My son washed his flip-flops in the shower the other day. Then we had a conversation.
This is what the conversation with a NON-Aspergers boy might look like:
Boy: What shall I do with my flip-flops?
Me: Leave them in the shower to dry.
If your boy should just happen to be a teenage rebel, you might end up with something like this:
Boy: What shall I do with my flip-flops?
Me: Leave them in the shower to dry.
Boy: Leave them in the f***g where? That’s what us poor plebeians have to do. I’d bet you anything the president of the US and the Prime Minister of England don’t have to dry their flip-flops in the shower! They’ve probably got special rooms in their houses just to dry their shoes in. That’s where all the f***g tax money goes to!
And so far, all in all, it’s pretty good. A pretty normal conversation in a normal home with a normal teenage rebel.
But what happens when you ask an ASPIE boy to leave his flip-flops to dry in the shower? Well let’s just take a look at the conversation I had with my autism-spectrum son recently:
Son: What shall I do with my flip-flops?
Me: Leave them in the shower to dry.
Son: (with a serious face) Where in the shower should I leave them to dry?
Me: Well, just, anywhere. Just leave them in the shower.
Son: Yes but where? Should I leave them on the right side? On the left side? On the side nearest the entrance? Against the far wall? Or would you prefer them in the centre of the shower? If I put them in the centre should I turn them perpendicular to the entrance or horizontal? Or should I put them diagonal to the entrance?
Me: Well I dunno, why don’t you leave them against, oh I dunno, say, the right side of the shower for example?
Son: Do you want them on the right side touching the corner of the far wall or on the right side touching the entrance to the shower? Or do you prefer them right in the centre of the right side?
Me: Oh I don’t care. Ok (coming to terms with the fact that I have an Aspie son) put them right in the centre of the right side, touching the wall of the shower.
Son: Should I leave them completely flat against the right side of the shower? Or do you want them at an angle?
Son: If you want them at an angle should I angle the front of the flip-flops away from the wall, or the back of the flip-flops?
(All this, I might add, with a completely straight face. He was dead serious he wasn’t joking.)
Me: Oh I dunno why don’t you angle the front of the flip-flops away from the wall?
(Son turns flip-flops away from the shower wall.)
Son: At what angle should I leave them?
Me: How about you turn them at a 45 degree angle away from the wall? (just to arbitrarily suggest a number, you know)
Son measures the angle of his flip-flops and turns them at a 45 degree angle from the wall. And there his flip-flops remained until they dried.
And he’s like this with everything. For example, you can’t ask him to put “a pinch of salt” into the food. He actually needs to measure the pinch of salt.
I asked him why he is this way.
He said: You know I have an analytical, mathematical mind. I can only understand numbers. I can’t understand anything subjective. Things that are unclear or subjective or whose criteria are constantly changing make me confused.
So there you have it. How the mind of an Aspie works.
Or at least how the mind of my Aspergers son works. Not saying all Aspies work this way. I don’t, for example.
Unfortunately it didn’t occur to me to take a photo of my son’s flip-flops drying in the shower, but perhaps this photo can sort of take its place.
The one thing I’ve learnt in life is that, more important than how you look, the most important thing that determines how people will treat you is how good your SOCIAL SKILLS are.
Nothing nothing nothing is more important than developing SOCIAL SKILLS.
Even if you have some kind of disability, like that inspiring guy who has no hands or legs — I don’t know his name but he is a famous speaker — although life might still undeniably be tough for you, in the end, if you have great social skills you will be successful and people will overlook any challenges that you might otherwise possess.
But if you are socially awkward or shy, even if you are gorgeous or you look perfect, no one will like you. You won’t be able to get a job and even if you do clench one you won’t be able to keep it.
Or if you have difficulties with executive functioning. Executive functioning is things like short-term memory. I have none.
I remember one of the very first jobs I got. Well maybe it WAS the first job I ever got, come to think of it.
My First Job
So the guy showed me around the place. For me it was just one giant whirlwind, everything he told me went in one ear and out the other because I just had no ability at all to remember a word he said.
I WANTED to remember it. I did try very hard to remember it.
But I’m incapable of remembering more than 3 facts at a time and sometimes I can only remember 2.
So after giving me the grand tour, where I couldn’t remember what each office was for or who worked in each office or which job each office was dedicated to, he took me back to the front desk and asked me to call Customer Service.
I was supposed to have remembered which office Customer Service was in! I couldn’t remember it so I couldn’t call them.
I really WANTED to remember the office number. I really tried to remember it.
But I couldn’t remember it.
So he said: “I can see you are not suited for this job at all. I’m sorry about that. I just hired Cindy here, this is also Cindy’s first job and she has turned out to be absolutely brilliant. Most people on their first job are usually amazing because they try very hard. That’s why I like to hire people with no experience. I give them their first opportunity, and in return they offer me all their enthusiasm and attention and they try very hard.
