Category Archives: Communication

Writing is Communication Too

If you get a group of writers together, on the internet or in a workshop, someone will eventually ask the ultimate navel-gazing question: why do we write?

My stock answer–the one that’s easiest to explain and makes me look least weird–is that I write because I enjoy it. There’s nothing like the rush of chasing an idea, my fingers flying across the keyboard, barely able to keep pace with my thoughts. There’s no other activity I can get so completely lost in.

That answer saves me from having to reveal this: I write to set the words in my head free.

My brain latches onto interesting ideas in a way that makes it hard to stop thinking about them. Once something grabs my attention, my mind will turn it around and around, shaping and growing it like a vase on a potter’s wheel. Writing the idea down stops the rapid spinning of the wheel and leaves me with the equivalent of a finished vase I can share with other people instead of a hard lump of clay sitting in my brain.

Shaping an idea in my head feels like this:

Ultimately, I write because I need to. I communicate better through written words than spoken words. When I write, I can take as much time as I like to shape my thoughts into a coherent whole. I can get feedback from others to check for clarity. I can let an idea breathe and grow over days or weeks.

The process is something like this: Write. Revise. Reconsider. Delete. Edit. Clarify. Rethink. Shape. Walk away. Come back. Write more. Think more. Print it. Read it. Share it. Revise, revise, revise. Done. Mmm, maybe just change that word. Or this one. Okay, really done. Yeah? Yeah.

Doing this in a spoken conversation is impossible. There’s no delete button for spoken words. Revising, in the form of explanations and clarifications, is rarely successful. Once you say something, it’s out there in a way that is, ironically, indelible.

Communication Deficit or Communication Difference

So do I have a communication deficit? (one of the core diagnostic criteria for Asperger’s)

That may depend on how we define communication. You could argue that writing is a one-way process. I carefully shape my idea and put it out there, feeling quite content with how it looks and feels, and then I go on my merry way, chasing another bright shiny idea.

It’s all very neat and tidy. It’s also very autistic. What could be more characteristic of an aspie than a one-way information dump followed by a determined retreat back inside my head to ponder the mysteries of the universe, or at least the mystery of why someone keeps leaving sandwiches on the sidewalk of one particular street where I walk my dog?

But, short of a mind meld, writing is my best shot at sharing what I want to say. I could talk all day and not get across half of what I can communicate in writing. Since I’ve started blogging, I’ve shared things with my family–in writing–that we’ve never talked about. Big important things and little niggling things, all of them left unspoken, sometimes for many years.

The result has been anything but one-way. Sharing my thoughts in writing creates an opening for others to start conversations, to ask questions, to offer insights and to share their own thoughts. This is communication–deep, fulfilling, nontraditional communication–in a way that I’ve rarely experienced.

It feels so good to share something with my husband and see a light of understanding in his eyes. It’s done wonders for our relationship to revisit past hurts and misunderstandings in a fresh light. There’s a new level of understanding opening up and I think it’s because I’m finally able to communicate, really communicate, how I experience and process the world around me.

I’ve also discovered that writing is a way to communicate with myself. The process of exploring Asperger’s is helping me integrate disparate parts of myself into a whole. It’s creating a map of my inner landscape in a way that is profoundly healing and empowering.

Perhaps this is what I meant when I said I write because I need to. Writing connects me to those around me, and it connects me to myself.

Once a Writer, Always a Writer

This is one the first things I ever wrote, when I was seven. I remember hearing my mother telling parts of this election day story to someone and deciding that I wanted to make it into a book. I still have it, in all its stained, stapled glory, and thought it would be fun to share.

If you look closely enough at these pages, you’ll see my aspie traits shining through. Note the atrocious handwriting.
Aspie trait #2: oddly advanced vocabulary and syntax for a 7-year-old (quite puzzled, indeed)
I have a feeling a lot of this writing is actually echolalia (the repetition of another person’s words, which is common to kids with ASD) and I was mimicking my mother’s telling of the story to another adult.
More aspie traits: a pedantic approach to social situations and a rigid adherence to the rules (going out the “in” door! *gasp*). I was also a pretty funny little kid, no?

