Recently, while writing something, I was struck by the idea that there is no Rain Woman, no archetypal autistic woman in pop culture. Later, I realized that while we don’t have a fictional archetype, there is a woman who many people associate with being autistic.
If you’re a woman on the spectrum, within moments of mentioning to an acquaintance that you’re autistic or have Aspergers, you’ll often be asked, “Have you heard of Temple Grandin?”
This is a bit like asking a physicist if they’ve heard of Stephen Hawking. Probably, right?
The thing is, the average physicist has little in common with Stephen Hawking. And I have little in common with Temple Grandin.
I’ve seen Dr. Grandin’s speeches, read her writing, and heard a great deal about her accomplishments and her life story. And aside from the fact that we’re both on the spectrum and are women, we have very little in common. She has an advanced degree, is a professor and internationally recognized speaker, and has invented technology that revolutionized her field. She was diagnosed with autism as a child and had extensive therapy growing up. She is unmarried and has chosen not to have children. She’s been known to say that her work takes the place of an intimate partner relationship in her life.
Temple Grandin fits the popular culture model of “autistic equals brilliant loner” and like the Rain Man stereotype, I can’t see myself in that model. For one thing, I’m not brilliant. There’s a huge gap between smart and genius. Smart is getting a perfect grade on a math test. Genius is reinventing the way something is done. I would love to be a genius. Who wouldn’t? But I’m not and, in fact, few autistic people are. Continue reading I Am Not Temple Grandin→
I had jury duty recently. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the US jury service system, US citizens are periodically required to fulfill our civic duty by reporting to a local courthouse and making ourselves available to sit on a jury panel for a criminal or civil trial. The processes vary quite a bit from place to place but often you show up for a day at the courthouse and get sent home without actually sitting on a jury.
Unless you’re really lucky. Like me. Then, somehow, you get put on a jury 2 out of the 3 times you’ve ever been called to serve.
Together with seven other people, I got assigned to a jury panel for a 3-day civil trial. The case was strange. The testimony was at times fascinating, at times mind-numbingly boring. None of that is especially what I want to talk about.
Like so much else in life these days, I approached jury duty as an experiment. A socializing experiment. I decided it was the perfect opportunity to reboot my approach to interacting with strangers. It was a relatively safe, time-limited interaction–if things went poorly, I knew that I would only have to spend three days with these people and then I’d never see them again.
In the past, I would have done my best to pass, hoping that my fellow jurors would like me and more importantly, not think I was too weird. This time around, I made a conscious decision not to worry about that. Continue reading Socializing: Reboot→
Shame. All the things I’m supposed to be able to do. The ways executive function undermines developmental expectations. What it means to be independent and what it means to be developmentally delayed and why those two things are not mutually exclusive.
Because I don’t live “independently.” I never have. I don’t know if I could or not. I probably could if I had to, though maybe not as successfully as I’d like to pretend.
You’re doing it again, veering into an easier topic to avoid that shame thing a little longer.
Right. Shame. Hang on.
Hey, enough with the Googling! Get back here and write something.
The Scientist has proposed a 30-day experiment. He says I need to practice doing what I want to do. He says, in addition to being good for me, it will help him to get to know me better. We’ve known each other for 28 years, so this feels a little late in the game for getting to know each other better. And yet . . .
What really intrigued me about his proposal is how it might help me get to know myself better. If you’re a long time reader, you might remember that last year I wrote about how much difficulty I have figuring out what I want. I often haphazardly make minor decisions, only to find I’m unhappy with the results. Here’s an example, the one that sparked the idea for the experiment:
I tried out a new recipe for dinner last week–a light summer mix of fresh tomatoes, red onions, squash and fried okra from the farmer’s market. When The Scientist tasted it, he said the flavor was too strong for him but he’d make some pasta to toss the veggies with. Since I was already cooking, I made the pasta, and for some reason I mixed all of the veggies with the pasta instead of setting my half aside. The resulting pasta dish tasted okay, but it wasn’t what I had in mind when I chose the recipe.
