4C, 4 Momma, 4D, 4A, and 4B

4C, 4 Momma, 4D, 4A, and 4B
Most of the Four me (and you) fam

Friday, March 16, 2012

Being a NT in an Aspie's space

I think I've tried to describe how it feels for 4A, being an Aspie living in a NT world. I hope I've also accurately described the profound respect that I have for her, her wiring, and her "world view." As you know by now, I hope, there is nothing "wrong" with her; she is just wired in another way, a way that is different from the NT way.

All of this is okay. It's not sad. It's not upsetting. I'm not heartbroken. I don't feel like we all got the short stick. Quite the opposite, in fact. I feel that we're lucky. Lucky to have the the experience that things aren't always as they seem. Lucky to know that all things are not easy or normal or as expected. Autism has enriched our family, not detracted from it.

But, all that being said, I want to describe for you today what it is to be a NT who lives with or alongside the Aspie world. We aren't in that world or even invited to participate in it, but we are privy to it. We understand what it looks like and how it works, and we've come to respect (and, dare I say, admire) it.

That doesn't mean, though, that it doesn't suck to be so close to it at times. Please know that we are not upset or sad or discouraged or mad. We love it. We love her. She loves us. All is right with the world. But, there are days or times or stretches where we feel battered.

Because of her autism, 4A perceives the world around her, including the social interactions in it, in a factual or literal way. Having no filter, she then reports or describes the thing she sees or experiences in a factual or literal way. Again, this is all "okay." We know that she doesn't mean what she says in the social sense of the word "mean." She means it in a factual way. The factual way, for her, is not rude or offensive or jarring. She's not trying to hurt us; she's simply reporting what she perceives.

But, being the NT in the equation, even a NT who understands and respects the wiring, I sometimes feel beaten down by all her "honesty" and factual observations. 4Daddy and 4B do, too. It's okay. We love her. We know she doesn't "mean" it, but NT as we are, with wiring that makes us social and socially sensitive beings, we can and do feel hurt.

Out of the kids in our family, 4B gets the worst of it. Poor kid. I can see him tense up when she asks him a question about his preferences, what he thinks about a book or a movie, or anything that has a yes/no answer. He knows what's coming. She's going to make him feel bad. Not on purpose. But, she's going to make a factual assessment about his opinion juxtaposed against her (superior) one. She's not intending to hurt him, but she does. Her bluntness stings at times. Add into that that he's a particularly sensitive NT, and it makes for probably more hurt feelings on his end than are actually warranted.

Out of the parents in our family, I get the brunt of it. I'm here more than 4Daddy, and 4A has always selected or identified me as her anchor or touchstone. I am the one person with which she needn't try so hard to get it socially correct. I'm her safety. That's a wonderful privilege, and I am honored to hold it and challenged by it. But it still hurts some times even though I know she doesn't "mean" it. Knowing every single thing she thinks about all of the social relations and requests and interactions in our house combined with my NT social wiring and social sensitivities means that I am, at times, on edge or worn down by all her bluntness.

Those of you who are moms of young children know that "on edge" doesn't work very well for a family. A mommy-on-the-edge has a ripple effect. It trickles down and puts everyone else on edge. This, at times, can translate into yelling, anger, resentment, nagging, expecting someone to know better when s/he is developmentally incapable of doing so.

Knowing all of us, what am I to do about it?

Option A: Teach our Apsie the "right" way

Most NTs, especially NT adults who are parents of NT children, presuppose that the answer lies in "fixing" or "teaching" the Aspie the "right" way to do things socially. How much easier life would be in this house if that were possible or probable.

Ironically, there is no "right" way (although this concept generally and frequently eludes most NTs, myself included at times). NTs understand a "right" way in that they "know" there is a generally acceptable social response to certain groups of social situations. NTs, then, are able to generalize or extrapolate the "right" social response for the myriad social encounters they experience.

Aspies don't work that way. An Aspie, mine in particular, treats all social situations factually. Given that the facts are different every single time, the generally-applicable social principle NTs want me to teach her as the "right" way may not feel like it "fits" to my Aspie. An Aspie can, with lots of support, learn the social principle, but figuring out how to apply it becomes a stumbling block because if she learned it in factual situation A she doesn't know that it applies to factual situation B unless I tell her that it does. It is categorically impossible to teach her the principle that applies to every single factual scenario she may encounter.

Option B: Grow a thicker skin

Adult Aspies will tell you this: not only is there nothing "wrong" with them, but their wiring is, in fact, the preferable neurological prototype because it eliminates the "fluff" of feelings. Life would be SO much easier if the Aspie version prevailed. Imagine a world in which you could say what you meant and actually mean what you say!! Heaven on earth. Utopia!

While that isn't the way the world works, I can/could simulate that by just having a thicker skin, letting her factual assessments roll off. Not giving a shit. I've gotten really good at this, actually. More often than not, I can and do let it roll off. The rolling off is made easier by the fact that I understand the place or world from which she operates.

But, I am, alas, a human, and a NT one at that. I do have feelings. I am wired to socially connect with those around me. I want to feel liked and loved by her. I want her to respect me. I want the golden rule to apply. These wants, despite my best efforts at a thicker skin, sometimes do get the best of me. When that happens, my Aspie seems to me (even though she isn't) just downright mean or rude.

Fair? No. Reality? Yes.

Option 3: Try, cope, deal, let it go

This is the ad-hoc response we've bootstrapped together over here.

We try to teach her (with the help of social stories and reinforcers and doctors and social skills training and therapies and the whole nine (million) yards).

We cope as best we can. We have lots of support, take breaks when we can, and reassure each other, balming and soothing hurt NT feelings where we can and redirecting/anticipating/preempting Aspie factual assessments when we can.

We deal with the commingling of NT and Aspie worlds in this house by explaining everything, excusing nothing. Holding all the social aspects of our lives out in the open and treating each other with respect. We deal with the fact that our Aspie has an uphill battle at school, with friends, and outside of our home and family by allowing her a relative or relaxed social freedom at home. Home is, after all, her safe place; everyone deserves a place where she can be herself. We deal with the fact that this relaxed social freedom at home for the Aspie in our family can make life harder for the NTs in our family by making sure that the NTs get lots of breaks and reassurance. And, the occasional extra dessert, wine after (or during) bedtime, and hookey from responsibilities don't hurt either.

We let it go as much and as often as we can. That translates differently depending on the day, week, or moment. Sometimes it's a messy kitchen or floor. Sometimes its a move-all-the-furniture-and-pick-up-every-shred-or-scrap-of-kid-evidence -type of deep clean. Sometimes it's letting someone slide on a chore or responsibility or foul-up. Sometimes its incessant nagging or reminding to do said chores or meet said responsibility. Sometimes it's talking quietly and sweetly and calmly. Sometimes it's screaming at the top of one's lungs. Sometimes it's meeting up with a friend for distraction. Sometimes it's bailing on a friend because we just need downtime. Sometimes it's a long walk or a hot bath or a second (larger) glass of wine. Sometimes its a movie-on-the-couch-with-four-helpings-of-dessert couch potato/gluttonous kind of day. Sometimes it's super early bedtime so we can have peace and quiet faster. Sometimes it's stay up late to talk and cuddle and reassure.

It is, after all, really just life. Life with all of its splendor and aggravation and joy and stress. We, just like you, do the very best we can in each moment that we're given.

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