There is nothing wrong with people with Aspergers (Aspies). Just because they’re different from the majority of mankind who are, supposedly, neurotypical (NT) does not mean there is something wrong with Aspies! They’re just wired differently. They’re unique. What a boring world this would be if we were all the same.
This uniqueness is what makes conversation with an Aspie so interesting. Sometimes fascinating and scintillating. At other times, extremely frustrating.
Body Language: Aspies don’t do body language. They can’t read yours; they can’t control their own to convey the unspoken messages neurotypicals look for in polite conversation. That’s why Aspies may appear to be completely disinterested in what you are saying.
They probably won’t make eye contact. They’ll look away. Fiddle. Fidget. Wave their hands in the air and otherwise project the message ‘Ain’t interested. Shut up. Let me talk’.
This is very hurtful for neurotypicals who feel ‘blown off’ by their Aspie mates, family members, children and even their Aspie spouses. The NT may simply stop communicating entirely with the Aspie, leaving them to monologue which they seem very happy doing.
Luckily, the messages the Aspie appears to be sending via their body language may not be their authentic feelings at all. They don’t make eye contact simply because they dislike eye contact and find it overstimulating. They send ‘not interested’ messages via body language unconsciously, when in fact they may actually be quite interested in what we’re saying.
They wave their hands impatiently while we’re mid-paragraph because they’ve thought of something apropos to the conversation and are terrified they’ll forget it before we get to a full stop.
I know it’s hard to have a satisfying conversation with an Aspie, but talk to them, calmly and rationally, about the conversational issues you have with them. Pouting. Making snide comments or giving them the silent treatment won’t work. They may not even notice.
No, you must address these issues head on. The Aspie will probably be shocked. Tell them the messages you’re getting from them and ask if it’s inadvertent or purposeful. Don’t just write the Aspie off and kick them to the curb. Talk with them. You may be pleasantly surprised to discover how much they like you and enjoy conversing with you, even if all their non-verbal messages scream exactly the opposite.
Conversations with an Aspie can be some of the most interesting you’ll ever experience in your lifetime, if you learn how to understand them.
Compliments: Aspies don’t handle compliments gracefully. Why? Because of their innate objectivity and foot-in-mouth honesty. If you direct that common, catch-all compliment ‘You’re the best’ at an Aspie, they will think ‘No, I’m not the best. Now, Stephen Hawking. He was the best.’ Then they will seem to ‘reject’ your kindly meant compliment by correcting it. To every NT, this is painful and feels that their kindness is being thrown back in their teeth.
The Aspie doesn’t mean it that way. They’re just being accurate.
With Aspies of my acquaintance, I found myself telling them, ‘Take the compliment, say thank you and shut up’. They didn’t particularly like nor understand my advice but they added it to the ‘programming code’ they follow as the Nonsensical Social Demands I Must Obey to Fit In to Neurotypicals’ Nonsensical Societal System.
Jokes: Although one is often tempted to scream, ‘You have no sense of humor’ at an Aspie, this isn’t true at all. They have a sense of humour, it simply differs from what the mainstream NT finds funny.
Just like compliments, Aspies tend to ‘correct’ the ‘twist’ that makes a flippant joke or play-on-words humourous. In their logical, analytical minds, they see it as an error, not a joke.
This can feel patronising and be very frustrating for NTs who enjoy kidding around. ‘IT WAS A JOKE!‘ you want to scream at the Aspie. But don’t do it. They’ve probably heard ‘It Was A Joke’ a hundred times and not found it enlightening in the least.
This is not to say that Aspies don’t have a sense of humor. They do! It may seem antithetical, but Aspies love physical comedy. Slapstick. It is the Great Leveler of the humour world. Oh, they may complain ‘But I saw that slip-and-fall coming’. Just tell them, ‘We all saw it coming. That’s what made it funny.’
Aspies can also be rather hilarious themselves, usually when they’re not trying to be funny and are simply being blindingly honest. Once you see the joke in whatever they just said, they may join in the laughter. But until you laugh, they won’t realize they’ve made a joke at all.
Conversations with an Aspie are brilliant and exasperating. Mind-blowing and maddening. Fascinating and infuriating. But they’re worth fighting for. Keep those lines of communication open. Don’t give up but also don’t give in to the desire to scream at the Aspie. Believe me, it does no good to anybody. I tried it, to my everlasting regret.
Aspies have no idea how maddening they can be to a NT who is really trying to have a relationship with them. Enlighten them. Learn about them and learn from them. Help them learn from you. Just imagine how boring the world would be without Aspies perpetually shoving their feet in their mouth!
Like my nan used to say, ‘It takes all kinds to make a world’.
Photo by Christof Timmermann