Is it a bit like having Asperger’s living in a foreign country? Wikepedia’s definition of Aperger’s is a person with significant difficulties in social interaction (along restricted patterns of behaviour and interest) . Outside of Foreignland, I am the living opposite of Autistic: I like mess, things that match make me uncomfortable, routine makes me want to chew my own leg off, I am constantly checking out non- verbal communication for signs that I’m boring the living hell out of someone, and if a child so much as scrapes its knee within a 2 mile radius of where I am, I can sense it and am immediately there like a kind of very low level superhero.
But here it’s different. I’ve learnt to communicate in a prescribed way, I can deal with set situations, but if I’m thrown a curve ball, my world comes crashing in and my inability to cope is completely exposed, the linguistic version of coming out of the toilet with you skirt tucked in your knickers. Last month I took my husband to the hospital to have the last of three scans to find out if anything is wrong with his brain following an epileptic fit in a supermarket 20 miles from home. Bearing in mind this scan had been delayed three times and re-booked by telephone, there was precious little paper trail. After the scan, we were sent to reception to book a time to meet with the consultant and discuss the results. I asked the receptionist for an appointment, all smiling and open gestured (foreign, but friendly and capable- nothing to hide, see?) She asked me for the paper referral and I tried to explain that there wasn’t one; that the whole 6 month process had been carried out on the phone. She became increasingly aggressive, shouty and repetitive and I became increasingly panicked and jammed like a broken photocopier (doesn’t she know you have to ease the paper out gently to avoid a complete breakdown?). I couldn’t process what she was saying, the shouting and pointing short circuited me.
When my neighbour very first offered me eggs, she shouted at me, ‘You don’t want eggs? Don’t you like eggs?’ I was very confused. She was shouting and waving her finger at me, but at the same time it was possible that she was offering to give me something. Argh! How to react? Am I being told off? Do I shout back? Do I just wait for her to give up? (but I really want the eggs) In the end I waited it out, smiled politely and told her a good 4 or 5 times, that yes, I did like eggs, then just like that she walked off leaving me on my doorstep a little shaken up looking around to see if anyone had witnessed the egg tyrade or if I’d made the whole thing up. I stood for a few minutes not sure how to play it before she came back, with a dozen delicious eggs all scuffed up with poo and feathers, handed them to me without ceremony or eye contact and left.
Significant difficulties with social interaction.
But I at least I have the sensory oasis that is my house, where I can read every gesture, marry the tone of voice with its situation and speak without thinking it out and getting lost 3 times first. But even that is slowly seeping away from me as my kids, by osmosis, leak through into the other world. Sitting at the kitchen table taking biscuits out of a tin for their snack, the other day, the eldest one did the double tut head shake which in Spanish means, ‘Thanks for the generous offer of biscuits mum but I’m full.’ But which in English means, ‘Call that a biscuit? You should be ashamed’, which in turn brings out my feelings of ‘you ungrateful little shit’ and so it goes on.
I’ve got a feeling it’s going to be a long 15 years or so.