We’re not. I promise.
If you tell me that something bad has happened to you or that you’re sad or upset, I may not respond right away. Or, I might respond fairly quickly, but say something awkward. As in, the Wrong Thing.
Either way, I may appear to not care. I may appear to lack feelings. Maybe even a heart. Maybe even a soul.
This may upset you even more.
Please understand that that’s not my intent.
I (we) really do care. I really do have a heart. I really do have a soul.
It’s just that it often takes me (us) longer to respond. I have to process what I’ve just heard. I have to overcome my own (deep, complicated) emotional response (which is always a challenge in itself because I care so much about you and knowing that you’re suffering is overwhelming for me).
I have to do what every other human being in this situation has to do. But for me (and many other people “with” Asperger’s/autism, it sometimes seems to happen in slow motion.
First, I have to identify my emotions. Next, I have to find the right words to express my thoughts and feelings (which is also hard). Then I have to find my words (which in itself can be difficult, too). And then I have to find the right way to say it. With the right tone of voice. With the right facial expression.
And within the right time frame.
And therein lies the kicker. Indeed, there seems to be a “right” time frame in which it’s acceptable to respond; anything longer than that is unacceptable and somehow “weird”. This social rule is unwritten and mostly unrealized, because it comes instinctively to other people, but it’s there, and it becomes painfully apparent to me, because that’s the part where I screw up.
If I could simply pause time, and be given enough time to collect my thoughts and plan what I’m going to say, this wouldn’t be an issue.
But I have two choices:
- Respond in a “normal” time frame, and potentially say the Wrong Thing, or
- Sit for a minute, probably stare into space, and respond “correctly”, but only after taking too long.
Either way, we’re both doomed. Or so it seems. I’m doomed because I come across as one or more of the labels that get foisted upon us: cold, aloof, insensitive, incompetent, or “slow” or “stupid”. You’re doomed because you have me for a friend and you made the mistake of looking to me for support.
Neither of us is really, actually doomed, of course. It just looks that way until an understanding is reached.
I’m writing this to try to establish that understanding. What I (we) need you to know is that you did the right thing by confiding in me, sharing with me, looking to me for support.
I (we) can do and be all of those things.
We just do it differently, is all.
We can choose between doing it a bit more awkwardly, or a bit more slowly.
But I can measure up. I can fill that role. I can be that friend. I am that friend.
Having the Asperger’s neurotype makes me a different kind of friend. But it makes me a rock-solid kind of friend. A real kind of friend, whom you can be real with, without having to impress. You can let down your guard. You can be you. (I’m going to see the real you anyway.) You can tell me those personal things. I will be there for you. I’m not going anywhere.
My heart will be with you, too, even if my thought process isn’t always fast enough and my words don’t always cooperate.
That’s not to say, however, that someone without Asperger’s isn’t a good, real friend, of course. After all, I know you, and odds are that you’re not Aspergian/autistic–and you’re sure as hell an awesome friend.
In fact, you’re such an awesome friend that I do want to be there for you, I do honor the fact that I’m your confidante, and I don’t want to add any more to your suffering. I want to build a bridge and help us to reach an understanding. Which, I reckon, is the whole point of my writing this 🙂