Friday, July 31, 2009

Marriage Encounters - Part Three

Once again, Part three follows on from Parts One and Two. If you haven't read those two, then this post probably won't make a whole lot of sense.

Saturday Afternoon
We were all asked to come inside and sit around in a big semicircle. Yep, I thought, here comes the "alcoholics anonymous" style forum. Funnily enough though, this time I was ready to share my thoughts. I was feeling positive. Perhaps we were going to read out our letters?


It was time for the leaders to speak as couples.

Parenting Issues - The Man's Story
There were three sets of leader couples, plus one priest. As we sat there, the first and youngest couple started to speak.

They took it in turns to talk, the husband would talk about long hours at work, being tired when he came home and "cactus hour" which started as soon as he walked in the door. He talked about being lumbered with all the children's discipline problems of the day.

He talked about how he felt when he walked in the door, eager to see his kids only to have his wife tell him that they were "going to bed early", that he was supposed to "punish them" or that they weren't going to get any particular gifts he might have brought home because they'd been naughty. It was as if his arrival home signalled the beginning of a punishment cycle in which he was an unwilling participant.

He would talk to his children and watch the interaction with his wife. His children would do something slightly naughty but also quite funny and he'd smile - only to be greeted with a scowl from his wife. she didn't think it was cute or funny. She though that he needed to punish his kids.

The husband told of how he'd lost confidence in his wife because she snapped and shouted at the children over the slightest provocation and she tried to get him to do the same. His failure to comply would only get him into more trouble and as a result, he started leaving for work earlier and coming home later. This, of course, only added fuel to the fire.

Parenting Issues - The Woman's Story
On the other side, the wife started talking about how she felt unloved. Her husband would come home and go straight to the children - ignoring her. He wouldn't support her in her discipline and would often defy her in front of the children. She felt that he was undermining her every attempt at authority and that he let the kids get away with the worst kinds of behaviour.

The wife told of how she needed support, how her husband's late arrival home meant that she had to spend longer with the children and how the children really knew how to push her buttons. Even worse, sometimes the kids would act up right in front of her - and her husband would find it amusing.

All she wanted was a cuddle, a break, someone to empathise with her. She needed understanding and acceptance. She needed someone to reassure her that she really was a good mother and that all parents had these problems. All parents had doubts. Instead, her husband would tell her exactly what she was doing wrong. He would ignore her cries for help and would talk about elaborate disciplinary models, wall charts, supernanny and whatever his mother did. He would quote from all those "Dr Green" books and he would generally make her feel inferior.

The children would behave for her husband too. That made it worse. He was like a "toy" when he came home from work and the kids would be so happy to be around him that they'd forget to muck up. Similarly, on weekends, her husband would take the kids out and bring them back reporting that they were perfect little angels. For her, the shortest trips were a nightmare - she couldn't even go to the shops for a loaf of bread with the kids in tow.

Parenting - Where did the good times go?
Both partners talked about the good times they'd had. They talked about how strong their relationship had been before kids. How they never fought before kids. They both saw that having children changed their relationship for the worse but in the wife's case, the change was mostly due to the kids... in the husband's case, it was his wife who was worse.

Throughout the whole exchange, my wife and I kept exchanging incredulous glances. This described our life perfectly. We weren't alone... it was (gulp) normal.

The couple wound up their discussions with a talk about other things that had been going on in their lives, parents dying, financial crisis and a few other bits and pieces. I got the feeling that this was mainly to placate the members of our group who had issues, but not with kids. In any case, their turn would come later.

Then they started talking about solutions. They talked about who and what was really to blame. The answer... themselves. The introduction of children had changed the dynamics of their relationship and they'd both been so focussed on the new entries to their life that they hadn't taken time out for themselves.

One quote that kept recurring throughout marriage encounters... "Sometimes I love my partner, and sometimes I have to work harder at it". At first it sounds like a harsh policy but the more we heard it, the more we started to understand that it was really telling us that all relationships need work. Sometimes the relationship coasts along happily and sometimes it needs a little work.

The discussion of blame was important because only when you realise that you are in control of your own feelings, can you change them. You need to be able to communicate both your feelings and your needs to your partner in order to you change those feelings.

They talked about their early discussions of emotion, how they would say, "when you did this, you made me do ...." or "when you come home late and give the kids a lot of attention without even giving me a hug, you make me feel worthless".

The truth may well have been that the wife did feel worthless but that feeling was hers. That was her interpretation of the situation. Her husband hadn't made her do anything and he wasn't making her feel that way. He was just being himself. Most fathers get swamped by their children as soon as they walk in the door.

He wasn't "blameless" - after all, he was creating negative emotions based on his own interpretation of his partner's activities. - but again, they were his emotions, not necessarily things that his partner was trying to foist onto him.

These people had loved eachother before children and they hadn't changed those feelings overnight.

More Teaching
We were taught how to communicate this sort of situation to our patners in writing via a "love letter". Sure, you could do it verbally but the temptation to pre-formulate is too strong. It's better written. It's good to use the same exercise books too. Sometimes you'll want to revisit past feelings and issues.

