An NT’s life with an ‘Aspie’ wife.


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I am Neurotypical.  My wife has Asperger’s.  For those of you who aren’t aware (though I’m assuming if you’ve found this post then, yes, you are) Asperger’s is an Autistic Spectrum Disorder (or ASD).  Now, I actually personally find the term disorder a tad offensive but hey-ho.  It’s defined as a disorder in order to imply that it is not the norm, i.e. it does not fall into the category of Neurotypical.  It has therefore been deemed something that must be labelled.  I myself ‘suffer’ from Lefhandedness condition, Vegetarian disorder and Notlikingfootball syndrome.  Okay, so I understand that for correct support to be put into place for anything it must have a name, but really?  Disorder?…I’m just sayin’.*

Oh, I forgot to say, for anyone reading this who doesn’t know what a Neurotypical is well then, you’re very likely a Neurotypical.

So what does it mean to ‘suffer’ from Asperger’s?  Well that’s an interesting question and I’m glad I raised it…thank you.  (No-no, thank me!)  You see, in my experience, people with Asperger’s don’t actually suffer from Asperger’s.  It’s not a disease nor is it something that you might catch from a toilet seat in a night club.

Asperger’s is a ‘developmental disorder’.  But what makes it a developmental disorder?  Well, if I’m being totally honest?  I think WE do, Neurotypicals.  The thing is, people with Asperger’s, or Aspies as my wife refers to herself, don’t suffer from the Asperger’s…they suffer from us.  Now, I know, I know…that’s quite a damning and judgemental thing to say but hear me out.  All of the paths that we NT’s have laid for people in this world are formed of a multitude of, let’s say, round holes…and if a person doesn’t fit through these round holes, because they are perhaps a square peg or an elliptical peg, we either damage them by shaving their sides off so that they’ll fit through, we give them labels or medication that masks their appearance so that they’ll be able to squeeze in or…as is too often the case, we simply leave them behind as we march on through ourselves.  And for anyone not believing this, think of the time you sat an exam or followed an education course that just wasn’t designed to suit your needs.  Or the time you sat through a job interview and realised that none of the questions applied to the job which you were applying for.  Well, that’s what I believe it must be like for many people with Asperger’s.  They suffer, not because they are different but because we won’t let them be different.

We often misinterpret someone with Asperger’s as being someone who is difficult, someone who is just introverted or unsociable.  And even when we know that that person has Asperger’s we then often try to apply NT thinking to address any adjustments that may be needed in order to maintain a friendship with that person or to ensure they are able to continue being employed by your company without driving them insane.

The other thing that us NT’s do?  We lie.  Constantly.  Relentlessly.  We are all of us habitual liars in fact.  Believe it or not, if you are an NT and you are reading this now indignantly shaking a metaphorical fist at the screen at such an accusation well I’m sorry but you’re fooling no one.  You’re lying too.

You fact is that our voices will say one thing…but our faces will tell another thing all together.  Our words will imply that we’re happy about something…but our tone confirms us to be stating something quite the opposite.  This is not an instinctive trait but a trick that we learn in our young childhood and we continue to adapt and adopt this skill through our entire lives.  Let me give you an example:

 

What NT1 asks: “Do you think I look good in this?”

What NT2 replies: “Sure, sure you look great in that!”

What NT2 is actually thinking: “What answer is less likely to end with me getting my balls cut off?”

What NT1 asks: “Hey, you mind if I sit here?”

What NT2 replies: “Here?  Yeah, sure pal, pull up a chair!”

What NT2 is actually thinking: “Yeah sure, I love sitting next to people whose breath smells like they’ve just spent the last 4 hours licking a dog’s arse!”

 

What NT1 asks: “Really?  You think I have a chance at getting that job?”

What NT2 replies: “You?  Yeah, of course, why they’d be crazy not to pick you!”

What NT2 is actually thinking: “You?  Fuck no!  Why your gene pool is so shallow I bet that if a pebble was thrown into it, not only would it not cause any ripples but the pebble probably wouldn’t even get wet!”

And it is in this world of subtle yet sometimes obscure language that Aspies must navigate, forever minding their footing in order to avoid a subverted proposition or well disguised but back-handed insult.