“But I can see you just don’t have what it takes. You are either very dense and slow-witted, or you are just plain lazy or you are goofing off and not paying any attention to me.
“And just in case you didn’t know it before, I am telling you now: ignoring your boss is not a good thing. Not a good thing at all. Good-bye.”
I really wish I’d known then that I had Aspergers and that having no short-term memory is one characteristic of people with Aspergers. That it’s something you can’t help and it’s not your fault.
As it was I thought the problem was because I was super incorrigibly lazy!
Because no matter how hard I tried I just still couldn’t remember. If you can’t do something no matter how hard you try isn’t it usually because you didn’t try hard enough?
Because you were just too lazy to try harder?
A Two-Edged Sword
I always think knowing that you have Aspergers (or ADHD or whatever) is a two-edged sword.
My son knows it and on the one hand I think it makes things easier for him because he knows it’s not HIS fault he can’t do some things that people expect him to be able to do.
He knows he’s not being lazy or acting insolent.
And when people see he can’t do them and they think he’s intellectually challenged he KNOWS he is not intellectually challenged, that his intelligence is normal. It’s just that being incapable of doing X is a typical and common characteristic of people with ADHD, it’s something you are born with.
So he doesn’t feel so bad.
But on the other hand it also means that he KNOWS that he has problems with X, and that people don’t like to hire people who have problems with X. So then he thinks no one will ever hire him.
More Job Problems
I had another job a few years back with similar problems. The boss showed me a ton of books and said in Book A we have a series of games that are suitable for 8 year old kids (this was at a private school where I was supposed to be an afterschool monitor). Book B has games for 10-year-olds. Book C has more intellectual challenges suitable for older kids or pre-teens and Books D-G are for teenagers. As you know teenagers aren’t so much into running around and prefer word games and intellectual challenges. Tomorrow you’ll get the 8-year-olds so why don’t you take the book I just told you about and research a few games to play with them?
I didn’t dare to ask her to tell me again which book was the one with games for 8-year-olds. If I’d done that she would’ve thought I hadn’t been paying attention to her.
And I HAD been paying attention. I just couldn’t remember anything she said. There was too much information and I got all the books mixed up.
So I had to spend a long time looking through each book to find out which one was the one for 8-year-olds.
So you see, we aren’t lazy. We actually have to work HARDER and spend MORE TIME to be able to do the same things other, more “normal” people are able to do quickly and automatically.
I wish I’d known then too that I have attention deficit and Aspergers.
But as I said, at that time I didn’t know it. My bosses didn’t know it either.
So they simply jumped to the conclusion that I must be lazy, slow-witted or insolent.
How about you? Have you ever suffered from problems at work due to Aspergers? Or do you work with someone who is on the spectrum, or supervise an employee who is an aspie? What’s it like? Leave me a comment, do tell tell.
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Although having Asperger’s is wonderful because it makes you special, for example people with Asperger’s (well in my experience anyway) are very honest and they will never deliberately deceive you or trick you or con you and what’s more, they can’t understand why in the world would anyone ever want to be so selfish to begin with.
However, being an aspie also comes with its disadvantages. And one of them is having no short-term memory to speak of at all. That means that when you meet new people, especially if you meet a lot at the same time, their names just breeze in through one ear and out the other.
So when you are talking to your new acquaintance again, you just have to pretend you can remember their name, until someone comes up and calls them by their name. And if after 2 days or so no one has come up and called them by their name, then you must just smile and admit that you can’t remember their name. Which looks a bit silly if you have been talking to them for 2 days.
Or you can resort to different strategies to remember their names. I recently met a woman named Barbara. The next day when I saw Barbara I told myself: Now remember that that is BARBARA, it is easy to remember because Barbara is all dressed in blue.
Now, in addition to Asperger’s I also have synesthesia (which I might write about in another post one day), that is, I see letters, numbers and names with colours. And for me the letter B is blue, and so is the name Barbara. And Barbara just happened to arrive that day dressed in blue.
So after a day of observing a blue-coloured Barbara whose outfit matched the colour of her name, I had no more difficulty remembering her name.
But that doesn’t always happen. Which means that every time you meet new people you must dream up ingenious designs to try and remember their names without tipping them off. Because when you don’t remember people’s names, they have a tendency to get offended and to think the reason you can’t remember their names is because they didn’t stand out enough in your mind, or you didn’t pay enough attention to them. They don’t think it’s because you have no short-term memory.
Another strategy is to ask them for their phone number and send them a cute cat photo, like this one.
After that you will have them in your whatsapp and hopefully they would have put their name in their profile hehe.
Of course the easiest thing would be to simply tell them that you can’t remember their name. But that is usually not a good idea because, as I mentioned before, people tend to get offended if you can’t remember their name.
So how about you? Does short-term memory deficiency cause you problems in your life? Do leave me a comment, I lurrrve to receive (positive, non-spammy) comments.
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