The solutions involve;
  • talking about how you feel without attributing the reasons to your partner
  • describing the type and intensity of those feelings using terms that your partner can understand
  • telling your partner what you would like them to do - how you'd like them to respond.
  • talking about times when your partner did respond well and how/why you liked it.
  • accepting new ideas about things you'd and your partner would like to do.

The aim is not to take your partner to task for the times when they haven't responded well but rather to highlight and encourage the times when they have. It's all about positive reinforcement after all. In order to do that, your partner needs to be made aware of your feelings and your needs.

Doing this on both sides seems to do everything necessary to ease the tension and bring love back into your life.

More Exercises
Now that we'd been educated about dealing with problems we were given some slightly more difficult questions to write on. In fact, we were given a list from which each couple had to choose only one topic to discuss. The rest of the rules, separate writing etc.. were the same.

This time the questions were firmly about describing our feelings.

  • How do I feel when I/You are late home from work?
  • How do I feel when our children are naughty?
  • How do I feel when I watch you discipline the children?
  • How do I feel when we shout?
  • How do I feel when money is tight?

There were a bunch more questions - they were all phrased neutrally and most importantly, there were questions aimed at all kinds of age groups... not just new parents - and they were all about How do I feel. All aimed at telling your partner about your feelings.

It was difficult to pick just one - there were several which interested us but in all honesty, problems are best solved one at a time.

In the next section
You could be forgiven for thinking based on this post, that marriage encounters was aimed primarily at new parents. We discovered over the course of the next three presentations however, that it was for everyone - couples of all ages. I won't be covering those presentations in the same level of detail as the first because at the time, while they were very interesting, they were mostly aimed at our future rather than our present. We were already taking enough onboard.

In my next post, I'll cover the other presentations and the reason for three couples - and a priest, should become obvious.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Marriage Encounters - Part Two

Obviously part two follows on from part one, so if you haven't started reading from the begining, I'd suggest you do. It probably won't make sense otherwise.

I'll be posting this topic close together because I think that people lose interest when a series is too drawn out. I also want to post in a great deal of detail. The plan is for this series of posts to be something that others could use to build their own "marriage encounter" upon.

The second day of our encounter began quietly. It was a sunny day and we were served a very nice group breakfast. We all chatted together around our tables assuming that we'd probably be great friends by the time the whole encounter weekend was over. When breakfast was finished we helped a little with the cleaning and then went outside.

It was a little foggy but still nice and we noticed that a group of kangaroos had hopped onto the property. We took a quick look around but were soon called back into the workshops. We went willingly assuming that there would be plenty of time for bushwalking and kangaroo petting later - how wrong we were.

First Principles: Learning how to talk all over again.
The first part of our morning consisted of a tutorial on how to write a letter. They talked about the Dear.... part and how letters in general, and love letters specifically, ended with the words "Love From...".

After a while, I started to feel impatient. I was wondering if I was in an English class for adult foreign students. After all, there seemed to be multicultural mix at the event. Certainly, they weren't talking about marriage. They were talking about writing skills. For a while, I started to panic inwardly. I really, seriously thought we'd turned up for the wrong weekend.

Then, they moved onto adjectives. It was really starting to irritate me a bit. It was like first grade English at school. The group leaders started talking about how to describe things, telling us to imagine that our reader was blind.

They talked about walking in a garden on a summers day. About the colours of the flowers, the textures of the leaves. They told us how to describe the sun on our shoulders. No.. not simply to say that it was there but also... it was warm. They'd reply with "how warm?". The leaders told us to think of a scale of one to ten but then to convert it to words. One would be about room temperature, while ten would be like the inside of an oven.

Then, the asked us... "what is warm?". Describe the sensation of being warm to someone who doesn't know. A person who lived on a pacific island beach would have a very different idea of "warm" than an eskimo. We were taught to put our descriptions into language which left absolutely no room for a wrong interpretation.

It was frustrating because at the time we had no idea of what we were doing or why we were working at such a basic level.

They told us to assume that our reader hadn't been in the sun. That they lived underground. What was "warm?" what did it feel like. We were taught to liken it to the heat on a kettle. How it starts off cool but feels nice on the fingers.

It turned out that the group was preparing us for the communication differences between men and women. Men and women have vastly different ranges of feelings, so different in fact, that it becomes quite difficult for them to communicate on the same level. If you're thinking carefully about this, you may be starting to appreciate why this particular technique is so appropriate for people with aspergers.

An Exercise
Eventually, they stopped teaching and announced that it was time for us to do some real work. We were given exercise books and a pen and told to write our names on it. Then we were told to go off into separate locations. All the men had to go outside and all the women had to go to their rooms.

We were asked to think about our marriages and try to remember ONE day when had a good time. One day when we thought that both ourselves and our partners had really enjoyed the day.

It was also made clear that the event couldn't be the one we'd previously used to answer the "good day" question. Our wedding day was therefore out. I think they'd done that deliberately, knowing that most women would cite their wedding day as a highlight - and that for men, while the wedding day was nice, it really was "all about the woman", and therefore not exactly a "shared" day.

