October 25 – Queen of Snappy Comebacks

So what is a girl to do who doesn’t understand people or social situations yet wishes to live in the world? She observes. I listened to how people interacted at home and at school. How they interacted on TV and in books. And found there were NO easy answers.

So like any good engineer in the making, I did research. I read books (pre-Internet days folks) on body language, on psychology, and Mad magazine. I loved that magazine and its irreverent look at life (and my mother couldn’t stand it). There was a section in Mad magazine and some of the small Mad paperbacks which would sometimes have an article ‘Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions.’ This is where I was introduced to sarcasm and the snappy comeback.

Sarcasm – the use of irony to mock or convey contempt.

So the great experiment began. Attempts were conducted against my younger sister. Those didn’t go so well and were reported to the authorities (aka my parents) immediately. Thankfully I had another option, my next door neighbor, Harry. Harry was an oddity in our middle class neighborhood. He was a lawyer who didn’t practice the law. He picked up odd jobs to provide for his family and once all of the kids had moved out, he started a work from home business. He worked in his garden a lot and knew all of the kids in the neighborhood. This was NOT Mr Rogers, a kind quiet man. This was a loud profane man who pulled no punches. But he did spend the time to help me to learn how to interact with the world using words.

There is a timing to snappy comebacks. You must let the victim complete their words but not wait too long to reply so others don’t connect their words to yours. Profanity shouldn’t be used unless absolutely necessary, it makes you sound amateurish. And practice, practice, practice.

There are GREAT people to observe such as Groucho Marx (I never forget a face, but in your case I’ll be glad to make an exception) or Winston Churchill (He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire.). Supposedly Churchill practiced his quips at home so he was ready with them when the opportunity presented itself at work or at society functions. And of course the interchanges between Mr Spock and Dr McCoy on Star Trek are good too. (Had to sneak Star Trek in here somewhere)

You can be too sarcastic and people will avoid you just to not be flayed by words. As a teen, I read the book ‘A Separate Peace’ where one of the characters states that ‘It was only long after that I recognized sarcasm as the protest of people who are weak.’ At the time, I disagreed, I didn’t like the idea of weakness in myself. Now as an adult, I can see SOME truth to it.

There is a sense of control when using sarcasm, you are attempting to control a conversation and establish authority within it. And when you don’t instinctively understand social situations, having that control (or the illusion of it) reduces your anxiety. I know I felt more in control and stronger with those tools at my disposal.

I think many times people use sarcasm to build a defensive wall around themselves. Or others use it to return perceived tabs or insults with the only weapons they have, their wit and their voice. However, in some situations, it is enjoyable sport to watch two masters in sarcasm go back and forth, like tennis players, bantering.

October 24 – Family Dysfunctions

So what’s it like when you are living with neurotypicals in a family setting? Noisy.

I asked my Aspergian son about this topic. We talked about the definition of family  – to him it means ‘people that, no matter what they do, I will still love them.’ And in return, he expects them to love him unconditionally as well.

We haven’t seen that in our extended families. Neither my side nor my husband’s seem to follow that unconditional love idea. They didn’t want to deal with the mess of Aspergers. We were not invited to many family events. It was and is just the four of us.This is confusing to my son (and my whole family actually). He wonders what he did or didn’t do. He cannot understand the rejection. My daughter doesn’t like it either but doesn’t take it personally.

The isolation is hard. People with Aspergers often don’t have many friends so they hold very tight to those they do have, and this includes family members. As my son puts it, ‘You stay very close to family since they often are the only regular interactions you get.’ And I would add, and the only regular ones you can trust.

When you have this group of people, living together, isolated from others, little things can set emotions off. People take offense over the littlest of infractions. No sliced cheese left for the sandwiches for tomorrow escalates into arguments over what gets eaten when and who is eating too much.

