Challenging Faulty Assumptions

September, 2013 Asperger’s & NLD Career Letter


The August issue of the Asperger’s & NLD Career Letter discussed the danger of faulty assumptions. This month, we’ll look at how to challenge negative beliefs that are interfering with your goals.

You’ll recall that an assumption is a belief that a person accepts as true, in the absence of any supporting evidence. Inaccurate assumptions can result in misunderstandings, lost opportunities, and lots of stress. People with Asperger’s Syndrome and Nonverbal Learning Disorder (NLD) can be more prone to making faulty assumptions due to black-and-white thinking, and problems recognizing situational context and interpreting the intentions, expectations and actions of others.

Individuals can learn to challenge assumptions and patterns of negative thinking. This is the basis of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which was developed by Aaron Beck in the 1960’s. Beck was a psychiatrist who noticed that the negative thinking styles of his patients contributed to emotional states such as depression and anxiety. He developed CBT to teach them how to think more productively. There are many books for lay people that describe the principles and practice of CBT. One of my favorites is Brilliant Cognitive Behavioral Therapy by Dr. Stephen Briers.

Since assumptions are beliefs that a person accepts as facts, they can be hard to identify. Remember John from last month’s newsletter, who believed that he would be fired any time he made a minor error? At first, John didn’t see this as an assumption. The thought created feelings of panic, so John presumed that he was reacting to a real situation. He was really reacting to the feeling that his thought evoked (which in turn impacted his behavior).

Assumptions may be rooted in experiences from the past. Daniel was ostracized in school, and concluded as an adult that he was unlikeable. Amy misinterpreted the motives of others. For example, she assumed that her co-workers were stuck up because they didn’t join her for lunch in the company cafeteria. Amy didn’t realize that going to the cafeteria by herself and sitting down with a book sent the message that she wanted to eat alone. Perhaps you are like so many of my clients who make assumptions based on dichotomous thinking (good or bad; right or wrong; success or failure).

When you identify an assumption, challenge it to see whether it is true. Ben decided to challenge his assumption about getting a job, using this 8-step process:

  1. Briefly describe the troubling situation: I have been unemployed for 8 months.
  2. My assumption(s) about the situation: Companies are not hiring, so I’ll never find work.
  3. How this/these beliefs make me feel: Discouraged, depressed, hopeless.
  4. How my feelings impact my behavior: I make only a cursory effort to find work; I don’t follow through on leads from family members.
  5. Evidence that my assumption(s) is/are correct: * (see below)
  6. Evidence that my assumption(s) is/are not correct: * (see below)
  7. How can I look at this situation differently? Even though the economy is slow, companies are hiring to fill openings.
  8. What can I do now? Create a job search plan, and spend at least 2 hours per day on activities related to finding work.

* An interesting thing happened when Ben got to steps 5 and 6. Initially, the evidence he found to support his assumption was a collection of news items about the slow economic recovery, mass layoffs, and increased unemployment claims. Although this information was true, I questioned Ben about the accuracy of his interpretation that no companies were hiring.

Ben conceded that his interpretation was based on all-or-nothing thinking. We moved on to Step 6, looking for any evidence that contradicted his assumption. Ben hesitated, so I did a quick search on an Internet job board. Within seconds, several hundred openings appeared. “Is it accurate,” I asked, “to say that no companies are hiring?” Ben agreed that it wasn’t. He also agreed to research whether there was a demand for workers in his field.

After a couple of weeks, Ben’s perspective changed. The job market in his area was strong, and he found a number of promising openings. No longer feeling discouraged, Ben was willing to follow through on a realistic job search plan. Letting go of his faulty assumption gave him hope and determination, and he took action.

Of course, not every situation is as clear as Ben’s. The process of challenging assumptions (or other negative thought patterns) can take many months of hard work. And certainly, anyone who experiences serious anxiety, depression or other mental health problems should seek the services of a licensed professional. However, if you notice yourself having trouble taking action toward a goal, or reacting negatively to the same types of situations or people, see if you are operating with faulty assumptions that need to be corrected.



Briers, Stephen, Brilliant Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, 2nd edition, copyright 2012, Pearson Education Limited, Harlow, UK

Peltier, Bruce, The Psychology of Executive Coaching, Theory and Application, copyright 2001, Taylor & Francis, New York, NY

Gaus, Valerie, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Adult Asperger Syndrome, copyright 2007, Guilford Press, New York, NY

© 2013, Barbara Bissonnette, Forward Motion Coaching.