Adventures in a Neurologically Mixed Marriage

Posts tagged ‘Autism spectrum Disorder’

When Emotions Attack!


Obnoxious Cello Guy (OCG) stood up from his perch in the back of the orchestra’s cello section to argue with the Principal Cellist over bowings, or fingerings or God-knows-what. It was the third time that rehearsal. From where I sit in the bass section, OCG blocked my view of the conductor. I missed my entrance three times.

I was mad.

Not just that kind of eye-rolling jeez-what-an-idiot mad, but mad to the point of wanting to throttle the bastard. I fumed all through rehearsal, ranted and raved to my colleagues at dinner, boiled during the concert, fumed all the way home and finally woke up Linda to tell her my tale of being wronged by an insensitive cellist.

This is unusual for me. I’m normally a very easy-going and cool-headed kind of guy, and I rarely ever get mad. It really disturbed me.

“I mean, seriously, Linda—what the hell is wrong with me?”

“Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance,” said the sleepy voice on the other side of the bed, “You’re at Anger.”

Anger. Yep, that would be about right. The Kübler-Ross Model, AKA The Five Stages of Grief, describes the process we humans go through when tragedy strikes—Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. Put another way:

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!

I’m So Angry It’s Not Butter!

If I’m a Better Person, Could It Be Butter?

I’m So Sad It’s Not Butter!

I Can Finally Accept That It’s Not Butter.

In December 2012, my father was diagnosed with advanced esophageal cancer. During an attempt to surgically remove the tumor, the doctors realized that his cancer had spread throughout his body. The surgeon predicted he wouldn’t last to Christmas 2013, but he managed to hang on for two extra months. He passed away quietly in March 2014.

The incident with OCG happened one week after my Dad’s passing.

Somehow I thought I would be immune to the Five Stages. Dad was 81, lived a long and happy life and was pain free and in full mental capacity all the way to the end. Hell, he even wrote and programmed his own memorial service. I really miss him, but I am very lucky that I got a chance to say goodbye.

I’m sure there is an evolutionary reason for the Five Stages. While I understand experiencing loss as sadness, I don’t understand why the other emotions come along for the ride. They crop up at the damnedest times. For whatever reason, we have to pass through the Five Stages of Grief to move on with our lives.

I guess I need to apologize to OCG.

©2014 Tom and Linda Peters


Ghost Cat

Ghost Cat pic

She says:

 It’s spring in LA and I had the door cracked open to get some fresh air. I was working at my computer when I saw a furry gray streak out of the corner of my eye.


I jumped up to follow what I thought was the cat that normally lives outside, but when I turned the corner a split-second later, the cat had vanished. I walked down the corridor to the laundry area, looking for evidence of the feral intruder, but there was nothing but empty space and silence. I scouted around a bit then gave up.

When I went back to my desk and looked out the window, I could see Buddy outside on the woodpile, lounging in the sun. So who had just run through the room?

Later that night, I told Tom about it.

“Was there any sound?” he said.

Come to think of it, there wasn’t.

“It’s Ghost Cat,” Tom said.

He says:

I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise, really, since we live in a 100 year-old house. After all that time and all the folks who have been through here, it’s only logical to assume that something must be haunting the place. In our case, it’s a little gray kitty.

At first, Ghost Cat was a gray streak seen periodically out of the corner of my eye, usually when I was in the kitchen preparing dinner. After awhile I could sense him staring at me, disappearing as soon as I would look in his direction.

By all rights this should be freaking me the hell out, but it doesn’t. One aspect of Asperger’s Syndrome is the ability to simply accept the world around you with little or no judgment. Bourbon on the right. Chicken in the oven. Louis Armstrong on the stereo. Ghost Cat at your feet, staring at you.

Having Ghost Cat has some distinct advantages over other varieties—he doesn’t shed, he doesn’t make Linda sneeze, and I haven’t seen a single Ghost Mouse the whole time we’ve lived here.

And like the full-bodied, living, breathing, meowing variety, Ghost Cat doesn’t seem to particularly care about whether I’m there or not. Maybe Ghost Cat has Asperger’s too.

©2014 Tom and Linda Peters

Special Interests, The Blackfish Effect and “Way of the Whale”


Way of the Whale: A Novel by Linda Peters

You may have seen the phrase – The Blackfish Effect – popping up in the media lately, referring to a backlash against theme parks that display orca whales. Rock stars are cancelling shows and little kids are lobbying to change class field trip destinations.

