Look Me In The Eye, Brother.

If you didn’t know, my youngest brother has Asperger’s Syndrome. We have been aware of his many issues for years but he wasn’t diagnosed until recently. Having lived at home for almost two months now, and being home all the time, I will be honest in saying that it is very difficult living with someone with AS.

My brother is very talkative, like every else in my family. However, unlike most people, he cannot carry on a conversation and when he does it is only for a short period of time. Often he will break into a conversation with whatever was on his mind at the precise moment in time, and 90% of the time it has nothing to do with what we are talking about. Or worse, he will make up a story in order to try and add to your conversation. Normal people would call this lying. However, with my brother, he manages to convince himself that it is true and then he will fight you vehemently about it too.

I feel like whenever we are out in public I am doing damage control. Or at least control. I am always making sure that he isn’t talking about something that no one has any idea what he is talking about, or telling one of his many “stories” (aka lies), or annoying someone, or being rude. Aspergians (a word coined by John Elder Robson who wrote Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Aspergers) typically are rude. To them, they are just telling the truth and pointing out the obvious. The truth is, most of us learn pretty early on that there are certain things in certain situations that you just don’t say to someone.  However, James being the good Aspergian he is will be quick to point out if you are fat, or have a giant wart on your face, or if a girl is pretty.

Yes, at 16 he is not afraid to pursue the girls but they are definitely not interested in him. Now, he can be a typical teenage boy. You know the guys that haven’t learned that a shower is sometimes needed every day and you can’t wear the same shirt three days in a row. However, in some respects, my brother still acts like he is 11. His one and only interest are video games. Now, I know there are many people out there who love and are addicted to video games, but not like this. It’s an obsession. It’s all he can talk about. It’s all he can do. It is typical of Aspergians to take something that they like to do and really push it to the extreme. It’s frustrating though. You seriously cannot have a conversation with the boy without him mentioning a video game. All the history he seems to remember is from his video games. If he disappears while he is supposed to be doing his homework, you can bet your bottom he is sitting in front of the television playing video games.

Of course, it would be great if he had friends who also liked video games or friends period. The thing that is hardest about the whole Asperger’s thing is seeing the sadness that he carries around with him because no one likes him. He doesn’t pick up on social cues. Bottom line. He doesn’t notice when he is annoying you. He only likes to talk about things that he likes, otherwise, he will just walk away. He doesn’t like change or spontaneity, and most importantly he comes across as weird. He’s a 12-year-old in a 6-foot tall 16-year-olds body. People don’t understand him and are often rude. Other kids his age are beginning to have jobs, hang out, go to concerts, have girlfriends, etc. He doesn’t care about that stuff. I doubt if he could hold down a job. He gets sidetracked within minutes. Other people treat him badly, and even on his best behavior on his best day people have been outright mean to him. I remember when he was about 10, he sat on the couch with me and cried because he didn’t have any friends. When I asked him why, he said, “I don’t know. Everyone thinks I’m weird. I don’t feel weird. Why doesn’t anyone like me?”

The truth is, he is a nice kid. Frustrating sometimes, with some issues, but nice. He would be a fun person to play video games with if that is your thing or talk about World War 2 (so he does have one other interest) and he can hold a conversation about movies although he does get really excited about them sometimes this may be more of a family trait.

Why am I saying all this? I see the way that people treat my brother. I know that there are other people out there who may have this disorder or something similar. Most people aren’t going to announce that they have a form of Autism. It’s not like it comes up in polite conversation. So the next time you meet someone who seems a little off, or extremely passionate about one thing, doesn’t look you in the eye, or seems to fit the above definition, consider this: We, the normal people, do not have this disorder, therefore we don’t have any excuse to be rude to people. And instead of ignoring or writing off the people we consider strange, perhaps we need to look deeper and try to find something that we like about them rather than something we don’t like.

Some interesting articles and blogs by Aspergians if you are interested:

http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2004/5/17/172914/576

http://www.mugsy.org/wendy/qanda.htm

http://www.autismspeaks.org/community/ownwords/intheirownwords_aspergers.php

Do you know anyone who just talks about themselves?

