If you haven’t read The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, can I recommend you consider doing so? Not only does the story offer some extremely interesting insights into Asperger’s Syndrome as an adult, but it is a thoroughly good read.
There are multiple scenes in this novel that resonated with me, but none more so than the following:
I decided it would be helpful to provide an example, drawing on a story in which emotional behaviour would have led to disastrous consequences.
‘Imagine,’ I said. ‘You’re hiding in a basement. The enemy is searching for you and your friends. Everyone has to keep totally quiet, but your baby is crying.’ I did make an impression, as Gene would, to make the story more convincing: ‘Waaaaa.’
I paused dramatically. ‘You have a gun.’ Hands went up everywhere. Julie jumped to her feet as I continued. ‘With a silencer. They’re coming closer. They’re going to kill you all. What do you do? The baby’s screaming —’
The kids couldn’t wait to share their answer. One called out, ‘Shoot the baby,’ and soon they were all shouting, ‘Shoot the baby, shoot the baby.’
The boy who had asked the genetics question called out, ‘Shoot the enemy,’ and then another said, ‘Ambush them.’ The suggestions were coming rapidly. ‘Use the baby as bait.’ ‘How many guns do we have?’ ‘Cover its mouth.’ ‘How long can it live without air?’
As I had expected, all the ideas came from the Asperger’s ‘sufferers’. The parents made no constructive suggestions; some even tried to suppress their children’s creativity.
I raised my hands. ‘Time’s up. Excellent work. All the rational solutions came from the aspies. Everyone else was incapacitated by emotion.’
The ideas in this excerpt are rather disturbing. Putting that aside though, I had to ask myself why this piece resonated so much?
The answer? The last sentence.
Geordie is not devoid of emotion; however, he looks at things in a very black and white way. Facts are facts.
I have written previously about his ability to ‘cope’ with the deaths of his grandfather and great-grandfather. Now I also have my own breast cancer diagnosis.
I was so worried, when I was first diagnosed, about how Geordie would manage this. How would he cope? How would he react?
Well — he appears to be dealing with it better than anyone else. (I emphasise ‘appears’ here, because things could change in the blink of an eye. We are trying to be alert to that.)
He is very fact oriented. If he has the facts, there is no need to wonder, worry or second-guess.
My mum has breast cancer, which has spread into the lymph node.
This is going to make her sick. She is not going to go to work while the treatment is happening. Some days she will feel ‘normal’, other days she won’t.
Mum has to have chemotherapy first. It is working to kill off the cancer cells, but it does other things to your body too which are not nice — like making your hair fall out, making you feel sick, reducing your white blood cells.
‘You have hair all over your back, I’ll brush it off. It looks weird.’
The chemotherapy is making mum tired. She never sleeps during the day, but this is the chemo doing this.
The chemo killed off all the white blood cells, so mum had to go to hospital until she was well enough to come out. We visited, but I hate hospitals because they are boring.
Geordie is acutely aware when we do not tell him the whole truth.
Some people try to protect their children from the truth; worried they will over think it, or not understand it.
For Geordie, it is the opposite. If we don’t level with him, if we don’t tell him what’s going on — that’s when his mind goes into overdrive and starts coming up with all sorts of horrible scenarios. Having the facts calms him down and keeps the damaging emotions at bay.
It’s not a case of showing no emotion either. He does indulge in emotion, he just expresses it differently. There’s a look he gets — he watches me intently, just staring without blinking. It’s a bit creepy, but it’s like he is analysing. He also comes in for a snuggle, pushing his arm, leg or whole body up against mine. I can feel his tension when he does this, and then I feel him relaxing. The emotion is there.
Not everyone can process facts in this way. We are lucky Geordie has this ability. We are lucky he can take the facts and organise them in such a way they comfort him and calm him. It is probably quite a rare skill to have, whether you have Asperger’s or not.
And, it’s another example of being wired differently.