Navigating Love and Autism
December 26, 2011 7:45 AM   Subscribe

Navigating Love and Autism - When kissing feels like "mashing your face against someone else’s" and you experience mindblindness, how do you build a relationship? Is it even possible?
posted by tomswift (71 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
 
I know I already linked this game in another thread today, but it's a game about a lifetime relationship with an autistic person, and it's kind of a tear-jerker.
posted by empath at 7:51 AM on December 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Amy Harmon also wrote this article about autism, which was featured in this thread.
posted by mokin at 7:53 AM on December 26, 2011


The months that followed Jack and Kirsten’s first night together show how daunting it can be for the mindblind to achieve the kind of mutual understanding that so often eludes even nonautistic couples. (emphasis mine)

This is something I wish everyone would remember, particularly when I read blogs from parents of autistic kids who fear that their kids will never find love, or be able to express love. It's not as if non-autistic people magically get everything right, that they're able to automatically know what the other person is thinking... that's ridiculous. Non-autistic kids go on to have crappy relationships and divorces too, it's not just kids on the spectrum and it seems unfortunate to have that hanging over their heads.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 8:15 AM on December 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


It's not as if non-autistic people magically get everything right, that they're able to automatically know what the other person is thinking

However, they do have considerably more success. The ability to interpret social cues is understandably important in relationships. The inability to do is definitely an obstacle.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:31 AM on December 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


The inability to do is definitely an obstacle.

I agree with this; the ability to interpret social cues is important in romantic relationships, business relationships, relationships with strangers on the street, etc.

My kid used to inappropriately attempt to talk to everyone he met; asking them questions about their name, their age, where they lived, etc. He's learned that this is inappropriate but it doesn't mean that he doesn't sometimes think these questions in his head, even though what now comes out of his mouth is just a polite "hi." No one taught these little nuances to me when I was a kid and I think my parents thought it was cute that I spilled out my entire life story to strangers. It took people being cruel to me for me to learn what was appropriate and inappropriate and that's why I'm glad my kid is able to get this kind of assistance in being socially appropriate in a way that is kind, thoughtful and helpful.

But, and I feel the article addresses this, it's important for all young adults and adults on the spectrum to feel okay about who they are and that they don't need to go through life as re-programmed robots to be socially accepted. Everyone, non-autistics and autistics alike, have to know what's socially acceptable. Sometimes I see some autistic people getting it right more often than non-autistic people.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 8:42 AM on December 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


The ability to interpret social cues is understandably important in relationships. The inability to do is definitely an obstacle.

As someone who is forever struggling with this issue primarily due to different locations, cultures, social mores and customs, this problem exists as a challenge for more than just those who are differently abled.
posted by infini at 8:43 AM on December 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


From the way their relationship is described in the article, it sounds like the upside is that she understands him, finds him interesting, and is pretty; the downside is that she is sometimes rude. I didn't get much of a sense of exactly what he brings to it.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 8:54 AM on December 26, 2011 [7 favorites]


As someone who is forever struggling with this issue primarily due to different locations, cultures, social mores and customs, this problem exists as a challenge for more than just those who are differently abled.

Are you saying we all have Asperger's? 'Cause otherwise your statement doesn't make sense.

I didn't get much of a sense of exactly what he brings to it.

He accepts her as she is, or at least better than her previous boyfriend.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:18 AM on December 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Are you saying we all have Asperger's?

The reverse, that many of these challenges are those we all through, not just those of us with a medical label.
posted by infini at 9:23 AM on December 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Funny you should post this. I had just been thinking of the "Love Quest" of Christian Weston Chandler, a unique flowering of human misery that has resulted from the complete and lifelong lack of education or counseling geared towards a person on the spectrum.

. . . I didn't get much of a sense of exactly what he brings to it.

There are a good deal of intangibles, to be sure. I expect that, in the past, when social and familial considerations weighed more heavily on the kind of marriage you made, a partner who was not on the spectrum would have to make peace with their partner's oddities in the context of their entire family and possibly also their profession.