Also, with Aspergians involved, rule enforcement issues will occur. Say, for example, my daughter said that she would clean the kitchen on Sunday by 6pm. Then a friend calls up and invites her for Sunday afternoon fun. She doesn’t get back until 7:30pm Sunday night. My Aspergian son will be beside himself that the kitchen wasn’t cleaned by 6pm. She said it would be done. It wasn’t. Cue dramatic music here. We fight this battle often at my house, the literal versus reality.

Today I asked my son about those kind of moments and his reasoning and he stated that he holds to very high standards since 1) our family set those standards and 2) Aspergians love rules/standards and he is simply enforcing them. My neurotypical daughter simply sees her older brother bossing her around and acting like a parent. Cue more dramatic music or maybe something from an opera. Ugh.

So you have a small group of people living together and some days it feels like half of the house is speaking Swedish and the other half Gaelic and each side is sure that they are right and the other side consists of idiots.  Someone tells a joke and half of the house takes offense while the others laugh. Dinner is served and an argument ensues on who is serving the potatoes (concern over unequal portions). There is not often peace in the house until half the house has gone to bed.

I wish I had advice on what to do in those dysfunctional times. I have tried whispering  – the idea being that people really want to hear you so they quiet down, forget it, no go. I have tried yelling, they just yell too. I have tried lots of rules, I forgot some of them before I could enforce them. These days, I have simple rules of respect: for themselves, for each other, for the rest of the world. They are teenagers now and I am less an instructor and more a mentor. If they don’t know the rules now, yelling them at them isn’t going to do it. I try to preach less and model more. (But I still enforce the rules and will for as long as they live under my roof.)

There are times when it is nice. When everyone is trying very hard to get along with each other. Normally this is on birthdays or holidays involving gift giving. I know someday soon my daughter will go to college and start a new life on her own. I hope that my son will try a life on his own someday as well. I know that I will miss them when they are gone. But I know I will enjoy the quiet. ;.)

October 23 – That hard discussion about Aspergers with your child

There are many good blog posts on the topic of if and/or when to talk to your child about their Aspergers diagnosis. I don’t think I can equal them, all I can do is give my son’s and my own perspective on the topic.

Let’s start with IF. Should you tell them at all? As a parent, you don’t want to cause your child pain or distress. And here you have a diagnosis that may be eating YOU up inside. You may not have come to terms with it, or be mourning what will never be, or a thousand other thoughts. The key here is to think not of yourself but of your child.

So, why wouldn’t you tell them?

It would cause them pain – If you have gone to all of the doctors and counselors, your child is already confused and in pain.

There is nothing that can be done – Yes and No. Yes, nothing will take Aspergers away. It is how their brain is wired. No, many things can be done: accommodations made, reactions understood. These things can only be done when your child knows who they are.

They will feel different and isolated from their peers – Gotta break it to you, they already are isolated. And they are wondering what they did or did not do to get this way.

They will be treated differently by people – Again, this is already going on. You have probably gotten the notes from teachers. Noticed that they aren’t invited to birthday parties. The kids on the block do not play with them. Denial is not just a river in Egypt.

So given that the world is not kind or tolerant or gentle, why should you tell your child? Because they need the truth of who they are in order to deal with that world.

So, once you have decided that you will tell your child of their diagnosis, WHEN do you tell them?

This one is tricky. So I talked to my son who is now almost 19. He was diagnosed with Aspergers around 7 or 8. And we told him of the diagnosis at that time. He never told his classmates. The teachers at his school knew due to the IEP meetings and aide assigned to help him. He wanted to keep the information private and we respected that.

Now, as an adult, my son recommended not telling a child until the middle of elementary school, around third or fourth grade. He stated that younger than that, most children will tell their classmates of the diagnosis and in his experience, it won’t be good. It will be used as the reason for kids not inviting the child to events, parties, etc. ‘Not the Aspergers child, you know how disruptive they are’. My son felt that younger children will share the information, thinking it will make things better when it won’t.

