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Friday, 9 August 2013

Aspergers and different flavours of ice-cream!

Maybe alarm bells, or at least a faint jangling, should have been heard by my subconscious mind on a family holiday to Devon early on in Ethan and my relationship. This was a holiday with my mum and dad, sister, brother-in-law, nephew and niece – before Ethan and I even thought about creating our own family! I should start by pointing out that he’d invited himself to our family holiday in much the same way as he’d chipped away at me until I’d caved in to embarking on the relationship in the first place.
On the way to the beach, Ethan had noticed a sign for a vast array of ice-cream flavours on sale at the beach shop. We got together a small party of eager partakers from our family group and set off to purchase our ice-cream, talking for part of the way about what ice-cream flavour we were all going to get. It was quite a walk to the beach shop and Ethan struggled to remain engaged in conversation – focused, as he was, on the end goal of (rum and raisin) ice-cream.
We reached the shop. Excitement was mounting. Ethan, unsurprisingly, was first to the counter: ‘large rum and raisin ice-cream please’. I could read, from the look on the woman’s face, the general situation. ‘I’m sorry, we only have vanilla left’. OK, I hadn’t anticipated it was going to be that bad. I’d guessed that rum and raisin was out, possibly one or two others of the 12 flavours advertised on their enticing board. But ‘you haven’t got any flavours at all?’ Ethan was incredulous – and very annoyed. ‘We’ve got vanilla,’ the poor girl was playing on the one string she had. My mum, always eager to avoid confrontation and keep everyone cheerful, piped up ‘Never mind, vanilla will be lovely. Isn’t it great that they’ve at least not run out of vanilla.’ But Ethan was too annoyed, too far gone, too steered off course to right himself again. ‘Do you not think you should take your sign down if you don’t have any of the flavours left? We’ve just walked for ten minutes to get here because of the different flavours you’re advertising. This is ridiculous.’ Mum was visibly shrinking. I don’t mean to be self-righteous and pompous but the rest of us were happy to make do with vanilla ice-cream. We’d been brought up to be grateful for what we had – and to compare ourselves with all the people who had so much less. Granted, we were disappointed that the rainbow of flavours offered weren’t available, but we could cope with that disappointment. We all cared more about having a nice day and enjoying being together than what ice-cream flavour we had. Ethan didn’t have/couldn’t have that same perspective. What he’d expected, what he’d been told he’d have, he now couldn’t have. His brain couldn’t cope with the quick switch required of him. His brain wasn’t wired to deal with this level of shock and disappointment. He couldn’t see beyond himself and what he wanted. I can see all that now. At the time I just thought he was being rude and childish.
We walked back, each with our vanilla ice-cream, mum doing her best to stay light and cheery and trying to get us all to chat about jolly things. Ethan stomped back to our base on the beach without saying a word, a look of sheer disgust, anger and disdain on his face. It didn’t matter that his black mood was affecting everyone else. He’d been expecting rum and raisin ice-cream and he’d got vanilla. He was angry with the world.
Multiple alarm bells often go off in my head these days. But it’s too late. I’ve overslept and now have to wake up to what our life is: Ethan with Aspergers and me not. The best we can both do now is to find out as much as we can and adapt as much as we can to get the best out of each other that we can and make family life as good as we can.
(And make sure the freezer is always stocked with a choice of ice-cream!)


  1. ...are you sure Ethan didn't have a point here...? I kind of agree with him (and I am probably as far from Asp as one can be). I would have felt pretty cheated too - and been hacked off.

    This is just a friendly question... but why does it make Ethan to be at wrong just because you and your family acted in a different way (I am not saying Ethan was right or wrong - I am just now sure there was a right or a wrong here).

    Ethan's response was honest. And genuine. It was maybe over the top. But why is being polite a higher value than being honest...?

    In my experience people with Asp can't lie. They tend to be very honest. It can be a tricky quality sometimes - but if you value honesty then it is hard to find a better person than someone with Asp. It is one of the things I appreciate about my partner the most - I never need to wonder if he is telling the truth or means what he says. If he says he is sorry then I know he is sorry. If he says he cares about me then I know he cares about me. It is great and I really value it.

    And who cares if it upsets the ice cream shop keeper - she was misadvertising and Ethan called it for what it was.

    (Sorry... I do not want to antagonise. Just to raise another perspective to this)

  2. Thanks Josefina,
    It is really helpful to read another perspective and it's made me think a bit more about values that society places on particular characteristics.
    The main issues were that, of course we all felt disappointed and a bit annoyed at the situation, but Ethan directed quite an angry attack on the poor girl serving (who was just doing a holiday job behind the counter) and that his mood carried on for most of the day - affecting everyone else who wanted to have a nice day together on holiday. To my mind, shouting and blaming and sulking for the rest of the day was a) fruitless - it wouldn't change anything b) selfish - it spoilt the day for the rest of us and c) disproportionate to the problem - we were talking about ice-cream, not a life and death situation. It was the kind of response I'd have expected from my 5-year-old. In fact, I think he would have got over it more quickly!
    I know there are other issues going on and that Ethan couldn't actually just 'get over it' like the rest of us did. I just wanted to highlight in my blog the strain that having an Aspie in the family can put on occasions and family relationships, particulary as, at that time, we didn't know about Ethan's Aspergers.
    But thanks for taking the time to comment, getting the perspective of others is what this blog is all about. I'm a beginner on the road of living with Aspergers and I need all the advice and perspectives I can get!