“Some Positive Traits of an Aspie”

Dialogue #4:

Picture of Ken's autism ribbon tattoo on his left arm.
Ken overcame his discomfort with bodily modifications to get a tattoo in order to identify himself as autistic and start conversations to demystify autism.

Helpful Hint: For every negative trait in a person with autism, there is a positive trait. That does not make them special or better. They are equal to everyone else, only different.

Ken: This relationship is a drain on you. What lightens the load? Why have an autistic partner?

Christina: It’s a drain alright. But it’s not hard to list some good things.

Ken: Proceed. However, as you know, I will feel uncomfortable about this, and I will need to balance the scales. I am no more nor less than anyone else. I am equal to everyone, just different.

Christina: Well, the first thing I’d say is your sense of humour.

Ken: Yes. However, you know from experience how my binary brain functions, either on or off. Either you get a barrage of all the good and bad humour ad nauseam ad infinitum, or you get nothing at all.

Christina: True. Some of your jokes are SO bad, real groaners. But it’s still worth it. Better than you being a grouch. I need a happy person around me….

Ken: (Aspie Tourette’s taking over, interrupting…) Inform me when you encounter such.

Christina: (laughing) …. another trait is your kindness. From the start you have been the kindest person I know.

Ken: I really do not know what ‘kind’ is. I just do what I do. I am what I am. It takes far to much exhausting work to try to be someone else. Perhaps it is my hardwired moral code, my ethics, my sense of fairness and equality.

Christina: Ok but it works. Hmmm. Next I’d say how great it is that you know so much about everything—how it seems like everything you’ve ever read, hear or see sticks. You’re like Google, only faster.

Ken: My insatiable curiosity drives me to research everything. I am data driven. I want to know everything about everything. I am able to store the data visually in my hard drive—my Aspie brain— for instant recall when the right button is pushed or the right query is posed.

Christina: Yeah. It’s super. On trips you know who did what and when and all that. It feeds my curiosity too. But then there’s the data-spewing! When you don’t stop. That’s no fun. But better that than just rely on my own memory—which is so bad sometimes.

Ken: I would be reticent to say ‘bad memory.’ Rather, I would suggest you are just wired differently. This gives you different skills, different gifts as well as different challenges. My skills and gifts offset your challenges, and vice versa. This makes each of us a strong half of a stronger whole.

Christina: Ok, another one. Your support. You’re behind me in everything I do. School, work, ideas, everything.

Ken: Because you are who you are. The data adds up. You are good at what you do. For example, your writing. It comes naturally to you. Most people say you are easy to read and they enjoy reading what you do. So, if somebody appears to attack or put off your gifts, I am compelled to level the field, to correct their uninformed critique of you.

Christina: Right. I have more good things to say, but that’s enough for now. I can see your eyes glazing over… you are getting overloaded.

Ken: I am becoming anxious talking about my positive traits. Can we revisit this topic in a few blog’s time?

Christina: Sure. How about we talk about meeting Temple Grandin next time?

Ken: I would enjoy that.

 

Next post: Dialogue #5 – “Our Time with Temple”

“Talking about Misinterpreting…”

Diablogue #3:

Ken and Christina on a romantic winter walk (he's learning!) on the University of Alberta campus.
Ken and Christina on a romantic winter walk (he’s learning!) on the University of Alberta campus.

Helpful Hint of the Week: Get feedback; don’t assume! Check in with each other as you are communicating to make sure you are not misinterpreting a tone, gesture, or facial expression. For example, if you see a scowl, say: “I see you are scowling.” Then ask, “Are you frustrated, angry, or something else?” This works both ways, for different reasons.

 

Christina: Ok, we were talking about you looking big-headed or stuffy when you use formal language.

Ken: That is correct, and it is not only language.

Christina: And it goes both ways.

Ken: Correct. I am not only being misinterpreted, I am misinterpreting.

Christina: Right. I remember a big one. Remember Big Valley? Our first year together?

Ken: I’m trying to forget.

Christina: Dusk. Little blue church on a hill. Full moon. We hike up. Very romantic. We’re all alone. I sit on the grass and gaze at the moon. I expect you to come, sit, cuddle, say sweet nothings. You never did.

Ken: Romance is an emotion.

Christina: Really, I still almost can’t believe it. How you could be so oblivious. I was hurt. It was a perfect moment. At that moment I thought you were cold and disinterested in me.

Ken: And that’s a perfect example of misinterpretation. Because as we know now—which we did not know then—it was because of my emotional and social blindness.

Christina: But you couldn’t see me sitting there alone?

Ken: I saw you sitting there, but it never occurred to me that you were alone, or lonely. Because I was standing a few feet away.

Christina: Actually I remember it as 30 feet away and you looking in the other direction. Like, analyzing the moon or something. Did you feel we were connecting that night? That’s what the night was for, for me.

Ken: I was looking at the town. I didn’t think about connecting. I don’t know those things are missing until you point them out.

Christina: Hmmm. Did we ever talk about that at the time?

Ken: No.

Christina: Right.

