lunes, 21 de julio de 2014

Asperger's Syndrome and relationships

I have been reading for some time about Asperger's Syndrome and I think I should do something to extend the knowledge about it and sharing my own ideas about it just in case I'm not the first one to have had them.
From the barely existant comments in my entries, I should have understood by now that no one cares about what's in this blog and that anything I would try to do with it is futile, that I should devote my time to different things or in different ways, but maybe I'm more stubborn that I use to realize - or recognize - and I want to write this and make it "my try".

Before starting, I know I should speak about "Neuro-Typical" instead of "normal", but "Neuro-Typical" just means somebody who has a "normal" neurological behaviour. If I say NT instead of normal is just because it's easier to write. As for the Asperger's Syndrome's owner, I'll call them "Aspies" because that's how I have seen them been called usually.
Another politically correct way of talking is by saying "he or she" every time you refer to a person, but there's about 4 male Aspies for every female one, so please forgive that I write "he" more often than not. Female Aspies, please interpolate.

Aspies and NTs all live in the same world and they're going to interrelate, like it or not, but when I say that somebody, NT or Aspie, "has" to learn to do something, it means "if he or she wants to have a good relationship with the other part"

The most basic idea of Asperger's Syndrome is that "Aspies", as I have seen calling them, can't intuitively understand non-verbal language. The stress is on "intuitively" because normal people learn that skill without a conscious effort. The point is, however, how that changes a person? Let's review in a random order:

First, since the Aspie can't understand non-verbal language intuitively he has to do it intellectually or not at all. In other words, he has to effort to understand most or all of non-verbal language. To really understand the impact this has in a normal life, you NTs, think about how many times in a single day you have a better understanding of what is being said thanks to gestures, faces or tone and speed of speech.
Jokes are usually based in doble-meaning, but the double meaning is conveyed thanks to a particular tone. Questions, including retoric ones, often are so because of tone instead of wording. Warnings are a lot of times done using tone and slight changes on the face, like raising an eyebrow, instead of expressing things just with words. You understand when somebody is upset with what you have just said because of their expression or the tone of their answer. Sarcasm and irony are recognizable from tone and gestures, like rolling your eyes, smiling, raising eyebrows, winks...
Go throught your next week noting how often there have been those situations in your life to grasp how often they are.
Next, go throught the next week writing everything you realized thanks to non-verbal language. That would make you more conscious of what it means to have to do it consciously, and how tiring it is.
They say you shouldn't judge somebody without walking a mile in their shoes, so that's one way I came up of using Aspies' shoes, the Aspies readers can comment how right or wrong I am.
Another idea to experiment how tiring it is would be having a couple weeks in a language different from your first language. The more you use it, the easier it becomes, but you have to think how to say what you want to say, and think what means what the other person said, while when speaking your mothertongue is mostly unconcious. You think the concept and the words are already going out of your mouth, so go have a pure second language week.

By now, however, let's assume that understanding all those things is a concious effort. First, when you're at ease you're not gonna do it, and probably neither will they. That can explain why the more at ease they are, the more trust they have in the persons they're with, the less they pretend. To relax means to lose that information, so when a NT says "Just go with the flow, it'll come" they'll be talking from their own, different, point of view, as well-meaning as it may be.
To go with the flow means the Aspie's gonna say what he thinks, without the "filter" he usually applies. When - or if - he upsets you with that way of talking, he's not going to know unless somebody says it clearly. Now let's say that's the situation. You're an upset NT, and you inconciously use your body posture, tone and facial expression to tell the Aspie off and try to get an apology. He doesn't realize, and keeps digging in the injury because he still wants to say things. Now you're angry and he still doesn't know, so you end blowing off and shouting at him. Then he apologize - in the best case - and the rest of the time he speaks less. You'll believe he speaks less because of remorse, so everything is fine.
First, when you shouted at him is the first time he knew about you being upset, so for him it seems that you have gone from 0 to 100 in a second, thus it was only for the last thing he said, and thus you're reaction was way to exaggerated. That's why I said "the best case", because if he thinks of himself as NT he'll think you're overreacting and will argue that he hasn't done enough to justify your behaviour, so in the worst case you two are angry against each other.
In the best case he apologized, but despite you believing he has understood, he's confused. He still doesn't know when you began feeling upset, so he hasn't learned when to stop. That's why he speaks less now, not out of remorse, but out of fear of making a mistake again. That fear will make him less talkative next time he's with people he know as much as you or less, because he'll be fearing making other mistakes, and who can enjoy company of others when scared? He'll be less social or more pretending. Less "he", less "at ease", less "going with the flow".
Now suppposed you understood you're being upset and told him something like "I understand you don't realize, but I got a little upset when you said so and so, was it your intention?" Chances are he'll say "No, I'm sorry, I didn't mean" He'll still have a little fear of upseting you again, but not so much by far, and most importantly, he'd learned what made you upset in the first place, improving his knowledge of you and making clear to him that you are a person more easily understandable that most others, so he'll be wanting to spend more time with you and you'll get a better friend instead of losing one.