It has recently been gently suggested to me that I may be on the spectrum. I initially rejected the idea, due to my intense attention to the social cues of other people and my general softness. However, the fact that I immediately spotted the error in this sentence --

When she found herself in a bad-mood rut, she had agreed with her therapist, she would visualize Fluttershy, the nerdy intellectual character in the animated children’s show “My Little Pony”

-- is one of many things that makes me wonder if, perhaps, I should reconsider.
posted by Countess Elena at 9:33 AM on December 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


Fluttershy isn't the nerdy intellectual one; that's Twilight Sparkle.

my daughter tells me
posted by leotrotsky at 9:36 AM on December 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ack, can't read. Sorry.
posted by leotrotsky at 9:37 AM on December 26, 2011


I didn't get much of a sense of exactly what he brings to it.

He doesn't judge her the way others do.
posted by doyouknowwhoIam? at 9:54 AM on December 26, 2011


(That's coming from a mom who wonders if her son will ever find a job where he'll fit in, friends he can confide in, and someone to love who can love him for who he is - non-verbal Hot Wheel aficionado that he is. This same mom often feels that she is un-diagnosed.)
posted by doyouknowwhoIam? at 9:58 AM on December 26, 2011


Well, it is nice to see people starting to write from the aspie-colony perspective, rather than the lone aspie narrative. In my experience dealing with the disorder tends to involve multiple people on the spectrum, not just as a matter of mutual understanding among friends, but also your genetic next of kin.

As a person with the disorder (clinical, not self diagnosis) I recognize some of the challenges like disliking kissing mouth to mouth to the point of appearing cold and navigating stuff that is both emotional, with crying or sensory overload behaviours, but also being navigated with sometimes rational/level voiced limits, like trying to explain yourself as if life were one big therapy meeting.
posted by Phalene at 10:41 AM on December 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


Are you saying we all have Asperger's? 'Cause otherwise your statement doesn't make sense.
  1. Human communication is complicated. This confuses people and ruins relationships.
  2. Human communication is context-sensitive. This confuses people and ruins relationships.
  3. Contexts are fluid and poorly defined. This confuses people and ruins relationships.
  4. A number of other common, mundane problems confuse people and ruin relationships.
  5. Autistic people have difficulty reading some of the cues used to contextualize some communication, some of the time. This confuses them and others, and ruins relationships.
Upon starting a relationship with an autistic person, it may take a while before you work far enough down that list for the autism to become a deal-breaker.
posted by LogicalDash at 10:41 AM on December 26, 2011 [10 favorites]


I feel bad for her. I wouldn't want him as a boyfriend, even if I were an Aspie. Their relationship is kind of depressing imo.
posted by timsneezed at 10:42 AM on December 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


@Wuggie Norple: it's important for all young adults and adults on the spectrum to feel okay about who they are and that they don't need to go through life as re-programmed robots to be socially accepted

It depends what you want, really: feel okay about some aspect of behaviour that isolates you from other people; or choose to adapt. We're intelligent beings and routinely adapt to all kinds of situations; just about any significant goal requires effort and modification of behaviour to achieve. The situation of social interaction and relationships is no different.
posted by raygirvan at 10:45 AM on December 26, 2011


“What I want,” she told him when they analyzed their clashes in less-fraught moments, “is to be held and rocked and comforted.”

I don't think this guy is right for her. She comes off as being much more emotional than he is.
posted by timsneezed at 10:56 AM on December 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't think this guy is right for her. She comes off as being much more emotional than he is.

He is emotional as well, just about different things. Characterizing people on the autism spectrum as "unemotional" is, I think, a prejudice of neurotypical people who only look for emotional responses where they are accustomed to seeing them.

These two seem to understand each other remarkably well. Their communication style is very similar, it seems, although their expectations and desires from each other come into conflict.

But because they can and do communicate successfully, I feel nothing but hope for them, because they can learn, and have learned, to be better partners for each other.
posted by edguardo at 11:06 AM on December 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


She comes off as being much more emotional than he is.

Yeah, but this is autism we're talking about. Emotion expressed != emotion felt. Holding someone feels wrong to him; it's not about emotion:
Jack recoiled when Kirsten tried to give him a back massage, pushing deeply with her palms.

“Pet me,” he said, showing her, his fingers grazing her skin. But Kirsten, who had always hated the feeling of light touch, shrank from his caress.

“Only deep pressure,” she showed him, hugging herself.
posted by BungaDunga at 11:06 AM on December 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


He is emotional as well, just about different things. Characterizing people on the autism spectrum as "unemotional" is, I think, a prejudice of neurotypical people who only look for emotional responses where they are accustomed to seeing them.

