Language Translation

Monday, May 30, 2011

We are verbal, but still may not understand.

This posting is more for the families with verbal or signing children, although those with non-verbal children will learn a few things still.  Those with non-verbal children, keep reading please.  I'll address your special circumstance in my next posting because it is too much to put with this post.

It was not until about 2 years ago that I could handle teasing.  As a child my family would joke and tease a lot.  I never thought it was funny...because I took everything literally.  So they would say something, completely in jest, and I would not only take it as them being literal, but then they would laugh about it and add insult to the injury.  My childhood was much harder than it had to be because I could not understand the concept of teasing.  To me it was just cruelty and abusive.  My mother and teachers would try to explain to me that people were just joking.  I'm sure they tried to help me understand in many different ways, but my black and white mind could not understand them.  I don't know if the words they used had different definitions for me, they probably did.  I could also feel when people said things, they did partially mean what they were saying and to say it to me in private without joking about it would have been fine and would not have hurt me in the least.  But to say them in public, in a jest, and then to laugh about it was a pain that cut me deeply.  It took me years to recover from my perception of my childhood. 

I don't tell you this to make you worry for your child, but in hopes of helping you see the road ahead and maybe have some ways of preparing for it.  Understanding your child's definitions of words will be essential to helping him understand the world around him.  For example: About 3 months ago I was talking with my sister and the conversation did not end well, again.  I was going through a hard time, recently separated from my husband of 13 years.  I was thinking and trying to understand the things I needed to do and to change because I am not so proud as to think that it was all his doing.  I said some of the things that I had been thinking about to her and she said, "No Tara, that's wrong.  You didn't...."  I heard nothing else she said.  I was so angry at her for saying I was wrong. 

We hung up and I sat and thought and wondered why she would say that to me.  Then, for the first time in my life, yes, for the first time in 33 years, I realized the word "wrong" might possibly have a different definition for me than it did for my sister.  You see, I define my words by the most basic definition, or as close to the scriptures as possible.  The scriptures are my balance for everything in life.  In the scriptures "wrong" is equated with evil, never with incorrect or incomplete.  Even though my brain knew that my family, teachers, etc. were telling me the answers were wrong - as in the steps of the math problem were not correct and here is where I need to rework the problem from - in my heart I felt condemned and like they were telling me I was evil.  That is why I could never be wrong, I always had to be right.  If I was wrong I was evil.  And that was worse than anything I could dream of.  I cannot begin to express the emotions I feel at the thought of being evil.  It is as though someone has reached inside of me, pulled out my spirit and left my body there, vacant.  My whole point of existence becomes pointless if I am evil - tell me I am evil and you are telling me I don't exist - not, shouldn't exist, or wasted existence, I mean literally...telling me I'm evil makes me immediately feel empty inside and like I don't exist at all...I disappear into nothingness, it is terrifying on a level I cannot put into words. 

Do you see how just one word made things so difficult?  I spoke again with my sister, and my assumptions were correct.  She had never considered that my definition of the word "wrong" could be anything but what her definition was...I didn't have the full picture or maybe hadn't thought about it from a different perspective was all she had been trying to say.  Now, had she said, "Tara, I see something that you don't see,"  I would have been most attentive and eaten up everything she had to say. 

So, with your child, be sure to find many different ways to say the same thing so that he knows what you are saying.  I find that pictures are most helpful for me.  As in the case with my sister, if she had simply said, Tara you are only seeing one side of a cube, my reaction would have been, "If you see another side, please, PLEASE share it."  I was desperate for answers.  But she thought I was proud and couldn't stand to be told I was wrong (in the sense she meant it).  I learned that pretty much every person I know thought that I was really proud and that I always had to be right...and I see why.  After a few years of being told, from my perspective, that I was evil - I started fighting back.  When people would say I was wrong, I would instantly shut them down and tell them I am not wrong.  I have thought about it, prayed about it, considered it from every angle and knew I was not wrong. 

Their response was, naturally, well then, why bother asking me?  Just to get my agreement?  If I disagree you jump down my throat.

So here is the interpretation of what I was trying to say.  Again, assuming my definition of a word is the same as thiers, I did not explain completely to them.  Before I begin talking about anything with someone, I weigh it out before the Lord and make sure it is something that can be talked about and is something that He feels ought to be talked about.  By someone telling me I am wrong - evil - for talking about something I thought that they were attacking the most sacred part of me and I fought back.  Inside was the feeling of, once upon a time I might have believed you and questioned whether or not I should be thinking in this direction, but I don't now.  I am solid in my relationship with the Lord and if I feel guided in this direction, who are you to tell me I can't go there or am evil for thinking in this way?!  To the core of me I wanted answers and help with looking at the problem in front of me, but everyone seemed to call me evil for even beginning to look the demon in the face.

