An essay written by my non-aspie daughter about 3-4 years ago.
When Logic and Emotion Collide:
My Life With An Aspergerite.
Michael was always the smartest person I knew…if I ever had a question about math, or science, I asked him before I asked Mom and his word was The Absolute Fact. Both Michael and I were home schooled, so we interacted with each other a lot. I always knew he was different; he was so smart and yet had trouble in social situations and couldn’t get a joke to save his life. Then one day my mother took me for a long car ride. She explained to me that the reason Michael was different was because his brain was “hardwired” in a different way. That hardwiring was called “Asperger’s Syndrome.” She went to great lengths to make sure I understand that there wasn’t anything wrong with him; it was just that God had made him different from the majority of people on this planet.
Sometimes it has been difficult to live with a person who sees the world so differently from me. I am a very empathic, very emotional person who often (admittedly more than I should) prefers to feel instead of think. Michael has very simplistic views about emotions and of course one of the main things about Asperger’s is a difficultly responding to emotional situations “correctly”, so as you can probably imagine, we butted heads quite frequently.
A humorous example involves handkerchiefs. In addition to Asperger’s, Michael also has asthma and allergies. Hankies are a staple of life for him and he always has one with him. Being very emotional, I cry easily. Old movies and etiquette guides have instructed Michael that when a woman is crying, it is polite for a man to offer her his handkerchief as a way of expressing his concern for her emotional well-being. Therefore, a sniffle or a sob in his presence is accompanied by the withdrawing of a hankie from a pocket. In his mind, he has just followed the very simple, logical, almost mathematical formula of emotions. Crying sister + my offered handkerchief = comfort.
Problem. I wash his hankies. I knew exactly where they have been, what they have touched and I most certainly do NOT want it to touch my face. And, however much we might wish otherwise, there are only so many ways for an emotionally distraught female to say “No thank you.”
(By the way, we have solved the problem of the hankie by replacing it with a hug…whether I really need it or not.)
But in other ways, being so very emphatic has been helpful in understanding Michael: I am able to put myself in his emotional shoes, to get somewhat inside his head, to understand in some small way how he thinks.
Confusion is about equal, I think. He doesn’t really understand why I frequent discussions that dissect an emotional part of a story, much as I don’t get what is so fascinating about how many nacelles a Vulcan ship on Star Trek has.
The single most important piece of advice I can give to anyone else who has a sibling, relative or friend with Asperger’s is to listen to them when they talk. You might not understand what it is they are saying, or why they are saying it, or why it is important to them, or how you got here from a conversation about cat food, but just listen, nod occasionally and ask intelligent questions. That will do more for them than almost anything else you can do