How do you know he's emotional? Isn't it possible that some people with AS are simply less emotional? In other words, it's not that they can't express their emotions but that the emotions are often simply lacking in many situations?

The description of him forgetting to hug/touch her, even when they were alone was curious to me. It's not as if people touch because it's something they're supposed to do. They do it because they have the urge. He doesn't seem to have that urge very often.

I don't doubt he has *some* affection for his girlfriend, but it's entirely possible that his behavior could be explained by his emotions being rather weak in general.
posted by timsneezed at 11:11 AM on December 26, 2011


Yeah, but this is autism we're talking about. Emotion expressed != emotion felt.

And often emotion expressed does = emotion felt. How do you know that unexpressed emotion is there?
posted by timsneezed at 11:13 AM on December 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Emotion is the engine of behavior. An emotionless human being is catatonic.

So consider his activity level: he gets "the urge" to do a lot of things. Not including hugging, either because it is unpleasant for him, or doesn't make sense, or as you say, it simply does not cross his mind.

Yet if she wants him to do something, she can always ask him to. One need not get all of one's inspiration to act, spontaneously, from inside.
posted by edguardo at 11:17 AM on December 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Re: Emotion, from the article.

I'll turn this around and say: just because someone's expressing emotion, how do you know they're experiencing it?
posted by BungaDunga at 11:19 AM on December 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


Emotion is the engine of behavior. An emotionless human being is catatonic.

Well I'm talking specifically about the capacity to feel love and affection for others, which is obviously a crucial trait in relationships. There's a huge range in how emotional people are in this regard.
posted by timsneezed at 11:20 AM on December 26, 2011


I'll turn this around and say: just because someone's expressing emotion, how do you know they're experiencing it?

Indeed.
posted by edguardo at 11:21 AM on December 26, 2011


BungaDunga makes a great point. Behaviors can be drilled into someone - so that they learn to follow the social convention and comfort someone they love if they're hurt, even if they don't care. I don't think he would be there if he didn't care about her. Doing something that's unpleasant to you, or even painful, is a more difficult situation. Faking the expression of emotion versus faking the emotion - I don't know which I'd prefer.
posted by doyouknowwhoIam? at 11:24 AM on December 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well I'm talking specifically about the capacity to feel love and affection for others, which is obviously a crucial trait in relationships.

Is it?

I would strongly prefer a partner who claims to feel no love, but who never fails to act lovingly, to someone who claims to feel love but often fails to act accordingly.
posted by edguardo at 11:24 AM on December 26, 2011 [6 favorites]


BungaDunga makes a great point. Behaviors can be drilled into someone - so that they learn to follow the social convention and comfort someone they love if they're hurt, even if they don't care.

True but I think most people are pretty adept at telling when somebody is faking emotion if they have enough behavior to observe, and especially if they get a chance to see how somebody behaves in private. A lot of emotional displays in public are fake but I think it's hard to successfully fake it around somebody you're constantly around in private.
posted by timsneezed at 11:27 AM on December 26, 2011


I would strongly prefer a partner who claims to feel no love, but who never fails to act lovingly, to someone who claims to feel love but often fails to act accordingly.

It's not as if these are the only options.
posted by timsneezed at 11:28 AM on December 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


I would strongly prefer a partner who claims to feel no love, but who never fails to act lovingly, to someone who claims to feel love but often fails to act accordingly.

How long would the person who doesn't feel love but acts as though he/she does continue to do so? After say, 5 years of marriage, if my husband who always treated me affectionately and lovingly, said he never really loved me, but was just faking it, and then left, I'd feel beyond rejected - betrayed, even.
posted by doyouknowwhoIam? at 11:29 AM on December 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's not as if these are the only options.

Of course not. I was merely stating a preference, and thereby calling into question your assertion regarding the necessity of a partner's ability to feel love or affection.

How long would the person who doesn't feel love but acts as though he/she does continue to do so? After say, 5 years of marriage, if my husband who always treated me affectionately and lovingly, said he never really loved me, but was just faking it, and then left, I'd feel beyond rejected - betrayed, even.

And what if they said that they did not know what love was, or did not feel it, or did not understand it, but also said that they would never leave you by choice, would remain faithful to you always, grounding these assertions not in an emotional state, but on a rational choice, based on a preference for your pleasurable company?