That was hard to hear.  My thought was that classmates should learn soon after the child does. My thought was that it would have been better in my son’s case to have told his classmates in first grade WHY he had troubles in class, WHY the playground was torture, WHY board games on indoor recess days didn’t work. I was thinking there was compassion there that my son is sure was not. I know his classmates knew something was wrong. Kids don’t just have aides assisting them for no reason. Don’t explode due to small issues and scream the school down.

I have always wondered if I should have gone to the school and talked to the class about Autism and Aspergers and my son. Always felt that if I had done that, talked to them, it would have made things better for my son. Helped him get along with others. After talking with him tonight, what I gathered was it would have hurt at multiple levels. It would have invaded his privacy, which he guarded even at an early age. And that, in his opinion, it would have opened him up for even worse from the kids at school.

And that’s painful to hear. We stress to our kids to embrace diversity in race, in gender, in physical disability such as braces or wheelchairs. But Aspergers children don’t appear to have a disability and we don’t give them the benefit of the doubt, we just judge. And many times the parents are just as bad or worse than the kids.

As a parent, I would tell you that you know your child best. If you feel it would help your child now to know why they have the issues they do interacting with the world, tell them. Tell your child at a level that they can comprehend at this time. Give them examples of people in history who might have had Aspergers: Isaac Newton,Tesla, Einstein, your uncle or aunt.

Now let me tell you what it is like growing up with Aspergers and not knowing you have it.

I am 51 years old. When I was growing up, Aspergers was not known to the general public. An Autism diagnosis meant that the patient could not talk or interact at all with others and probably lived in an institution.

Growing up, my first memories are of being alone, being isolated, being different. In a family of four, I didn’t fit in. I could feel that from the beginning. The interests of my parents and sibling were not mine. Things that bothered me didn’t phase them. There was little to no connection with them. It was painful.

It was no better with the kids in my neighborhood. I found kids my own age immature and interested in boring things. I would rather talk to the grownups about space and science than the kids about cartoons or dolls.

Perhaps that is why Mr Spock and Star Trek made such an impression on me. I saw a character isolated among the people he worked with, lived with. He was smart and helpful but that didn’t help him bridge the chasm between himself and his coworkers. So I modeled myself after him. Kept my emotions in check, especially my impatience with others, my frustrations at their seemingly foolish actions, my temper at their lack of compassion for those they didn’t understand.

It wasn’t until I went to Engineering School that I truly felt like I belonged, like I was at the right place, doing the right things.

So would it have helped me, so long ago, to have known why I was the way I was? Yes, it would have. I wouldn’t have blamed myself for the way I was, wouldn’t have pushed myself to try to change myself so much, tried so hard to ‘pass’ as normal.

When the time came, and my son was diagnosed, and I researched the genetic aspects of Aspergers, I realized that he had inherited it from my side. That my father’s family had several occurrences of autism, mostly Aspergers. And that, I probably was undiagnosed with it as well. This realization colored my husband’s and my thinking on when to tell our son, we didn’t want him wondering WHY was he this way. So we told him soon after the diagnosis.

Whenever you have the discussion, if you come to the discussion with love and acceptance for your child, you start at a good place. Your child needs love and acceptance and the knowledge that you have their back, that they aren’t alone no matter how they may feel. That there are many of us with Aspergers that live happy fulfilled lives who welcome them into the club and we have their back as well.

October 17 – A Day in the Life

In the Beatles’ classic song  ‘A Day in the Life’, the lyrics contain ‘Woke up. Fell out of bed.’ That song was running through my head as I contemplated today’s post. So I am going to look at a day in the life of an Aspergian.

Woke up. Fell out of bed. – The start of the day may be troublesome. Some Aspergians have issues waking up and meeting the morning obligations. It’s a fight and everyone starts to dread mornings. I know we did. Mornings consisted of waking up the boy, he would fall back to sleep, rewake the boy and stand there until he was mobile, verify he was dressed, issues with what he was eating for breakfast, arguments over lunch, and when the car was leaving for school.

