Friday, September 11, 2009

Or everyone else is just a really convincing robot

Here's the video I was waiting for. It would be interesting to see if an fMRI study of neurotypical adults compared to adults on the autism spectrum showed any difference in the rtpj region of the brain or if the magnetic redistribution of neurons showed any temporary changes in the responses those on the spectrum would give to empathy questions.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Read two fiction books...

Life has been normal around here so I haven't had anything to say that wasn't already said.

I've found two things now that I think are worth discussing.

The first is this psychology study:

By imagining many possible worlds, argues novelist and psychologist Keith Oatley, fiction helps us understand ourselves and others.

Could reading fiction be helpful for people on the spectrum? I've often wondered this myself. When my husband has no idea what to do, I've asked him what the character from a relevant book would do in similar circumstances. It hasn't helped him to answer yet, but I wonder if it has affected his actions at all. I'll come back with the second either later today or tomorrow.

Update: The video I'm wanting to post isn't available yet, but this one discusses the role of fiction in developing theory of mind so I'll link it for now and hopefully the video I want will be up soon.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

That's Interesting


It's my husband's favorite new word, I think.

You know, the politically correct word you use when you need to say something but have nothing nice to say...

"What an interesting sweater you have on! Where did you get it?"
Translation: You're dressed hideously and apparently have no fashion sense. Your hair is atrocious, your makeup leaves something to be desired, and even your pet looks a little mangy. Since I have nothing nice to say, I'll tell you that the shocking sweater you are offending us all with is interesting and then I'll ask where it is from as if I cared, and it might actually allow me to have some compassion and understanding if you say something quasi-reasonable like your 6-year-old knitted it for you and you'll be heading straight from here to the hospital to see him.

It gives nothing away about how you really feel but allows you to offer something as if you were. Interesting...

My husband's verbosity has dwindled away as I suspected it would, but this word has taken its place. Interestingly, a work friend just told him that he's become more verbose, and unfortunately more cynical, there. Maybe he's using all his verbosity up on them.

I'd sometimes rather the 21 questions game of not talking over this new 1-answer phenomenon. I go around in circles deciding how to respond. Do I become happy that he's talking and try to engage more? That's not worked well. Do I go back to the same method of 21 questions as if he hadn't said anything? Would that discourage him from talking if it got him the same response as not talking? At least then I'll have some idea where he stands. Do I tell him how frustrating that answer is? That I don't think that word means to me what he thinks it means? Of the social connotations it conveys? None of it has really reached a solution we're both comfortable with. Whatever I say, he just says it is interesting. What that means to him is that he's relying on me to inform him and is emotionally detached. What that means to me is that he's intellectually engaged and therefore to some level emotionally attached (excited, interested, invested, etc). Imagine the frustration we both have when the expectations are so disparate.

I think we're going to have to define the word interesting or ban it from our vocabulary completely. Maybe then I'll get some of that wit he's wasting on the co-workers. Even my husband will tell you that they're about the most uninteresting bunch around. And from him, that's saying something.

Monday, August 10, 2009

What can I do for my friend?

"I'm married to a robot!"

"He thinks emotions are illogical. I have to rationalize everything."

"He gets these interests and he just throws himself into them. If he isn't doing them, he doesn't know what to do with himself. Right now he's into running, but I feel like I've lost my husband to running. Running is his other woman."

"The closest we get to each other is sitting next to each other on the couch. He doesn't seem to understand that I want more than that! He thinks that's quality time together."

"He worked on our 15th anniversary! He knew it was our anniversary, but he said he thought we had agreed that he would take whatever other shifts he could. He couldn't understand why I wanted him to make an exception to the rules!"

"He's such a good husband and a good man. He doesn't drink or gamble. This is really not a big issue. Why does this bother me so much then? I don't understand how he thinks. It's been almost 18 years and I still don't understand my own husband! It's so hard!"

"He has a lot of trouble putting things into words. When he was younger, he was told he had a learning disability. He's a really smart guy, he just has trouble with explaining stuff. He's a doer, not a talker."

All the above were statements from a friend of mine, trying to make sense in her marriage.

Is anyone else thinking what I'm thinking?

I've agreed with my husband to not disclose the difficulties we've had or my husband's diagnosis with anyone locally. The friend's self-esteem is shot and she's blaming herself for all the miscommunications and difficulties.