What I mean to suggest is that people on the spectrum may not have the same emotional intelligence regarding themselves that neurotypical people expect in others. As a result, they might claim to not know, understand, or feel love, and still persist in meeting all of someone's romantic needs.

How do you know when you love someone?
posted by edguardo at 11:34 AM on December 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


edguardo: I was going to bring up p-zombies and/or psychopathy, but then thought better of it...

Bear in mind that autistic people often express themselves differently from other people. Neurotypicals have this wonderful lingua franca which lets them express emotion and have that expression be recognized. This "language" of emotion is so built in, that people often mistake it for reality. Autistic people generally don't.

Basically, the situation that a lot of autistic people find themselves in is akin to a deaf/mute person who everyone assumes can't possibly be intelligent because they don't (can't) express their thoughts in language.
posted by BungaDunga at 11:34 AM on December 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


but then thought better of it...

Leave all those things you think better of to me!

Basically, the situation that a lot of autistic people find themselves in is akin to a deaf/mute person who everyone assumes can't possibly be intelligent because they don't (can't) express their thoughts in language.

I find myself agreeing with Temple Grandin: neurotypical people think in words, not pictures, and so they have a hard time seeing the world around and behind the newspaper they're reading.
posted by edguardo at 11:41 AM on December 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


How do you know when you love someone?

Dude, I have no idea. It always feels comfortable, necessary, like I can't live without them.

Now I'm wondering what my son means when he says he loves me. (He only speaks 40 - 50% of the time, and he doesn't have friends. He's told me he loves me maybe 30 times - and he's 9. I tell him I love him all day long, of course, because I'm one of those embarrassing types of moms.)
posted by doyouknowwhoIam? at 11:43 AM on December 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


And I don't totally agree. I mean, it's not like neurotypical people can't think in pictures. Just, you know, "language is a second language" for people like Temple. :)
posted by edguardo at 11:44 AM on December 26, 2011


Dude, I have no idea. It always feels comfortable, necessary, like I can't live without them.

Right! What if you didn't feel that? Or didn't know that you felt it?

Skill in introspection isn't given equally to all, and even those who are best at it come up against some constraints. You can't be sure you are looking beyond how things appear about you to you.
posted by edguardo at 11:46 AM on December 26, 2011


I've seen the movie, and a couple specials featuring Temple Grandin, but never read the book. Language as a second language makes so much sense.
posted by doyouknowwhoIam? at 11:47 AM on December 26, 2011


How do you know when you love someone?

I believe Van Halen asked a similar question.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 11:49 AM on December 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


Of course not. I was merely stating a preference, and thereby calling into question your assertion regarding the necessity of a partner's ability to feel love or affection.

Maybe you're different, but I'd argue that most people need a partner who has the ability to feel love and don't feel they have to choose between your two alternatives.
posted by timsneezed at 12:01 PM on December 26, 2011


Maybe I don't feel it, or don't know. Perspective is all about realizing the sun does not revolve around you, like the other kids in pre-K. I think you start from there, and all other perceptions are guesses. Wondering about how you look to others is only ever going to be wondering. I think self-perception is like looking through a bubble.

My son doesn't seem to have any introspective qualities or skills. I wonder how common that is for other people with autism, and to what degree it extends - if it's proportional to their place on the spectrum.

It's hard to know what he's thinking, though, when I ask a question and he repeats the question (or a different question). I can ask him how he feels until I can't speak any more; he's always going to answer, "Monster Jam dirt track upsy daisy Wednesday?" I can't parse that.
posted by doyouknowwhoIam? at 12:02 PM on December 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Okay, just to elaborate on why I posted a link to the game in the first comment:

*SPOILERS*

The game follows a pair of scientists as they use a 'eternal sunshine'-esque machine that lets them explore a dying man's memories-- He's paid them to create a new life where he went 'to the moon'-- he's always wanted to go there, but doesn't know why. Most of his memories involve the rather peculiar relationship he has with his wife, who had died some years before. They didn't communicate well, but she spent the last years of her life making origami rabbits over and over again, and asking him to look at them and explain what they meant. As you go back through his memories, you discover that she had Asperger's (though it's never stated explicitly), and he struggles with understanding why he loved her -- 'because she's different' was one of the answers.

There are a whole bunch of other mysteries in the game revolving around how much she loves the lighthouse by their home (she treats it like a human being), why his mother calls him by a different name, that gradually get solved as the game progresses.

