Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Partnering with an Aspie

I spent a couple hours today chatting with an NT (neurotypical) friend who has an Aspie (Asperger) husband. It was a great conversation. Some things that came up:

Understand that geeks and Aspies have "incoming filters" rather than "outgoing filters" when it comes to being tactful. (See http://www.mit.edu/~jcb/tact.html for an awesome description of this.)

I suggested she could help him prepare for a job interview by roleplaying potential questions and helping him learn how to phrase things to avoid the "excessive honesty" that Aspies sometimes exhibit. For example, rather than answering "why did you leave your last job" by saying "my boss was scum", explain that "we had some differences of opinion on IP". Still honest, just less 'burn your bridges'. A great article I read recently on this was:  http://www.mendix.com/think-tank/really-great-ways-to-ruin-a-job-interview/

I explained, as well, that many Aspies have difficulty grasping that a sentence can have multiple meanings - or guessing what those multiple meanings might be. Metaphors and analogies are often lost on Aspies. It helps to have some explain those things out loud and to learn to look for them.

Many Aspies are "unanchored in time" - many of us live in an eternal "now" and thus, everything subjectively "takes forever". There's no internal "sense of time". I can tell you what I need to do Tuesday at 12:30 - I just don't have any internal prompt that "today is Tuesday and it's 12:30 now". Believe me - I tried for years (nay, decades) to develop a sense of time and it just didn't work.  It takes some of us a while to realize that we need to separate "remembering that" from "remembering to". I can "remember that" I need to do x, y and z at d:h:m. Will I "remember to" do those things when it's d:h:m? Probably not, not without an external prompt. But it took years for me to figure out why I wasn't getting things done.  It wasn't until I gave up and recognized I have this "deficiency" and developed a workaround that I was able to get past the "I was gonna" and actually get to "I did". Too many NT's think that "if you really cared", you'd get it done. Well, yes - now that I have my workaround (my smartphone pinging me an alert) - I care enough to enter it into my calendar so I remember to do it.

On the same topic, it's really hard to guess how long something will take, when everything is "now". I remember that my ex used to get really ticked at me for not wiping up the crumbs when I made toast. What would happen is - I didn't want to wipe it up immediately because I wanted to eat my toast while it's hot. But if I didn't do it immediately, I'd often get distracted and forget to do it after eating. What finally worked was to do an experiment - I pulled out a stopwatch and timed how long it took to wipe up the crumbs. And found out that something that felt like it would take a long time, really only took like 3 seconds. And that my toast was still warm when I was done wiping up. After that, I used that trick for many maintenance-type things around the house - figuring out that I could do certain tasks in seconds or minutes and thus, work them into my routine. But, until I did that, it felt like everything would take "forever", so I couldn't figure out when and how to fit it in, and would get overwhelmed. Now - I know better. Even if I don't think I can get *all* of something done, I set a timer for 15 minutes (thank you Flylady) and just do it until the timer goes off. Often, I am done. Or I've made such significant progress on the task that it doesn't feel overwhelming anymore. (See www.flylady.net for more on this.)

As we talked, I reminded her that he isn't doing these things "deliberately" or "carelessly"; his brain works differently from hers. Yes, it can be frustrating (for her and for him), but it's not because he doesn't care enough. (That's like accusing someone with no legs for not caring enough because they don't go dancing with you.)

Another thing that we discussed was crowds. I asked her if she had ever travelled and how she feels when she's surrounded by natives speaking with each other in their own language. She answered that if they're talking too fast, eventually she kind of tunes out. I explained that, for Aspies, it may feel like that - like we're in a foreign culture and everyone is talking too fast in a language we only can catch a few words in here and there. She suddenly gasped and asked "so that's why he can only handle about 5 minutes when I have a bunch of friends over?" Yep!

I also explained how valuable it is, after a day of having to navigate the NT world, to be able to come home and *not* be "on stage". How relaxing it is to not have to guess what people mean and hint and expect, and how important that is to have from a partner.

I'm lucky - my husband isn't American - so he doesn't have the American cultural assumptions about how I should act or what I should know. And he knows that we have different backgrounds so he assumes there's things he won't understand, which makes for much better communication between us.

The final issue we discussed was her frustration that whenever she would clean something, he would mess it up immediately. I drilled down into this. Turns out, for example, she would clean the front walk, he would see it and immediately go climb up on the roof to hose off the solar panels and get dirt all over her clean walk. This would drive her crazy! He was deliberately messing up her work! I laughed and explained that she had just *cued* him (with her cleaning the walkway) to go clean the solar panels. That, far from trying to mess up her work, he was being *inspired* and *prompted* by her work to clean something too! She looked thunderstruck. It had never occurred to her to view it that way.

I suspect they're going to have some pretty intense conversations when she gets home. And may figure out some things that have been plaguing their relationship for some time now.

Note: if you've met one Aspie (or Autist), you've met one Aspie. Every Aspie and Autist has different strengths and weaknesses (just like every NT is unique). I've found that some of us share some of these traits that I've described, but you or your Aspie/Autist friend may not.

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