Imagine: A teenage attendant mumbles ‘Howareyatodaymate’ while ringing up your petrol purchase. His question puzzles you. What is he really asking? Is his question objective and caring? Is it meaningless and uncaring? Should you take it at face value or does it convey some hidden, secret, deeper meaning? Should you respond ‘Fine’ even if you’re not ‘fine’ or tell him the truth about your current well being? Or is ‘Howareyatodaymate’ merely one of those puzzling neurotypical social scripts that make no sense, because he simply doesn’t care how you are and he’s definitely not your mate.
That’s what it’s like to be an Aspie adrift in a Neurotypical world. Puzzling, complex, nonsensical, scripted and frustrating.
‘What did the attendant mean?’ an Aspie wonders. ‘What exactly does “Howareyatodaymate” mean?’
For a Neorotypical, the answer is easy. Nothing: ‘Howareyatodaymate’ means precisely nothing. It’s simply a social construct. A meaningless string of words automatically spoken from faux politeness with no thought or care or curiosity behind them. Just a sound. No meaning.
But that’s not how an Aspie thinks. For them, words have meaning. Not just one meaning: many meanings.
‘Is the attendant asking how I am physically?’ the Aspie wonders, ‘or are they inquiring about my life in general? Do they want to know how I am today versus how I was yesterday? Why are they asking? I don’t know them from Adam and I’m certainly not their mate nor do I care to become their mate. Do they care about me as a person? Are they being nosy and intrusive? Why is this stranger inquiring into my personal life? I’ve never seen them before and hope to never see them again. So why are they asking me how I am?’
That’s just a minute insight into how the Aspergers mind thinks. Perhaps now we can begin to have some empathy for just how complex, confusing and frustrating it can be to live an Aspergers life in a Neurotypical world.
When it comes to words, dictionaries list each possible definition of a word as the a, b, c, d, etc. definition. Neurotypicals automatically know from their youngest years, usually from the context of the sentence and tone of voice of the speaker, whether the a, b, c or d definition of a particular word is the intended use.
Aspies don’t have that automatic knowledge. When a particular word is used in a sentence, they consider that the a, b, c and d definitions may all be the intended definition. They apply each definition, in turn, to see if it makes sense. If it could be used in that context.
That’s why sarcasm passes them by.
But it gets even more complex. They are natural born, organic philologists. Philology is the branch of knowledge that deals with the structure, historical development, and relationships of language.
Aspies notice the relationships between words. How the removal or addition of just one letter or the scrambling of the letters may bring out a hidden meaning of the original word. Their mind makes connections because they’re not bound by the ingrained laws that govern and limit Neurotypical society and conversation. Laws we NTs don’t realize exist until an Aspie begins to question them.
A simplistic example of this might be a religious Aspie pointing out that the construct of a gift-bringing Santa Claus, who distracts children from seeing Christmas as a religious holiday and turns it into a greedy, materialistic event, is simply a respelling of ‘Satan’. But they speak their truth at their peril, only to be greeted by the guffaws and rolled-eyes of the NTs who think they’re ‘crazy’ for making such a stupid philological connection.
They aren’t crazy at all. Words have meanings and important philological relationships. We NTs disregard the real meanings and origins of words in favor of the ‘social meaning’ of phrases without realizing we’re even doing it. To see language through an Aspie’s eyes is to discover a rich, philological world and a deeper appreciation of language.
To survive in the NT dominated-and-designed world, an Aspie has two choices. Either remain defiantly himself or bow to social convention and behave like a Neurotypical in social situations. Basically, become inauthentic to his/her true self.
So when the attendant spews forth the typical ‘Howareyatodaymate’ the Aspie responds with a hearty, ‘Finematehowareyou?’ But he/she says it at the expense of their soul.
They may not, in fact, be ‘fine’ at all and it pains their extreme honesty to lie by claiming to be ‘fine’. Worst still, they don’t really give a damn how the attendant is or if the attendant is at all. They simply want to pay for the damn petrol and be on their way. They bow, consciously, to the ‘script’ the NTs have put in place for the smooth running of polite society.
But they don’t like it. It is inauthentic to them, to their inherent sense of honesty. They do it with frustration. Where an NT can respond ‘Fine’ without giving it a yoctosecond of thought and certainly with no pangs of conscience over lying by saying they’re ‘fine’ when in fact they are not at all ‘fine’, an Aspie suffers for it.
That’s only a tiny sample, a microcosm of the frustration of living as an Aspie in a Neurotypical world. The depths of their frustration have yet to be plumbed.
Photo by naixn