Eventually they hit a block moving back through his memories, caused by him taking medicine after a trauma when he was a kid, but manage to break through the block, and discover that his mother had run over his brother in a car when he was very little, then they gave him medicine which caused him to forget that his brother had ever existed. He also forgot something that happened the day before his brother died -- the first time he had met his eventual wife (who he didn't actually ask out on a date until several years later, not recognizing her at all -- though she remembered and had a hard time communicating it).

Here's the climactic scene of the game -- the final recovered memory that his wife had been trying to get him to recall during their whole life together, and never was able to.

I don't know how realistic the game's portrayal of River was, but she was definitely portrayed as someone who had deep wells of emotion, even if she mostly reserved it for inanimate objects and had a very hard time communicating it with her husband.

That youtube account posted a play through of the full game if you're interested, but don't want to play through the game..
posted by empath at 12:02 PM on December 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


It's hard to know what he's thinking, though, when I ask a question and he repeats the question (or a different question). I can ask him how he feels until I can't speak any more; he's always going to answer, "Monster Jam dirt track upsy daisy Wednesday?" I can't parse that.

Are you a member of any autism/Asperger's support groups? Have you been to the forums at wrongplanet.net?

I mention this because I only have opinions and commentary, and the experience of growing up and living somewhere on or near the autism spectrum. There are a wealth of resources on any autism-related subject out there, and you might be able to find a lot of direction in them.
posted by edguardo at 12:12 PM on December 26, 2011


I'm working on that now, with the special needs director for the parish school board. It's slow going. :/ But, hey, he talks sometimes now, and he knows his name! We've made serious progress since 2002.
posted by doyouknowwhoIam? at 12:16 PM on December 26, 2011


I'm working on that now, with the special needs director for the parish school board. It's slow going. :/ But, hey, he talks sometimes now, and he knows his name! We've made serious progress since 2002.

That is wonderful! And I am happy to hear he likes Hot Wheels. A lot of people on the spectrum seem to take interests like that and do great things with them. :)
posted by edguardo at 12:23 PM on December 26, 2011


For all the angst it has caused over the years, something about this article is making me very thankful for my empathy and social skills. A lot of the time it's Stop moping, brain. Why are you SAD this time. like in Hyperbole and a Half's post on depression but now I'm thankful.

Though I feel sad reading this about an "emotion drug": “I wonder if I took it, whether I would be better at being affectionate,” he said.

“I wonder,” she said, “what effect it would have on me.”


I want to hug and/or pet them and let them know they're not broken and in need of a fix.

Her blunt tip on dating success: “A lot of it is how you dress. I found people don’t flirt with me if I wear big man pants and a rainbow sweatshirt.”

I love this girl.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 12:37 PM on December 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


Isn't it possible that some people with AS are simply less emotional

It's possible, but current evidence does not belay this unless you reduce the definition of emotion to exclude how AS people express it.

I'm a person with AS being treated for ongoing depression and anxiety. People will often remark on how calm and matter of fact I am about emotional problems, but that doesn't make them any less problems.

The thing to remember here is that you can intellectually practice empathy and have empathy by instinct. My childhood has a lot of social faux pas based on saying the wrong thing- the correct choice in words, the ability not to reveal information I shouldn't, etc... All this did not come naturally to me. On the other hand I'm also praised for my ability to be considerate as an adult, it's not like I want or desire, or even don't care about other's pain, it's that it's like being hard of hearing or something. So I spent a good part of my life buried in etiquette books and reading about psychology and sales, plus experimenting over and over again, all in an effort to learn by rote what nature failed to give me. Net result, sometimes I hit the sweet spot between my ability to be pushy, to analyze and to obsess, and I manage to successfully meet the needs of others in a way that even might make me look socially savy in the moment.
posted by Phalene at 12:44 PM on December 26, 2011 [8 favorites]


I don't think this guy is right for her.

I can't tell you how many relationships between friends of mine I've known where I've thought the same thing, and have been totally wrong. People in relationships tend to have internal worlds that they're not necessarily sharing with other people. It's a fairly common part of being in a relationship, but it still doesn't stop others from making outside assessments of a relationships viability. If our judgements of your friends' relationships can be so off, I wonder how much more off a judgement of a relationship between two strangers we've read about in an article could be. You could be right that this isn't the guy for her, but you don't seem to be taking into account the Iceberg Effect of relationships, when seen from the outside.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:48 PM on December 26, 2011 [8 favorites]


Net result, sometimes I hit the sweet spot between my ability to be pushy, to analyze and to obsess, and I manage to successfully meet the needs of others in a way that even might make me look socially savy in the moment.