Ken: And I misinterpreted the meaning of you being quieter when you came down from the hill than you were during the rest of the day. I thought you were tired after a long day.

Christina. I was sad and puzzled.

Ken: I didn’t know that at the time… until you told me. Now you’ve learned –we’ve learned—to check in. When you need something. Or I do. And I’ll go across the world to give it you if—if I know what it is.

Christina: It’s true. You have always done so. That’s ‘Aspie Romance’ maybe, a kind of after-the-fact outward expression of caring. Anyway, things are better now. Fewer incidents.

Ken: However, those incidents are the reason for my self-flagellation, for missing things that are so obvious to everyone else. I’m trying to force myself to learn a different way, to be better.

Christina: Yeah, you beat yourself up. All the time. Too much. And then people misinterpret that as you having low self-esteem.

Ken: Correct. However, at those times I am trying to reprogram my brain, knowing that I will never succeed but hoping that I will.

Christina: Adult Aspie mini-tantrums.

Ken: There is no misinterpretation there.

Christina. Two or three or four a day. Over different things. Like when we’re driving home and we’re talking and we’re about to pass the turnoff to Safeway and I say, “remember we have to pick up a few groceries,” and you curse and suck in air and scowl. And I think you’re mad at me.”

Ken: That is incorrect. I am actually mad at myself and self-flagellating again. Because you had previously informed me that we needed to stop for groceries. And I just about drove past the turn-off. I would have made a mistake.

Christina: But it looks like anger, and at me, and then I get mad at you for being mad at me when I was just reminding you about something we had both agreed on. It drives me nuts. It’s not a healthy pattern.

Ken: Now we can laugh at these incidents after the fact. But in the beginning they caused us great hurt and misunderstanding.

Christina: For sure. But odd that it still happens, again and again. Like we’re not smart enough to break the patterns. 

Ken: Because to reiterate, I am attempting to reprogram my brain. Knowing that I will not fully succeed but trying anyway.

Christina: I empathize; I really do. It must sometimes seem futile. But I honour your trying. I’m trying too. To not have those knee-jerk unkind responses. I should know better. I do know better. But it’s hard NOT to react the way my own brain is programmed.

Ken: For me, there is no other choice. It’s either do or don’t do. On or off. So as I’ve told many people, if I’m not dead, I’m not done.

Christina: You just want to be real boy—you’ve used that phrase.

Ken: Yes. Just like Pinocchio. As I have mentioned ad infinitum ad nauseous. Even though I know that I cannot reprogram my brain, I can, however, modify my responses and behaviours.

Christina: Yes, and you have. A lot. Many little things. Truly, I know the effort you make.

Ken: Perhaps I am a hopeless optimist. However, I have never tried stopping, and I never stop trying.

Christina: It’s a good thing. It’s helping to keep us married. That and my work to understand, to not jump to the wrong conclusions. To realize your intent is ALWAYS good, kind, fair.

Ken: Wow, this was exhausting. Painful. For the first time, I am having to answer questions that, being on the spectrum, I am not equipped to answer.

Christina: I hear you. But for me… I actually enjoyed this talk. Now I finally ‘get’ why you ignored me that night. How you saw it. Thank you. What should we talk about next post?

Ken: I have got nothing left

Christina: Me too. Ok, we’ll decide next time.

Next post – Dialogue #4 (To be determine)

“Talking about Autistic Talking”

Diablogue #2:

Used with permission of the artist Zaffy Simone: http://www.zaffy.com.au/zaffys-story/cartoons/
Permission of the artist Zaffy Simone: http://www.zaffy.com.au/zaffys-story/cartoons/

Ken: So shall we continue where we left off on our previous post?

Christina: Sure. I asked you why you were speaking so formally in our blog, and you said you always talked like that on the inside—that you self-censor constantly in day-to-day conversations, and that surprised me.

Ken: I realised early in life that I paid particular attention to sounds. I was attracted to diverse sound patterns.

Christina: Like what?

Ken: When I was a toddler I would bang on any and all objects and listen to the sounds that they produced.

Christina: Cool.

Ken: When I was approximately four years of age, my father picked up a guitar and started to play it. This lead to one of my first great awakenings, music. Not only did I like to listen to it, I realized I had an ability to create it.

Christina: So how does this relate to your formal speaking?

Ken: To me, all spoken languages are musical; formal speech sounds like classical music, whereas common speech sounds more like folk music and/or country music.

Christina: Wow. Really interesting. I’ve never thought of it that way.

Ken: The difficulty for me is the realization that different social situations demand different forms of music—or speech.

Christina: When did you realize that?

Ken: It started in First Grade. People would ask me, “Why do you use such big words—talk so flowery? Philosophize?” Whenever they said something like that, I would go silent, withdraw, internalize, and self-analyze. I slowly concluded that I was different, although I did not know why or how I was different. Or how to correct it.

It was September 1966 that I had my second great awakening. Star Trek premiered. Mr. Spock. “Pow!” Someone who talked like I wanted to talk. Someone I could understand clearly. I made a connection.  