We had to write a love letter to our partner, with a proper beginning and ending (as taught). We had to thank our partner for the day and tell them what we had loved about the day and how we'd treasure the memory forever. More importantly though, we had to talk about how we felt on the day and how we felt remembering the day.

We weren't allowed to say "we felt happy". Every emotion had to be properly described and quantified. How happy? What do we mean by happy?

We were also warned. Nothing negative at all was to come into our letters. This was about love and memory - nothing else.

I will admit to feeling a little miffed. We were there because we had problems and yet, they weren't letting us talk about negative things. My wife and I may even have said something to the leaders (or someone else did). In any case, the leaders smiled and said... "oh, you'll be covering the bad things before the weekend is out, but first you need to learn how to listen".

We were not allowed to be anywhere near our partners while we were writing. I think that was so that we wouldn't glance at each other or irritate eachother.

Learning to Listen
After about 30 minutes, we were all sent to our rooms. We were told to swap papers with our partners and read silently - without looking at eachother while reading. Just concentrate on the reading, nothing else.

Then... they said, once you've read it. Read it again from the beginning - more slowly and more thoughtfully. Get every drop of knowledge and emotion out of it.

The group leaders warned us about pre-formulation. They said, there is a temptation to start formulating your responses while you read. At all costs, you must resist this. Instead of thinking about how you're going to respond, we want you to think about your partners words and descriptions. Try to understand the depth of their feelings. Try to feel it too.

Yes, that's right... they were teaching us empathy. Not how to show it... but true empathy. How to FEEL it.

We were told that once we'd done our reading, we were both to put our papers down and that we would discuss both. One first and then the other. We were not permitted to interrupt eachother and the first one to talk must be allowed to speak until they'd finished. Then the other partner could talk.

Above all, there was to be NO NEGATIVITY. We hadn't been "trained" for that yet, so we weren't to attempt it alone.

The rules were clear and strict. This, I think, is another reason why the technique is so applicable to aspies. Aspies love rules and follow them to the letter.

Reading and Revelation
I remember reading my wife's paper and remembering the happy event. It triggered a lot of happy memories of my own and as we discussed them, we started to remember why we had loved eachother.

For me, it was like hearing my wife's voice clear and untainted after years of screeching and croaking. My wife had never gotten like that and neither had I. We'd just stopped listening to eachother. We had started concentrating on the negatives in our life and started ignoring all the positives we'd had.

Our partners hadn't gone away. They hadn't emotionally died. They were still in there, calling out and at last, finding a voice again. It suddenly became a whole lot harder to justify the anger that we'd held against eachother. It didn't change the past but it did move us to a point where we could discuss it with love instead of negative emotions.

If you're thinking that this took up our whole weekend, you'd be mistaken. The leaders had managed to move the entire group to this point shortly before lunchtime on the Saturday.

When we broke up for lunch, we had little interest in talking to the other couples. We all just wanted to sit in the sun with our partners watching those kangaroos and talking about those happy times we'd had.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Marriage Encounters - Part One

I've often talked about how I believe that marriage encounters helped save my marriage but I've never really gotten deeply into the mechanics of the thing.

Funnily enough though, the more I talk to aspies in marital crisis, aspies who have survived the crisis and aspies and partners who "crashed and burned", the more I understand exactly what marriage encounters armed me with and why, out of all the various marriage support agencies in existence today, it stands out as the one offering the best chance to couples with at least one aspie partner.

Whether the organisers realise it or not, the marriage encounters programme is particularly tailored for the aspie mind.

As part of this series of posts, I'm going to have to "spoil" some of the secrets of Marriage Encounters. For this, I apologise in advance. If you're already booked in on a course, or if you're definitely going on one, you should probably ignore these posts - I think it's better if you learn via the real event.

If this doesn't apply to you, then read on...

Initial Reactions
My initial reaction to the whole marriage encounters thing was a shrug. By the time my mother-in-law booked my wife and I on the course, our once proud marriage was in ruins. We were both ready to walk out on eachother - and indeed for a couple of weeks, we had vacated the house.

We'd tried counselling but it really wasn't going anywhere. Sometimes the counsellor would agree with me, sometimes with my wife. It was all a point scoring thing and kind of like an uncomfortable game of tennis.

I'd already decided in my head what marriage encounters would be like. I figured that it would be like an alcoholics anonymous meeting where we'd stand up and say "Hi, my name is Gavin and my marriage sucks". I'd figured that it would be a bit of a joke. I was also a bit dubious about the whole Catholic church bit. After all, I wasn't a good Catholic and neither was my wife. We really aren't the praying type.

The trip down to the venue was nice. It was the first drive that my wife and I had taken together in a long time - the first drive without kids that is... It was quiet and although we weren't exactly engaging in major conversation, I'm sure I rambled about my special interests and she rambled about hers. Neither of us listened to eachother though. We don't generally share the same interests. Back then, she and I saw this disconnection of interests as a drawback - it's amazing how much things have changed in such as short time.

If nothing else, then it was at least good that we managed to not fight over the map and directions. The programme moves around and we arrived in a sleepy looking village as darkness approached on a Friday night. My wife started talking excitedly about whether or not we should pick up some alchohol for later. We decided not to. After all, we were there for the whole weekend and we could always drive into town on the following night.

