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Learning life's lessons the aspie way

When babies are small, they bellow and sob because they can't speak. Toddler shave tantrums because they can't control their emotions, even when they understand what they want. Children become more adept at getting their own way, either by asking the right questions or manipulating soft-hearted grannies in the middle of the supermarket.

When aspies go through all these phases, they are also learning the ways to live and be successful. They learn as much as anyone else and take in at least as much information as the next teething toddler. Life does not pass us by and we do not STOP and wait for something magical to happen to get what we need.

Aspies learn what to do the same way as any other child, by watching the people around them. Where it starts to diverge is when the little aspie has no idea why other people do something and what the end result is meant to be. If the little aspie doesn't understand the process, or the reason why one action leads to another, then they are much less likely to copy the process.

Take being nice to Great Aunt Celia, even though she won't share her sweets and nips you on the cheek when she sees you. The other children can't stand her either but they learn to be nice to her; they learn what to say, even when they feel resentment or dislike. They learn acceptable behaviour around selfish old ladies with no manners.

The little aspie sees Great Aunt Celia and sees the sweets and knows the nip on the cheek is coming (we're not dumb, you know). Having asked many times for a sweet and been refused, having explained to Great Aunt Celia that her teeth will rot if she doesn't share and having already told her, many times, that the nip on the cheek hurts, the little aspie learns to take matters into their own hands.

Great Aunt Celia will not share her sweets and the little aspie wants one so the little aspie ends up taking one. If our aspie is kind, then they might take the whole bag and share with the other children, secreted away somewhere under a table.

When the great, long-fingered hand comes to nip the cheek, little aspie, having exhausted all other possibilities, swats the hand away, Little aspie knows you don't hurt people but has to do something. Great Aunt Celia ignores this and nips anyway, earning herself a well-deserved nip of her own, with teeth, on the side of her hand.

Little aspie is then scolded, made to apologise to the greedy old lady with tears in her eyes - but won't. Little aspie is not sorry! Great Aunt Celia should be sorry because she nips and won't share her sweets! Doesn't anyone want to tell her off?!

At this point, the divergence is complete. For some unfathomable reason Great Aunt Celia is never told off and yet the little aspie is known as the rude biter who doesn't know how to behave with their elders and betters. How is a person supposed to make sense of that?

This type of situation is repeated throughout life, lessening with age as our aspie learns how to deal with difficult people - you avoid them instead of biting them - and how to get things that you want - you still take them, but you choose more carefully who to share them with.

Life is destined to be a puzzle that other people solve without knowing they are doing it. Learning is always ongoing, it never stops. Our little aspie will grow into a person who uses past situations to explain present ones.

Rather than fully understanding why we should allow nasty old women to do what they want, our aspie learns that it is acceptable to let some people get away with bad behaviour. In the future, a rotten soul will be horrible to our aspie and be allowed to get away with it, because that's how it is.

The challenge comes in how to apply the past lessons to the present difficulty. Which nasty people should be allowed to misbehave? When do we roll over and when do we bite? How are we supposed to know the difference?

The problem is, you don't. You learn to avoid awkward social situations if you don't know what to do. If you can't apply past lessons to them, you might decide to try learning on the spot, right now, and using that as a future lesson. Or you might zip off round a corner and not face the challenge.

Choices follow the aspie through life, waiting at each stage of learning. Inside every aspie is the little one, the child on the outside who watched the other children gaily tripping along, oblivious to any anxious feelings and knowing what to do without being told.

We are all still learning and filing away new lessons to apply to future problems. Eventually we'll realise that the fault often lies with other people who treat life as if it was all the same event, well-rehearsed and fully known. We aspies know that every single situation is unique and a conundrum waiting to swallow us whole and we try our best to be ready for it.


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