Steven’s magnificent brain worked at the speed of light, but he struggled to put his thoughts into words. His biggest source of frustration was from people not giving him the time to translate some incredibly complex image into words.
Often Steven accused people of interrupting when he hadn’t actually said anything yet. True, they interrupted his thought, but only his family could read the difference between Steven thinking and Steven getting ready to say something.
Basically, Steven couldn’t participate in fast paced conversations because by the time he had formulated his thoughts, the group had moved on to another topic. He wouldn’t notice the topic change, though, and when he insisted on having his say, he’d get confused looks and no feedback. Even with the trademarked insensitivity to social cues that comes with Aspergers, Steven felt awkward and out of place.
I’m a chatterer and there are no “awkward silences” with me because I will fill up the air with what’s on my mind. It took me many painful lessons to learn that my conversation style caused frustration and anguish for my little boy. This was long before we’d heard of Asperger’s Syndrome and everything was figured out by trial and error. I had no books, no blogs, no support groups to turn to.
When I posed a question to Steven, I needed to stop and wait for an answer. Before I figured this out, if he didn’t answer immediately, and he never did, I would re-ask the question in different words. Then he would turn red and clench his fists and become visibly upset (over whether he wanted jam or honey with his peanut butter? Really?) I totally didn’t get it.
Finally, after I changed my perspective and thought of his brain like an alien super-computer with a slow English translator app, it all became clear to me.
Every time I asked Steven a question, I was setting off a program that needed to run all the way to completion before being translated into English. When I filled the silence and repeated the question, this pseudo foreign super-computer would re-start the program from the beginning. If I got frustrated waiting for a response and asked the same question, in different words of course, three or four times, Steven would go into information overload because his processor had been re-started so many times!
Things settled down immensely when I learned to ask “Did you hear me?” in a non-threatening, information gathering manner. It was a fast enough question that it didn’t sideline the existing program and he could break off to tell me he was still thinking about my initial question.