How to handle this? We resolved many of the issues by doing as many tasks the night before. All papers were reviewed and signed the previous night. Lunches were prepared in the evening and stored in the fridge. Breakfast choices were all simple ones that could be prepared by anyone. Clothing choices were made in the evening all well. Other than waking up, dressing, eating, and leaving, the mornings had no necessary tasks. Oddly enough, waking him up a little earlier worked better since he could get anything he NEEDED to get done and have time for a computer game.

Found my way upstairs – At work or at school, it’s a perilous time. Sensory overload issues abound. The kids in class may be chattering, whistling, or making some noise which drives an Aspergian nuts. They may hear the element in fluorescent lights whining like a fly against the window. At work, people may be eating in the work area, and the smells distracting to all.

How to handle this? Hopefully, parents have set up a plan with the school to support their Aspergian child in times of sensory overload. A safe place to go to and chill, a weighted vest, there are ways to relax. For the adult Aspergian, many companies allow their workers to wear headphones which help to filter the sounds.

I read the news today, oh boy – Home. It’s supposed to be home sweet home, but it often isn’t. Especially if homework is involved. Many Aspergians have problems completing their school work. There may be residual stress from the school day that carries over into the evening and associated work. The homework may be boring and they don’t see the need to complete it. They may have underlying issues with reading, writing, or math that cause them to shy away from doing the work.

How to handle this? My son wouldn’t write, you couldn’t get him to try. After testing, we found out that he had great weakness in his hands. He had OT and increased the strength in his hands and he found that writing wasn’t so hard and his results were better.

I went into a dream – To sleep, perchance to dream. Many Aspergians cannot get to sleep easily. Their ever spinning minds don’t wind down easily. Which sets up issues for tomorrow morning.

How to handle this? We set up a schedule that reduced the amount of stimulation for my son as the evening went on. No fluids after a certain time, no screen time (the monitor/screen actually stimulates the brain) after a certain time, a warm bath or shower, and a story. The slower routine and consistent routine helped. So did giving him melatonin, an over the counter medicine that can aid in falling asleep (ALWAYS CHECK WITH YOUR DOCTOR BEFORE ADDING OR CHANGING MEDS, EVEN OVER THE COUNTER DRUGS).

Life with Aspergers can be complex, but can be handled, with lots and lots of planning.

October 16 – The Care and Feeding of Extroverts

Yesterday’s post discussed suggestions for supporting introverts and today’s post is for supporting extroverts. While my son is somewhere in between introvert and extrovert (that oddly named ambivert), my daughter is definitely an extrovert.

Here are a few suggestions…

One: Don’t immediately tell them ‘Hey! I know you are an extrovert!’ They probably don’t care about the label. And again, few people enjoy being psychoanalyzed.

Two: Offer them options. Similar to Suggestion Six for Introverts, provide choices for them, don’t box them in. Often they are independent souls that don’t like to be pigeon holed into a decision. My daughter’s first inclination is to go in the opposite direction I am pointing. So point with care.

Three: In new situations or places, allow them to explore. Don’t hold them back. Let them interact with their environment. They are learning by doing. If it makes you feel better, be there but out of the way. You feel like you are there if something bad happens and they get their independence, so to speak. My daughter loves to see new places and meet new people and I try to encourage that.

Four: Respect their independent nature. My mother had problems with this one. She was SO afraid of what might happen that she limited my time in the outside world. I worked around her by learning of the world via the library, my neighbors, and finally moving out. However, it was very frustrating to feel that she didn’t believe I could make it in the real world.

Five: Encourage their passions. Similar to Four above, understand that they will have things that they just MUST DO. You can either support them or tear them down. You have a great opportunity to guide them on developing their passion while living in the real world. I loved Star Trek. It inspired me to want to work in the sciences. My mother thought it was not practical. I was lucky to have a neighbor who knew many science facts and would entertain me with the information and quiz me. My daughter has had several passions, all of them involving helping others. Instead of arguing about how long this passion will last, I try to encourage each passion as it comes.