You Scare Me

Last summer, my husband and I had some new friends over for lunch. They brought along their two young boys. Toward the end of the meal, the 5-year-old, who was sitting next to me, looked at me and said, “You scare me.”

This was pre-Asperger’s, so like everyone else at the table, I laughed it off as one of those inappropriate things that kids sometimes say.

Still, his comment stayed with me. I couldn’t figure out what I’d done to scare him. He was a friendly, talkative little boy. I’d showed him how to get my dog to do a couple of simple tricks and had given him some bits of hot dog to use as treats. I’d asked him about his swimming lessons and whether he wanted a dog of his own. I’d cooked him a cheeseburger so he wouldn’t have to eat the fancy grown-up food. He’d even chosen the seat next to me at lunch. I thought we were getting along great!

And then, out of nowhere, he told me that I was scary. I was more puzzled than offended, but there was something about his comment that really stuck in my head. Sometimes when I’d catch people staring at me in a restaurant or a store, his words would come back.

You scare me.

Why?

A Hard Truth

Months later, I was sorting through boxes of photos and it hit me. There it was–there I was–staring back at myself from photo after photo with the dreaded flat affect. Since they say a picture is worth a thousand words, here’s how a flat affect looks:

And to prove that wasn’t just me getting caught at a bad moment, here’s one I actually posed for:

Smile! Or not . . .

These pictures are hard to share. I don’t like looking at them. In fact, I almost never like looking at photos of myself. If I don’t have a blank expression, I tend to look like I’m faking a smile or making an uncomfortable, when-is-this-going-to-be-over expression.

As I was sorting through twenty-plus years worth of photos before we moved, I found dozens or maybe hundreds of pictures of myself with some variation of a blank, checked-out expression. I don’t know why I hadn’t seen it before but there it was. Standing in front of the Christmas tree. Attending a wedding. On vacation.

One after another, I tossed them in the trash bag on the floor beside me, tired of looking at this woman who was starting to scare me.

Flat Affect

From my reading about Asperger’s I was aware of the difficulty aspies have in reading facial expressions, but it hadn’t occurred to me that I don’t project appropriate facial expressions–or sometimes any expression at all.

The technical term for this is flat affect, which means that a person displays reduced emotional expressiveness. It takes a five-year-old to put it in plain English though: you scare me.

Looking at those photos, hundreds of them in a row, for hours on end that afternoon, I finally answered the question why? Flat affect is unsettling to others–it makes me look bored, angry, sad or spaced out at inappropriate times.

To a five-year-old, who is probably relying more heavily on nonverbal than verbal communication to judge adults, my inappropriate or absent expressions were creating mixed messages. Though I was saying and doing “nice” things, the nonverbal expressions I was projecting weren’t the typical “kind, caring adult” cues he was expecting to go with my words and actions.

Maybe I Can Learn to Fake It?

The disconnect between my expressions and thoughts is frustrating. Not only do I have trouble verbalizing my emotions but my face keeps wandering off on its own and freelancing.

More than once I’ve had a professor pause during a lecture to ask me if I had a question. One day, curious about why this happened so often, I finally said, “No, why?”

“Because you’re frowning,” the professor replied.

Surprised at his reply, I blurted out, “I’m not frowning. This is my concentrating face.”

The rest of the class laughed, but the question was right up there with you scare me in how deeply it unsettled me.

Obviously I was projecting something different from what I was experiencing internally. There I was sitting in calculus class day after day, looking confused, but never asking any questions. This made my professor so uncomfortable that he stopped in the middle of his lecture to ask me what my problem was. I wonder if he even believed me when I told him I wasn’t confused.

I wonder how often people think I’m being deceitful because my verbal and nonverbal communication doesn’t match.

This is a problem that feels too pervasive to fix. I’m literally projecting an expression of some sort during my every waking moment. There’s no way I could–or would even want to–pay attention to what that expression is all the time.

