Every year my step-sister holds a Halloween party. It's a mix of adults and children and I usually go off with the kids and leave the adults to do whatever they do in the kitchen (it involves unexpected laughter, drinks in plastic cups and small pockets of serious conversation).
I love these parties. I get to dress up without being stared at and eat candy. I also get to go to a party where I don't feel like bolting for the door or holing up in the spare toilet. It's so rare for me to enjoy a party that Halloween has become a time of year I now associate with happy social gatherings - that is, as long as I stay with the kids.
This year, someone new is coming. He's the father of one of the children I already know and usually their mother does the honours, dressed as a gloriously gaudy witch. Their mum can't make it so dad is coming instead. I asked if he'd be dressing up.
My step-sister's face changed to an eager expression and she powered through the 'Yes,definitely!' to what she really wanted to tell me.
'Bob is potentially Aspergers,' she said, nodding and smiling at me, as if she had told me Bob would be bringing ten pounds of chocolate with my name on it.
'Oh good,' I said, not really knowing what to say but feeling I was meant to be pleased.
'Yes, there's definitely something there,' she went on, looking thoughtfully at her internal list. 'He's brilliant with computers, very very good, but erm, he's not actually done that much with it.'
So we can tick off the under-achieving part of Aspergers then? Thanks sis!
'And he's,' she gave a short laugh and paused. 'He doesn't have great social skills, you know. He can come off as a bit strange around people.'
Resisting the urge to ask her how he was around goats, I waggled my eyebrows and said,
'Sounds like a candidate then. I'll make sure to switch on my aspie-dar and get back to you.'
She looked pleased and confused at the same time. Perhaps she was expecting me to bring an actual piece of tech or at least a recognised checklist for Bob to complete while he's holed up in the spare toilet.
Feeling the need to explain, I pushed my hand behind my waist and said, 'It's a little switch at the back somewhere, I flick it off and on when I need to detect aspies.'
There was cosy laughter at this, but more the kind you get when children tell awful jokes and you have no idea what they're talking about.
'Anyway,' I added, suddenly thinking of something, 'If he's dressed up he might be in character so I won't be able to test his social skills.'
I imagined Bob as an extrovert wizard, you see, playing the role as we so often do. Or a crazed timber wolf, hungry for blood.
My step-sister looked at me like I'd gone over the edge, obviously not understanding how being in character could affect how his personality came across.
'Maybe,' she said weakly and changed the subject.
I picked up where I left off, drinking my tea while I watched my step-sister interact with her friend. They were so engrossed they never noticed and it was a happy few minutes dissecting the way they related to each other.
I also thought about poor Bob, relegated to the realm of Aspergers because he's not right, an under-achiever and probably says things he shouldn't in the middle of normal conversation.
Hmm, I wonder why my step-sister thought of him when I walked in?
I suppose it's like when you were a child and people came to visit. If they had children, you were expected to make instant friends with them because, well, you're all children, right? What more do you need in common?
I don't mind, though. I'm looking forward to letting Bob take up the slack at Halloween. I can enjoy the kid's side of the party while Bob speaks in character, misaligns conversations, explains complex coding and, very, very, possibly, swishes up and down in his costume.
I do love Halloween.