I use to call my husband "Autistic Alan" as he was immature and as literal as Autistic children typically are. I am a Kindy teacher and as such I could accept and excuse ‘3 year old behaviors’ but surely I did not have to put up with more of the same when I went home. I knew he was not typically Autistic but thought he was hard wired in a similar fashion. Everything is about ‘him.’ He has never grown up, well not past 14 years old in his head, and has the same meltdowns as my little students have when they get really frustrated.
I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I realized early on, soon after our honeymoon ended, that he was eccentric, programmed differently, and out of the box, besides being very handsome of course and brilliantly funny. He was given to ‘fits of rage’ when stressed. It was my fault of course or the postman’s, or the governments, but never his.
It was not until November 2007 whilst he was doing a job of filming an Aspergers’ Partners workshop; run by Tony Attwood, that he discovered a truth that has truly set him free. (APSG now QAPS. GROUP) was formed at the end of that meeting, for partners of people on the spectrum’ endorsed and encouraged by Professor Tony Attwood.
My brilliant Videographer, Photographer and editor is in fact a perfectionist. His spatial perception is fantastic, as I discovered and continue to be amazed by, when he takes a photo, or drives a car. He weaves in and out of traffic saying “I can’t understand why drivers in this country are so slow, and so scared to overtake or go around other parked vehicles? ‘IF THEY CANT DRIVE, they should get off the road, they should have their license taken away as they are a danger to us real drivers.” He always shouts at them through the closed windows of our car! My poor ears!
As Tony Attwood began to speak, at the partner’s conference, Alan had to let go of the camera on the tripod, for fear of wrecking the footage, as he was shaking with laughter.
The Professor might just as well have said… "This is the life according to the guy behind the camera.” He was spot on. “Come and listen to him as I edit Helen!” he called to me, enthusiastically. I laughed at the very examples of what a typical ASD would do, that Alan did and still does. One example, Professor Attwood gave was:
“To an Asperger child the bell for recess/time to go to the playground’ brings on feelings of stress, fear and horror. Just the thought of socializing with other children is so daunting that they would rather find the adult Janitor or Grounds man at work, and talk to them, or inspect the plumbing system of the school". Exactly what Alan did as a child! Armed with the correct name for his differences, for his differently wired brain, Alan proudly tells people he has ‘Aspergers.’ He is not Autistic Alan but Aspie Alan. The truth hath set him free.
For me, learning how to cope better, to steer him away from trigger points to his ‘meltdowns,’ and the more negative aspects of the spectrum, has helped my self esteem and sanity enormously. Yes though he is black and white, and always right, it is not always my fault; I am not the emotional needy or sometimes even stupid one and we are not alone.
I am able to live in the GREY world of confusing signals and complex social behaviors lost on an AS brain. I have way more energy and social skills than he does. I have a full bucket of social, emotional and conversational energy when well. At best he has a cup of energy at any given time. When my bucket is full and he dips his empty cup in, to replenish his exhaustion, all is well. When my bucket is empty, I am at a low, but he will still dip his cup into my bucket. If it is empty, his cup will clang and jangle on the bottom and we can all predict the resulting dramas to follow. As long as their partners/help mates, are fine, they are happy and the household, peaceful. How important is it to keep up our strength, to look after ourselves?
My darling Aspie; messy, disorganized, the one I married, 30 years ago this December 2016, for his dry sense of humor, his honest, kind and generous nature, his unique focused intelligence, his amazing sense of geography and history, enormous political knowledge, and a conspiracy theorist of note; is great company, now that we both ‘understand.’
His Special Interests have use by dates; I am no longer ‘the wife project,’ but I will always have a big chunk of his heart. At times; Mum replacement - rather than an equal Partner is how I feel, as I have to time manage for him, organize him, remind him to eat, I need to prompt him, push him through the negative walls he creates and generally look after him, but when he is in a good space, he is lots of fun. He would not intentionally hurt a fly’ but lacks certain intimate and social skills to avoid doing or saying hurtful things, thinking it clever or funny to be inappropriate. For example at a church social gathering, he said, “Helen your face looks like a used toilet; flushed, ha, ha, ha.”
“Love and the sexual act are two different activities,” so he tells me. He often has no idea of how I am feeling unless I tell him. He can’t read face or body language and often has a wooden face mask himself, making it hard for me to read his emotions. I have to ask for a hug when I need one. I may never get flowers, because well, ”They cost money and they just DIE…!”
I am not saying I have had it easy. I had many sleepless nights crying out for ‘normal’ and grieving over my loss, but he chose me because I am his help, his Extreme Neurotypical balance of life. My upbeat happy - chirpiness is the way out of his black moods and dreaded depression as long as I don’t allow him to drag me down too. There is almost proper give and take in some situations although I mostly expect a one-sided journey.
In 2008 I was thrown a life line and now I steer that ship, throwing life lines to others. My emotional Neurotypical way of thinking use to set me up for low self-esteem and burn out, taking on all these problems as ‘My Fault!’ We are differently wired so now I understand. Give him space, send clear signals, and give one instruction at a time (Just like with little children, a string of instructions confuse and frustrates, then nothing gets done.) We are all learning to respond now, not react. We have learnt these things from listening to others in similar circumstances, reading books and going to support groups and workshops relevant to the topic.
So take heart, be encouraged, you are not alone. AS people help to advance our world. They create, invent and move us forward. They find change, socializing and conversations, very challenging. As you gain more understanding and tolerance, they may mellow a little, be less controlling. OCD and black and white thinking can be modified and calmed and they don’t need healing. Their brain is wired differently to yours and mine, but that as you will see in time, is a good thing. They need us to be there for them. We want them to be there for us.
Take the first step on your journey of discovery a bit of Aspie’ and call – 0418 761 652.
QAPS Group meets every month on the second Saturday of the month in libraries around the city of Brisbane. All Neurotypicals are welcome.
Helen J Boardman – Aspie Partner and Co-ordinator of Queensland Asperger Partners’ Support Group. (QAPS - 2008 - 2016)
© H.B. Pencil Publications 2009 (shared with permission.)