One of the most fascinating aspects of autism to me is how people on the spectrum can use their natural inclinations to become very good at things, including, interestingly, not appearing to be on the spectrum.

Someone with AS eventually might find themselves giving etiquette advice to their NT friends: "And aren't you all supposed to know these things intuitively, by the way...?"
posted by edguardo at 12:53 PM on December 26, 2011


Mixed feelings about this article. On the one hand it's sensitively written, mentions the autism community and My Little Pony, and shows that autistic people/people on the spectrum are not all the same -- though they have some things in common -- and that autistic girls do exist. It's specifically about the difficulties people on the spectrum have in forming and maintaining relationships, but it's explicitly mentioned that both of these people have been in relationships before (I love that).

On the other hand it still seems to give the impression that the two members of the couple are stupid in this way -- when it comes to emotion and expression -- because they have to spell everything out when they talk to each other. Maybe that's unavoidable, but I think the fact that it's always simple, direct sentences reinforces that impression. This is just a hunch, but I bet if you asked them to write out the kinds of things they say to each other, the writing would be at a higher level and at least Katie's part would show quite a bit more insight.
posted by subdee at 12:55 PM on December 26, 2011


(doyouknowwhoIam?, if you haven't seen it before, I would also highly recommend The Thinking Person's Guide to Autism blog (they just published a book as well) that has a wealth of info from both parents of kids on the spectrum, young adult and older adults on the spectrum. I've found it a great place to find good advice and links to many terrific blogs).

This is just a hunch, but I bet if you asked them to write out the kinds of things they say to each other, the writing would be at a higher level and at least Katie's part would show quite a bit more insight.

This is always the tricky part for me, anyway. I often need simple, direct sentences or otherwise I might assume the person's intent (or if they ask me to do something, I might assume they want to me to THAT THING in THAT WAY until the end of time, like an endless GOTO loop.).

But like Phalene mentioned, I've also been praised for being considerate but often, for me, this comes at the risk of speaking from the social script in my head and not necessarily what's coming from my heart. That part tends to be a lot less verbal and I suspect it's because of a lack of being able to speak easily.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 1:04 PM on December 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


On the other hand it still seems to give the impression that the two members of the couple are stupid in this way -- when it comes to emotion and expression -- because they have to spell everything out when they talk to each other.

I think that not immediately assuming you know what the other person means or thinks is, on the contrary, very smart, and a cornerstone of effective communication.

And what clearer way is there to communicate other than in simple, direct sentences?

I, too, do not think they are stupid. But I do not think, either, that the qualities of theirs that you indicate need to be interpreted as you have presented them.

Why can't we say, instead, that these same qualities mean just the opposite about them?
posted by edguardo at 1:05 PM on December 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think that not immediately assuming you know what the other person means or thinks is, on the contrary, very smart, and a cornerstone of effective communication.

My husband and I are both NT, and moving to this realization is what saved our relationship. It's one of the keystones of our marriage.
posted by KathrynT at 1:13 PM on December 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


Seconding KathrynT, in a way. A writing professor of mine used to say, "If there's a misunderstanding, assume that your own communication is at fault and try to remedy the error." While I think this can be taken too far, I think it's a good place to start.

tomswift, thanks for posting this. Lots of food for thought for me after a drainingly social weekend.
posted by Currer Belfry at 1:25 PM on December 26, 2011


I am someone who was told (but never actually diagnosed) by every adult around her from age fourteen (fifteen?) onward that she was an Aspie and overly literal, very poor at basic human interaction, emotional intuition, etc. while also being consistently told by people I've (dropping third person because it just gets stilted and exhausting to maintain) been able to speak with on a more personal level that I'm:

very empathetic
very emotional
a good listener
compassionate
understanding
good at symbolic thought (but struggling to word this one well)
articulate
friendly
kind
etc., etc., etc.

I have no idea if I really fall anywhere on the autism spectrum or not. I suspect I don't or, if I do, it's a lot closer to neurotypical than many others, but that people who basically see me looking down from a higher position in a hierarchy would describe me that way.