Christina: Aha! So that’s why you’ve always loved Star Trek—and especially Spock. Now I get why. But that First Grade story makes me really sad. Imagining that little kid getting more and more isolated—alone.

Ken: It’s like a puppy being whacked by a stick; the puppy goes around the back of the shed and peeps out to see when and if it is safe to come out.

Christina: And that still happens? When?

Ken: My brain is physiologically and neurologically different from those of others. I am unable to self-censor ceaselessly. Self-censorship is one of the contributing factors of my daily exhaustion. I will inevitably lose self-control, and my natural proclivity towards formal speech will override my self-censorship.

Christina: Ok. But where’s the puppy? Do you still go behind a shed?

Ken: Still behind the shed peeping out from time to time. I will never be able to completely rewire my brain. I will always be autistic, and when I become overwhelmed, anxious and/or exhausted I will slip into formal speech patterns. When I do, people will often look at me oddly, and this sends the puppy back behind the shed.

Christina: Does the puppy need to stay behind the shed as long?

Ken: No, the duration is progessively diminishing. However, it will never completely disappear.

Christina: That’s such an unhappy metaphor! Now I’m thinking about how my own speech has changed since marrying you. People have told me I speak very… not formally exactly, but carefully and precisely. I don’t think I did that so much before. Married couples become more like each other over time. Maybe that’s happened with us in speech. I’ve adapted to become a bit more formal, and you’ve adapted to become more casual—at least socially.

Ken: I believe your assessment to be correct. Nature tends towards a balancing and blending to maintain equilibrium.

Christina: So that natural formal speech tendency makes it hard for you in some group situations. I can see how your speech could strike people as stuffy or big-headed.

Ken: That is correct, and that is the most difficult part. I never intend to appear as such.

Christina: Maybe that’s why you sometimes seem more comfortable among academics who tend to talk like you than in more casual conversations with friends who don’t know you’re on the spectrum. Our good friends have gotten used to your speech patterns, I think.

Ken: Yes, and those are much welcomed tiny islands of sanctuary and safety.

Christina: Let’s talk about interpretations and misinterpretations both ways next post.

Ken: Agreed.

 

Next post, Diablogue #3: “About Interpretations.”

“Getting Started”

Diablogue #1:

Christina and Ken writing first post at Albert's Restaurant in EdmontonChristina and Ken writing first post at Albert’s Restaurant in Edmonton.

Christina: So, I’m glad we finally started this.

Ken: I as well. Why don’t we let our readers in on why and how this evolved?

Christina: Ok. Since your diagnosis five years ago, autism has increasingly consumed our lives, our thoughts, and our conversations. Some of that has been positive. We’ve learned a lot about how to make our relationship work. It seem to be such a struggle for you, personally. You seem to be getting more frustrated and more isolated by your autism every day. 

Ken: That is a correct analysis.

Christina: You haven’t had any other outlet to manage or talk about it. So, I’ve been urging you to read about autism, watch movies on it, and maybe start a blog. I thought that would help you process and manage autism better. We would get more balance back as a couple, make our relationship less about ‘you’ and more about ‘us.’ The blog would get some conversations going that don’t involve me.

Ken: This blog is an excellent idea for those reasons. However, I think I will still need your help with navigating and decoding the social aspects of the blog. To organize it as it develops and to keep writing it every week.

Christina: Of course! That’s become our everyday rhythm, supporting each other like that. I’m excited about where this could go.

Ken: Through this blog we can both learn more about autism for our mutual benefit.

Christina: Yes. But I think you should be the driver, to take the lead.

Ken: Agreed. That way it will take the focus and pressure off you. At the moment, you are my sole lightning rod.

Christina: Some days it sure feels like that!

Ken: I also want to write this blog to connect with others, both on and off the spectrum, to share and to learn from and with them.

Christina: For sure. We have a lot to learn. I hope we connect with other couples like us. We could compare notes, learn other work-arounds, and have a good laugh about some of the crazy things that happen.

Ken: I concur. It is important because 80% of autistics never marry.

Christina: And I know why. This is hard work—but worth it.

Ken: Yes. And I am glad I am not one of those statistics. We have both gained much helpful data so far to explain it.

Christina: I know there are lots of other blogs on autism. But ours is a conversation, so I think it has something different to offer. It might interest anyone curious about autism or even just about communication across differences. Relationships too.

Ken: Agreed.

Christina: Why are you talking so formally if this is supposed to be a conversation?

Ken: This is how I always want to talk. This is how my ‘self’ or internal dialogue runs. Since I was young, I have always been criticized for the way that I speak. Since then I have self-censored my speech patterns in order to make it less formal. However, it has been my experience that informal language is less precise. That is lamentable. It has been my observation that precision and accuracy leads to fewer misconceptions and miscommunications.

Christina: Hmmm. Fascinating. I just learned something new about you—that you self-censor even in daily conversations with me. I think we should make that our next topic. Yes?

Ken: Agreed.

 

Next post, Diablogue #2: “About Talking.”