My Blackfish Effect was that I wrote a novel from the point-of-view of a killer whale who finds it hard to follow rules in a world that doesn’t make sense to him.

In case you’ve been on a media blackout for the past year, Blackfish is a documentary film that tells the story of Tilikum, a killer whale who was taken from the ocean as a baby and housed in theme parks to perform for the public. He killed three people.

I’ve always been interested in whales and dolphins. I’ve traveled to Alaska to see orcas in the wild, and kayaked around San Juan Island hoping to have my own close encounter. But after seeing Blackfish in the theater, I became absolutely obsessed.

I went on a Google binge and read everything I could find about killer whales and captivity. I watched YouTube videos of a massive orca holding its trainer twenty feet underwater by the ankle. I wanted to understand why these animals attacked the people who were caring for them. I wanted to understand why audiences were told that swimming with captive orcas was safe.

I spent entire days immersed in incident reports and animal profiles, then curled up at night to read another chapter of Death at SeaWorld.

“I’m not sure why I’m spending so much time on this,” I told Tom.

“It’s your special interest,” he said.

Tom understands obsessions and special interests. He turns them into careers, like Grammy®-nominated classical musician, or hobbies, like ukulele collector or purveyor of persimmon tarts.

Mine turned into a novel.

I am happy to say that I published Way of the Whale: A Novel a few weeks ago! Tom and I collaborated to launch this whale of a story out into the world. He did the music for the book trailer. I hope you enjoy our trailer and will give my novel a read!

You can get “Way of the Whale” on Amazon:  ‪

You can watch the trailer here:

©2014 Tom and Linda Peters

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.

Why My Husband Hates Wallpaper, or Pattern Obsession and Asperger’s Syndrome

We were in a hotel room on Catalina Island when Tom came to bed fretting. 640px-Interieur,_detail_van_behangsel_in_de_linkerkamer_op_de_eerste_verdieping_-_IJsselstein_-_20424548_-_RCE

“What’s wrong?” I said.

“The tile pattern in the bathroom floor,” he said. “I can’t figure out where they started it.”

Tom sees patterns everywhere, in everything. When he enters a hotel room, he has to figure out the pattern in the carpet, on the bedspread, and in the bathroom tile. He does all this calculating quietly. We had been together for several years before he even mentioned it.

“Wallpaper is the worst,” he said. “It’s very imprecise. I have to figure out how the pattern repeats — if it goes top to bottom or left to right — and where it ends. Then I have to figure out where the seams match up, which color was printed first, and in which order each piece was hung.”

“Sounds exhausting,” I said.

“Doesn’t everyone do that?”

When I read about Asperger’s, doctors say that patterns are soothing for someone like my husband.

“It’s not soothing,” Tom said. “It’s very disruptive. They drive me crazy.”

Me:      Then why do you look for them?

Tom:   I sometimes think that Asperger’s is a “disorder of order.” Looking for  patterns is a compulsion; it’s not curiosity.

Me:      Is it like OCD?

Tom:   With OCD, there is a fear of stopping the routine or pattern. With me, there is  no fear. Nothing bad is going to happen. Noticing the pattern is just an annoyance. I wish it would stop.

Me:      Outside of hotel rooms, what other places do you see patterns?

Tom:   Nature loves patterns. Everything in nature has a pattern. It’s very predictable and there are a limited number of finite outcomes. I think that’s why people with Asperger’s tend to like studying things like weather and  astronomy.

Me:      What about people? Do people have patterns?

Tom:   There is no discernable pattern to human interaction. Maybe that’s the reason that social interaction is so difficult. Human-made patterns don’t make sense to me. People operate on an instinctual level. It’s not logical.

Me:      And what about the music you write and play? Does pattern recognition help you compose?

Tom:   Music is all pattern. It’s a closed system. The reason to keep writing or playing a piece of music is to resolve the pattern. If I had to stop in the middle, it would bother me very much.

Listening to Tom talk about patterns made me wonder if the “Asperger’s experts” are wrong about how people like my husband feel on the inside.

Maybe applying NT logic to a condition that operates from a fundamentally different type of logic is another human-made pattern that makes no sense.

©2013 Tom and Linda Peters

Photo: “Interieur, detail van behangsel in de linkerkamer op de eerste verdieping – IJsselstein – 20424548 – RCE” by Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 nl via Wikimedia Commons

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

Don’t Worry, Be Aspie!


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:


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.