After dinner I was feeling gloomy, silently perseverating. As we were sitting down to watch TV, I blurted out, “I have no idea why I ate that. It wasn’t what I wanted.”
The Scientist, surprised by how upset I was, asked why I ate it if I didn’t want it. My answer: “I don’t know.”
A longish discussion ensued. The next day. Because we’re slow to process things. One of the conclusions we came to is that I sometimes do things to please other people at the expense of own preferences. Strangely, this seems to be more of a reflex action than a conscious choice.
So the experiment is this: for 30 days, I’m supposed to do whatever I want. This is alarmingly vague.
What do I want? Decision making–even the simplest decisions–can tie me up in knots. My primary decision-making strategies:
1. What do you want? I’ve noticed that other people often have stronger preferences or are more aware of what they want or like than I am. If what they suggest isn’t objectionable to me, I’ll go along with their choice. Decision making by proxy. Simple. Efficient. And probably one of the main reasons I have so much trouble figuring out my own wants and preferences.
2. I don’t want A. By default I must want B. If someone says “do you want Chinese food or Pizza?” it rarely occurs to me that I actually want a burger.
3. This is too hard. I give up. When there are too many options, I don’t know where to start. I choose the first option that isn’t terrible. These are often the choices I end up feeling most ambivalent about.
4. I want A but it’s too much work. I’ll just settle for B. This is how I made decisions when I’m overloaded. I would love ice cream right now but going out to get it sounds exhausting so I’ll have this peach instead.
5. I want this thing and nothing else. This sounds great. It’s not. What I want is often imaginary. In my head it’s this perfect thing. In reality, it turns out to be a pale shadow of what I anticipated.
6. I want A, but I can tell you want B. If one of us has to be disappointed, I’d rather it be me. This makes me sound like such a martyr. Honestly, it’s an annoying reflex response that I need to cure myself of. Done too often, it breeds resentment.
Writing this out helps me understand better why I often feel ambivalent or unsatisfied with minor decisions. I need new strategies. The Scientist says to try just feeling it. This is hard. I’m used to making decisions based on logic and reasoning.
But . . . 30 days of being with this question of “what do I want?” might change that. We’ll see.
Thank you to everyone who helped me refine the cover art last week and cheered me on. That last mile was more difficult than I anticipated. Now I need to do some promotion so I can get my giveaway idea off the ground. Strangely, I’m really good at promoting other people’s stuff and am probably going to be terrible at promoting my own.
Another Adult ASD Research Study
This week, I received information on two more research studies. If you live to fill out questionnaires, are over 18 and have an ASD diagnosis, read on. Both studies are by being conducted by Kathrine Birt as part of her Doctoral research at Deakin University in Australia. The goal of the studies is to better understand the impact of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnoses on intimate couple relationship development (in adulthood).
The first is a questionnaire that takes about 20 minutes to complete. To participate, you need to be over 18 and have an ASD diagnosis. You don’t need to currently be in a relationship to be eligible, but if you are in a relationship, you’ll be presented with additional and more detailed questions. (I’ve completed both questionnaires, because I like to be sure I know what I’m sharing information about.) More info about the first study is here.
Study number 2 is for adults with ASD and their intimate partners. Both partners must be over 18 and one must have an ASD diagnosis. The questionnaire for the individual with ASD takes about 30 minutes to complete. After completion, a link is provided for a second (10-15 minute) questionnaire to be completed by that person’s partner. More information about study #2 is here.
Note that for both studies, clicking the “continue to study” button on the first page takes you to a second page with more details about things like the type of information collected, how the information will be used and privacy protections.
