Coping with Asperger's: A survival manual for Mark Zuckerberg

After Mark Zuckerberg's awkward Lesley Stahl interview on 60 Minutes, after his infamous SXSW keynote with Sarah Lacy and, finally, after yesterday's halting CNBC interview, it's time the poor suffering Facebook CEO got some help. Getting a copy of Marc Segar's "Coping: A Survival Guide for People with Asperger Syndrome and pointing out the relevant bits might do the trick. Even brassy Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg isn't gutsy enough for the job, we're betting, so we will. To be sure, we're not doctors. We don't know if Zuckerberg has Asperger's. But experts would agree, his obvious brilliance is as much a symptom as his inability to hold a conversation. And the advice below would seem to apply whether or not the diagnosis does.

Segar, who was also diagnosed with Asperger's before a death from unrelated causes in 1997, wrote that "like it or not, as an autistic person or someone with Asperger syndrome some jobs will be more suitable than others."

Segar lists computer programmer and architect as suitable careers. Mostly, Zuckerberg's job is a combination of those two. The tough part is that as a company founder and CEO, Zuckerberg has to be Facebook's chief spokesperson, which is really a sales job — and one Segar lists as especially difficult for those with Asperger's. It requires one to be an excellent conversationalist, a particular challenge to those diagnosed with the syndrome.

He also offers tips for the afflicted on how to talk. Here's his most relevant advice on how Zuckerberg could avoid stalling when faced with the likes of Stahl:

  • Be careful of stating the obvious.
  • Listening can be extremely difficult, especially if you have to keep your ears open 24 hours a day, but you can get better with practice. The most important thing to listen to is the plot of the conversation.
  • Be on the lookout for eye contact from other people as it can often mean they would like to hear your point of view.
  • Body language doesn't just include gestures, it also includes facial expressions, eye contact and tone of voice.
  • You might be one of these people who almost talks in a single tone without knowing it.Ask a trustworthy person if this is true and if it is you may have to exaggerate the intonation in your voice to emphasise what you say, but not too much. This will sound artificial at first.
  • If you are a young man whose voice is breaking, then if you find it more comfortable just let it break for good. It may sound strange at first on the inside but it will be sounding much more natural on the outside. If you are worried about what your friends might think which should only be a short term problem anyway, it may be useful to take the opportunity of letting your voice break while you are changing schools.
  • [For interviews] prepare as many possible answers for as many possible questions as you can but don't over rehearse or rigidify your answers. It is good to get help at this stage.
  • Aim to be the assertive type, one who has an upright but relaxed stance, maintains eye contact when listening or speaking (for over two thirds of the time) looking at faces as a whole, can express his true feelings, and is interested in other people's opinions as well as his own.
  • If you don't react to other people's body language with your own, they might mistake you for being unsympathetic.
  • If you try to come across as being cooler, wittier, tougher and more confident that other people, then whenever you break an unwritten rule people might mistake it for nastiness. In this case, it might be in your best interest to drop your pretence.