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.


  1. I wonder if next time, rather than just assuming the role of servant, you might take on the role of mentor. I find in my dealings with my aspie-relatives, although they might not ever offer on their own, when I delegate duties, everyone participates. It's not that they don't want's just that they don't realize it until it's offered.

    Note didn't say "I asked"... that opens up the opportunity for refusal and that WOULD make me feel like a dismissed servant.

    I learned a while ago if I just WAIT for someone to ask or offer, I'll be waiting a long time. Like you said, it doesn't mean they don't love me or have interest in means I need to approach it in a different way.

  2. As an Aspie with Aspie relatives, I see this from both sides. Oftentimes the way we do things is odd and we have been told this from the time we’re young. (It’s usually how we got the impression that “different” was bad.) As often as I have heard it, it never ceases to embarrass me (and I grew up with many siblings to thicken my skin). This is because we don't always learn things the way other people do and also because, although I have somewhat outgrown the dyspraxia, I still feel like the "bull in the china shop" around nice things. (My oldest Aspie daughter explained dyspraxia better than anyone I have ever met when, at age 4, she began to feel the unspoken displeasure of her dance teacher. She said to me, "it's not that I'm not trying, Mommy, it's just that my feet won't do what I tell them.") Also, for most of us there has never been any diagnosis, so we have often been made to feel like we are being deliberately careless when we break things, which causes ongoing shame and the desire to make oneself invisible (hence the deer-in-the-headlights-in-front-of-the-TV-pose). I often see other women in their kitchens moving with a kind of grace (an economy and ease of movement) that I know I will never have. When my second oldest NT daughter left home, she bought me some nice glasses, because she said that, now that we're not little kids anymore, we can use real glasses. But I don't have a dish washer and glasses never survive long in my kitchen. I thanked her for the glasses and I didn’t have the guts to tell her that the plastic glasses were as much for me as them. Whenever I am offering my help in the kitchen, I have to remind myself that I have experience enough now to be helpful, but I always begin with a prayer that I won't break anything. I have an older Aspie sister who would rather make every course of Thanksgiving dinner and clean it up herself than have anyone help her. We have talked about it, her and I. And I was like that too, at one time. I am more willing to risk failure and embarrassment since it became clear to me that my youngest Aspie daughter is sensitive in this way and needs to see me accepting my limitations bravely, even when other people are not understanding. Any of the Aspies with spouses will get slightly more social training, but even though it looks like we're not paying attention, our anxiety may be on full alert. After being married for thirty years, I am a pretty good cook, but when our church ladies’ auxiliary gets together to put on dinners, I often end up feeling like that shamed child again. I don't use this as an excuse to get out of doing anything now that I'm comfortable in my own kitchen, but I'd rather work alone, and I never buy good dishes. And if you are asking an Aspie to help, consider that the very simple thing that you do like breathing may not have been taught to them in a way they can understand and be prepared to offer instructions that are long on particulars and short on judgment.

  3. I love these comments. Thank you for sharing! "Long on particulars and short on judgment" is brilliant. And something I need to work so very hard at!