Adventures in a Neurologically Mixed Marriage

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

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She said:

It was 2 AM and a clattering noise in the living room woke us up.Bigfoot UFO

“Did you hear that?” I said.

Tom went to investigate.

“Um…we have a problem,” he said.

There was animal poop on the hardwood floor and we don’t have any pets.

“Whatever it is, it’s not small,” he said, searching for the intruder. “I could use some help.”

But I couldn’t move. I was curled up in a defensive fetal position. When I was little, I used to be scared that nightmarish monsters would sneak into my room while I was sleeping. Now, one had finally found me. I was sure that if my bare foot touched the floor, the beast would attack.

“I…can’t…”

Before this incident, I had prided myself on an above-average ability to handle a crisis. I’d always found it easy to calm people down and make a plan, even when things were going terribly wrong. But we weren’t dealing with people in this case. We were dealing with a wild animal. And it was in…the…house. And I needed to use the bathroom.

“Can you check the bathroom,” I said. “Just in case.”

And behind the standing towel rack, Tom saw two fuzzy ears.

“It’s an opossum,” he said.

“What?!”

“North America’s only indigenous marsupial is in the corner, next to the bathtub.”

He said:

Dealing with a marsupial in the bathroom is not one of Linda’s strong suits.

Linda and I are a good match in many ways, particularly in a crisis. Linda handles aggressive people with absolute aplomb. In situations where I would be a confused mess, she steps in and takes charge, navigating the treacherous waters of human interaction.

I’m much better with the nonhuman variety—computers, mechanical things and small, furry animals. In this case, I think that having Asperger’s Syndrome equipped me for being able to get into our fuzzy little interloper’s brain. Animal reason and logic is not word-based, so by putting myself in his little paws I knew instinctively that the critter was not about to attack.

As I stood in the bathroom eyeing my opponent, I could immediately tell that he wanted out of our house more than we wanted him out, but he was terrified and wasn’t about to budge.

After checking the various nooks and crannies for any other furry compatriots, I called Animal Control. After convincing them that no, I wasn’t going to just put a box over a wild animal and take him outside, they sent help.

Now all the holes and entry points have been sealed, so I doubt we’ll be seeing any more surprise guests.

Still, that little opossum was pretty darned cute.

©2013 Tom and Linda Peters

I hate words. Give Wings to your Heart

Many of the difficulties I’ve had as an Aspie in relationships have revolved around the use and misuse of words. Written words are not the problem; they can be worked and reworked until there is some precision of meaning conveyed. No—it’s those little spoken bastards that give me the most trouble. I know exactly what I mean and want to say, but the words simply won’t cooperate.

In the 60s, Northwest Airlines started a very successful American campaign with the slogan “Give Wings to Your Heart,” and wanted to take it global. Instead of springing for a good Chinese translator, Northwest decided to go the budget route. The Chinese version of the “Give Wings to Your Heart” slogan was translated as: “Tie Feathers to Your Blood Pump.”

I’m pretty sure that a budget Chinese translator resides inside my Asperger’s brain.

Words are the translators of thoughts, ideas and emotions, and they can devilishly mistranslate those same thoughts, ideas and emotions with the exact opposite meaning from what was originally intended. This is where my internal translator—who at times feels like he’s on his third martini—either mutters or hears something entirely inappropriate or passes out altogether, leaving me to stare blankly and wonder what the word “what” means.

This, I think, is one of the primary reasons I write and perform music. Words are not even an issue.

Linda is one of the only people in my life who actually takes the time to look for the meaning behind the words, and is patient enough to make sure her meanings get through as well.

And I have to say, it truly ties feathers to my blood pump.

© 2013 Tom and Linda Peters

We had just finished dinner in our new apartment and my teenage, now-stepson had left his dirty dishes next to the sink. Again.

By The original uploader was Tim Simms at German Wikipedia

By The original uploader was Tim Simms at German Wikipedia

“Can you please show him how the dishwasher works?” I said to my now-husband, Tom.

It wasn’t really an accusation. The place they had lived before was dishwasher-free.

I went out the door to collect the laundry. When I came back, the dishes were next to the sink, untouched. Tom was watching TV.

“I thought you were going to show him how the dishwasher worked,” I said.

“I did.”

There had to be more to this story.

“What did you say to him?”

Tom opened the dishwasher and pointed inside. “I showed him how the rotating jets ascend when the door is locked, and how the chemical composition and velocity of the arced spray rinses off the food and disinfects the plates.” He smiled, like he was proud of his role in passing on the physics of dishwashing to a new generation.

Here’s the thing. He had explained HOW the dishwasher worked because that is exactly what I had asked him to do.

“I just wanted you both to put your dishes in there,” I said.

But from Tom’s perspective, if that’s what I had wanted, why didn’t I just say so?

For an NT, it’s hard to believe that a person can really be so literal. As NTs, we naturally understand how to read between the lines, and we are suspicious of anyone who claims to be unable to.

It would be easy for me to be upset over these situations, and to blame my husband for secretly trying to make me angry by using a “literal loophole” to avoid fulfilling my requests.

But it’s also easy to believe that my husband is a loving person who happens to process language differently than I do. And when I approach communication from this perspective, things turn out better. I get to be happy. I get to be heard and I get to feel like my needs matter.

And so does he.