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0 thoughts on “Look Me In The Eye, Brother.

  • June 11, 2009 at 12:11 am
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    My little brother is an aspie. He’s seriously my world and it’s hard for me to read things like this. He’s 11, and he has trouble making friends. Although he has a lot more friends than he has had the past couple years, he still gets picked on by the “popular” crew. I’m scared for him to get to highschool and have to experience it htere. I’m a junior in highschool at a Catholic school… Catholic school kids are BRUTAL, and I can’t imagine my brother attending my school. He’s such an easy target because he is so oblivious and vulnurable. Let me tell you, I’m ready to beat anyone’s ass who makes fun of him in highschool, I swear. I know thats the wrong way to go about it haha. Anyone have better ideas?

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  • June 10, 2009 at 6:39 pm
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    I have often wondered how I’d have turned out as a boy.  I was an unbelievably weird girl, although at the time I didn’t realize I stood out like neon.  My husband and kids would crack up about your shower comment.  I’m not an icky person, really I’m not, but I would make a really good dog sometimes.  A good roll on the ground, a good shake…

    @keystspf – I love what you wrote about being direct.  Regular people are so geared to being ‘polite’ until they can’t take it any more.  I’ve often told people just tell me straight, I really appreciate being told what I do or say that is annoying so I can correct it.  I don’t understand people trying to ‘be nice’, and then getting crabby when that doesn’t work.

    @chessmom – I yap my husband’s ears off about geology and cosmology and chickens and…  =)  You’d think after 15 years he’d be smarter.  ha.  My psychologist says some people are always ‘broadcasting’.  I never thought about it until the last few years, but even though I’m aware of it now, I can’t seem to let it go.  If you watch Big Bang Theory, Sheldon is my counterpart.  I can’t seem to stop explaining things.

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  • June 10, 2009 at 2:14 pm
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    I can relate to what you wrote. My son has Aspergers. He doesn’t talk about himself, per se, but he does talk a lot about his favorite topics which includes video games. Luckily for him there is a video game club at school, so there’s a bunch of kids he has that in common with. He also plays chess–which may be odd or geeky to others, but not to the ones who play in tournaments with him. I think the key is to find people to fit in with.

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  • June 10, 2009 at 1:59 pm
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    Here’s something to think about, coming from the perspective of someone who was much like your brother as a teenager:

    The one thing that used to frustrate the hell out of me as a teenager was hearing all the time, “You can’t.” and “You never.” and “You always.” Those words stuck in my head and acted as chains around me, not allowing me to grow out of the very things that people disliked about me. I didn’t LIKE those things about myself, but I wasn’t allowed to change them. The little things I did as attempts to circle around them were ignored.

    Example: “You always fight me when I want to take you somewhere.” So, rather than throwing a fit like I had done previously. I started asking questions like, “Where are we going?” “How long will we be there?” “Why are we going?” STILL I was accused of arguing and fighting about it, when all I wanted to do was prepare myself to go. Nothing I could do would let me out of that loop. I would get mad because I was accused of fighting… and then throw a fit because I was frustrated with the assumption that I was fighting when all I wanted to know was the information I needed in order to be able to go and maybe even have a good time.

    I had had a bit of a reprieve from my mom’s insane spontaneity from the time I was three until she got a car again when I was about eight or nine… by then, I’d learned to use words to ask questions rather than simply having a melt down… but it was still considered “fighting with her.”

    It takes a bit of “fighting” with us Aspies (I like that better, easier to say and spell than Aspergians) to get us to come around to changing how we do things, but as long as someone is persistant and believes we CAN grow up and out of some of our more annoying traits… or at least learn to control them, then we will do it.