We never got to the alcohol shop.

We never even got to the town.

By the end of the weekend, my wife and I were totally exhausted. We'd saved our marriage but only by physically dragging it back from the precipice ourselves. Marriage encounters is hard work. Very hard work.

Initial Discussions
The beginning started out more or less as I'd expected. A whole group of us arrived, started talking to eachother and were introduced to some leaders, one of whom was a priest. I groaned inwardly.

My wife and I haven't had great tolerance for priests of late. The priest who'd officiated at our wedding some six years earlier had thrown a fit when we were five minutes late. He didn't want to be late for his dinner. At the time, we'd all rushed to the church from work and wouldn't be in a position to have dinner for several hours. We'd always felt that priests were very detached from reality and that people who had never been married should never be in a position to give marital advice. It turned out that we were right, but at the time, we didn't understand the pivitol role that the priest had in the group.

After stowing our luggage, we were all made to sit in a circle. "Here it comes", I thought, "group therapy". We were given a couple of questions to answer.

1. Describe one of the best times in your life - how did you feel?

2. Describe one of the worst times in your life - how did you feel?

I filled it in knowing that I wasn't going to be volunteering any info to the group at this point.

Then we were told.

Swap papers with your partner.

It was private between partners, we weren't going to share anything with the group.

We dutifully swapped papers. My wife looked at my paper, burst into tears and fled from the room. In shock, I looked down at her answers. Our wedding was listed as one of the best times and some run of the mill sad event was her worst.

Like a typical aspie (a word that I'd never heard of at the time), I'd taken the question literally.

My best time was a childhood Christmas, to which she couldn't relate - she'd not been there.

My worst time was a bout of suicidal depression, which I'd decribed in detail - and which I'd attributed to our marriage.

What an idiot!

Now... I understand it. Back then, I just thought I was answering a question.

I shook my head thinking... "the whole weekend is going to be like this. We're going to make things worse". I looked around and realised that there was sobbing all around me. At least I wasn't the only idiot.

Not knowing what to do, I started moving towards the door my wife had fled out... I glanced towards the moderator group at the front of the room and one of them smiled at me and gestured to indicate that I was making the correct decision.

I went outside and the door locked behind me.

I'm not sure if it was deliberate on their part or not but the locked door meant that my wife and I had to walk right around the building to get back in. It was a good walk and we smoothed things out as we walked and talked about what we'd written. It was the first time we'd properly discussed how we felt.

It was the beginning of a long process of healing... but, as we learned the next day, it really had to hurt if it was to heal.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Religion and Me

I'm hoping this won't be an explosive topic but I can never be sure, so please... if you think you may be offended, please don't read this topic.

The main reason for this topic is to lay the groundwork for the next one. I plan to talk about Marriage Encounters, which is run by the Catholic Church but in order to see things from my point of view there, you probably need to understand the relationship I have with religion.

I was born and raised as a Catholic and like many catholics, I had very few problems accepting the Jesus stories (kids love stories) but lots of problems sitting still in church. My father never went to church with us, so it was always only my mother and my sister.

Early Church Behaviour
One issue that I was constantly reminded of was when we were sitting in a pew behind a larger woman and I was miming pinching her on the bum. I said "will I?" to my sister who was 2 years older than I, and she enthusiastically replied "Yes!". So of course, I did it. It caused quite a bit of embarrassment to my mother because it turned out that she knew the woman. Even worse, she turned out to be the school librarian when I started school a year later.

I grew up to be reasonably religious but since my father was Church of England and my mother was Catholic, religion was never "drummed into us". Funnily enough, my mother's parents had been that exact same mix - something that would have been particularly difficult for them in the 1920's when they were married. My father's mother had started off Catholic but some poor treatment by the church when she was just a girl resulted in her raising her boys as Church of England. Needless to say, religion was never very strong in our family.

Introduction to Dogma
When I was in about second grade at school, I was given a mass book for a first communion present. This was great because I had something that I could read and use to check on our progress... (how much longer the mass was going to last). It kept me quieter for a while, though I was disappointed that the homily. The part of the mass where the priest starts talking about his own experience and somehow trying to relate it back to our everyday lives - and to God, was not covered. Our priest was unintelligible - not simply because I was deaf - no, he really was unintelligible at the best of times.

I used to get so caught up in the dogma that when my mother lamented missing church on a Sunday, I'd hold a special mass for her in my room. She and my sister would attend but my mother was never interested in the communion (which was the cream scraped out of the middle of circular biscuits).

When I got to year four at school, I put my hand up to become an altar boy. It was a great time for me because then, at least, I had things to do during the mass. It meant that I wouldn't lose focus. This lasted for almost three years during which I had a great time fighting (gently) with the other altar boys over the bell, building wax bridges between the candles during the homily and having races to drink the leftover wine. I wasn't particularly bad - all the altar boys were like this.

Falling Out
It all ended when we moved house and went to a church with a really scary looking priest. I decided not to sign-up there. My mass behaviour went from bad to worse and eventually I stopped going. When my sister moved out of home to get married, my mother stopped going too - there was nobody for her to go with.

