Book by Barbara Bissonnette
Review by Jean C. Fulton
Department of Academic Advising
Landmark College, Putney, VT

Asperger’s Syndrome is part of the contemporary lexicon.  Over the past decade especially, the public has been introduced to this neurological disorder through explanatory books and articles, memoirs, novels, films, and primetime television programs.  Increasingly, the challenges that people with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) face – as well as their considerable strengths – are becoming better known.  But there is still a long way to go.   As more students with Asperger’s enter higher education, do you – as an academic advisor – feel prepared?

I engage daily with Asperger’s students at Landmark College, whose programs are designed exclusively for individuals with learning differences.  As with others I advise, students with Asperger’s sometimes talk about their career interests and, through this book, I anticipated gaining knowledge in that area.  However, it quickly became clear that Asperger’s Syndrome Workplace Survival Guide has the potential to extend far beyond conversations about work.  Much of the material seems transferable to other environments in which AS individuals are similarly confronted with unfamiliar expectations and a steep learning curve.  Institutions of higher education are an obvious example. This book – short, practical, insightful – will likely allow advisors, even those with little knowledge of Asperger’s Syndrome – to develop skills that, in turn, can help students maximize their college experience. 

Barbara Bissonnette, a former business executive, introduces herself as a certified coach who specializes in career development coaching and workplace advocacy for adults with Asperger’s Syndrome and non-verbal learning disorder.  The book is written directly to this audience.  Much of the content grows out of Bissonnette’s work with clients who are trying to understand what employers expect of them and to avoid common problems in the workplace.  Some of the most enlightening sections relate circumstances as reported by individuals with Asperger’s and show how the same situations would appear to a neurotypical (NT).  These are coupled with illustrations of coaching techniques and with strategies for successfully negotiating aspects of the workplace that NTs consider to be self-evident.  Woven throughout are quotes from individuals with Asperger’s and also “NT Tips.”  The result is a body of knowledge that readers from all vantage points can use to recognize potential difficulties and hopefully avoid many of them – on the job, at school, in life.  The book concludes with an appendix addressed to employers.  It defines Asperger’s, highlights common strengths/challenges of individuals with Asperger’s, and discusses workplace difficulties that tend to arise.  Concepts such as theory of mind, central coherence, and executive functions are introduced, and Bissonnette provides suggestions about what employers can do to optimize environments and help individuals with Asperger’s be successful and productive on the job. 

This is a pragmatic book -- but far from dry.  Bissonnette concludes, for example, with what she calls her version of the “Final Analysis” prayer attributed to Mother Theresa.  Some excerpts:  “NTs are often unreasonable, illogical and social.  Forgive and make small talk with them anyway…. If you find serenity and happiness indulging your special interest in washing machines, string theory or the migratory patterns of Altai Mountain Yaks, NTs may be jealous.  Keep indulging anyway…. Because in the final analysis, it is between you and your affinity for logic and analysis.  It was never between you and NTs anyway.”   Overtly and covertly, Bissonnette encourages her readers not to give up and offers, for their consideration, strategies to help make that possible.  As academic advisors, doesn’t that sound familiar?

Asperger’s Syndrome Workplace Survival Guide:  A Neurotypical’s Secrets for Success (2010).  Book by Barbara Bissonnette. Review by Jean C. Fulton. Stow, MA:  Forward Motion Coaching. 162 pp.  $19.95.   ISBN 978-1-84905-943-5

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