07/09/2012 12:38 pm ET | Updated Sep 08, 2012

Your Child's Autism Cures You From Trying to Please Everyone

It was one of those things that anyone who works in the digital age comes across from time to time. Sometimes you send an email to the wrong person and then there is hell to pay. Oh, the shame. Sometimes, it's a Word document that gets deleted the second you finish writing a terrific proposal for a new project, the one which will catapult you to stardom at work. And sometimes, it's just a little misunderstanding of nuance when you use your instant messenger or Facebook chat to discuss work with a colleague.

Working in a media outlet doesn't necessarily guarantee that you are surrounded by people with high communication skills and knowledge of the human psyche. When egos and dispositions are involved, things tend to heat up.

It was a nice morning, and a colleague of mine was consulting with me, via messenger, about an idea for a feature. In a matter of a few short minutes, that 'talk' turned very unpleasant. This colleague wanted something and I declined. My colleague asked for other ideas and I didn't have any, so I said maybe later. My friend thought I was being hostile. So I stopped it short. I walked over to talk face to face.

It was a few months after my son had been diagnosed with autism. I was working like a maniac at work to make up for any lost time I spent in therapy with him, with his teachers and with his caregivers. I was worried sick from what people told me about him, from what I read about autism. My resources, energy, were employed like they had never been. My lifelong tendency to please and make other people feel good about themselves when they were with me, was on the wane.

"I can stand here for ten minutes and explain to you how this was all a misunderstanding that happens all too often when you use instant messenger," I said . "But I won't. I don't have the time or patience to do it just to make sure you feel good about this. I have far more important things to do."

It was like throwing a bucket of ice cold water on a fire. She stood dumbfounded. It was as if I rammed her words back down her throat. She was speechless for perhaps the first time since I've known her. I could see that she understood instantly what I was talking about and where I was coming from. I didn't care what motivated her to shut up and accept it. I only cared that it worked.

I just wasn't willing to humor this colleague of mine, even if it meant she will like me less than she did before. "I'll see what I can do to help you get the job done," I said to her before she left -- because I did care about getting the job done, and I didn't want her to think I was angry at her, and I didn't intend to make her feel bad. I just had other priorities now. It didn't mean I was entitled to be rude to anyone, neglect my job or not be a good friend. It just meant that one hang-up -- caring more about what other people think than about my own needs -- was becoming less disruptive in my life.