There are also plenty of times when my expression does agree with my disposition, especially when I’m genuinely happy.

Here’s a photo taken around the same time as the above two shots, except in this one I was truly happy and look it:

Since that exchange with my calculus professor, I’ve occasionally tried projecting a specific expression. In class, if I noticed a professor glancing in my direction too often, I assumed that I was doing the confused face and tried put on my “interested but neutral” face. I also made sure to nod a lot, a reassuring sign to NTs.

It seemed to help–it at least reduced the number of concerned looks in my direction–but I’m not very motivated to do this on a regular basis. I’ve seen other aspies talk about how acting lessons or practicing in a mirror helped them overcome flat affect. I admire their commitment to doing this–it sounds like it would take a lot of time and practice to get right.

Then again, if I had a job that required a lot of contact with the public, I might have the motivation to put more effort into improving the type of nonverbal cues I project. Maybe somewhere down the road it will be something I’ll decide to try but for now, I’ll just go on scaring small children and bewildering acquaintances.

How Asperger’s Taught Me to Hate the Phone

What is it about Asperger’s that makes talking on the phone so anxiety-inducing?

When someone says “I’ll call you” my first reaction is what can I do to make that not happen? This is especially true of social calls, the kind that many women think are a pleasant way to connect with a friend. Business calls are slightly less stressful because they have a goal and I can formulate a script ahead of time that will get me to that goal. Assuming the call goes mostly to script and is short, I can power through it.

But why should something as simple as phone call require “powering through” like it’s the social equivalent of an Ironman triathlon?

Hello?

The phone should be an ideal means of communication for someone who isn’t good at reading body language or making eye contact. All you get over the phone is a voice, right? Communication distilled to its essence: words.

It turns out this isn’t exactly true. Unlike written communication, which is truly nonverbal, phone conversation relies heavily on prosody (the rhythm, stress or intonation of speech). Prosody often conveys the emotional content of language or signals the presence of irony, sarcasm, emphasis or contrast.

Suddenly this one aspect of speech looks pretty important, doesn’t it?

If you can’t interpret prosody, you don’t get certain types of humor, you miss the subtle emotional shifts in the conversation, you fail to recognize which details are being emphasized. That’s just on the listening end. If your own speaking voice lacks prosody–a common trait with Asperger’s–your conversation partner will probably feel ill at ease too.

This explains a lot about why my phone conversations are often punctuated by:

“No, you go ahead.”

and . . .

“What were you going to say?”

and the much loved:

“Are you still there?”

I have a tendency to pause for too long before my turn to speak, which makes the other person anxious. He or she will start speaking again, often right as I start to reply to the previous comment or question. This results in a lot of false starts, interruptions and awkward, “no you go first” encouragement.

The Delicate Balance Between Knowing My Limits and Limiting Myself

If I know that these ill-timed pauses are the problem, why don’t I do something about it?

Good question.

Sometimes I miss the little cues, like a change in intonation, that indicate the other person has finished their turn and it’s my turn to talk. Sometimes I’m using that long pause to collect my thoughts or compose a reply. If the conversation is particularly unstructured, I may start to drift off and lose track of it altogether. Unexpected questions can leave me tongue-tied. In the worst case, I might have no idea what the other person said–at times words sound more like noise than language.

When I first saw the question “do you dislike talking on the phone” on an Asperger’s Syndrome screening questionnaire, I was mystified (and more than a little relieved). Did Asperger’s cause people to dislike the phone? What a strange and specific condition this is, I thought to myself.

After much reading and thought, I’ve realized that Asperger’s itself doesn’t make me dislike the phone. Plenty of people with AS don’t mind the phone at all. What makes me uncomfortable (with all but a few people who I know well) is the cumulative effect of a lifetime of stumbling encounters.

I’m realizing that much of the anxiety I have surrounding social communication has formed in this way. I struggle with processing some aspect of communicating, the negative experiences pile up, and in time I find myself avoiding situations to avoid what I’m certain will be more negative experiences.

