Why Does My Child Keep Correcting Me?
One of the more difficult things about trying to help someone with Asperger's is they correct you a lot. Eight year olds. Forty three year olds. Twenty six year olds. It doesn't matter. Every person with Asperger's feels this same need; to be the guardian of correct words and ideas. Instantly and without exception. Ever wonder why they do this? This is what we're about to begin to look at. And yes, I said begin to look at. This topic is a doozy. A real Pandora's box.
What's the fear monster here? Oh boy, where do we begin. That you just cannot stand having this done to you one more day? That your little lovable know-it-all just insulted your next door neighbor again? That you're tired and angry and can't find it in you to set one more parental limit? That you fear you'll eventually lose it and toss someone through a window? Or jump through yourself!
Consistency is one of the pillars of good parenting. Yet being consistent with an Aspie child is like arguing gum off the sole of your shoe; it ain't happening without a world class struggle.
Giving clear direction is one of the main qualities of a good boss. Yet trying to be clear with the thirty two year old genius you just hired without them embarrassing you in front of your whole staff feels more like baby sitting your two year old nephew when it's past his bedtime. Or a game of erotic pictionary witnessed by your favorite minister. Or having your spouse start an argument when you're overtired and just want to close your eyes. Makes you want to hire dummies, or robots, doesn't it?
Then there's what happens to teachers. Giving visually stimulating examples is the heart and soul of good teaching; show don't tell, remember. Yet when your star fifth grade student has just interrupted you for the ninth time today and it's only 9:03. Arrgh. Worst of all, what he said was actually right every time. Disruptive and disrespectful. Yes. But he was correct in what he said. And everyone knows it. Oh boy.
What is going on here? It's simple. Frustratingly simple in fact. In fact, to see this, all you need do is picture a normal eighteen month old. Now picture what they are like when they are doing "show and tell."
What are they like? Cute, to be sure. Why? Because you so want this little being to grow up and be smart. And every time they hold up objects and correctly name them, you see more evidence they will. For instance, can you picture your little boy holding up your new, four hundred dollar designer eye glasses and saying, "glasses." At which point, you smile, nervously, yes, but proudly too. Then he does it again. "Glasses." To which you respond with something vaguely encouraging like, "Yes, look how smart my little man is. Very good, sweetie. Now put them down please." At which point, his little arm shoots up yet again and you realize this is not going to go down easy. Then it happens again. His little energetic arm shoots up and he laughs at you; "glasses." And he keeps on doing it until, at last, in frustration you grab the freakin' glasses out of his cute little energetic hand and physically hustle him away to some hopefully better distraction.
Ever thought about what it is babies are doing in these moments? Yes. I know. They are learning to speak words. And certainly this is amazing to watch. Indeed. But they are also annoying the crap out of you, by insisting they show you, again ,and again, that they know the correct word for the object they are holding up. Until at last you want to scream. "Glasses." "Glasses." "Glasses." "GlasseS." "GlasSES!" GLASSESS!
The feeling you feel in these moments is the thing to notice here. This and the specificity of what they're saying.
Yes. Specificity. The precise nature of what they are repeating. You see, even if medically minded folk are right about there being physiological differences between normal folk and people with Asperger's, when you've been corrected for the nth time and feel like killing someone, the science of it all doesn't matter one bit. You want answers. Real answers. Things you can actually use.
You want an answer? Well here's one. Learn to visually recognize Asperger's as an extended stay in the second year of life, and you will have a real foundation from which to solve for many of these problems.
How exactly does this work? You learn to hear the words Apsie's say as a second language; what I call, "fussy." As opposed to the kind of language normal folks use, which I call, "fuzzy." What's the difference?
When people speak fussy, they make giving or receiving information more important than connecting to people, whereas when people speak fuzzy, they do the opposite. They make connecting to people more important than giving or receiving information.
Can you see the difference yet? Well try this. Try picturing a balance scale loaded with the information in the left tray and the human connecting in right tray. Now consider the significance of what I've just said. Cold hard info on the left, warm fuzzy stuff on the right.