How can I be a good friend to her in these circumstances?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Days of the Leprechauns

“You don’t know about brownie points? All my buddies keep score.
In fact every married male should know about ‘em.
It’s a way of figuring where you stand with the little woman —
favor or disfavor. Started way back in the days of the leprechauns,
I suppose, long before there were any doghouses.”
Los Angeles Times, March 1951,
and the first known use of the term "brownie points" in print.

My mother-in-law chose this morning for her bi-annual health nag. About twice a year, she starts grilling Andrew on everything from what he's eating to the last time he saw the dentist. I spend the time seething at her speaking to my husband as if he were five years old while he goes on about his day seemingly unphased.

I usually let myself suggest a few statements he can tell her, choosing to vocalize only those that are actually appropriate despite my annoyance. If Andrew even realizes that I said something, he doesn't focus on what, and even if he hears me, he doesn't ever repeat my brilliant statements. It's way too much thinking on his feet trying to figure out what both of us are saying, navigate both conversations, and contemplate the news article or the carpet patterns or whatever else he does to escape the whole situation. I don't blame him.

Things were going along as usual and she was laying into him about his cholesterol score, which is ideal. I suggested a lighthearted, "Eliza's taking good care of me, Mom." Then my husband looked me right in the eyes, flashed me a smile, and in the next break she took for a breath, he said just that.

I need to pause now just to relive the whole thing.

I am still floored.

My mother-in-law sputtered, offered her thanks to me and said she was sure I was, and the health nag trailed off into some other topic.

That's brownie point worthy there, my friend. I was very impressed.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Marriage Encounters

Over at his Life with Aspergers blog, Gavin Bollard (a non-practicing Catholic with Asperger's) talks about how the Marriage Encounters program saved his marriage, despite his hesitations around going.

Gavin begins his 4 part series on his Marriage Encounter weekend with this:
Whether the organisers realise it or not, the marriage encounters programme is particularly tailored for the aspie mind.

As part of this series of posts, I'm going to have to "spoil" some of the secrets of Marriage Encounters. For this, I apologise in advance. If you're already booked in on a course, or if you're definitely going on one, you should probably ignore these posts - I think it's better if you learn via the real event.

If this doesn't apply to you, then read on...
Here are the links to Gavin's review of Marriage Encounters, which he broke into four blog posts: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four.

Marriage Encounter programs are available in the United States and Canada and are currently conducted in English, Korean, and Spanish. They are all sponsored by a Christian church (the current list on their website says Baptist, Canadian Anglican, Catholic, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Mennonite & Brethren, Pan Orthodox, Presbyterian, Reformed, Seventh-Day Adventist, United Church of Christ/Christian Church, United Methodist, and Wesleyan churches hold them). Their FAQ says "while the Weekend may be presented in a given Faith expression, each is open to couples from other orientations. The opportunities of the Weekend go beyond the boundaries of any one expression."

Their FAQ also says that "no couple is ever denied the chance to renew their marriage because they are facing financial difficulties. This concern should not influence your decision to attend a Marriage Encounter Weekend."

To find out more, visit the Marriage Encounter website here:

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Windows to the Soul

When we discuss problems with in-laws or a partner's primary love language, we're talking about practical issues and how to successfully change our habits to address them. There's a topic I've been wanting to discuss that's in a completely different realm and I haven't known how to put it into words. Fr. Frank Pavone's recent blog post about eye contact unknowingly gets to the heart of my unresolved issue with my husband's Asperger's: it's in his eyes.
Eye Contact
Fr. Frank Pavone
National Director, Priests for Life

It’s a basic aspect of human relationships: make eye contact. When we fail to do so at the appropriate times, we fail to show interest in the other person. We may seem too distracted to care, or perhaps ashamed of something. Failure to make eye contact is failure to connect.
When you love a person, you want to look into his or her eyes, rather than loving from afar. You want to see the person’s face. Even the love of God is described this way. The Book of Revelation announces the ultimate destiny of the human family, the culmination of their salvation, in this way: “They shall see Him face to face” (Rev. 22:4)
The eyes teach us about the one who suffers, whether it be an animal or human victim. For a moment, we pierce the veil that separates our experience from theirs, and temporarily see and feel the world as they do.
OK, so my husband is literal in his speech.
OK, so he has trouble processing emotions.
OK, so he doesn't read between the lines.

These are all morally neutral differences between people which can be bridged with patience, knowledge, and perseverance. This is all in the realm of thoughts or feelings, but deeper than that is a longing in my soul they don't touch--a longing for my husband's salvation. My marriage is my vocation and my God-given work. It's the way I will learn and live and do to become the person I should be, and to help my husband and children do the same. We're not talking about my love language; we're talking about love itself.