Intellectually, I know that I’m creating negative feedback loops, but emotionally I find myself on the defensive, wanting to protect the comfortable bubble I’ve created. I teeter back and forth between seeing the importance in knowing my limits and questioning whether those limits are too . . . limiting.

At some point, I know I’ll have to face this conundrum in a more organized way but I also know that I’m still learning what my limits are and how they protect me and that’s enough for now.

Eye Contact: The Conversation within the Conversation

Making eye contact–or more precisely, not making eye contact–is a big issue for people with Asperger’s. Neurotypical people seem to be especially frustrated and confused by this aspect of aspie behavior.

Even the professionals, who can offer up all sorts of theories as to why we don’t make eye contact, don’t seem to get the fundamental issue. In one study, the author pointed out that people with AS don’t make use of expressive information in the facial region of the eyes, “even when it’s available.”

That last part made me laugh. That’s like giving a Russian/Japanese dictionary to a person that can’t read either language and asking them why they aren’t using it. Just like that dictionary, the part of the facial expression around the eyes is a foreign language to an aspie.

Reading Expressions: The Eyes Test

I’m moderately good at reading facial expressions. I get the biggies like happiness, sadness, surprise, anger, and confusion. More subtle expressions–those that rely most heavily on the use of the eyes and the area around the eyes–are much harder for me. For example, on this list of 30 facial expressions, I would not have correctly identified the ashamed, concerned and contempt faces.

It’s important to note that “reading the mind in the eyes” (as the professionals call it) involves more than just the eyeballs themselves. It requires understanding how the subtle changes in the muscles around the eyes convey emotion. This becomes more obvious when you take the creatively named “Eyes Test” which requires you to use just the portion of the face between the nose and forehead. If you’re curious, you can find and take the test here:

Instructions (scroll all the way to the bottom of this file for the record sheet and scoring key)
Eyes Test Part 1
Eyes Test Part 2

(You can also find an interactive version called Reading the Mind in the Eyes at Test My Brain but you need to enter some demographic information to take it.)

I did surprisingly well on the test and here’s why: I cheated.

I suspect that most NTs taking this test would look at an expression and spontaneously have an idea of what the expression was. This is probably why the instructions say to choose an answer as quickly as possible.

How did I cheat? Before even looking at the expressions, I found myself reading all four possible answers. Then I looked at the expression and began the process of elimination. Here’s one of the expressions from the test with the four possible answers:

A sample question from the Eyes Test

My process of elimination: I know right away that it’s not dominant or horrified. It looks more like friendly than guilty, so the answer is friendly. If I hadn’t been given four choices for each expression, there is no way I would have spontaneously provided some of the more subtle answers like insisting or uneasy.

Obviously, in a real-time social interaction, no one is going to have four possible emotional options floating around their head to help me guess at what they’re feeling. Like most aspies, I’ve learned to use other information to try to fill in the blanks when it comes to facial expressions. I often focus on a person’s mouth, which I find conveys emotions more explicitly to me than the eyes.

I can gather some additional data from a person’s voice, especially when I know the person well. When my daughter calls me, I can tell from the way she says “hi” what kind of mood she’s in and what the conversation will likely be about. Unfortunately this only works with people I know well.

Over time I build up a databank of voice qualities for a person. With enough conversations in the databank, I need only a few words to recognize the happy voice, the lying voice or the you’re-not-gonna-like-this voice.

Why Learning to Read the Eyes is Challenging for Aspies

If we can learn all of these work-arounds and hacks for reading emotion in others, why can’t adult aspies just learn to read the eyes?

There are programs to teach children how to do interpret facial expressions. But for adult aspies, it’s a bit more complicated. We’ve grown up and spent decades of our lives not making eye contact.

Are we unable to read the eyes because we don’t make eye contact and therefore don’t have a rich enough data bank to draw on?

Or . . .

Do we not make eye contact because we discovered early on that the eye region doesn’t hold any useful data for us and our limited data gathering abilities are better “spent” on areas like (in my case) the mouth or voice?

It sounds like a classic “chicken and egg” scenario, doesn’t it?

