Adventures in a Neurologically Mixed Marriage

Posts tagged ‘Aspie’

Underneath the Blank Expression: Asperger’s and Emotions

She said:

We were sitting on the couch scrolling through the just-released list of 2014 Grammy®* nominees when we saw Tom’s name in the classical section. I screamed. Tom stared straight ahead stone-faced.

“You’re a Grammy® nominee!” I said, trying to elicit a more enthusiastic response.

But Tom was quiet and stoic, looking much like Harold, the porcelain phrenology head that stares down on us from the bookcase.

“I’m ecstatic,” Tom said, finally.

And despite the lack of a matching facial expression, I believed him. I learned early in our relationship that the best way to find out how Tom is feeling is to ask him directly. When I try to figure out how he’s feeling from his body language, I almost always get confused.

Case in point:  My musician husband had just been nominated for a Grammy®, the biggest award in the music industry, and he looked about as interested as he does when we discuss which kind of laundry detergent to buy.

He said:

Here’s the thing. I feel emotions very, very deeply; they just don’t always show up on my face or in my body language. Until Linda, this has caused a lot of problems in my relationships. I’ve been accused of being selfish, self-centered, unreasonable, angry, depressed and downright uncaring, all because I don’t react the way people expect.

You really can’t know how I’m feeling by simply looking at me. You have to not only ask me, but also trust my response. While this is classic Asperger’s Syndrome, I think it also applies to NT relationships.

You see, I really was ecstatic. At the tender age of 5 years old, I fell in love with the sound of the symphony orchestra when my father sat me down in front of his hi-fi console stereo—remember those?—and played Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture for me. When I got to the part with the synchronized cannons, I was hooked. My mother once caught me conducting Beethoven’s 5th with an entire symphony orchestra of stuffed animals.

It has been my dream to be a musician since that time.

Now, at the ripe old age of 50, I find myself nominated for a Grammy® award along with my colleagues Aron Kallay, Vicki Ray and Willy Winant for a recording of John Cage’s The Ten Thousand Things. For a musician, this is the pinnacle, and something I never thought would happen.

When the 2014 Grammy® nominations were announced, I anxiously scrolled down, heart racing, and there it was: John Cage: The Ten Thousand Things was nominated!

I was ecstatic.

My face might not have shown it, but really. I was.

©2013 Tom and Linda Peters

*OK, I know the ® is totally pedantic, but the Recording Academy® requires it.

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Don’t Worry, Be Aspie!

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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.