Six: Show them you love them. Honestly I think this one works for everyone, introverts – extroverts, and all of those in between. Whether you shown them verbally with words of praise, with hugs, with acts of love (favorite dessert), etc., make sure it is what they value most in the way they can appreciate. For example, when in college, my friends sent me a birthday singing telegram in my Freshman Physics class. While I was glad they remembered my birthday, I did not enjoy the experience. Grade: F.

Seven: Let them have their day in the sun. I was so proud. I sang a duet at my middle school graduation ceremony. It went well. Everyone told me that they had enjoyed it. Everyone tried to tell my mother that they had enjoyed it. My mother did not enjoy that. She wanted to leave the ceremony as soon as it was over and rarely mentioned it at all. I couldn’t understand. Maybe she didn’t like the crowds, maybe she didn’t like the song. Maybe she felt that my younger sister minded that people were talking about me instead of her (even though it was my graduation). All I wanted was her to say, ‘Good job”.

Eight: Allow them to recharge with others. Being with people is what they need and enjoy. Don’t isolate them. BUT, be aware who they are with and if those people are exerting a good or bad influence on them. It takes time and experience to know people.

Nine: Understand that they LIKE being in large groups of people. Even though YOU don’t want to go to that Fall Festival in the park, with large crowds of people, and loud music, don’t be hurt if THEY do want to attend. Compromise, go to the festival at a time when the crowds are smaller and the band isn’t playing.

Extroverts remind me of bright fireworks against a nighttime sky in July. Sparkling and everyone enjoys seeing them.

October 15 – The Care and Feeding of Introverts

Yesterday’s post discussed the current thinking on introverts and extroverts and how introverts are people who lose energy being around people for large periods of time and recharge with time alone. So if you have an introvert in your life, how can you support them? FYI: I find many of the introvert suggestions work very well for those with Aspergers. (Extroverts, I will get to you on October 16th).

Here are a few suggestions…

One: Don’t immediately tell them ‘Hey! I know you are an introvert!’ Great, just what they wanted, another label. Keep your knowledge to yourself unless they bring up the subject. Few people enjoy being psychoanalyzed..

Two: Give them prior notice when moving from one event to another. We used this suggestion frequently when my son was small (and even now do it as a courtesy) to avoid explosions. Going to Grandma’s at 4pm? Notify people at 3:45pm that the car is leaving in 15 minutes (the amount of time you need to provide will vary). My son could not handle just getting up and leaving what he was doing in an unfinished state.

Three: In new situations or places, don’t push them to just run off and play, instead let them watch first. Another good idea for my son. New playground, he would watch and see what was there, what other people were doing. I still do this: when I start a new job, I observe more than I talk until I know how things are run there.

Four: Don’t interrupt. Nope, just don’t do it. More arguments have been launched in my house by someone NOT waiting to speak than any other reason I know. Now this can be hard since Aspergians often talk and talk and talk, either about their topics of choice or what bothers them, so you don’t know when they really are done. But try. I have someone at work who is normally a team player but interrupting him sets him off. He stops talking and participating completely. Yes this is a grown man, but an introvert.

Five: Provide notice of changes in their world BEFORE it happens. Is Monday usually spaghetti night but this Monday you are serving meatloaf? Let them know. Yes they should be flexible, yes, it shouldn’t matter, do you want an explosion at dinner? You decide.

Six: Don’t expect instant answers to a question. There are many possibilities to your question and all of them should be considered. If time is of the essence, try providing two or three options and asking them to pick from one of them. It may not work (but I don’t want A or B or C, why didn’t you offer D?) but it’s worth a try.

