‘Mam!’ I would say to my mother, ‘Can we just have a moment of quiet?’
It might last all of 2.3971 seconds.
‘Mam, your tongue is hinged in the middle and flaps at both ends,’ I would say. Perhaps it wasn’t kind, but it sure was true!
It was as though my Aspie mother just couldn’t hold her tongue. Whatever she thought, came shooting out her mouth. Thought and speech were Siamese twins. The chatter was constant. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week – but it felt like even more.
Even through the wall of her bedroom, I could hear her yackety-yacking in her sleep. Sometimes I’d crack the door open. She was narrating her dreams, with gestures, no less! When she woke, she’d be mystified that I knew exactly what her dreams had been about.
Welcome to the world of Aspergers. Dear people whose brains never shut off and tongues never stop flapping.
For a neurotypical, Aspie’s incessant talking can be incredibly trying (at best) to bloody infuriating (at worst.) Luckily, Mam didn’t require a rapt audience. She was perfectly happy to prattle away while I read a book or surfed the Internet, utterly ignoring her and her monologue.
While I’m a quiet neurotypical (NT) who thinks in the quietude of my own brain before speaking a complete thought, Aspies are completely the opposite. Their talking is how they think. Talking and thinking are synonymous, intertwined and choreographed in perfect time for them.
Telling them, as I tried on multiple occasions, ‘Your brain is there for you to think inside. Think inside your brain. Not outside with your tongue!’ is only met with a blank stare. That’s not how they function. They couldn’t if they tried.
They can’t stop thinking, so they can’t stop talking. It’s as simple as that.
An Aspie who is consciously trying to hold their tongue, is like living with a benign, well-meaning volcano. Stressful for us and intolerable for them. They need to spew!
Because the constant talking or ‘noise pollution’ as I’ve privately labeled it in moments of exasperation is impossible for an Aspie to ‘switch off’, it is we neurotypicals who must take steps to protect ourselves. I thought seriously about investing in noise canceling headphones. My chief mistake was tolerating my mother’s blathering to the point of fury.
Yes, I exploded in anger, which she found baffling, confusing and hurtful. She thought we were having a perfectly nice time together, blind to all the non-verbal cues I’d been shooting her way. Cues that a fellow NT would have found obvious and downright rude and insulting!
Like rolling my eyes. Sighing loudly. Reading a book. Turning my body away from her. Saying ‘uh-huh’ in the most bored, disinterested, disembodied tone possible. Putting on earphones. Even clapping my hands over my ears in blatant frustration. None of the messages got through to her.
‘It’s rude!’ I lashed out, ‘rude of you to talk constantly! Do you really think anyone wants to hear every single thought you have!? Is your ego that big!? I love you, but you are capable of shutting your mouth. I cannot close my ears. They don’t come with flaps. You are abusing my auditory sense.’
She curled up in the fetal position and started to sob. Blind-sided (or so she thought having missed all the non-verbal cues I’d been shooting her way.) Shocked. Hurt. Confused. She seemed to think that having a relationship with her daughter meant sharing every thought that came into her head, aloud. She was hurt and baffled when I contradicted that notion.
Since that day, I regret getting so angry at her. Since then, I’ve come to a much better understanding of Aspergers and Aspies and how to handle their ceaseless conversation.
They cannot switch off their brains nor their tongues. There’s no switch! It’s as exhausting for them, as it us for us. Mam has tried to switch off, she tells me. She informs me that she could talk much more than she actually does. I find that hard to believe, but Aspies don’t usually lie. It’s antithetical to their nature.
It is I who have changed. It is I who must change to protect myself from the constant barrage of words. ‘Words, words, words, I’m so sick of words’ as Audrey Hepburn sang in My Fair Lady. It is I who must control the situation to avoid the anger that comes from being an Aspie’s Private Ear, a receptacle for their constant yackety-yack-yack-yacking.
You must also protect yourself. To have a successful relationship with an Aspie is to take them in small doses, not huge gulps. Fits-and-starts, not constant contact.
In other words, put yourself in Time-Out. Give yourself permission to step away from the Aspie you love on a frequent, routine basis to avoid overwhelm.
You need quiet. They can’t provide it.
Explain it to them, but don’t expect them to understand. Your explanation is more in the manner of downloading a new computer program to their hard drive. A new behavioral pattern they must follow to get along in our society, dominated by neurotypicals, that they find baffling and confusing.
‘I love you very much,’ tell them, ‘but I need silence to recharge my batteries.’ Using technical, engineering analogies may help them understand, ‘When I say I need a time-out, that means I’m going away from you for awhile. Don’t follow me. Don’t invade my privacy. When I feel rested, I’ll return to be with you. It’s nothing personal, but I need to take care of me.’
Design a sanctuary for yourself, where the dear Aspie cannot enter. It may be your bed. A quiet corner of the back garden. A gable in the attic. The breakfast nook. A refuge for much-needed solitude and blessed, blessed silence.
You’ll emerge refreshed and your Aspie will be so glad you’re back. And yes, the talking will commence again. But you won’t want to rip your ears off and stuff them down their throat.
Aspies make wonderful, interesting, faithful and brilliant mothers, fathers, spouses, friends. Like the very finest things in life, Almas Beluga caviar or Alba white truffles, Aspies are best in small doses.