It was around about year nine at school that my religion started going bad. I started to rebel against the Catholic ways and against their teachings. Our school had recently converted to co-ed, the Christian brothers had fled at the thought of girls starting and I'd just had a particularly bad religion teacher. I began to delight in pointing out the mistakes and inconsistencies in the bible. I've still got that bible today, with highlighting all the way through it and scribbles in the margins saying that this contradicts that etc..

We also had a teacher called Mr Hampson, whom we called "hampster" and most of the pictures from Genesis through to Exodus have pictures of mice in them. The best one, and the one on which he caught me and sent me to the principle was in Exodus where the caption had been changed to read; "the princess peered through the reeds and noticed the hampster".

In my later school years, I chose a subject called "non-Christian religions". It was supposed to broaden our minds while keeping us focussed on Catholicism as "the only valid religion" and we had to do a presentation on a different religion. I chose Satanism - not because I thought it was good or because I was interested but simply because it was guaranteed to upset the teachers. I got an "A" much to the disappointment of my friends, some of whom were extremely religious.

Maturing? Beliefs
A lot of time has passed since then and I've thought long and hard on religion. I've also got friends in lots of other religions and I respect both them and their beliefs. For me personally, I don't have any problems believing in Jesus. There was enough evidence in James Cameron's "Lost Tomb of Jesus" to convince me anyway. Similarly, I don't have any problems with the teaching of Buddha - not only does it make sense but it's all good advice too.

I'm happy with the concept of "God" but I'm not convinced that we matter to him. I have little faith in the Catholic Church itself. I don't find its dogma appealing and I don't like their treatment of others - particularly people of different faiths. I don't accept the concept that one religion is right and all others are wrong beliveing instead that all are right and all are wrong to some extent.

I still send my children to a Catholic school because I feel that children aren't ready for such weighty concepts and that they need to discover things on their own. I'm keen for my kids to discover other religions at their own pace but right now, the morality offered by most religions is sufficient for them. Catholicism is probably the most appropriate place to start since it's the religion that I can give them the most insight into.

Today, I mostly describe my religion as "theo-apathetic". I don't dis-believe anything but I really don't care either. If I don't get a reward after I die because I've lived a good and just life according to my conscience, then I'll be content to exist with the millions of others in the same predicament. Life is too short for me to worry about rituals when I have a conscience to tell me what to do. If God is as good and as knowledgable as we are told, then he knows that I'm essentially a good person.

In census, I've described my religion as Jedi on the basis that I think about Star Wars far more often than I think about God. The opening paragraph on the Jedi faith page probably describes me better than catholicism anyway... "The Jedi Church believes that there is one all powerful force that binds all things in the universe together. The Jedi religion is something innate inside everone of us, the Jedi Church believes that our sense of morailty is innate."

It's interesting that aspies come from all faiths and that we have varying intensity of faith. I don't think that there is anything specifically defining about aspies and religion. Some are intense, some don't care and some are just resistant to change.

I hope I haven't offended anyone too much with this post.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Patterns Everywhere

Patterns are an aspies best friend. We're fascinated by them and we tend to notice them everywhere, intentional or otherwise.

Patterns for Walking
Floor tiles are truly incredible. Whenever I'm out walking, I find myself subconsciously following their patterns on the ground - even when they cause me to take a less direct route to my intended destination.

It doesn't have to be tiles though. Even if there appears to be no pattern, I'll find one. Sometimes, I'll define my own. Often, when walking I'll define a pattern on the pavement; step in the centre of the pavers, step in the top sections only or less often, step only on the cracks. It must make my walking look funny but I really can't help it. I even do it while running - and more than once I've tripped and fallen because of this curious obsession.

Stimming on Walls
Wall tiles with illustrations are even more distracting. With these, I'll catch myself squinting to blur the lines and make new shapes, estimating their numbers or designing, in my head, a new font (lettering style) around them.

The same is true for furniture coverings, fabric textures, grilles and structures (buildings, fences etc). Back when I had a great harbour viewe from my office, I used to play "mental tetris" with the buidings, fitting them into new shapes and designs.

The World of Mathematics
I've never really been a math genius but I usually do well enough to cope. My maths is at its best when I can find a pattern to follow. I remember at school, I'd always solve problems differently to the other kids. This would have the side-effect of making me slower than the others (at first) but as the patterns began to set in, I'd get much faster.

I remember floundering badly towards the latter parts of algebra and hearing my friends saying "wait until you start on calculus". I was worried but I needn't have been. Calculus was full of patterns and I took to it like a duck to water.

Patterns occur in all things and I often catch myself subconsciously sorting by colour. I love colour graduations. This much is obvious when I'm putting the kid's cups and bowls away.

How to tell when an aspie has been in your cupboard

Does it make me a good designer? No, unfortunately, just because a set of colours is pleasing to
me, doesn't mean that it appeals to other people. More often than not, it doesn't.

Colour isn't the only source of purely visual patterns, not by a long shot. I remember as a child I was fascinated by the patterns that candles made when you squinted and moved your head. I don't do that anymore though because I had it pointed out to me enough times in a short career as an altar boy.