Articles like this always kind of ruffle my feathers, and I feel an urge to defend people on the Asperger's spectrum whenever the topic comes up, because of my weird personal history. Maybe it's impossible not to, but it always feels like there's a disproportionate amount of projecting and distrust or distortion of people's basic experiences going on. I guess I feel that can be a damaging thing; I guess I feel damaged by it, and don't want anyone else to have to second guess and overexamine every minutae of their behavior and assumptions of the world like I have.

This article isn't nearly as bad as it could have been, but I can't read this stuff anymore without feeling sort of defensive; there's this subtle difference between attempting to understand a fundamentally different experience of the world and basically forcing different experiences to fit within preconceived notions that I can't really find my way through today.

The punchline to my story is that all of the traits I was told I had were things I eventually noticed in the people who told me I had them.
posted by byanyothername at 3:57 PM on December 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


Lots of Aspies are articulate and good at symbolic thought- hence the "little professor" descriptions of Aspie kids. I tend to think that kindness, compassion and friendliness are sort of orthogonal to autism: if someone knows you well, they know if you're kind or not.

Simon Baron Cohen has interesting things to say on the topic of autism and empathy. Here's him interviewed by TIME (first link with him talking about it I could find):
There are people with Asperger’s whom I’ve met who certainly would be very upset to learn they’d hurt another person’s feelings. They often have very strong moral consciences and moral codes. They care about not hurting people. They may not always be aware [that they've said something rude or hurtful], but if it’s pointed out, they would want to do something about it.
Some people on the autism spectrum have overactive empathy. For example, I think my sense of vicarious embarrassment is tweaked too high.

This article isn't nearly as bad as it could have been, but I can't read this stuff anymore without feeling sort of defensive

I know the feeling- I get it whenever something I know well (or is especially personal to me) gets profiled somewhere like the NYT that is likely to get it wrong, or at best get it right and be misinterpreted by people who don't know about it. I thought the article was quite good on the whole.
posted by BungaDunga at 4:39 PM on December 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've never been diagnosed, but I test through the roof on Asperger's self-tests, and other family members have similar traits and/or have been diagnosed.

My 2 cents. I can almost always "tell" when someone is upset, but I absolutely cannot figure out *why* unless they tell me. (I can even do it to myself: I act weird when I am stressed, before I realize I am stressed.) When I sense this stress in people, and they lie and tell me everything is fine, it makes me feel bad and untrusting. (As opposed to when they say "everything is fine" but their tone indicates "I don't want to talk about it". That's their right.)

I think the Simon Baron Cohen quote above is instructive: people with AS tendencies tend to forget that other people aren't as literal and (for lack of a better word) rational, and that's where the hurt feelings come from.
posted by gjc at 7:48 PM on December 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh huh, I read this great interview with Jack's father Woof! John Elder Robison, Living Boldly as a “Free-Range Aspergian” a few weeks ago.

I have a lot of people on the spectrum in my family. I've often thought that I must be on it, but I've never bothered getting diagnosed. I've always felt the guys in my family on the spectrum had a tougher time than the girls. As mentioned in the article, there is often a "mother hen" kind, but accepting friend who protects a socially different girl (I certainly had mine and I have no idea where she kept inviting me to things even though I was so awkward, but she was just so nice), whereas boys often just get picked on.

Of course it's frustrating when you aren't as empathetic as women are stereotypically expected to be, but pretty girl who plays video games all day and talks about taxidermy incessantly is liable to even be pretty popular with the opposite sex. In my own case, I have considerable neotony (I look cute and young) in my facial features, which I suspect endears people to me. And when I say things similar to "acquiring a girlfriend that was worthwhile," people praise me for being logical (since they think "normal" women are illogical or something).
posted by melissam at 8:23 PM on December 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


I went and looked at the self test - if the average of the control group was around 17, I scored 25 but not close enough to the 32 cut off mark. Yet, when I was looking through the questions, it struck me that in my teens I would have scored much higher. In the thirty years since I have learnt and softened and experienced. Additionally, I noted that many of the challenges posed by the questions are also those faced by kids with highly mobile childhoods who are constantly skipping cultures and locations and thus missing huge gaps in context and social nuance which only comes from deep immersion. That is, is it fair to base so much on "face reading" if different cultures use different expressions to communicate different things?

