Today’s guest, Penelope Trunk, was diagnosed with Asperger’s when she was 37 years old. She joins Charlie on the show today to discuss how and why women with autism are massively under-diagnosed. They also discuss how schools aren’t built to foster creativity. Penelope is the founder of four start-ups, and has been named one of the Top 10 Most Influential Women in Tech and the World’s Most Influential Career Coach.
[2:52] - Women with Asperger’s are massively under-diagnosed. Part of it is because parents naturally assume that their kids are fine, but the other part of it is that there is a stereotype of what it is to have Asperger’s, and women don’t generally fit the stereotype. She goes on to explain some of the characteristics of this condition, how they can be overlooked, and some of the damaging effects of not diagnosing it.
[5:07] - The suicide rate for girls with Asperger’s is very high, and the signposts for Asperger’s in girls can be dangerous. Having an eating disorder is a signpost in girls, whereas being grades ahead in math is a signpost for boys. Many girls don’t get diagnosed until their 20’s or 30’s.
[6:42] - Both autism and Asperger’s have to do with how people read social cues, but people with Asperger’s are more high-functioning. People with Asperger’s have a high IQ, and this allows them to “skate by” in social and educational settings.
[7:32] - Penelope didn’t know she has Asperger’s until her son was diagnosed with autism when he was two years old. Autism is genetic, so if your child has autism, one of the parents do too. Looking back, Penelope had already been through everything that was common for women with Asperger’s, but people were not used to putting it all together.
[11:01] - Penelope talks about her success as a bit of an anomaly. Since she thinks and functions like a guy, she was not distracted by things most women tend to get distracted by.
[15:07] - Charlie and Penelope talk about some of the opposing viewpoints that are sending mixed messages to girls as they are growing up about what they can do and what they can be, especially when having children comes into the picture.
[18:51] - When looking at statistics, Penelope says we can only look at women who have a real choice. The statistics find that generally when women have a choice, they choose to stay home and raise their kids rather than go to work.
[21:35] - Penelope and Charlie share their viewpoints on the success of creative people in school. Creative people may not always approach right and wrong answers the same way, but that doesn’t mean they can’t understand the benefits of doing well in school in terms of right and wrong answers. They also discuss economic mobility as a byproduct of education.
[24:50] - The economic mobility that the education system could be giving is getting lower. One of the discrepancies in the system is that minorities tend to have to stifle their creativity whereas rich students benefit from ignoring school and continuing to be creative.
[29:45] - School doesn’t teach and foster creativity; it’s structured for compliance, not creativity. While the origins of our education system are controversial, they do help to explain some of the systems that are currently in place. The purpose of education is different in rural areas versus urban areas.
[35:50] - Most of the motivation for education for our children is generational. Most parents teach what worked for them, so they send them to school so they can get an education that will allow them to get a degree and get a job.
[43:02] - The traditional education system does not do a good job of cultivating creativity as much as it does compliance, predictability and regularity. There are different ways people think about creativity, and while there are alternative paths for creatives, they aren’t quite as well known yet.
[45:18] - Charlie and Penelope discuss the interesting phenomenon of creative parents who send their kids to school because they think they can’t get their creative work done if their kids are home.
[52:13] - The conversation circles back around to Asperger’s - one way to tell if someone has Asperger’s is that they can’t let topics go. Penelope is very passionate about her beliefs, and Charlie and Penelope discuss how because of Asperger’s, she may be less sensitive to some of the alternative viewpoints of others.
[56:45] - Penelope expresses some of her frustrations with dealing with Asperger’s, but coming from a place of understanding from both parties can help foster productive and enlightening conversation. It’s important to be empathetic to different social pressures and the way someone else understands the world.
[59:41] - Penelope’s invitation/challenge is that listeners go read her blog and then talk to her!
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