Seven: Respect their privacy. They probably do not want you to discuss their condition, diagnosis, failings, etc., where others can hear. If they failed at a task, let them know in private. If they need additional help in an area, provide it without an audience. I always think that my son (and many others) who love video games do so in part because they can practice again and again to get it right in the privacy of their homes with no judgement and the computer never scolds.

Eight: Give the the space to recharge alone. They need it. It may consist of going to a nature center, knitting a winter hat, chilling with a comic book. Give them that time so they can regain what dealing with the world drains away.

Nine: Don’t expect them to like being in large groups of people. Even though YOU may want to go to that Fall Festival in the park, with large crowds of people, and loud music, don’t be hurt if THEY don’t want to attend. Compromise, go to the festival at a time when the crowds are smaller and the band isn’t playing. Or go with people that enjoy crowds.

I find introverts are like geodes. You cannot tell the beauty inside just by a cursory look at the outside.

October 14 – Are all Aspie’s Introverts?

The next three days I am exploring the topic of introverts, extroverts, and everyone in between. Today’s thoughts are about the definition of the terms and some real world examples.

When I was growing up, the theory was that there were two types of people: introverts and extroverts. Introverts were people that were shy and didn’t like social interaction and extroverts were people that were outgoing and did like social interaction. So it isn’t surprising that people would think that all Aspergians are introverts since they have such troubles with social cues and situations.

Recently, research has rewritten the definitions of introverts and extroverts. Current theory suggests that Introverts are people who lose energy being around people for large periods of time and recharge with time alone. And Extroverts gain energy being around people and lose energy being alone. So with the new research, what does this mean for Aspergians? Really nothing new, but maybe an easier time not being pegged automatically as introverts.

I think many Aspergians appear to be introverts due to their lack of recognition of social cues and lack of comfort in groups of people. The fact that they may have had BAD experiences in groups of people may have more to do with the discomfort than being introverts.

In my son’s high school class were several Aspergians, some who were extroverts and others who were introverts. One of my son’ s friends loved people. He thrived meeting new people, hugging them, talking to them and the longer he was with his friends, the wider his smile. You couldn’t keep the smile off of your face when you were around him. Then there were other kids who were clearly uncomfortable in a group of people, who would not make eye contact or do more than mumble. But when you talked to them one on one on a topic they enjoyed, they blossomed.

My son and I are actually in the middle of introverts and extroverts, a third kind called in one article, ambiverts. Which I am sure meant ambivalent or in the middle, but kinda sounds like we couldn’t decide on WHAT we really were. Each of us like to interact with people in small to medium size crowds, of people with similar likes to our own. And each of us gets to a point when we have had enough of everyone and we step away.

For example, when my kids were small, we always went to my father in law’s for Christmas. There were many people there and my son would be overwhelmed by the sensory overload. He would go into his grandfather’s bedroom (with permission) and hang out and watch tv and come out ever so often to visit and then return to the safety of the room. He was in control of his conversations and activities. This control made him feel better and we experienced less meltdowns. Not all of the relations understood but the important part was that he got to be at the family gathering on his own terms.

My favorite story about me and human interactions was told by my father. When I was about 3 years old, my mother left me with my father at his job. He managed a dime store on a local main street. Near his office was a white and gold vanity (bench and table with mirror) and he left me there to play while he stepped away to deal with something. Soon, a little old lady stopped him, and demanded he deal with the hooligan in the back of the store and stomped out. From what he could piece together, that old lady had seen me at the vanity playing, and asked me who I was and where was my parent and so forth and so on. I finally turned to the old lady and shouted ‘Go away! I’m busy!’ and returned to my play. My father always ended that story saying ‘He never feared that anyone would kidnap his daughter’ and smiling. I was always embarrassed when he told it. Nowadays, I am proud that I had that spunk even at an early age. But I don’t know if it was the introvert or extrovert in me talking that day…..

Tomorrow’s topic will be introverts and how to be supportive of their way of interacting with the world.