Stimming with Sound
You'd be wrong if you thought that sound wasn't important to deaf people. It is. I'm only partially deaf in any case but I know a few fully deaf people who enjoy the vibrations that sound makes.

I listen to "normal" music, like everyone else, though these days, most of my favourite artists are sadly found in the bottom of the bargain bins.

As well as rock and popular (and unpopular) artists, I like a few instrumental pieces - mostly from films. It seems that these can evoke interesting moods and feelings, sometimes but not always related to the films themselves.

There are however a few pieces which have great multi-layered patterns in them and which I find myself humming, tapping or otherwise beating out as I go about my daily activities. These songs have remained unchanged for more than a decade and I can only assume that it's because their patterns are so interesting. They are the themes for**: Halloween, Terminator and a specific variant of Doctor Who (the Worlds of Doctor Who).

You know that you've been tapping out themes too long when your kids start doing it too.

** Obviously I can't link to the copyrighted songs so I've selected some free midi files which sound similar enough that you should be able to see the patterns.

I'm not really sure that there was a point to this post other than;
  • A fascination with patterns is a normal aspie trait.
  • It can assist academically.
  • It appears in many forms - even if you suppress one form, it will rise in another.
  • Patterns form the basis of many different forms of stimming.
  • There is nothing wrong with it, accept it and move on.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Miracle of Birth: A male version of the Experience

After the ManWeek initiative which encouraged men to talk more openly about their feelings, we've all been encouraged to write a longer piece which will be collected into a book for father's day. At a bit of a loss as to what to write, I initially decided to tackle Birth and then later the diagnosis of Aspergers because I felt that they were good emotional topics.

I showed my submission to my wife but she thought it wasn't all that good, so I'm going to write something completely different. There was nothing new in the Aspergers section (nothing that I haven't already talked about here anyway) and I've already posted the first bit, so I figured I might as well make part 2 available here.

So here it is, my "rejected" discussion on my emotional reactions to my son's birth. It's not really anything to do with aspergers (because at the time I didn't know about it) but it may interest you to pick the aspie traits.

Fatherhood and Birth
I’m not entirely sure when exactly fatherhood starts but I get the feeling that at least in some cases, it starts before conception. In my case, my wife had cooled down on the whole “baby thing” and was actually settling into the comfortable “dinks” (double income, no kids) lifestyle when I surprised her with the news that I wanted to become a father.

I literally dropped the news on her on Christmas day, 1998 by giving her a book of Celtic baby names. When I got a less than positive initial response, I tried to pass it off as a joke but I wasn’t believed.

It took most of the year to convince her to give up her happy (unfettered by responsibility) lifestyle and in the end, it wasn’t so much my prompting that did the trick as the fact that she had a succession of horrid employers who sapped her will to work and convinced her that the role of stay at home mum was preferable.

Regardless of what they say in magazines and on TV, pregnancy is still a women’s domain. Men just don’t get a look-in. Being pregnant is something that wives do with their mothers and sisters and I spent most of those nine months of incubation feeling abandoned while I watched my wife talk excitedly on the phone and read "what to expect when you're expecting".

My "practical advice" was ignored (probably wisely) and my innocent but stupid questions were treated with scorn. I visited the gynaecologist with my wife only once or twice and asked a bunch of even stupider questions while my wife barely hid her irritation. In contrast, I went to every single appointment for our second baby (though I was late and missed a couple).

Note: "Would-be" fathers; This is a must! Drop everything and be there for the appointments. I wish that I had been there when I was needed.

My wife, as with most wives these days, chose all the “healthy alternatives” over the sensible ones. She opted for no pain relief, or gas at best and she wouldn’t even entertain the idea of a caesarean. Nope, it had to come out the “normal way”. Even worse, she had her heart set on the whole cloth nappies routine. The thought of my business shirts being washed in the same water as a dirty nappy truly terrified me and I had visions of all my white shirts turning brown and starting to smell.

Thankfully my suggestion to use disposables until we “found our feet” worked and we never switched to cloth – perhaps we never found our feet.

In the lead up to the birth, I was feeling pretty ineffectual and I felt that I was being shoved aside so that her mother could take centre stage with her. Don’t get me wrong, I like my mother in law as much as most husbands but I just couldn’t handle being squeezed out and I complained voraciously. In the end, we reached an agreement and I got the coveted helper role.

I figured that we’d better brush up on our baby handling technique. After all, I knew very little other than something about supporting their necks when you hold them. We attended some classes but instead of learning how to care for the baby, they just taught us how to give our wives massages during labour and showed us a succession of truly horrific and traumatizing videos which made “Hellraiser” look like a Disney film. It seemed we were just going to have to learn on the job.

The birth itself was traumatic. Very traumatic. My wife had a fall in hospital during labour and the delivery took eighteen hours. I’d have suggested a caesarean in an instant if I thought I wouldn’t suffer for it later but those “new age” mothering rules about natural birth were too strong.