Not Quite a Hippity Hop
This is my new exercise ball:
I’ve been using the exercise ball at the gym after my twice-a-week workouts and decided I needed one at home. It’s a fun sensory toy and a good way to stretch and release the tension that I seem to perpetually carry in my upper back and shoulders. Once, a yoga instructor who told me that I carry my negative emotions between my shoulder blades. My slightly less interesting explanation is that I unconsciously put myself in awkward postures that create tension in my body, maybe as a kind of stim. The exercise ball is a good way to consciously check in with my muscles and release the tension so it doesn’t build up into nagging injuries.
Sadly, it doesn’t have a handle so I can’t hop around the living room on it.
Some Girl Stuff
Last week Asparagus Girl wrote a blog post about perimenopause and Asperger’s. Not much has been written about menopause by women on the spectrum so I was excited to see her tackling the subject. The post mainly focuses on mood swings, which should be called mood slingshots or mood boomerangs or something more violent and dangerous and in line with reality.Think PMS on steroids.
I’ve noticed an uptick in meltdowns over the last few years as my hormones become more wacky. I’m definitely more irritable, too, and sometimes I find myself in a strange, unpleasant moods for no obvious reason. There’s other stuff–some that’s TMI even for me–and taken together all of these changes have me wondering if women on the spectrum experience perimenopause differently from typical women. Not necessarily if we have worse symptoms, but if our funky brain wiring creates unexpected side effects of the hormone fluctuations that precede menopause.
Predictably, this isn’t any substantial research on autism and menopause. Like a lot of aspects of being an autistic adult, I’m finding the best source of information is other women who are going through or have done through the process already.
This week’s questions are about acceptance and gender/sexuality/body image. You can answer here or at Survey Monkey, wherever you feel most comfortable. (I’m going to break from pattern and answer anonymously this week, because . . . reasons.)
I’ve created two separate surveys at Survey Monkey:
As always, this is open to anyone, regardless of official diagnosis.
Do your friends and family ask you about your diagnosis? Do you feel supported by them?
Do you ever feel ashamed to be autistic/technically disabled/different? Especially after spending a big chunk of your life as a ‘normal’ person?
Do you all experience a lot of double standards regarding your autism, and how do you deal with this? For instance, it annoys me so much that an NT person can move their hands around, fiddle with clothing etc, but when I do it, it’s stimming and therefore A Bad Thing in the eyes of others.
If you could be neurotypical, would you want to be?
How often do you hear someone use autistic as a pejorative?
Before you realised you were autistic did you ever understand yourself as being somehow not human or not from your culture of birth? (e.g. an alien from the wrong planet or born into the wrong country, century or species etc)
How do you relate to gender? What is your understanding of the word/concept?
Has there been a point in your life when you felt that you wanted to be, or were meant to be, a gender different to the one you were raised as? (If so, why do you think this was, how old were you, how long did this last?)
Do you currently believe in or follow gender roles and stereotypes? (for example, roles/rules about how you’re meant to dress and present yourself, what interests you’re meant to have, how assertive/emotional/nurturing/etc you’re supposed to be, what role you’re supposed to take in personal and professional relationships, etc)
If you are some variety of transgender or answered that you’re gender nonconformist in some way, do you think that this is in any way related to your autistic traits? Do you think you ‘do gender’ or ‘do transgender’ differently to other people because you’re autistic?
Is your sexuality, romantic orientation or preferred relationship structure different from our cultural norms in some way? If so how does this differ and do you think this is related to your being autistic?
Have you ever had any difficulties with your self image, if so how did these manifest? (such as physical/bodily gender dysphoria, body dysmorphia, eating disorders)
Thank you for all of the thoughtful questions! There are a total of 49–obviously too many to answer in one week. I’ve divided them up by subject, because, you know, autistic and need to categorize everything. I’ll spread the survey out over the next four weeks.
The vote on where to answer was a virtual tie so we’ll do it both ways. You can answer here in the comments or you can answer anonymously at Survey Monkey.
If you answer at Survey Monkey, just fill out the questions that apply/appeal to you and leave the rest blank. I’ll bring the Survey Monkey answers over here and paste them into comments so that everyone can read them.
