It was one of those conversations that stick with you. I was in my late twenties, over at a friends, who was in a rocky relationship with his spouse. We were discussing relationships and he drew a diagram like the one above. A very simply diagram.
The purpose of the diagram was to explain how men and women argue, or discuss issues that affect their relationship. Men tend to argue linear. They build on point A to point B, to point C and so on. Women do the same, yet point E may be vitally related to point B, and even point B may involve point Q. Women’s arguments tend to be interconnected.
I was amazed by this revelation, it made so much sense to me at the time. Of course, this diagram is a very broad generalization. Not all men argue in a linear fashion, nor do all women build their arguments like a spiderweb. I’ve often wondered what the marriage therapist was trying to tell my friend and his spouse.
I will say, that over the years, the idea that men and woman look at things differently has stuck with me. I have had discussions with women in my life that I saw the spiderweb, knew I was going to lose the argument and eventually be rolled up in a silken web only to be devoured later. I have also had these conversations with men, usually managers, who find ways to make sure it is your fault.
For the most part, I don’t take credence in the diagram anymore, it’s cute, a generalization, but not accurate.
Yet the other day the diagram popped back into my head. I had a different perspective on it. One I am still pondering about.
We were at home watching the movie Inside Out again. If you never have seen this 2015 Disney/Pixar movie it is a much watch film. The story revolves around a tween girl named Riley that is uprooted by her fathers new job. They move from Minnesota to San Francisco California. What makes this simple premise work is the little people inside Riley’s head. Her emotions that live inside her head and operate the control room. For adults, there are a myriad of little gems in the story that will elicit guffaws. From the Train of Thought, to memory of a jingle that just won’t go away. An earworm from Hades.
But what really caught my eye were the Islands. Called the Islands of Personality in the film, these little places were meaningful things in Riley’s life that became so special they have their own place (island) in Riley’s mind. Each island is connected to Headquarters (control room) and the ‘little voices’ inside Riley’s head can look out on the Islands of Personalities. I noticed that the islands were connected by a straight line, like a conduit or synapse to headquarters.
Looking at those connections, and watching my autistic daughter giggle at the movie, made me think about something she has recently started to say. And I wondered, are those connections really a straight line of thought with her?
Swallow your feelings
About a week ago, my daughter handed me a small stick and told me to “take this stick and swallow your feelings”. She giggled, and so did my son. (I did not swallow the stick, just so you know.) I did asked where this phrase came from. Did it come from a cartoon? A video game? A friend. My son told me that Alexis just said it. She made it up he said. Honestly I am not sure that is true, but wherever it came from, she had taken a liking to the phrase.
She used this phrase most of the week, then on Friday we all sat down in the evening to watch a movie, Inside Out.
That is when the old diagram and the conduits to the Islands of Personalities started to merge in my mind.
What you will find often enough with young autistics, is that when you ask them a question, there is a delay in response. In school, this can sometimes be seen as not knowing the answer to a particular question, but in reality, it is processing time. Autistics seem to have a delayed response. This, I should note, is the appearance to us Neural Typical people. Not necessarily what is going on inside their heads.
With High Functioning Autism, I have found more and more there is scant research and information as to how they think. Most of the research is devoted to making them behave like us, conformity. While that isn’t wholly a bad concept, I personally think it’s a little off. Personally, I would rather they would work with Translation than Conformity.
Translation works like this. My daughter has emotions. She isn’t dead inside. In fact she is vibrant with emotions. She just can’t get them out for you to see. Or when she does, she selects the wrong one. Her islands of personality do not have straight paths, in fact, they are a spiderweb of paths. She has to sort through the tangle web to find the correct response. Sometimes, the paths get crossed, or intertwined. Yet while the character Riley from the movie had Emotions that controlled her from Headquarters via a console, in Alexis’ case, the console is a little glitchy. She may select one emotion, yet another comes up. Much to her chagrin.
These are the things I work on with her. Helping her learn what is the ‘normal’ response to a situation. How to deal with emotionally charged moments, and to seek out the proper response. I don’t force her, I guide her. I ask questions, and if the response is incorrect to what society expects, I do my best to explain. It is not a perfect method, it is time-consuming and well, frustrating at times for both of us.
The common method now is conformity. Basically taking away and giving, to make an autistic conform to societal rules. This method may work better for some, I’m not knocking it, have used it to a degree, yet I don’t feel the carrot and stick method works that well with HFA. They will outsmart you, and use it against you.
It was the combination of the movie, and my old friends diagram, and her new catchphrase that gave me a new insight into my daughters mind. What exactly the stick represents, I really am not sure. Yet swallowing one’s feelings? I have a hunch that is how she sees our world. That maybe, more often than not, she has to swallow her feelings rather than express them. Because expressing her feelings is hard, yet swallowing them? That is easy for her. Better to leave them inside rather than select the wrong emotion.
Yet, it comes with a price. Like the stick in the metaphor, to swallow a stick would be a hard thing to do, getting stuck in one’s throat, tasting nasty and dry. Leaving you with a bad taste, and a sore throat. Emotions, and our ability to express them correctly, is hard enough for those of us that do not fall into the Autistic Spectrum. For autistics, the wrong selection could be catastrophic. So, swallowing the stick is sometimes better than selecting the wrong emotion.