I once asked my dad, in that way that young adults have of trying to revisit their childhoods and make sense of them, why people didn't seem to care as much about my struggles as I thought they should.
His response was something along the lines of "You have to look at it objectively and see how many times they did care, not the times they didn't. You have to take the gestalt."
I still stubbornly persisted in feeling like no one understood or cared enough about my struggles, even with mounting evidence to the contrary, more often than I would like.
In fact, I accused a lot of people of this. I had trouble reading the nonverbal messages people sent, of caring, concern and compassion. In my mind, it didn't count unless it looked a certain way. I had this image in my head of how caring and compassion would look like. What words would be used, how it would be expressed. Obviously, I was often dissapointed. Sometimes we talk a lot about wanting people to accept us for who we are, but then we don't let other people be themselves. This is a hard lesson to learn.
Then, tonight, I found out a friend who shares a lot of my social challenges had said to our mutual friend that she didn't want to be with me, because I was not compassionate enough to her when she slipped on the ice. Once I got through raging about how unfair and wrong that was, and how much I tried to understand and show compassion for her, I almost laughed. I laughed because I recognized myself in those words. This is a teaching opportunity for me. How can I be mad at someone else for having the same exact problem as I do? I can still be annoyed, but I can't honestly be mad. She taught me, without knowing it, how it feels to be on the receiving end of my accusations. She made me see how nobody can be even close to perfect all the time, and how someone could be feeling perfectly compassionate in their mind but just not be able to show it for a dozen different reasons at the time. I was probably too focused on not slipping on the ice myself to give much of a response! But she didn't know that.
I try to think of what response I could possibly have to her that would help her understand. I try to think of what would help me. People have tried to explain to me the concept of people having other things on their mind and not being able to respond all the time - "Maybe they're thinking about their grocery list, it's not anything to do with you" and that helped a little, but I still didn't quite get it. I think the only thing that could make me get it was to feel how it felt to be on the receiving end of that bias. "You weren't compassionate to me when I slipped on the ice." My own words coming back to me. Fascinating. We get so attached to our old hurts. Sometimes, when we confront people years later, if they give us what we want... All we can think of is "But why didn't you give it to me when I really needed it?" and the hole still remains unfilled. We feel unloved, perhaps. But it seems this results from putting people on a pedestal, thinking they can do no wrong. People make mistakes, and a lot of them. But at least they care enough to try to make them. In a recent Parenthood episode, the grandmother tells her adult daughter that marriage is all about forgiveness. That could be applied to all relationships. Perhaps my dad was right, you have to take the objective data and figure out, does this person care? Even if they mess up sometimes and don't show it in the ways I think they should, do they care? This can be hard to remember when you're caught up in emotions revolving around not getting what you want in the moment, but, I am now realizing, doesn't make it any less important.
If you like this, please be sure to visit my other website, Accepting Asperger's. A lot of my older writing is stored here, including an editorial I once wrote for the Baltimore Sun. Click here to see it: Accepting Asperger's.
What's it really like to be a 20 something with Asperger's? On this blog, I hope to explore that question. But this blog is not just limited to an audience of people in their 20s - this is for anyone who ever wanted to know anything about autism. I plan to delve into the nature and experience of autism, and examine it from as many angles as possible. I would like to start a conversation between people with Asperger's or autism, parents of kids with autism spectrum disorders, and anyone who just wants to know more. Let's explore what autism means, together.
My goal is to start a discussion on and build a community of people affected by autism - parents and adults with ASD - so feel free to leave your two cents in the comments section of any post. If you're too shy for that, however, or want to speak to me personally, you may feel free to email me at KGoldfie@gmail.com.
Asperger's Book for Sale
Common Scents: Adventures with Autism and Chemical Sensitivity" is the story of a young woman's search for physical and emotional safety as she journeys through the mountains of the Cascades, small coastal towns on the Oregon coast, and out-of the-way towns in upstate New York. Along the way, she experiences things she would never have dreamed possible had she stayed in her Maine hometown, and begins to learn the power of human connection.
Common Scents is the story of the last three years of my life. It gives a gripping view of what it is like to experience the world as someone on the autistic spectrum, and some would say, is an entertaining travel story as well. Because of chemical sensitivities, I engaged on a three year journey for a place I could call home.
Comments from readers:
"The Asperger's element is remarkable. I feel that I understand my son better, so much better. I laughed at this part.... because I've stared at my son in the same way for the same thing." - mother of an Asperger's kid
"Your writing style is SO engaging and interesting. It brings me right into the subject and I always experience a little emotional punch towards the end. In other words, this is the third time I've teared-up reading your work. Kate, you've highlighted ALL the problems with how social skills are usually taught." - mother of ASD kid
"I stayed up entirely too late reading the first 14 pages. I can relate to so much of what you write. I really think you are expressing the true experience with MCS and autism in words that convey the experience." person with chemical sensitivity (MCS)
"Absolutely interesting, insightful and witty. You've blended together your three themes beautifully (Asperger's, MCS and travelling). It seems seamless."