If you answer here, it might be helpful to number your answers according to the question numbers. So if you’re answering questions 3, 5, 7 and 8, your answers would be numbered 3, 5, 7 and 8. That way we can easily scan down the comments looking for answers to the questions that interest us most.
A few questions were on the long side so I tried to include the essential information here and then added a link back to the original comment for more details.
This week’s topic is . . . relationships–friends, family, significant others, etc. Next week will be work/school and sensory sensitivities. Week three will be general coping strategies and acceptance. Finally, week four will be special skills and fun stuff.
ETA: Although a couple of questions reference diagnosis, this is open to all those who identify as on the spectrum (professionally diagnosed, self-diagnosed and suspected aspies/autistics/people with autism).
Does anyone find that you really long for close friendships?
Does anyone obsess over someone you’ve just met? ( almost like they become your ‘special interest’ )
Is anyone part of an Aspie married couple or long-term partnership?
What stuff have you learned about interacting with other people that you think is important to know but was not obvious to you at first?
How do you cope with parents who care, and are taking care of you (or at least helping you work on taking care of yourself), but don’t *understand* you? Don’t have the conception of how hard it can be to do things, like work on not taking naps when you end up exhausted, or deal with financial stuff, or do job searching, or talk on the telephone? more details here
How has your partner (if you have one) reacted to your late diagnosis and do they now see you as ‘disabled?’
Do you have autistic friends and if so, is it easier to hang with them rather than neurotypical folk?
What about the times that you don’t feel like having physical interactions with anyone? You don’t want hugs, kisses, or even simple touches. I am usually overwhelmed with sensory stuff at that point (auditory, visual, touch, taste, the whole mess) and I have trouble articulating it. Should I wait until I’m not in a crisis and try to describe these things to others in a way they might understand better? more details here
Has anyone been disowned by their family at diagnosis?
If you have children, are they aware of your ASD and how do they feel about it?
This is the last post in series about the lessons my husband (NT) and I (aspie) have learned during the 25 years we’ve been married.
Learn how to recognize your partner’s expressions of love
Aspies and NTs speak completely different languages when it comes to expressions of love. You can either learn to translate your partner’s “love language” or you can spend the rest of your marriage wondering if this person you’re sleeping next to every night really, actually loves you.
How does this translation work? Like this:
The Scientist: “You don’t have to make my lunch every morning. I can pick something up in the cafeteria.”
Me: “I don’t mind. It only takes a few minutes and I know you’d rather have something healthy to eat. This way you don’t have to waste time waiting in line.”
The Scientist: “So you mean you make my lunch because you care about me, right?”
Accept that there are things you’ll never understand about your partner
No matter how long you live together or how much you love each other, there will be moments when you feel like your partner is the most incomprehensible person on Earth. The aspie and NT brains have key differences. The sooner you accept this, the less frustrated you’ll be when your partner does something that leaves you scratching your head.
There have been many times when The Scientist has given up on a conversation with the words, “I just don’t understand you.” It’s not that he isn’t trying. He’ll ask me lots of questions to try to zero in on an explanation for something I’ve done or said. He’ll wait semi-patiently while I sit mutely and stare off into the distance, unable to put words to what I’m feeling. He’ll repeat things back to me to see if he’s hearing me correctly. But no matter how many different ways I explain it, it still doesn’t make sense to him because we’re both starting from fundamentally different places.
This goes both ways. The day The Scientist told me that he feels something–a physical sensation of warmth was how he described it–when he says, “I love you” I was stunned. I tell him that I love him every day but I’ve never associated a physical feeling with those words.
I can logically understand what this physical feeling might be like, but I’ll probably never know exactly what he feels. By the same token, I can tell him that when I sit in a crowded restaurant, my brain is tracking the conversations at all of the tables within earshot, but I don’t think he can ever replicate that experience in his own head.
