Adventures in a Neurologically Mixed Marriage

Archive for August, 2013

Brain-lock! A Peek Inside the Inner Workings of an Over-stimulated Asperger’s Brain

What do you do when your husband freezes in a river full of moving people?

"SchafherdeInKoeln" by © Túrelio (via Wikimedia-Commons), 2002 /. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons

“SchafherdeInKoeln” by © Túrelio (via Wikimedia-Commons), 2002 /. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons

After a Go-Go’s concert, we got up to leave the Hollywood Bowl bleacher seats with thousands of other people. Tom’s hand gripped my shoulder.

“Are you all right?” I said.

He gripped harder and we crept toward the exit. I knew something was wrong so I tried to guide him. People were pushing from all sides. It was like rush hour on the 405 Freeway and there was no place to pull over.

“We’re almost out,” I said.

But as soon as we squeezed out of the theater, many lines of people converged from the various exits. We were in the middle of this crushing mass, trying to walk downhill.

“Wall,” Tom said.

I aimed for the snack bar building, about 20 yards away. We were oozing along with a somewhat raucous crowd of tipsy concert-goers, and the momentum was preventing us from reaching the perimeter.

And then Tom froze. He wouldn’t move or respond to me.

He says:

One of the hazards of Asperger’s Syndrome and ASD is something I call brain-lock. People on the autism spectrum tend to be hypersensitive to everyday stimuli that people not on the spectrum have the ability to ignore. Brain-lock occurs when too much sensory information comes in and the mind seizes up.

A crush of humanity triggers brain-lock in me.

At the end of the concert of 80’s bands, I held back and waited for the crowds to thin out. I know my limitations. There seemed to be a break so off we went. That’s when the crush began. I gripped Linda’s shoulders and let her lead me through as brain-lock descended. I honestly had no idea of who, what or where I was. It’s like standing in the eye of a swirling hurricane of colors, sounds, sensations and thoughts, where nothing—even your own existence—makes any sense.

“Are you all right?” I heard Linda ask through the swirling blur of loud Hawaiian shirts, shouting voices, the feel of bodies crushing in on me and the smell of stale margaritas. What she was saying made no sense to me.

I tried parsing out the words.

Are—R?  Arrrgh?

You—U? Ewww? Ewe?

All right?—Al Wright? Awl rite? All left?

“Wall,” was all I could manage. I knew if I had something solid, I at least stood a chance to get my bearings and just make it all stop. If nothing else, I knew it would eventually end when enough people left. We couldn’t make it. There were just so many souls in this river of humanity that the wall was about as far away as the moon. We kept going.

Eventually we reached an open area and I dove for the nearest people-free space. I vaguely remember clinging onto the railing of a closed snack bar, gasping for breath until my brain unlocked and the world slowly returned to normal.  The hurricane subsided and I was myself again.

Just another middle-aged guy in a Hawaiian shirt

©2013 Tom & Linda Peters

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How to Communicate with an Aspie: Be Like a Dog!

I have never been a dog person. Both Linda and I grew up with a combination of cats and dander allergies, so house pets

"Smiling Tan Pomerarnian" by Slant6guy at en.wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

“Smiling Tan Pomerarnian” by Slant6guy at en.wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

that didn’t spend all their time swimming in our aquarium have been out of the question. A few months ago, we moved to a property that changed everything. We share a large yard here with four loveable dogs. They greet us, protect us, entertain us, and love it when I sit outside at night and play ukulele. I finally get the whole dog thing. God, are they cute!

One thing I like about dogs is that they are honest with their intentions. A dog growls when it’s angry, whimpers when it’s sad, barks when it’s agitated and wags its tail when it’s happy to see you. If they want something from you, like food or love, they don’t beat around the bush, or try to make it seem like it was your idea in the first place and they’ll just go along with it. Maybe that’s why ASD people seem to have a special affinity for animals.

All interactions, be they between people or furry critters, are exchanges in energy. Interaction is a give and take that, ideally, both parties benefit from. Dogs exude a kind of energy that keeps the give and take equal. People are not like that.

I know, I know—there are some who would say that if an energy can’t be measured, it doesn’t exist, but go with me here. Have you ever had the experience of getting together with people, having a great time, then coming home feeling like you’ve somehow been insulted? You can usually trace it back to some snide, offhand remark that you didn’t notice when it was said but feels awful now. In an unfortunate number of human interactions, one person takes from the other, leaving the second person feeling hollow and inadequate, and questioning why they feel so depleted.

People live in a world of multilayered complexity, where the words they use are often the opposite of what is meant. This is particularly difficult for someone on the autism spectrum, where literal meanings are taken as gospel truths. Take sarcasm for example. If I’m wearing a bright red Hawaiian shirt, blue shorts, green socks and sandals, a well-meaning person might want to tell me that the combination looks hideous. A common way of expressing this would be, “Well that’s a nice combination!,” at which point I might proudly say “Thanks!,” missing the point completely.

Sarcasm or doublespeak is seen as a sign of wit and intelligence, rather than meanness or the fear of expressing yourself directly. It is my wish, not just as an Aspie but as a human being, that all people deal with each other directly. Please, just say what you mean and mean what you say. Be like a dog.

©2013 Tom and Linda Peters