I wonder if such easy labelling is fair, especially as I read byanyothername's comment and I wonder if such things were done back in my era would I too have been lumped into socially awkward teeenager category? (er, isn't that a feature not a bug?)
posted by infini at 11:45 PM on December 26, 2011


I'm not sure how to comment, thoughts are jumbled. I don't think any part of those kids relationship is stupid, but am envious of their approach. I WISH someone would spell things out for me clearly, talk with me in a rational manner. I've got no dx, merely told on annual basis that I should see if I have AS*. The one doc I saw for five minutes scoffed, told me I had PTSD, & sent me away. I'm somewhat spooked/annoyed that I scored WELL above that 32 cut-off mark.

*When not being yelled at, "WTF is wrong with you? Who does that? Why would you do/say/act something like that? Don't you care?"

As a matter of fact, I do care. I'm horrified that I'm constantly offending people. I wish people wouldn't take my errors so personally. It's worse since brain damage.
posted by _paegan_ at 6:44 AM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thank you, Wuggle Norple & edguardo, for the links. More info is good info. :)
posted by doyouknowwhoIam? at 8:39 AM on December 27, 2011


I went and looked at the self test - if the average of the control group was around 17, I scored 25 but not close enough to the 32 cut off mark. Yet, when I was looking through the questions, it struck me that in my teens I would have scored much higher.

I had the same experience - I took the Baron-Cohen test twice, 10 years apart; each time I got a score of 28. I was diagnosed as having a sensory processing disorder (very often comorbid with ASD) at age 11 in 1979. At that point in time I don't think that they were at all aware of how wide the spectrum was. If 11 year old me had been tested by today's standards, I'm pretty sure that I would have been diagnosed. I have a 5 year old who is on the autism spectrum and I see a lot of myself in him. I just hope that he will have an easier time of it than I did.
posted by echolalia67 at 8:39 AM on December 27, 2011


I really like her description of love:
", Love is an unselfish attachment to another person. You attach to them for what they can do for you but mostly for what you can do for them." Nice.
posted by muchalucha at 12:51 PM on December 27, 2011


i am simply amazed that these people can date/have relationships/have sex. amazing.
posted by cupcake1337 at 1:16 PM on December 27, 2011


Reading this article made me uncomfortable, like reading my college friends' tumultuous livejournal chronicles of their relationships. Most of their problems don't seem uniquely due to Autism, but rather normal problems communicating and navigating different needs. Rather than seeing it as a transcendent story of love, my impulse is to shrug. Who knows where they'll be in five years? They're in college, and fighting a lot, and it seems like, particularly, she is doing a lot of work to hold them together.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:52 PM on December 27, 2011


i am simply amazed that these people can date/have relationships/have sex. amazing.

Why is it amazing? There are people a lot more impaired than them- mentally, physically, emotionally, whatever- who do all that.
posted by BungaDunga at 3:02 PM on December 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Most of their problems don't seem uniquely due to Autism, but rather normal problems communicating and navigating different needs.

Some yes, some no... but I think what the article is trying to describe the social/dating issues of just two people on the spectrum that go beyond the usual standard needs. Love can be a big heaping mess for all of us, but it's a greater mess and a much more difficult thing to navigate for many people.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 3:24 PM on December 27, 2011


Why is it amazing? There are people a lot more impaired than them- mentally, physically, emotionally, whatever- who do all that.

because many people, me for example, aren't able to do what they do even though they are much better able to understand etiquette, read emotions, and other things that are necessary for relationships, in the small a 'r' sense, to work.
posted by cupcake1337 at 3:58 PM on December 27, 2011


Fluttershy isn't the nerdy intellectual one; that's Twilight Sparkle.

The New York Times literally ran a correction about this:
Correction: December 30, 2011
An article on Monday about Jack Robinson and Kirsten Lindsmith, two college students with Asperger syndrome who are navigating the perils of an intimate relationship, misidentified the character from the animated children's TV show "My Little Pony" that Ms. Lindsmith said she visualized to cheer herself up. It is Twilight Sparkle, the nerdy intellectual, not Fluttershy, the kind animal lover.
posted by Ian A.T. at 9:59 AM on January 5, 2012


And here's the story behind the correction.
posted by Ian A.T. at 9:37 PM on January 23, 2012


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