It was a very confusing time. My wife had laid down some rules about pain relief and definitely no epidural. I’m a stickler for rules and so during one of her screaming fits, I translated her cries as “no! she said she didn’t want one”. She gripped my arm tightly and I and felt her transfer some of her pain to me. Fortunately I recovered quickly enough to realise that she’d changed her mind. All her rules were now gone.

It’s during traumatic events like birth that time seems to slow down and those negative thoughts come creeping in. I’d always had issues with depression and my “Frank Spencer” style handyman abilities hadn’t exactly given me a lot of self-confidence. I was terrified of stuffing this one up too.

I remember taking a peek and seeing the baby’s head halfway out. Unfortunately, this baby had no sense of direction and was facing the wrong way. He was also being pulled with the forceps at a bad angle, and one which has left permanent marks on him – he’s now eight and I still see those foreceps dimples every day.

Looking down all I could see was what looked to me like mangled meat. I now know that what I was seeing was blood pooling in the hollow of the nape of my son’s neck but then, all I knew was that this was about where his face should be. I started to freak out but my gritted teeth and locked muscles kept me solidly in place. Instead of being a comfort to my wife, it was her presence which kept me sane in those last few minutes and I found myself huddling down near her shoulder. It didn't help that the doctor wasn't at all verbal in his reassurances.

There’s no taking away from the intense experience of a woman giving birth and I have no intention of doing so. This post is about me and my experience because I couldn’t possibly speak for my wife – her pain must have been a thousand times worse.

The thing is, that I think that the husband’s part is often overlooked, glossed over and even treated with contempt. I’ve heard the words “What are you talking about? You didn’t have to suffer!”, from my wife but I’ve also heard other women saying it to their husbands.

Birth, like most parts of marriage, is a shared experience and in my son’s case, there was enough suffering in that little episode for both of us to share.

Article: Challenging Popular Myths about Autism

I'd like to draw your attention to an article by the amazing Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg.

Challenging popular myths about autism
by Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg

This appeared in her local paper and is an absolutely brilliant piece of work. I've read quite a few mythbusters articles on autism and aspergers in particular but this one takes the cake.

I had intended to summarise and discuss it here but I really feel that you're better off reading the whole thing and drawing your own conculsions.

Well done Rachel!

Oh, and please visit Rachel's blog - I don't know where she finds the time to do all those updates but I draw a lot of daily inspiration from it;

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Man Week: Fighting the Stereotypical Aussie Male

Apparently I've just missed "Man Week" (at least locally), and was an initiative intended to get men to talk about how they feel. After reading some of the other entries from Sydney-siders (see links after this post), I thought I should probably join in and put an aspie spin on things, though I won't be talking directly about aspie traits (you'll have to guess which ones they are).

Fighting the Stereotype
We're still not sure where aspergers comes from (genetically) in our family but I guess the money is probably on my dad. When I was younger, my dad was so different from me that I'd often wonder if perhaps my parents had picked up the wrong baby. Now that I'm older, I'm able to see the resemblance (I'm starting to look like my dad - and he, like his). I'm also acting like him in some ways, some beneficial, some not.

My father was a perfectionist and a workaholic. When he wasn't working, he was doing things (hobbies) which looked like work. I can already see the resemblance.

My dad came from a poor background but was a hard worker and put himself through TAFE at night. He worked Monday to Friday, left before I got up for school and generally returned after I was in bed. Some of his late nights were drinking nights, some were studying, some were sports and training and some were meetings - regardless of the excuses, he wasn't there.

On weekends in Summer, he would be out sailing. In winter, he'd be in the garage building his next boat for the coming sailing season. We still found time to squeeze activities into his busy schedule (he managed our soccer team for years) but it wasn't enough and our relationship in those years barely scratched the surface.

My sister Maree, My father and I at the "Three Sisters", Katoomba

I remember that when I'd learn some new dance routine or song at school, I'd show it to my mother but would fall silent as soon as my dad walked into the room. Pokes and prods would not incite me to continue the performance. He'd always frowned at those "poofter" (gay) type activities and to do one in front of him was to invite negative comments.

My dad was also into sports, he liked to watch them and play them and he always encouraged me to get involved too. The trouble was, I didn't like sports and I was hopeless at them. In any case, my low muscle tone and hyperflexibility didn't lend itself to hard sports like Soccer and Football. I liked reading, watching movies and Star Wars. My obsession with Star Wars figures was almost a breaking point for him and he often used to rant and rave about those ... "dolls".

Then there was beer. I don't like it. I don't really like wine either. That's not to say that I don't like alcohol but I generally prefer cocktails and premixed drinks (Bacardi Breezers etc). Unfortunately, these are "women's drinks" and my father was not impressed. Luckily I developed, with a fair amount of encouragement from him, a taste for Bunderberg Rum and Coke. It's probably still girly but at least it doesn't come in a pastel coloured bottle.

When I left school, I'd originally intended to do an information science degree but my father "encouraged" me towards the more masculine degree of Civil Engineering. I failed - and eventually I did go back and do that Information Science degree, though not without a great deal of heartache.

Then, there were the cars. I didn't care about them. I drove them without water and without oil and with flat tyres. I had no interest in repairing them myself - I'd rather pay someone to do it. I didn't even like the feel of grease on my hands. I copped years of "nagging" over my lack of interest and ability in this area.