We can make educated guesses at what’s going on inside the head of our partner, but there will always be some experiences that we can’t truly understand.
Have realistic expectations but don’t stop trying to grow and improve your relationship.
When faced with the day-to-day challenges of an aspie-NT marriage, it would be easy for both partners to simply give up in frustration. I can think of plenty of times when walking away would have been easier and less painful than trying to work things out.
Balancing realistic expectations–by both partners–with a concerted effort to improve can be a relationship-saver. Realistic expectations go both ways. The NT partner shouldn’t expect the aspie partner to morph into a typical person overnight. (The Scientist says he wouldn’t want this even it were possible.)
By the same token, the aspie partner shouldn’t expect the NT partner to simply put up with an endless barrage of unchecked aspie behavior. Knowing what can be changed and what can be tolerated is essential.
The second part of this equation is one that might draw some heat from aspies. I’m a firm believer in trying to improve my ability to function in an NT world. Before anyone jumps down my throat about the potential evils of assimilating, let me explain.
The day I explained to my husband about my Asperger’s, one of the first things he said was, “I love you exactly the way you are.” I treasure that and I know it’s not something he said just to make me feel better. He means it. But I also know that I’m hard to live with. I find myself hard to live with at times. So when I say I want to improve my level of functioning, it’s because I want to struggle less on a daily basis and because I want the people around me–the people I love–to struggle less. It has nothing to do with conforming to the expectations of an NT world and everything to do with making life less stressful and more enjoyable for myself and my family.
This is the 3rd in a 4 part series about the lessons my husband (NT) and I (aspie) have learned during the 25 years we’ve been married.
Recognize that aspies need plenty of alone time
Being alone is how people with Asperger’s regroup. When I retreat to my home office and close the door, it doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the company of my family. It has nothing to do with how much I love my husband. It doesn’t mean that I’m disinterested, selfish, cold or insensitive. It means I’ve hit my limit for social interaction and need to recharge.
Somehow, The Scientist figured this out years before we knew anything about Asperger’s and has learned to recognize when I’m nearing my limit, sometimes before I do. If we have guests staying with us for a few days, he makes a point to build time alone for me into the schedule. If he sees that I’m starting to tire or withdraw during a long social event, he’ll suggest that we do something away from the crowd for a short time to help me refocus. He’s also come to accept that when I say I need to leave a social situation, I’ve truly stuck it out as long as I can, and staying longer is going to cost me more than it’s worth.
I probably sound like a social tyrant. Maybe I am. I’m certainly not an average wife who thrives on entertaining and socializing. But I’ve learned that being realistic about my limits–and pushing at them where I can–is less destructive to our relationship than overreaching and ending up in tears.
Good advice for any marriage, but especially important when one partner has Asperger’s Syndrome. You may find that some of the compromises you make are unconventional. For example, The Scientist and I have realized that we need to compromise about which social occasions I attend. He gets invited to a lot of work-related dinners, cocktail hours, award ceremonies, etc. We’ve concluded–after much arguing, discussing and agonizing–that it’s unrealistic to expect that I’ll attend every event (his preference) or none of them (my preference).
Our compromise is that I’ll attend the important events and he’ll go to the less important events alone. This means that I’m going to be uncomfortable some of the time (talking to strangers–oh no!) and he’s going to be uncomfortable at times (making excuses for my absence). Like most compromises, no one is completely happy with this arrangement, but it’s the least bad option.
Compromising can be a hard skill for aspies to master. I’ve found that it helps to take a cost-benefit approach. What is doing this for my partner going to cost me? What would not doing it cost him? What are the potential benefits–for him, for me, for our relationship?
For social occasions, the biggest costs are usually the anxiety in the days leading up to the event and the physical exhaustion I’ll feel afterwards. The benefits tend to be a happy husband and some enjoyable moments of social interaction. By listing the costs and benefits as concretely as possible, it’s easier for me to find places where I can compromise rather than reflexively rejecting every social invitation as being too much work.
