Adventures in a Neurologically Mixed Marriage

Posts tagged ‘nt’

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

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

An Aspie, an NT and an Alligator Lizard

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

What To Do About the Head in the Living Room

We’re trying to decide how to dress our phrenology head for Halloween.

The head, nicknamed Harold, was a wedding present. He’s a beautiful bald vision in porcelain, with inspirational statements handwritten on his cranium.

She says:

Harold sits on our entry table, staring out at the world with a blank stare, seemingly lost in his own little world, and encouraging us to “Dance like no one’s watching” and “Love like we’ve never been hurt.”

We’ve been a little remiss in dressing Harold, as evidenced by the funky necktie and Dodger’s cap that he’s still wearing from Father’s Day, so we’re trying to be more proactive. We love Harold and want him to have the best Halloween costume that a disembodied head can have.

Tom thinks Harold would like dressing as a bunny, complete with fuzzy ears, but I think he’d find that get-up way too emasculating. With his sparkly white skin and faraway expression, I say we get a pair of plastic fangs and go Team Edward on him.

He says:

Linda is correct. Harold has a blank stare and a head full of ideas. Based on that alone, I’m certain that, like me, he has Asperger’s Syndrome. In other words, he’s an Aspie. Asperger’s Syndrome is a form of autism hallmarked by an inability to read social cues. Aspies often gaze out at the world through blank stares.

If Harold were a neurotypical porcelain phrenology head—NT for short—he would view his world with a definitive expression, deftly reflecting the world around him, and engaging in pleasant cocktail conversation.

Instead of dwelling on such platitudes as “Love is the sharing and giving of two hearts together” and giggling quietly to himself about the pithy Dr. Who reference he just made (and if you understand that reference, please have yourself tested for Asperger’s immediately), he would be filled with more practical notions such as “The gas bill’s due” or “Make sure you pick up a birthday card for Aunt Miriam.”

Still, he would look great with a kicky set of bunny ears.

Squeezing Pugs

"A fawn pug lying down (2004)" by Jenny2513 - Own work. Licensed under CC0 via Wikimedia Commons

“A fawn pug lying down (2004)” by Jenny2513 – Own work. Licensed under CC0 via Wikimedia Commons

He says:

For a good portion of my adult life, I have been convinced that pugs can go to the bathroom only when squeezed.

This notion came from my early adult days in Chicago. My friend Jeff rented a room from a family in Evanston during his time at Northwestern University, and one of the conditions of his stay was that he was to take care of George, the family pug. George had some issues; the worst of which was that his bowels didn’t work properly and he needed some help. It was Jeff’s job to squeeze him.

I often kept Jeff company on his walks with the dreaded George, so after the initial shock of seeing a pug thoroughly squeezed wore off, I assumed—like the good little Aspie that I am—that all pugs needed to be squeezed.

Shortly after I met Linda, George somehow came into the conversation. I professed to Linda that although they are cute, pugs have a certain maintenance problem. I’m not sure how to accurately describe the look I got in return.

She says:

I was telling Tom that I thought pugs were cute. It was an offhand comment based on a Facebook photo. I’m allergic to dogs and wasn’t planning on getting one.  But Tom looked concerned. He advised me not to get a pug, and then he told me why.

I’m not an expert on pugs but it seemed unlikely that the smiling women dressing pugs up in Christmas sweaters for online photos were okay with this whole squeezing thing. So I turned to Google and punched in a variety of rather unsavory keywords. And after a fair amount of research, I could find no evidence that Tom’s claim about the entire pug breed had any merit at all.

We say:

And thus, the term “pug-squeezing” was born. Any generalization made on the basis of a single experience—something Aspies are prone to do—has since been met with a gentle, “Honey, I think you’re squeezing pugs again.” Which brings us to the topic of this blog.

We’ve read a lot online about Aspie/NT relationships being burdensome, awful and doomed to fail.  But we seem to be doing just fine—in fact we’re downright giddy. To us, the whole notion that neurologically mixed marriages are inherently unworkable is no better than squeezing a pug, and often with the same result.

And so, we’d like to offer a different perspective here and share some of our own experiences.


© 2012 Tom and Linda Peters

Spectacular Pug Image from