My first job, in a public library, really set the cat amongst the pigeons. In fact, I was told by my employers that there were two reasons why I got the job. Firstly because I obviously loved and cared for books but secondly because my father had apparently contacted them and told them that he didn't want his son working in a "poofy" library.

While I was working there, my dad told his friends that I was unemployed. Somehow that was easier for him than the truth.

If all this makes it seem that I have problems with my father, then I've given the wrong impression. I love him - though I could never use that wording to his face. He just had a lot of issues with my failure to fit into the Australian male stereotype.

When I changed jobs into computing my father was overjoyed. Similarly, he was pretty happy when I announced my engagement, mainly I think because it involved a member of the opposite sex. Having male grandchildren and knowing that I did in fact turn out ok, seems to have calmed the whole situation down.

Over the years, he's come to accept that I'm not the normal male stereotype and that men today are quite different from the men of his time. My father wasn't alone in his views and they seem to be shared by many of his peers. He's mellowed over time and I've stopped checking over my shoulder whenever I do something less than masculine. Years of non-acceptance can have an impact on your self-confidence.

In recent times, I've actually seen my father express emotions other than the male ones of anger and amusement but they're still few and far between. He's not "cured" and every now and then I'll catch a disapproving glance, when I cry at a funeral or when I let my wife boss me around but he's certainly more settled and more tolerant.

In his retirement, he frequently says things which shock me and challenge all of my beliefs about him. There's definitely an emotionally repressed person inside him struggling to get out. It makes me wonder if when I get to his age, I'll experience the same feelings of letting go. Perhaps I'm repressing more than I realise. Perhaps we all are.

Anyway, thanks to Reach Out for the idea.

As promised, below are some links to other aussie male postings from "Man Week". (If you've got a posting, feel free to link to in the comments).

Other Man Week Postings

Why some men are so lost - Man Week

Becoming a Man: Dealing with Personal Problems

Balls and Bravado

Trent Collins - Becoming a Dad and More of a Man

Tony Hollingsworth

Manweek: How about Father and Son Day

Damn the 80's

Man Week 1: Having a Dad

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Can Aspies Make Good Parents? (Part 3)

The plan for this post is to round up the topic of Aspie parenting with a look at some of the many benefits that aspie parents can give their children.

Emotional Clarity
One unexpected benefit of having difficulty reading and expressing emotions is that you become considerably more verbal in their expression. Aspie parents don't wait for their children to magically read their emotional state - they tell them outright.

This in turn teaches children to express their emotive state verbally. There are no emotional secrets in aspie families - at least, not if you're listening*.

* note that I've often heard people complain about how an aspie partner never lets them know how he's feeling but quite often I find that the "complainers" are looking for an emotive expression rather than a direct statement.

Honesty and Integrity
Aspies are usually sticklers for rules and honesty is one of the most important of these. In a world where it is normal, even expected, that people will tell "white lies" all the time - (for example; no, the dress doesn't make you look fat), you can often rely on aspies to tell the truth no matter how tactless or hurtful it might be.

This can be quite a good thing really because it's nice to know that there is someone you can rely upon for honesty. It often means that you can trust aspie children to follow rules to the letter and that family discussions are open and honest.

Routine and Planning
All children thrive on routine and planning but aspergers and autistic children do so more than most. An aspergers parent needs routine in their life. They need to plan things in intricate detail and they need to make lists. Not surprisingly all this is good for their children who quickly fall into the routine and know, from the various charts and lists around the house, exactly what is expected of them. Of course, this only works when the aspie parent is directly responsible for the children. Aspie moms are particularly effective in this regard - aspie dads, less so.

Shared Special Interests
Aspie Parents will usually pass through a brief period in which their special interest is popular with their children. Unfortunately, with neurotypical children, this moment is all too brief. Aspie parents with aspie children however have a different story to tell. In particular, special interest crossovers occur when the parent's interests are "child-like" in nature. For example, in my case, I've a big interest in Doctor Who, and a lesser but still good interest (and knowledge of) Star Wars. These don't serve me particularly well in terms of employment but it does make me very popular with my kids, both of whom have varying degrees of special interest in these subjects.

Understanding and Suitability
This really only applies to aspie parents with aspie kids. There's nothing quite like insider understanding. Aspie parents know what it's like to be shunned by other children in the playground and usually our memories of childhood (and our childhood feelings) are as clear as yesterday's memories. This makes us considerably more empathetic with our own aspie children than neruotypical parents could be.

Aspie parents with aspie children are also much less likely to put social stress on their children and are less likely to engage in heavily social or strenuous activities (for which low muscle tone is an issue). They are also less likely to induce stress in their children over the display of empathy, tone and eye contact.

I think that this topic has presented a very positive message about parents with aspergers. Yes, it is recognised that we have our difficulties but it seems pretty clear that our methods of dealing with these difficulties are generally sound and unlikely to harm our children.

Furthermore, it's obvious that aspergers parents bring a number of strengths to their parenting style and in particular, that they are probably more suited to the parenting of children with aspergers, than neurotypical parents.