Add to that level of discomfort that many aspies feel when it comes to making eye contact and it’s easy to see why learning to use and read the eyes in social interaction can feel like such an overwhelming prospect.

Is Making Eye Contact Multi-Tasking?

More than once I’ve read the suggestion that autistic people don’t make eye contact because we have trouble doing two things at the same time. This strikes me as ridiculous. Is making eye contact and talking really the equivalent of doing two things at once? If that’s the case, what about walking and talking? Running and talking? Driving and talking? I can do all of these things with no trouble. Sometimes I even talk while walking and chewing gum. How’s that for multitasking?

Moving on . . .

The wrong kind of eye contact!

When Eye Contact Becomes Too Much

The level of discomfort that people on the spectrum experience when it comes to eye contact varies from mild to unbearable. The discomfort also varies from situation to situation. I’m more comfortable making eye contact with people I know very well or hardly at all. People who I know somewhat (professors, fellow students, business acquaintances) are the ones who make me most uncomfortable when it comes to eye contact.

The discomfort goes beyond simply feeling weird. It’s a physical sensation. I physically feel like I can’t continue to look into the person’s eyes a second longer. If I do sustain eye contact beyond that point, I get a strong sensation of needing to flee the room.

The classic “fight or flight” symptoms suggest that my brain is perceiving sustained eye contact with certain people as a threat. Why is this? And why does it happen most strongly with people who I consider acquaintances but not strangers or intimates?

Perhaps it’s because I’m self-conscious about the uneven balance of social power in these situations? The other person is clearly gathering social data from my eyes but I’m not able to do the same. Ironically, given my small range of often inappropriate expressions, what they’re gathering is probably as useless as the fragments of nonverbal communication that I’m picking up from them.

Eye contact with strangers tends to be fleeting and meaningless. The exchange of information feels limited and safe. Eye contact with my husband or daughter, on the other hand, carries none of the social balance of power issues that I feel with acquaintances. I don’t need to worry about what they might be discovering about me or whether I’m missing some key nonverbal cue (because if I am, they’ll tell me).

Acquaintances, however, are still (or sometimes perpetually) in the “getting to know you” stage. We’re feeling each other out, gathering data that will determine the course of future interactions and cement our perceptions of each other.

For NTs, eye contact is a rich and layered language. It’s the conversation within the conversation. As aspies, we’re largely deaf to this language. It’s no wonder it makes us so uncomfortable when others try to “speak” to us with their eyes.

Perseveration: Brought to You by the Number 2

This is what social script fail looks like:

Restaurant hostess: “How are you today?”
Me: “Two!”
Hostess: “Great!”

Once we were seated at our table, my husband waited a few minutes before gently pointing out that when the hostess asked me how I was, I replied, “Two.”

I explained that I was expecting her to ask “how many?” not “how are you?” Once I’ve loaded a social script into my brain, it can be hard to stop it from executing. Even though I heard the words “how are you,” by the time I processed the question, my brain had already pulled the trigger on “two!” and I couldn’t have stopped it if I tried.

That’s perseveration in action. The same tendency that makes aspies prone to repetitive actions and thoughts also causes the “persistence of the same verbal response regardless of the stimulus.”*

In my head I’d already rehearsed the answer to the anticipated question–the stimulus–a couple of times. When the “stimulus” changed and the actual question was different from the rehearsed question, I couldn’t shift my response to something appropriate.

Admittedly I was distracted by a conversation we’d been having on the way to the restaurant so my dependence on the script was greater than normal. I was on social script autopilot. Thankfully, the hostess was deep in her own script (Great!) so she glossed right over my reply and whisked us off to a table for two without even blinking.

And for the rest of the day, whenever I randomly blurted out “Two!” my husband replied “Great!” and then we both burst out laughing.

Every. Single. Time.

*from Mosby’s Medical dictionary

When All You Can Draw is a Blank

Right before starting my freshman year in high school, I spent a week visiting my college-age cousin in Brooklyn. It all felt very grown-up, with her living in the studio apartment she shared with a roommate and me on my first extended trip away from home.