© 2013 Tom and Linda Peters

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Do this for me now—hold your right hand palm outward, fingers together, holding your hand in the shape of a “C” and say the following:

I’M RUBBER, YOU’RE GLUE! WHAT BOUNCES OFF ME STICKS TO YOU! 

The gesture is important, as scientific studies have shown that the rubbery nature of the human hand causes all harmful words to spring with full force back to their sender.

One of the advantages of having Asperger’s syndrome is that insults, sarcasm, manipulation and just plain nastiness often goes whizzing past us unnoticed. What does hit its mark tends to bounce back to its sender when the oh-so-clever remark is met with a blank stare, sticking to the sender and making him look like a total ass.

Not that I would notice, of course.

This is a very useful technique for the NT as well. It’s something Linda and I call Aspieing Out. Aspieing Out is when you take what someone does or says at absolute face value, ignoring all of the finer points of well laid verbal and social landmines. You can use the Asping Out as a well-honed avoidance technique for people who just won’t directly tell you what they need or how they feel—people who expect you to just innately know what’s going on with them.

Let me give you an example.

Susan has broken up with her boyfriend for the 14th time in the past 3 months. She’s on her fourth appletini. Her eyes are bloodshot and her head is on the table.

You: Are you OK, Susan?

Susan (Lifting her head from among the piles of wadded-up Kleenex): I’m…<sniffle>…fine…

You (Looking blankly): Great! See you next week!

There are some, however, who revel in being able to say or do anything they want to you with little consequence—the kind of adult who likes to bounce beach balls off little kids’ heads. These obnoxious meanies truly delight in tormenting the unwitting. Eventually, they begin to get sloppy with their remarks until one of them is so obvious that even a hard-core Aspie will notice that they’ve been insulted. At that point a good Aspie just stares blankly, says “Goodbye” and strolls out the door for good.

An alligator lizard has set up camp in our geraniums.

She says:

The alligator lizard, nicknamed Al, moved in as a youngster. Back then, he was small enough to slink up the trellis when he was scared, and pretend to be one of the stringy green beans.

Alligator lizards are location-tenacious. They stake out a spot, and don’t like to move from it. Al’s now a stout seven inches long, with stubby legs and a thick prehensile tail. The gold and grey dino-like pattern on his back contrasts well with the pretty fuchsia flowers.  And Al doesn’t like getting wet.

When I water the garden, Al will sometimes be courteous and scoot slowly out of the way, nestling under the nearest garden gnome, where it’s dry. Other times, he’ll appear out of nowhere and dash madly toward my feet, then zig-zag his way to alternate cover, hiding behind a half-used bag of charcoal.

Al doesn’t run like a regular lizard. He moves like a snake, swinging his hips with each slithery step. I love Al, but when he pops out of nowhere, frantically undulating across the patio, he can really freak me out. Sometimes I wish he would act more like a normal lizard, like the fence lizards our neighbors have.

I think some people feel the same way about getting involved with someone with Asperger’s.

It’s easy to see danger in differences. The western fence lizard might offer a more predictable pattern of behavior but I really appreciate the unique gifts of the alligator types.

Like location-tenacious Al, my Asperger’s husband is loyal and devoted in a way I never thought possible. Also like Al, Tom surprises me every day with unpredictable reactions – witty comebacks that make me laugh, or penetrating observations that make me reconsider my assumptions.

Relationships are complicated and neurological differences are only one part of them. Still, when making assumptions about people, whether western fence NT’s or Aspie alligators, it helps to look beyond the knee-jerk reaction – the fear that a funny looking lizard is going to scare you, hurt you or nip at your toes.

Sometimes the best things in life don’t look the way we had expected. We all have alligator parts to us, darting around and trying to connect. And maybe our next great connection is already here, nearby and accessible, just hidden beneath the flashy flowers.

© 2012 Tom and Linda Peters

 

Honey, Where Did You Put M45?

We can’t find a good place to put the Pleiades.

She says:

I bought the wall-sized poster to bring some twinkly fun to my home office.  It’s a 4×6 foot view of the famous star cluster, and the otherworldly colors and light fascinate me.

But sitting next to the massive dark mural, I felt like I was falling into a black hole and had to grip my ergonomic armrests for support.  I needed a little distance from deep space. Luckily, I married a space junkie who was totally fine with plastering the universe across the far wall of our living room.

He says:

That I’m totally fine with it was an understatement. When my son was 6 years old, I spent a whole week arranging plastic glow-in-the-dark stars on his bedroom ceiling in an accurate representation of the night sky. Astronomy is something I have always loved—one of my Aspie Special Interests.

One of the markers for Asperger’s Syndrome is a tireless devotion to a specific subject. I’ve had a long trail of Special Interests in my life — from astronomy to fish keeping to origami to bonsai to classical music (my profession) to carnivorous plants to my current obsession with the ukulele, the banjo and music of the 1920s.

For me, the universe represents something fixed, something stable and reliable—all qualities that I find in short supply with the ephemeral nature of day-to-day life. If I look up at the sky, the Pleiades will always be there, in its usual place—like an old, loyal friend.

I was a little disappointed when Linda put down her compass and told me that the feng shui situation in the west was all wrong for star murals and we’d have to find a more auspicious spot.

Our search for a place for the universe continues.

©2012 Tom & Linda Peters