We were in two very different realities.  I see that now.  I still have to mentally tell myself when someone uses the word "wrong" that they mean the other definition, not my definition.  I have even incorporated it into my vocabulary in the way they mean it in hopes of letting my brain and heart absorb a new way of thinking.  But who knows how many words I define differently than most of society???

So I ask lots and lots of questions.  I will speak with someone, and if I find myself angry or hurt, I look for the trigger word, and then I ask them to define that word for me.  If I still have issues with it I will define what that word means to me and discuss with them until we both understand what the other is trying to say. 

Since then I have found a couple of truths.  One, I am almost always saying the same thing as the person I am talking with, but with a slightly different perspective and maybe a little more levels to it.  They usually understand the surface of what I mean the first time it is out of my mouth, but I keep going, because the way I define the words they use tells me that they don't understand me at all.  They get frustrated and quit talking with me or shut me down or, on the rare occasion, have patience with me until I get caught up to where they are.  Then we discuss the deeper levels of the thing from my perspective, if they have the patience to help me get that far with them.

The second thing I have learned is that my opening in this way has caused many people who liked me the way I was to turn away from of them being my husband.  He felt attacked by all of my questions and could not understand why I was asking them and needed answers to them so badly.  He could not see how I felt at all.

It is as though I have been starving my entire life, watching everyone around me sitting at this great feast, this table brimming with food, and I am standing there watching and wishing I could eat too, longing to eat, begging to eat.  And those at the table keep "taunting" me with food, saying I can come and eat, but then there is no room and no one offers a space, or as I begin to come toward the table someone pushes me away and takes the place I was headed to. 

The food is friendship, love, acceptance, and more than anything it is understanding.  The people are all those who don't see the world I see.  I have a dear friend who literally spent 10 hours everyday (with exception of about 1 week per month) on the phone with me, talking.  You see, we both drove truck with our husbands.  So we would drive the same time as each other and call each other to talk.  At first it was just to help the other stay awake.  Then it became a mental exercise for both of us, something we both desperately wanted - being intellectual people and driving truck meant mental starvation until we met each other.  Then it became spiritual.  Then it became a quest to understand ourselves, God, our relationship with Him and with each other.  She is NT (Neuro Typical) while I am an Aspie.  It took about a year before we could talk without one of us getting offended.  Now, nearly 6 years later, there is not a topic we have not discussed.  We spent about 3.5 of those 6 years in conversation a minimum of 5 hours, but usually more like 10 hours, nearly every single day.  I think this is why I am able to help bridge the gap, I know I wouldn't have been able to understand anything outside of my view without my years with her.

After all of these years, it feels as though someone has seen me, come and taken me by the hand, sat me in a chair next to them and said, "Please, enjoy this with me."  Then she gave me the tastiest things and helped me avoid the things that really weren't so good or satisfying.  I finally get to feast too.  It is so nourishing and healing and all the ache begins to subside in me. 

Definitions changed everything for me.  They will with you and your child as well.  Even if you assume you understand each other, just double check.  On the days where he seems angry and enraged for no reason, start thinking about the conversation or experience that happened just before.  He probably is still too young to be able to explain clearly how he defines things (this is assuming your child is verbal or uses sign), but if you use pictures (as the feast above) to explain things, he will understand and can then use his own analogy to help you understand.  That is the greatest gift my friend gave me, she used analogies when I kept misunderstanding her.  By using analogies with me I really came to understand her and then I was able to understand how to use analogies myself. 

Now, whenever speaking of an emotion, I go to an analogy first.  And since people who are not on the spectrum are 9 times out of 10 going to be discussing things on an emotional level, I am trying to learn to stay in what I call "picture mode" more often.  It is not natural for me and it is a lot of conscious, mentally exhausting effort.  But it is worth it when I feel understood by those around me.  I never felt that growing up.  I treasure being understood.  You don't have to agree with me.  You don't have to like me.  You don't even have to accept me.  If you understand me, I feel loved whether you love me or not and then it opens my heart to be able to love you.

*This is a blog about my own life and my own experience.  If you choose to follow anything written here, you do so without any claim on me for problems or complications that may arise.  I am not a doctor.  I have no degree.  I am not a professional.  This is my perspective and experience, that's all.  If you don't think you should do something on here, then don't.*

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