She was my favorite cousin–someone I thought was smart and cool and funny–and I assumed she’d have all sorts of exciting things planned for us. Once I got settled in, she asked me, “What do you want to do?”

“I don’t know.” I had no idea. The city seemed impossibly big and, being from the suburbs of Connecticut, I couldn’t imagine what city people did.

She looked disappointed at my answer and that made me a little annoyed. She lived here. Shouldn’t she have a plan? What kind of person invites someone for a week-long visit with no plan?

“What kind of things are there to do?”

She looked at me like what kind of person doesn’t know what there is to do in New York?

We went for a walk around her neighborhood, then we went to paint a room in the brownstone owned by her boyfriend’s medical school professor. The professor was on vacation so we got to cook out in his miniature garden after we’d finished painting.

Throughout the day, the what do you want to do conversation came up a few more times, and each time I could tell she was growing more frustrated, while I grew more panicked.

I truly had no idea what I wanted to do. She couldn’t believe this was possible.

I couldn’t even come up with the simplest suggestion like ‘I want a cheeseburger’ or ‘I want to see the Empire State Building.’ Every time she asked what I wanted to do, my mind went completely blank and then flooded with panicked variations of what’s wrong with me?

Because she–and now her boyfriend and roommate–obviously expected me to know what I wanted to do.

Finally, as we were finishing up dinner at the professor’s brownstone, my cousin handed me the current edition of The New Yorker. “Here,” she said, “look through the events in the front and find something you want to do this week.”

“Like what?” I asked, still not getting it.

“Anything,” she replied.

I flipped through the pages, reading the listings for movies and art shows. Choosing still seemed impossible, even now that I had a finite list to pick from. Comparing each option with all the others was overwhelming, and what if I picked the wrong thing and they thought I was weird? I’d learned by then that I had weird interests for my age and gender.

I eventually put the magazine down and the three of them looked at me expectantly. “What do you guys want to do?” I asked.

“Do you like comedy?” my cousin’s roommate asked.

“Yes!” Yes, I did. I loved sitcoms and stand-up comics. In fact, before my cousin moved away, we used to spend hours in her room listening to her Steve Martin albums.

“Why didn’t you say so?” the roommate asked.

Because even though I like comedy and it was a favorite way to spend time with my cousin, it just didn’t occur to me. For an aspie, this is a familiar occurrence. It happens when someone asks me what I want to eat or what my favorite color is or where I want to go on vacation. In my head, these questions have an infinite number of possible answers and I don’t know how to begin narrowing the possibilities down.

The same is true if someone hands me a piece of paper and says “draw something.” My immediate reaction is “but what?” I’m an avid writer, but I never sit down at the computer unless I have a firm idea of what I want to write. To open a blank document with no idea of where I plan to start writing is unthinkable. It terrifies me and would be completely unproductive. I’d be better off taking a nap because at least then I wouldn’t be beating myself up over how bad I am at coming up with spontaneously creative ideas.

“Just think” is a common phrase of encouragement when someone draws a blank. But for aspies, the harder we try, the more elusive the answer becomes. The biggest problem is that when I “just think” in those situations, I’m devoting 90% of my thoughts and energy to the fact that I can’t think of an answer and how stupid that must be making me look.

I there’s a relatively straightforward explanation for why aspies have difficulty with things like deciding what to order off a menu at a new restaurant. The thought process involved in these types of decisions requires us to apply emotional discrimination to arrive at a choice.

For example, in choosing what I want from a menu, I’ll first eliminate the things I don’t like. Then I have to decide what I’m in the mood for. Pasta or soup? A burger or a salad? This usually involves considering what I’ve had for other meals that day or even in recent days, because I like to balance my meals.

It also takes into consideration what the other people at the table are having. I don’t like to order the same thing as anyone else. If possible I’d like my entree to be complementary to my husband’s so we can share. If he gets steak, I’ll get a vegetarian dish or seafood. Finally, I’ll factor in what the restaurant specializes in, giving those dishes more weight based on the reasoning that a steakhouse isn’t going to have good fish (which is probably faulty logic in many cases).

