Conversations with an aspie
I recently had a conversation with RT teen about his plans to leave college. I wanted the conversation to be a simple, clear one where we could talk about him staying on and trying the next level of his Art course. Instead, it went something like this:
Me: So, about you leaving college.
RT teen: When?
Me: In summer, when your course finishes.
RT teen: It starts again in September, for level 3.
Me: But you said you were leaving in Summer, that you didn't want to do level 3.
RT teen (indignant): I did not!
Me: You even told your tutor that the course wasn't what you expected and you weren't doing level 3.
RT teen (pausing): Oh yes.
Me: So, you changed your mind?
RT teen: About what?
Me (teeth gritted): About level 3! You want to do it now??
RT teen: No! I don't want to do level 3.
Me: But you said you did?!
RT teen: When?
Me: Just now! When we were talking about it!
RT teen: I don't remember saying that, you know I don't like the course.
(I will insert a small pause here while I resisted the urge to cuff him round the ears, like a mother cat and wherein I relayed the above conversation back to him, with italics inserted in a great many places).
RT teen: Oh. Well, I think I changed my mind. I'll give level 3 a go.
Me: You'd better tell your tutor then.
RT teen: Why?
Me: Because she thinks you're finishing.
RT teen: No, she doesn't. I never said I was.
Reader, I will stop at that point, there is no need for you to suffer any further. Anyway, some minutes later we had ascertained that RT teen was definitely maybe considering staying on for level 3 and understood the need to tell his poor tutor, who was, for reasons best known to herself, labouring under the false assumption that he didn't want to do level 3 and would be leaving in summer.
This conversation was like a merry-go-round, a real-life version of the communications roundabout that is aspergers meeting aspergers meeting life. I usually follow RT teen's logic and reasoning and structure what I say to match, but this day nothing I said seemed to help at all. I held onto my patience by the skin of my teeth, remembering all the times I must have driven other people mad in a similar way.
We did get to the bottom of it but it struck me as a very good example of how communication can falter even within just a few sentences. RT teen was tired, so there was more reason than normal for confusion to creep in, but this odd way of thinking and mis-remembering is probably often going on inside the aspie, even when the outside seems more sensible.
You may have a much easier conversation with your aspie than I did, then come back later and discover they remembered everything differently to the way it actually happened. This is where arguments start as your memory of the event and the aspie's memory differ widely enough for it to be like you were talking to some other person who just looked like them.
In mine and RT teen's case, we were further mishandled by both being aspie and my needing to get to the bottom of the matter, so that we could move forward on his college plans. I guess, sometimes, we are all guilty of giving up in the middle of an aspified conversation and telling ourselves we'll come back to it later. When we really need to have the conversation and reach some kind of conclusion, then we must struggle on and make the best of things.
RT teen did want to leave the conversation until he was less tired but I didn't dare. What if I forgot to talk to him about it for another week and then he missed a deadline for applying? What if I forgot for longer and ended up having to call college and talk to his tutor, trying to sort it all out after the event?
All these things have happened before and I couldn't trust myself or him to remember at the right time and deal with it, without some mishap befalling us. So, the above is what can happen if you have to force a conversation at a time when the aspie is at once with you and away from you, one half of them walking alongside you, dogs running off ahead and leads swinging from your hands, the other half of them stuck firmly in some other place, which moves secretly beside this one and steals away their attention.
By plugging away, going over the same ground and impressing upon RT teen that yes, we did need to talk about it now, right now, we made it through to the end of the conversation with a decision in place. And on Monday morning, when I brought it up again, the decision had held fast and he spoke to his tutor.
Sometimes, you just can't force the issue and talk things through. If the mood is not right, the attention isn't there or more than half of the aspie is stuck in the other place, then that conversation is not going to work in the right way. What you might have to do is come back to it later (and remember to do so), hoping that your aspie has some recall of the failed conversation so that you don't have to start from scratch.
As an aspie who is very good at forgetting and does 'lose' whole conversations, I know how frustrating it can be from the other side of things, to know other people need to communicate with you - and have communicated with you - but then your mind has lost the lot of it and you either pretend to know what they're talking about or admit, yet again, you have no idea.
I've done both - pretending and admitting. Pretending is a high-risk strategy that causes all kinds of problems whereas admitting so often ends up in a telling off. It makes the other person feel you had no interest in them or the conversation and that you only pretended to listen.
Yes, erm, sometimes I actually do pretend to listen, or drift off and give the appearance of listening as an automatic response. But mostly I try to take it all in, even if it leaves, quickly, by a side entrance, as soon as the show has ended.
The only thing you can do with your aspie, if it's important, is mention it more than once. You know by this I mean mention it many times. You do risk the aspie moaning and eye-rolling, saying they know all that and so on. Put up with it because they're still likely to forget.
Spoken communication is a two-way device, put forward as a way to save on head-butting and stick-waving in primeval times. Sometimes, you may be tempted to revert to those times and see if poking the aspie with a stick as you talk will help them remember what you're telling them but, trust me, they will only remember how horrid you are and burn the stick later.
(I know this as a very old lady friend of mine had a son in his 60s who she felt needed some 'reminding' with her walking stick as she told him things. It would snake through the chairs and poke him on the leg but he became expert at jigging his legs about so she couldn't always catch him and he still managed to have the conversation his way. Sticks do not work, even if you are a highly intelligent 90 year old).
Dogged determination and patience will win the day. Be brave about setting off the aspie moan, tell them things more than once, only remind them what they have said if it is necessary. Be constant and consistent in your attentions, to give your aspie the best chance of remembering what you are talking about and also anything important you decide.
In the end, also be humorous, dear readers. You need all the humour you can get when you have to face troublesome aspie conversations. Take it in the spirit of a creative episode in the middle of dull, everyday life and be glad that not everyone you know can remember what they said last Tuesday. Or any Tuesday.
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