My personality predisposes me to a certain set of sins. Gluttony isn't something I ever struggle with, but visit me on a particularly rough day and you'll most likely see me despairing, being slothful or vain, and I might be induced to unrighteous anger. Like every other faithful Catholic I know, I am constantly confessing the same struggles and failings. By willfully choosing to reorient myself and ask for His graces and forgiveness, I hope to eliminate these sins from my life and to bring my actions into accordance with God's will. Tears flow from my eyes as I long for better and more and know how short I've fallen of what I'm capable of achieving.
Baptism washes off those evils that were previously within us, whereas the sins committed after baptism are washed away by tears. The baptism received by us as children we have all defiled, but we cleanse it anew with our tears. If God in His love for the human race had not given us tears, those being saved would be few indeed and hard to find (St. John of the Ladder).
My husband's current inability to pierce this veil, to see and feel the world as others do, keeps him from knowing the pangs of love or the agony that comes from not living in accordance with it. I don't mean the giddy feeling of excitement, but the indescribable depths of emptying oneself for the sake of another that only composers and poets come close to conveying. It is out of this love that we were created and to it that we are called and in which my husband and I should be actively participating so that we can make it present for our children. It's the life and presence that can be seen in the eyes, the windows to the soul.
Matthew 6 (Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition)
21For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also.
22The light of thy body is thy eye. If thy eye be single, thy whole body shall be lightsome.
23But if thy eye be evil thy whole body shall be darksome. If then the light that is in thee, be darkness: the darkness itself how great shall it be!
Most of the time, my husband's eyes are dull and cast downward. I've read of some people with Asperger's feeling actual pain from looking others in the eye because of the emotional intensity of it. There is no question to them that it is an intimacy, a vulnerability, and a sharing of themselves with another in a profound and personal way and it is for that reason they avoid eye contact. My husband hasn't expressed or shown discomfort from looking in people's eyes, but he rarely ever does. It symbolizes to me my husband's disconnect from the divine reality within and around him. They exemplify a self-servitude that is irreconcilable with living within a relationship, with one's wife or one's Creator. I know that when his eyes are lifeless that he will not be a spiritual leader of our family, will not see himself as someone who has done specific things he shouldn't have thus creating room for him to grow, and will not love me in this deep and abiding way to which he is called. I know when I look in my husband's eyes if he desires salvation for himself or for us not with intellectual assent, but with his soul. The answer often scares me.

Where is my husband's treasure? Where is his heart? Where is the light in his eyes? When his eyes shine because he is acting out of that Christ-like self-emptying love, everything else in our life falls into place. That doesn't mean it all becomes a bed of roses! It means that our yoke is heavy but our burden is light and we're able to successfully address these other issues. When it happens, it is like Saul on the road to Tarsus who had been blinded, but upon turning to God regains his sight and the rest of his life as St. Paul fell into place. "And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he got up and was baptized... (Acts 9:18)" With that spiritual awakening, there is peace in our house. We have a harmony and an intimacy. It is as if we effortlessly float about, not even needing to take harsh plodding steps. Then with a snap it is gone. Thunk. We hit the floor and my husband walks away in a dull stupor, as if it were all a dream.

I don't think spiritual direction would, could, or should address those practical problems of in-laws or primary love languages, but it seems to me that there is a clear need for spiritual guidance that addresses the spiritual predispositions that having Asperger's inclines him to. For my husband, his sins are usually those of omission instead of commission. Those with obsessive-compulsive disorder or anxiety are likely to become scrupulous and need specific and different, often even contrary guidance than the mainstream receives, especially regarding their confessions. There are detailed guides for them available and special training for confessors for working with the scrupulous. I believe those with autism spectrum disorders require the same, including the need to place oneself under the guidance of a single spiritual director who is well-informed in how to address these needs.

I want to know that despite love languages and communication barriers and neurological wirings that my husband loves me. I want the peace that I get rare glimpses of to pervade our relationship and our home. I want to look in my husband's eyes and see God.
Ephesians 5
25Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the church, and delivered himself up for it:
26That he might sanctify it, cleansing it by the layer of water in the word of life:
27That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any; such thing; but that it should be holy, and without blemish.
28So also ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife, loveth himself.
29For no man ever hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, as also Christ doth the church:
30Because we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.
31For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be two in one flesh.
32This is a great sacrament; but I speak in Christ and in the church.