • This is one of the best answers I've ever seen on SE. It's good advice for the general public, too.
    – Era
    Commented Mar 27, 2017 at 15:19

Have you tried asking? Many people (with and without autism spectrum disorders) are aware of what helps them communicate effectively and what they have trouble with.

Note that this should be a private conversation (over email, or somewhere well away from co-workers).

I agree with Zibbobz that you shouldn't bring up any diagnostic terms, either with your co-worker or with others. Even if you're trying to help, it can be threatening or distressing for the person involved, and can elicit very negative stereotypes from others.

On the other hand, I think it's fine to use autism spectrum disorder as a hypothesis to help you look for ways to communicate better.

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    If you ask, ask privately, since it can be very embarrassing to talk about it with co-workers listening in.
    – Zibbobz
    Commented Mar 9, 2015 at 3:11
  • Thank you, I agree completely and have added this to my answer.
    – octern
    Commented Mar 9, 2015 at 3:55

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