The world of freelance translating can be a lonely place, and it certainly isn’t for everyone. If you’re the sort of person who needs the incentive of having to ‘clock in’ every morning to even motivate you to get out of bed, and who wants the security of a regular salary regardless of how many sick days you’ve had in the month, then it’s not for you.

Also, if you enjoy office banter and find it helps you get through what you think of as mundane tasks, then, again, it’s not for you.

However, if, like me, you find nothing more irritating than the person at the next desk rabbitting on about last night’s Eastenders plot or what Craig and Susi in accounts were getting up to at the Christmas party whilst trying to focus on the task on the screen in front of you, and if you translate because you really enjoy decoding and playing with language and find it so absorbing that sometimes you forget what time of day it is or even to eat, then yes, maybe it’s for you.

Luckily, I’m helped by the atypical brain chemistry that I was born with. My official diagnosis came quite late in life –my friends simply thought of me as ‘quirky’ or different – people who don’t know me so well as ‘bloody annoying’ – sometimes a little bit slow to pick up on jokes – sometimes a little rude – not knowing that when someone asks you if you’re sitting comfortably they’re actually trying to tell you that you’ve just nicked their seat

However, it turns out – all those ‘quirks’ are nothing to do with me being German, but with the fact that I’m autistic or aspie, if you prefer that label for high functioning autism.

Before I continue, a disclaimer:
I do not have a background in psychology – I’m not an expert on autism, this is simply a first person account one view from the vast spectrum that is grouped under this label — if you want to find out more, a couple of names you should check out are Temple GrandinSimon Baron-Cohen and Tony Attwood.

Now, before you think of me as a mad person running through the streets shouting at strangers or perhaps a social recluse spending time in a quiet room rocking backwards and forwards – that’s not me.


autism-spectrumMany of my friends often remark that I don’t appear autistic, and that’s where things get a little complicated. First, you must remember that the autism spectrum is vast, and that any one person with autism represents just one dot somewhere within the spectrum. We may experience some of the overlapping disorders, but not necessarily so.

Also, if you’re reading this as an existing or potential client, remember that my neuroatypical brain brings a lot of positive aspects to the role of a translator. Tony Attwood first explored the positive aspects of an Asperger’s diagnosis in this 1999 paper.

There is a good reason why more and more companies are actively recruiting people with Asperger’s into certain technical roles that demand a unique ability to focus for a long time on the details of technically demanding tasks; leading the way are Specialisterne in Denmark.

The benefits of hiring people with autism include: high attention to detail, high work ethic and quality of work. If I tell you I can hit a deadline I won’t change my mind half-way through and I will have put a lot of careful thought into my estimate to make sure it is realistic.

triad-of-impairmentsOf course, my Asperger’s brings with it some challenges. That’s because the capacities that I am lacking, like other autistic people are in this Triad of skills:

I have to apply logic to social rules rather than managing intuitively like normal people– It sort of works, but it can be really exhausting in face to face interactions, although in written communication – e-mail, ICQ – I cope just fine.

Luckily, I am now in a place where my work is exactly the thing that keeps me well-balanced physically and mentally. I get to indulge my love of codes and patterns in a solitary environment that I have full control over – not too cold, not too hot, with a pleasant view, at a time of day that suits me best (although that doesn’t mean that I don’t pull the occasional late-night session to hit an important deadline).

That means, once I finish work I’m in a good place to go and be sociable, because, although I can find it a challenge, I do actually like to go out and meet people.

And if you’d like to know more about what I get up to when I’m not working, make sure you listen to my thoughts on Asperger’s and Lindyhop.