This process of elimination usually leaves me with a few choices, any of which I’d be perfectly happy eating. I could ask the waitress to bring any one of my “finalists” and whichever showed up, I’d be content with it. But restaurants don’t work like that, so I often end up choosing at random. The waitress is standing by the table and everyone else has ordered and I’ll simply pick the choice I was thinking about last or the one my eyes happen to fall on when I look back at the menu.

At restaurants that I’ve visited more than a few times, I don’t have this problem. I order the same thing every time. Olive Garden? Spaghetti and meatballs. Cleopatra’s? The al meriam plate. Rooftop Pizza? The number 6 pizza with artichoke hearts, goat cheese and sundried tomatoes.

A lot of aspies have food sensitivities, which lead to eating a limited range of foods. But for others–those of us with few or no issues about with what type of foods we can eat– the tendency to eat the same thing over and over may have something to do with how hard it is to choose, how much work we have to put into identifying what we like and want at any given moment.

As an adult I’ve learned some strategies that make me look less clueless. If I’m visiting someone’s house and they ask me what I want to drink, I’ve learned to ask, “What do you have?” This has the dual benefit of narrowing down my choices and giving me a few extra seconds to process the choice I’m going to have to make. Same thing with “what do you want to do?” The easiest reply is “what are you in the mood for?” or “what’s fun to do on a Saturday night around here?” NTs have lots of preferences, often strong ones, and are generally happy to lead.

I’m not suggesting that aspies need to be wishy-washy followers, but when you have trouble making choices, a little help from NT friends or relatives helps shorten the list of possibilities and take away those long terrifying moments of your brain chanting I don’t know over and over again.

How did the rest of that vacation go? My cousin and her friends took me to an improv show in a dark little basement comedy club the next night and I loved it. We went to the Museum of Natural History (I fantasized about living in a museum a kid), a street market, an old art film, and an erotic bakery. Her roommate let me help her conduct a phone survey for her sociology class, counting to every tenth name in a random section of the phonebook and dialing the numbers for her. My cousin’s boyfriend took me to spend a day at the psychiatric facility at Bellevue Hospital where he was studying as part of his medical school work at NYU. His professor (whose house we had painted) showed me the film “Everybody Rides the Carousel” about Erik Erikson’s eight stages of life.

Then I got a tour of the massive medical library and the human dissection lab which had actual corpses in various stages of dissection. There was even a cross-section of a penis in a jar, which was morbidly fascinating for a teenage girl. For an entire week, nobody looked at me like I was a weirdo for enjoying picking names out of a phone book or staring into the chest cavity of a corpse or being fascinated by Erik Erikson. It was one of the best weeks of my teenage years.

And a post-postscript: When I searched for “Everybody Rides the Carousel” I found this clip and was reminded about why I was so fascinated by the film. It has a certain nonlinear, demented quality to it that I still find hard to unravel.

That’s What Love Is. Thoughts . . .

Are aspies capable of love? Maybe it depends on how you look at it . . .

In the reimagined version of TV series Battlestar Galactica (yes, I’m a geek), two of the main characters have the following conversation:

Adama: Did you love her?
Tyrol: Thought I did.
Adama: Well, when you think you love somebody, you love them. That’s what love is. Thoughts…

If love is thoughts, then it’s the expression of those thoughts that separates aspies from neurotypical people. Aspies tend to express love through practical actions, whereas NTs are more likely to express love through words or symbolic actions.

What do I mean by practical versus symbolic actions? In The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome, Dr. Tony Attwood tells a story about a diagnostic interview question that he uses with young children. He asks the child what she would do if she came home to find that her mother was standing in the kitchen crying.

Neurotypical children will suggest solutions like giving their mother a hug (symbolic action) or asking her what’s wrong (love as words). Children with Asperger’s will suggest solutions like leaving her alone (being left alone is comforting for aspies) or bringing her a box of tissues (practical action).  Continue reading That’s What Love Is. Thoughts . . .