So can you seeing the significance of what I'm saying with regard to the social deficits of folks with Asperger's? And yes, scientists have noticed that the amygdalas in the brains of Apsie's are larger than normal, making these folks have stronger than normal reactions to the emotional content of facial reactions. However, the better scientists also admit this may be a chicken and an egg thing, in that something experiential may be causing these amygdalas to become larger.
Either way, it doesn't matter. The evidence is right in front of our faces. No pun intended. Children are normal at eighteen months old when they annoy the crap out of us with their verbal repetitions. But by eighteen years old, what was once cute and annoying has become the bane of our existence. And the essence of the condition we call Asperger's.
What can you actually do with what I've just told you? For one thing, you can use to see for yourself what it's like to have Asperger's. This in fact is the focus of this month's "interpersonal realization tool"; seeing for yourself what it's like to feel a compulsion to correct people.
What does this tool do exactly? Just what I said it does. It teaches you to personally recognize, and hear, one of the most basic defining qualities in all human communications; the fussy - fuzzy quality. Which just so happens to be one of the main ways folks with Asperger's differ from normal folks.
So what is it like to have Asperger's? Here are a few things you can do to learn.
- Start by asking yourself which style of communication you prefer; warm and fussy or cold hard facts? Don't take you own words for this either. Check it out with someone who knows you well, someone who will tell you the truth.
- Ask them which style they think you do more. Then ask a few more people. Then sit down and think back on your life. Now take it all in and look for your overall pattern. Fussy? Fuzzy? Which do you prefer?
- Now consider how this preference affects every relationship you have, as far as how well others hear you. Or don't hear you. How people react to you. Are you fuzzy and are people always asking you to clarify what you say, meaning, they haven't a clue as to what you mean? Or are you fussy, meaning, you frequently annoy people by how many facts you offer. Not sure? Do people tell you things like, "could you get to the point please" to hurry you along? If so, then you're likely more fussy than fuzzy.
- Consider for a moment what these results imply as far as your having relationships with others. Now realize this survey is just the beginning. What I mean is, no card carrying Aspie like myself would ever want you to just accept what I'm saying. We Aspies want you to see the truth in things for yourself. I know this to be one of the better qualities of folks with Asperger's. Along with that they're rarely prejudiced in the anti people sense of the word. So yes, Aspies want to correct your mistakes, but never just to be right but rather, mainly, to be helpful.
- How about you then? Do you tend to be someone who feels urges to correct others? If you do it all the time, you may have Asperger's, or at least the features of Asperger's. If you do, then the next time you feel one of these urges, try to notice what you feel an urge to do. Blurt out a correction? Call the person stupid? Get them to speak correctly? Stop them from babbling nonsense?
- If this is you, then consider what you may be missing in this scene; that in normal settings, people connect by making each other more important than the information they are talking about. And yes, there are times, emergencies mostly, wherein making information more important than people is the right thing to do. Even then though, forgetting people's feelings means people will not hear most of what you say.
- Do you tend to be on the opposite end of this scale, someone who frequently finds themselves painfully enduring these kinds of lengthy discussions? One of the simplest tests for this is asking yourself if like talking about the weather. Do you? People who like talking about the weather most times don't really care about the weather. They're just saying things in order to have an excuse to be talking ,and possibly connecting. As two human beings being rather than as two encyclopedias informing.
- Finally, remember what I've been telling you, that we're only beginning to address this particular fear monster. And yes, I have indeed used the word "beginning" like a year and a half old baby. Has this has annoyed you? Well then perhaps you're beginning to see my point. Meaning what exactly? Meaning the key to facing this fear monster is simply to learn to see folks with Asperger's as over efforting eighteen month olds rather than as disrespectful know-it-all's. If you can, you'll be amazed at how much this can help, especially when you feel the need to summon up the same love and patience you'd need to give an eighteen month old. The same love and patience you yourself deserve for putting up with this all this crap. The same love and patience we all deserve to give and get, every single day of our lives.
And at the risk of annoying you yet again, I need to say it once more (smile). This is only the beginning.
To be continued . . .
Steven Paglierani is a writer, teacher, personality theorist, and therapist whose work on human consciousness is read weekly by thousands all over the world. He is the author of the first fractal personality theory; Emergence Personality Theory, and his mission is to make the world better for children by restoring and deepening their love of learning.