The first thing that damages one’s relationship with others as someone with ADD and Aspergers is how self-centered they are, unfocused, and inflexible. They are used to managing themselves through their schedule and not interracting with others. Obviously this is a problem when you have children, are married, and you work with people rather than alone. I think this is one of the reasons why writing for a living was and still is very attractive—I’m alone with my thoughts. I make money from my thoughts, my words, and my imaginary friends. I’m good with words, thoughts, setting intentions, and being creative, but I’m not good at action. (See also: Why I never submitted my fiction until recently.) So when I picked up this book as a part of trying to re-frame how I talk and listen to my son (Squibbish), I was going through my evaluation and one of the things that I struggle with is talking and listening to others. That’s symptomatic of someone with High Functioning Autism (Aspergers, HFA, etc.) They are so rigid in their schedules, routines, and struggle with empathy. For me it manifests as self-centered. We don’t come wired well for empathy. I think that’s why I was so well-suited to memoir and nonfiction and fiction that is strongly autobiographical. But in my evaluation I came to realize that my empathy quotient is higher than most people with Aspergers and that’s why I’m tricky to diagnose. I’m good at playing alone, being imaginative, and creative. I think it’s because I love to read, write, and teach. To be good at any of those things you have to be somewhat good with people. And I am. Another reason why I’m tricky but still not “neurotypical.”
My first fiction short story that was published was something I actually did as a kid. What happened in the story, the people involved in the story were not people I knew, or how things concluded, but they are extensions of my life—fictional takes on my autobio.
So I lean into my symptoms when I do that and I write it off as “Well all fiction writers do that to a certain extent. They take elements of their lives and mine it in their fiction.” That’s true, but I probably do it more than others. Writers also stick to a strict schedule or pattern and when things don’t go to plan, they struggle. That is, once again, symptomatic of Aspergers. A lack of attention, of focus, of being able to process feedback as information rather than an attack is symptomatic of ADD. A lack of social and communication skills is symptomatic of both. All of the above make for a pretty rough cocktail when you’re a dad who wants to be a fiction writer.
What do you do when you have this problem? I read. I ask questions, I try to learn, but when you have a hard time processing information as information and processing words into actions, well, you have a cocktail that makes you stagger around psychologically drunk every other day. How do you combat that? You go to therapy. You go to a group. You read deeply, slowly, and you make notes. You talk about what you learned.
So that’s what I did and How to Talk So Little Kids Listen continues to help me. Sure some days are better than others, but that’s life as a parent. You have to learn to go with the flow of your kids. That’s what I learned from this book. Some highlights:
- “You can’t behave right when you don’t feel right.” That’s kind of my mantra with regard to Squibbish.
- Acknowledge feelings with words and avoid using the word “you” when expressing annoyance, irritation, or anger.”
- Take action with limits: “I don’t want to be late for work. I’m buckling you in, I know how much you hate that!”
- Be playful and make it a game.
- Describe the effect on others: “The baby loves it when you make those funny sounds. I see a big smile on her face.”
But the chapter that really did it for me was Chapter 5: Tools for kids who are differently wired.
“Our world feels wrong to him—too loud or too quiet, too much touching or not enough, too much to look at, and too exhausting to make sense of it all.” (167)
This nailed the book for me because it helps me approach a situation, hypothetically, when and if Squibbish or any of his future siblings manifest my symptoms. This book, and all of this research I’ve done on my diagnosis will help my wife and I work with that possible future, and hopefully be able to help them way earlier than I got the help I needed. Twenty-four years after my first diagnosis is a tragedy but not one I, or anyone else, had any control over.
More on that tomorrow.