Monday, December 7, 2009

Holidays with Aspie In-Laws

Family gatherings with the aspie side of the family can be extremely difficult for me. But with this newfound understanding of autism, I was able to approach a recent get-together with better understanding and less expectations.

I prayed hard prior to the event. Trying to figure out the best way to approach it all, I convinced myself to view it as going into another culture. As a missionary has to learn the ways and customs and language of another culture, so I had to realize that the aspies in the family are an entirely different people group even though they look the same as everyone else.

This meant that I remember in this culture the people will likely not volunteer to help with the dishes or other chores. They will probably not show any interest in my thoughts or health or anything about me. I will likely not be considered at all. And so I take the role of the servant, helping and working, all the while attempting to carry conversation by asking questions (otherwise all they do is stare at the television the entire time).

Christians are commanded to consider others above themselves and to serve and love one another. Well, in this case it's all one-sided, but whether they obey the commands or not, I am still called to!

It's always painful to be around the aspie side of the family, but this time was better. Lower expectations and a focus on serving others (without expecting any hint of appreciation or thoughtfulness in return) made it easier to get through. I am so grateful for knowledge of autism and asperger's. It is a huge relief to believe they are not hateful, selfish people who don't care two straws about me--they just don't know how (and it never enters their minds) to communicate otherwise.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

When the Aspie Doesn't Respond in Conversation

For many years I have struggled when my aspie spouse totally ignores something I have said to him. I may make a comment or ask a question and get absolutely no response. No nod, no glance, no verbal acknowledgement that I have spoken or that I even exist. My angry response to this is usually "Could you treat me like I'm a human and acknowledge that I'm speaking to you?!" Ummm . . . no, he can't. He doesn't think about it. He doesn't think about it at all. He sometimes doesn't think about me, at all. OUCH.

After searching asperger's forums I found that I was not alone in this. Aspies don't always know how to respond, so they simply don't. Especially if the discussion is heated, if the tone is emotional, or if he is distracted.

I've been pondering the command to repay evil with good, and to bless and not curse enemies when they hurt you. It's important to distinguish the evil from the person. My husband is not evil, and is not an evil person. The 'evil' that hurts me so much here is the autism, which honestly, he cannot help.

Another example is with a female relative of his who does not respond to my efforts in communication. I have written snail mail, shared photos of the children, emailed questions, and shared things about our family. Typically I get zero response. Not even a reply via email to specific questions I have asked. I sometimes say "I'm not sure your email is getting to you as I've sent several with no response." And then I ask the question again. When she does (rarely) respond to my questions, she responds with short bulleted answers. There is no greeting, closing, or personal word (not even a signature of her name at the bottom of the email). This used to be a slap in the face to me. Every effort seems to be in vain to try and build a relationship with her. She must hate me and not want anything to do with me, I would think. But then this understanding of autism surfaced. Now I am determined to keep trying even though I get nothing in return.

This 'evil' is painfully hard to handle. How am to I respond to this sometimes 'evil' aspect of autism with good? I need to be understanding, compassionate, encouraging. I need to keep my tone level and unemotional. I need to be patient and wait much longer than is considered reasonable to an NT for a response, patiently asking again if I really need an answer. All of which is impossible in my own strength. But God's grace is perfected in my weakness.

And these are very, very, difficult lessons to learn.