I heard a talk from someone with Asperger’s Syndrome lately where she mentioned the block that exists between AS and NT (neuro-typical) people: a kind of invisible wall that neither person can penetrate. For the AS person there’s a sense that, however hard they try to interact and impersonate the rules of social engagement they’ll always be just slightly off the mark, left with the sense that they’ve not quite got it right; not quite made the connection. And for the NT on the other side, the feeling that this person that they’re communicating with just isn’t quite getting it; isn’t quite tuned in, is on a different wavelength.
I witnessed this at the weekend. We threw a party on Saturday night (belated bonfire, early Christmas!). Ethan loves getting the house ready for a party – tinkering with mood lighting, organising a system for drinks, selecting a playlist…And, he starts off well – greeting people enthusiastically, offering drinks, asking people questions. But he just can’t keep it going. After a couple of hours he was starting to wilt. By the time we were down to the last few stragglers who didn’t want to leave, mentally, Ethan was gone. I was tired too but, as an NT, I could pretend I wasn’t and give the impression that I was still interested and connected with the conversation. Ethan couldn’t. I saw it as he made his point by tidying up around us and turning the music off as people were still sitting chatting. And when a guy tried to start up a conversation with Ethan by telling him about something funny that had happened that day, there was a very slight delay between him finishing his account and Ethan’s woefully inadequate response of ‘yeah’. Although Ethan was looking at the person speaking, his eyes weren’t focusing on him and even his smile somehow seemed fake. I saw, as clearly as you can see something that’s invisible, the barrier between them.
Mind you, the guy did leave quite promptly after that. Maybe I should hire Ethan out as a service to party hosts wanting to get rid of those last stubborn guests!