Wednesday, January 17, 2007

On being an Asperger's man's tourguide into neurotypical land

I find my job as the wife of a man with Asperger's syndrome, my role is often that of explaining just how the "neurotypical" world works. I am his "Native Guide" in this "Strange Land" that he finds himself literally stumbling around in. (I say literally because his autism involves gross and fine motor coordination issues.) It's not uncommon to catch Dave backpedalling his way out of an uncertain social situation with the phrase, "Whatever is appropriate to your culture." While this might seem to a great catch-all that anyone could use, it throws off the new brother-in-law when he is asking Dave if he wants a lemonade at a family gathering.

In such a situation, I have to be particularly vigilant and notice that Dave had been drinking Diet Coke, the lemondade is sweetened (he's got diabetes) and pick up on the fact that my brother was only diligantly doing as HIS wife had asked and offering everyone lemonade. Dave, being quite literal thought his supply of Diet Coke was being cut off, and that now it was time to drink lemonade. I had to speak up for him and request that he get his Diet Coke refill.

Dave approaches my world as an anthropologist exploring a strange and confusing place. He exists as a culture of one, as each autistic person has his or her own unique sensory perceptions of the world that make the world a confusing and difficult world to navigate. Finding me as his native guide to explain how the world works from his point of view has been a way to open up his world. Since meeting me, he's visited several fast food places he's never been to before. The prospect of navigating alone the different rules of ordering, comprehending the concepts of one restaurant's value meal versus another's platter and why he should fill his own drink at one place at not another is extremely stressful. In Dave's ideal world, each fast food place would be laid out uniformly as the streamlined Soup Nazi of Seinfeld renown. As such graceful streamlined activity rarely exists in our world, I stand as a buffer between worlds for my love.