Identify triggers and try to work around them
Triggers may seem odd or even incomprehensible to the NT partner. Case in point: I don’t like having the bathroom fan on while I shower. The drone of the fan and the feel of moving air on my wet skin are unpleasant sensations. Complicating matters, the shower light and bathroom fan are on the same switch so to avoid the fan I have to shower in semi-darkness. The Scientist thinks this is silly. He rolls his eyes when I flip the switch off. He says I’ll get used to it. He points out that the fan is on the other side of the bathroom. He understands a lot of my quirks but not this one.
All aspies have triggers–experiences that elicit a stress response.Some people have many and others just a few. Triggers can be environmental/sensory (sounds, smells), social (crowds, public speaking), or situational (new places, unexpected changes). Some triggers, like the bathroom fan, are mild. They cause discomfort or low level anxiety, but we can live with them if we have to. Others are more severe, leading to angry outbursts, crying jags or mute withdrawal.
If the aspie partner has clearly identified and communicated her triggers, the NT partner needs to do his best to respect them and make accommodations if necessary. Sometimes an accommodation is as simple as not explaining yet again why something would be fine if only the aspie would give it a try. Other accommodations can be more stressful on a relationship. If the aspie partner can only get a good night’s sleep by sleeping alone or she finds grocery stores intolerable, both partners need to be open and honest about what kind of accommodations are feasible.
You’ll find this advice at the top of most “secrets to a happy marriage” lists. The thing about being married to an aspie is that we have serious communication deficits. The NT partner may think he is communicating but most of what he’s saying doesn’t seem to be getting through. NTs communicate in subtle ways that aspies find difficult to interpret.
Here’s a typical example: One day I was making lunch and the following exchange took place:
Me: “I found this great new recipe for chorizo and grits. Do you want to try some?”
The Scientist: “That’s okay. I’m not very hungry.”
I was a little hurt that he didn’t want to try the new recipe I was obviously so excited about but I went ahead and made enough for myself. Thinking he might like to taste it, I offered him a bite.
The Scientist: “Wow, that’s great. Is that all you made?”
Me: “Yeah. You said you didn’t want any.”
The Scientist: “But I hoped you’d make me some anyhow.”
Me: “I asked you if you wanted some and you said you weren’t hungry.”
The Scientist: “I didn’t want to make extra work and I wasn’t sure if you had enough for both of us.”
I was stunned. It would have been no extra work to double the portion and I had plenty of ingredients. Why hadn’t he just said “yes” when I asked if he wanted some? Apparently I was supposed to know that his “no” meant “yes.” Apparently this is what “good wives” do. We both felt bad afterwards–he felt like I was being selfish by cooking only for myself and I felt like I’d been tested and failed.
Keep in mind that we’ve been married for twenty-five years and know each very well. Yet, this still happens now and then.
Aspies need explicit communication. Forget about dropping hints. Forget about body language and inferences. We need to be told exactly what our NT partner wants, needs, or expects. And we may need to be told more than once, in slightly different ways, until we get it.
This is the 2nd part of a 4 part series about the lessons my husband (NT) and I (aspie) have learned during the 25 years we’ve been married.
Accept that aspies have good days and bad days.
I try hard to keep some of my more annoying aspie traits under control, but there are times when symptoms that I thought I had a handle on suddenly resurface or worsen. This tends to happen when I’m stressed or anxious.
A few weeks ago, an unplanned four-hour wait at the DMV triggered a bout of perseverative thinking. Even though I was aware of it, it was difficult to stop going over and over the situation in my head and, worse, out loud. It wasn’t like I wanted to keep recalculating our potential wait time based on the rate of customers being served times the number of people ahead of us factoring in the bizarre DMV numbering system that involved six different letter prefixes plus the periodic return to the queue of skipped numbers. It wasn’t that I was enjoying obsessing over each clerk who disappeared on break, thereby lengthening our wait time, or repeatedly pointing out how arbitrary the list of required identity documents was. I just couldn’t stop myself from doing it, even though I was aware of what was happening and aware of how my perseveration was making a stressful situation worse for both of us.