My wife works in an open-planned office.  It is noisy and strangely claustrophobic in its vastness.  Her employer has even adopted something called ‘agile working’.  This means that anyone could be working next to my wife, anyone could be holding a meeting next to my wife, anyone could come to her desk at any moment of the day and move some of her things so that they could take a seat next to her…and I know that there will be some Aspies reading this that will be pulling up their hoods and covering their faces at the mere thought but…for what it’s worth, her immediate boss has spent many years fighting her corner and has made some fairly life changing differences.  She herself has suffered from depression so better understands the issues that my Aspie wife has to contend with in the workplace.  This makes her more sensitive and understanding and she has been a rare and welcome lifeline in an otherwise overtly Neurotypical working environment.  My wife’s employer has undergone some vicious cuts and aggressive changes over the past few years and yet her immediate boss, unlike many of those around her, still gives a shit about the people that she is responsible for managing.

When I first met my wife she experienced what she used to refer to as being her ‘Black Days’.  She would hide away from the world and would curl up into a ball wondering why she could not fit through the round holes that were placed out for everyone else to jump through.  This was partly due to her only having identified in her late thirties that she had Asperger’s.  I cannot imagine how difficult it must have been for her to cope with growing up around NT’s without any support or guidance and it saddens me to think of it.

However, “the female of the species is more deadlier than the male” and they have an uncanny ability to blend in.  This is achieved by using self-taught coping mechanisms and by mimicking NT behaviours.  This does not make them necessarily feel like they belong but more that they can at least blend in, conceal or secret themselves until they can remove themselves from the situation and return to the safety of their room, or a library or anywhere they deem relatively NT free.

It took my Wife and I some time to get to the point where we are now, mainly because, as an NT my lifetimes’ use of lying is something I’ve had to learn to let go of.  I’ve learned that when she asks me if her bum looks big in something, I should just tell her the truth.  If she asks me if I’d like a certain item for Christmas and the honest answer is no, then I should just tell her.  She, like myself now, will be that person in the street that points out to the cheering crowds that the “Emperor isn’t actually wearing any clothes though!  You guys can all see this…right?”  And though, in this NT world of ours, this depth of honesty can sometimes be a lonely place to be, it is certainly a refreshingly simple place to be…and imagine if a Prime Minister or President had Asperger’s these days…

“Congratulations on your victory Prime Minister.”

“Thank you Mr Williams.”

“Sir, I have to ask you though about your plans to reduce the defence budget…”

“What of it?”

“Well Sir, as head of the Ministry of Defence I have to remind you of the importance of being able to defend ourselves against…”

“But we have starving homeless people living on our streets…”

“Yes Sir, but what I mean to say is that we must be able to defend ourselves against…”

“Who?”

“Well…to defend ourselves against the threat from the Iraqi’s and the…er…”

Defend ourselves?  Have they ever approached our shores?”

“Well…no Sir…”

“And have they threatened to attack our borders?”

“Well, no Sir it’s just that…”

“Good then.  So that’s decided then, some of that money will be redirected to house our homeless.  Right, next on the agenda…cats.”

Now I’m not trying to preach, believe me.  In fact some time ago even I said to my wife that I loved her despite her Asperger’s.  Yeah, I know right!  Oops…  But it was a very clumsy way of me trying to say that I loved her and her Asperger’s but like all Samurai swords I know that some words, once unsheathed, will cut before there is time to safely re-sheath them.  And the truth is that I would not change her and would not want her to be anything other than what she is or who she is.  And, though I might still throw the odd NT strop and, though I may finish an argument every so often by demonstrating my NT superiority in the form of a schoolboy sulk, we now understand each other more than I think most partners ever will.  And unlike the NT’s assumption or media portrayal of Aspies, when we’re not being bothered by the rest of the world she can be one of the funniest and most sociable people I have ever met.

In summary, it is not always people with Asperger’s that have a ‘disorder’ but instead society by insisting on forcing its version of ‘order’ onto others.

If you have any, questions, feedback or views, please feel free to leave them in the comments section or, alternatively, contact me via

ned@thewayofthesquirrelbooks.com

* Thankfully, since I wrote this article, I understand that it is now officially referred to as ASC (condition) rather than ASD.  Okay so condition still isn’t perfect, but it’s certainly an improvement from disorder.