Adventures in a Neurologically Mixed Marriage

Posts tagged ‘communication’

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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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

I Hate Words: The Hazards of Asperger’s Communication

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