Anxiety or sensory overload can aggravate a wide variety of Asperger’s symptoms.When I’m stressed I find that I’m more clumsy, less open to being touched, more rigid in my thinking, less willing to deviate from routine, more vulnerable to perseverate thinking, more prone to tunnel vision, and more likely to struggle with auditory processing. Symptoms that don’t normally interfere with my functioning can become a big obstacle. I know it’s frustrating for my husband to find himself in a stressful situation and then have to deal with an outbreak of my aspie traits on top of everything else. These are the moments that really test our marriage and I’m still working on finding ways to make them less awful for both of us.
Try to balance the aspie partner’s touch sensitivities with the NT partner’s need for physical affection
Touching, one of the most important and fundamental aspects of an intimate relationship, can be uncomfortable for people with Asperger’s. Although I’ve made a lot of progress in this area, there are still times when I shrink away from being touched.
Certain types of touching in particular–light touches and those that come at unexpected times–are more likely to be uncomfortable. When I’m intensely engaged in an activity, being touched often registers as an unwanted distraction rather than spontaneous affection. I’m also more likely to pull away from touch when I’m stressed or anxious.
Then there are the times when my brain is so busy trying to figure out where a certain type of touch is headed that it’s hard to simply relax and enjoy the moment. Because aspies don’t get many of the nonverbal cues involved in intimate relationships, we rely heavily on the intellectual side of our brains to process how an intimate moment is going to proceed. Yeah, that’s about as romantic as it sounds.
All of this can be very hard on an NT partner who naturally craves physical affection. Although it’s hard to change how I feel about being touched at the “wrong” time, I try to compensate by initiating physical contact that I’m comfortable with at a time that’s good for me.
Author Liane Holliday Willey once took a lot of heat for including holding her husband’s hand five times a day on her “to-do” list. Putting handholding on a to-do list may sound cold and mechanical but that doesn’t mean that the action itself has to be mechanical. Since I’ve begun consciously looking for opportunities to initiate small touches during the day, I find that being physically affectionate has become more of a natural instinct for me and that feels good.
Accept that the NT partner may need to compensate for the aspie partner’s social skills deficits at times.
No matter how hard I work at improving my social skills, I still regularly miss nonverbal cues, resulting in everything from confused looks and awkward pauses to downright hostility from other people.
Here’s a recent example from when The Scientist and I met with a saleswoman about a new apartment:
Saleswoman to The Scientist (who she’d met previously): “It’s good to see you again.”
The Scientist : “It’s good to see you, too.”
Saleswoman to me: “I’m Linda. It’s nice to meet you. Have a seat.”
Me (shaking her offered hand then sitting down): “Thanks, it’s nice to meet you too.”
The Scientist : “Oh, Linda, I don’t think you met my wife.”
I had no idea what was causing the awkward pause until The Scientist jumped in and offered my name to the saleswoman. What threw me was this: The Scientist had already met Linda and didn’t introduce himself. I must have been subconsciously modeling his behavior so I didn’t introduce myself either.
This sounds like a minor hiccup in the conversation but it happens frequently and it unsettles people. As an aspie–and an adult–it can be hard to accept that you need this type of help from your partner. Again, get over it. We all have skills that come naturally and social skills aren’t on the list of natural talents for aspies.
This is an area where practice can help. If the NT partner is willing, you can try roleplaying or talking through how unfamiliar events might play out. However, both partners need to understand that while aspies can work at improving social skills, it’s unlikely that they’ll achieve the sort of social proficiency that comes naturally to NTs.
Having to frequently repair social errors is hard on the NT partner and will probably continue to be an issue throughout your partnership. Acceptance can go a long way in situations where change is slow and inconsistent.