    When my son was little, he did not talk about anything other than VeggieTales and Shrek. I had to continually change the subject back to what I was trying to talk to him about. Being the parent, it was my responsibility to TEACH him how to have a two way conversation. I did it by ignoring some of the comments he would make about irrelevant things (and random quotes) and encouraging him to answer direct questions and to ask questions himself. I had to be blunt and honest with him and outright tell him, “Josh, I don’t want to hear another VeggieTales quote, I want to hear about your day.” He did not take offense to it, because he knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that regardless of the fact that I do not value VeggieTales quotes as conversation… I DO value conversation with him.

    I think that is one of the biggest challenges facing NT parents of Aspie kids… They are afraid to be blunt and direct with them for fear of hurting their feelings. My feelings have rarely been hurt by directly telling me the whole truth. They have been hurt MANY times by misunderstanding attempts to spare my feelings by telling “white lies.” Being an Aspie myself lets me easily tell Josh that I’m annoyed by his quotes, but not by him. I have to tell the WHOLE truth.

    I would rather hear someone tell me, “I don’t appreciate hearing you quote Pirates all the time, please stop.” than having them assume I am incapable of ceasing to quote Pirates and having nothing to do with me. I’d rather have someone tell me, “I don’t want to talk about that.” than have someone stand there making faces at me and try to look interested, meanwhile letting me go on and on about something they’re not interested in… I can feel that they are not comfortable, but chances are I will not put two and two together and will simply assume that it is me that they are tolerating and not merely the subject I’m talking about… does that make sense? I will leave the conversation feeling as though the person hates me… when in reality they just don’t want to talk about Pirates.

    It takes redirection over and over and over and over again. I’ve learned to catch some of those cues in people I know well… new people are much more difficult. People I know well are usually ok with telling me “enough already.” I appreciate people telling me, “I like talking to you, but can we talk about something else?” I have no way of knowing otherwise that it isn’t just ME that is annoying them.

    Has anyone explained to your brother that people are embarrassed by his blunt comments? Aspies take the golden rule literally. I treat people the way I want to be treated. I want people to be honest and direct with me, therefore I will be honest and direct with them. It isn’t rude to me if someone is blunt. It is rude to me if someone is skirting around the truth. Rude is a matter of perspective. Think culturally for a minute: In China, it is considered rude and offensive NOT to burp at the table. In the United States, burping at the table is considered rude and offensive. In Japan, it is perfectly acceptable to pick up your bowl and drink the broth. Here, not so much.

    So, in the Aspie mind, direct is best. We CAN learn to opperate on NT principles even if we are boggled by the apparent stupidity and “rudeness” of those principles. We are capable of learning to decipher the “niceties” of the NT culture, but you can almost bet that we’re going to need someone to literally sit us down and tell us directly things like:

    If someone says, “Not right now.” it might just be a nice way of saying, “I don’t want to.” and coming back later to ask again, probably won’t be appropriate.

    If someone says, “Do you like my shirt?” they are not really asking your opinion on the shirt, they are asking for reassurance. So, telling them flat out, “No” or “It looks like a cat threw up on it,” probably will hurt their feelings. A better answer would be something like, “If it makes you happy, sure. I like it when you’re happy.” That way, you’re not lying AND you’re giving them the reassurance they’re looking for.

    If someone says that, “No, I don’t want to play video games with you.” It isn’t necessarily that they don’t want to play WITH YOU… it could just be that they don’t want to play video games, so suggest something else.

    I’ve learned this stuff through lots and lots of heartache and analyzing over and over again what I’ve said and done that caused some of the horrible reactions I’ve gotten from people. I’ve also made it a point to ASK various NT’s that I trust to translate for me. I’m an apparent exception when it comes to that. I’ve gone out of my way to learn things… but then again, I didn’t find out about Asperger’s until I was 28 years old and had blundered my way through a lot of crap. I didn’t know I wasn’t SUPPOSED to understand things and therefore had no belief that I SHOULDN’T try to.

    If your brother has been told all his life that he is stuck the way he is and that Asperger’s is going to rule his life, then he believes it and will continue to believe it until someone proves logically that he does not have to. If he believes that he is rude, he will continue to be rude. If he believes that he is incapable of changing, then he will remain incapable of changing. Something has to be done to change his mind… and yes that is possible.

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