The difficulty understanding non-verbal language extends not only to "listening" but to "talking". NTs "learn" unconciously the verbal language and use it depending on their feelings, but Aspies learn a somewhat incomplete or different version of the same words, so his verbal language is not as easy of interpret by NTs. That means that you, NT, understands him, Aspie, less than other people, though probably more than the Aspie understands you, anyway.
Maybe you won't know when he's joking or what he's thinking, so you have to learn to do the same that he does: asking. Usually everyone assume intentions from actions, it's kind of a language - actually, it is - and to do that in that particular way means this, etc. The problem now is that relationship is not as clear, so when in doubt, ask.

Since understanding the verbal language is a concious effort, it's tiring, so Aspies will never be the party animals NT can be. Most of the time they'll be pretending to be social, nice NTs, and in a couple of hours, give or take, they'll be wanting go home, be alone or with the people they feel they can be themselves.
 Even with that people, sooner or later they'll want to have some time alone.

Even thought Aspies can enjoy the time by themselves, even that you don't understand them the way you do with other people, that doesn't mean they don't like people, or that they don't want to be nice to other people and for other people to think they're nice. They want. By and large, they want to have friends, girlfriends, families, and everything else. They need time alone in a way NTs don't, but they need social relationships in a way NTs, again, don't. For NTs is easier to find someone who appreciates them sincerely, both because the NT understand the other guy and because he or she is able to be him or herself without too much effort, but the Aspie has more difficulties with that, so he tends to treasure those relationships. It's no surprise that several books and articles speak about the "loyalty" of Aspies considering how rare friendship, companionship and love is to their eyes. I'm speaking here not about the superficial relationships comercial workers have with their clients, but about the relationship with someone who knows you as you are, someone you're not afraid of allowing to know your real "you".
As many times as NTs can say "real friends are rare", from an Aspie point of view they simply have no idea. Some Aspies even think - or have thought - that those feelings are simply impossible, that everyone, NTs or otherwise, pretends continuously and that nobody really lets other person really know them.
It really is living in a different world.

And now I'd like to talk about another point. Asperger's Syndrome's diagnostic is still working on, and it's based on observations of a particular set of personality traits, being the conclusion of "disability" based on the presence of those traits along the whole life of the individual, but there's still not a brain activity test that can diagnose this syndrome, so the decision between "he doesn't" and "he can't" is, thought based on evidence, subjective in a big deal. I have a point in saying this, just have a bit more patient: All or most articles and books I've read about how to have a good NT-AS relationship (AS standing for Asperger's Syndrome) are done from the diagnostic point of view, but what if you meet a person who hasn't been diagnosed but have the personality traits of the syndrome? Do you think that asking when in doubt instead of assuming the worst is going to be a good strategy to Aspies only?
In the Complete Guide to Asperger, by Tony Atwood, a female somebody said that the ability to understand non-verbal language is needed only because no one speaks their mind - while Aspies and Aspie-like persons have more difficult times exactly because of that. To say what you mean would really be bad for NTs? They never misunderstand one another? To be honest and sincere is really a bad advice to NT-NT relationships?

Let it be NT-AS or NT-NT, I think that the existance of Aspies could and should be used to help NTs be more conscious of how far they go with non-verbal language, with sarcasm, irony and plain lies, and to use them a little less not only to ease the life of Aspies, but of other NTs and themselves.
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