How to Translate What “Aspies” Are Trying to Say

If you’re stumped when it comes to communicating with your Asperger’s Syndrome loved one, here are some tips for translating what they’re trying to say. Communication – this is a topic addressed over and over again when I counsel family members who have “Asperger Syndrome” (“Aspies”) and is frequently the topic of discussion at our Meetup (Asperger Syndrome: Partners and Family of Adults with ASD). Having raised a daughter with “Asperger’s,” I understand the frustration many of you feel when you try to understand what exactly your loved one on the Spectrum is trying to say. If any of you are familiar with Star Trek, you might envy the Universal Translator on board the ship that automatically translates every language and sends the translations directly to the chip implanted in the brain of every officer on the Enterprise. Wouldn’t that be helpful!

While a Universal Translator doesn’t exist, we do have another option: Always speak to the good intention, whatever it is, even if you are not sure. When you get a confusing message from your ASD partner or child, always assume it makes sense somehow, someway. Trust that there is a good intention behind the message even if is speaking “Aspie.”

By maintaining a neutral position, you are better able to answer the question, “Why is he/she telling me this?”

When I get stumped by a confusing message from a person on the Spectrum, I use the phrase, “That’s right,” in order to bring me to neutral. The phrase reminds me that the other person is “right” in that they have a good intention, which has meaning to them. “That’s right,” also helps me know that I am “right,” in that I am capable of good intentions. You may not always be able to get the message translated, but at least being in neutral puts you in a much better frame of mind for the attempt.

Here’s a simple example. When my daughter Bianca was 8, she wrote me a note about the trouble she was having at lunch at school. She grew up around my home office, so she observed that my office manager and I often exchanged written notes (even with the advent of e-mail). If I was with a client, Bianca would leave me a note, so that I would be sure to answer her when I had a break from appointments.

Notes became Bianca’s version of the Universal Translator. Her penchant for writing as opposed to talking with me should be noted. It is a typical ASD trait to find comfort in the written word—because face-to-face communication requires empathy and the interpretation of confusing non-verbal messages.

So the next time you feel stumped by your ASD loved ones, put yourself in neutral and then ask yourself these questions:

  • What do I know about this person?
  • What is important to him or her?
  • What are their interests, beliefs, and opinions?

Then do your best to speak to those things, instead of relying only on your interpretation of reality. If you want to delve deeper into understanding how to communicate with your “Aspie” check out my book, “Out of Mind – Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with “Asperger Syndrome (ASD)”, you can download the first chapter for free. If you have questions about what you read I’m available for an online Q & A session.

3 Replies to “How to Translate What “Aspies” Are Trying to Say”

  1. I always assumed good intentions on my husband’s part even before I had a clue about his undiagnosed AS. The problem in our relationship is that he assumes the worst intentions about me and refuses to entertain the possibility he could be mistaken, no matter how logical I try to be. He refuses to read about AS. He’s a highly intelligent man. (But very low EQ.) There’s literally no hope, it seems.

    1. Julie that is my experience to a T. Whatever I say, and I try so hard to be concise and to the point. I don’t “hint around” or make things tricky. But just initiating a conversation with him gives him a deer in headlights look. He wants a wife but he is scared of the woman he has to live with in order to be married. I don’t know how to make him not see me as the bad guy. He trusts his family of origin, they are like a tribe I am not part of. Now after trying two other careers, he trusts his fellow police officers. I know that I am the only person in his life who truly cares about his heart, everyone else has been okay with the persona he tries so hard to present.

    2. I hear you both – Julie & Susan (below). We have been married 24yrs. and we are finally getting therapy from a psychologist with 25yrs. experience with AS in adults (essential for proper advice as regular counselling made things worse – this IS NOT a normal marriage situation). She says his thinking is ‘really, really rigid’ with thinking the worst in others, assuming he’s in for a huge argument so he runs through it in his head and is ready for a fight, thinking others are trying to control him, etc. when they offer him a cup of coffee even. She has been able to show him the other perspective (something I’ve tried exhaustively for years) but I wonder will he be able to keep on thinking that hard and reassessing his perspective, moving it to the ‘likely’ instead of the worst case scenario. It’s hard. He is bothered by a lot of very small things in the world…says ‘I’m fine or that’s fine’ but in an angry ‘no it’s not fine’ attitude. He thinks he’s teaching others by showing them their wrong behaviours by boycotting restaurants he thinks don’t appreciate his business, or stores with poor customer service he walks out without buying what he went in there for. He’s the only one suffering there – they just think he’s a jerk if they even notice at all.
      I love him so much and am the only one ever in his life who truly only wants what is best for him but I am starting to fail myself a little mentally with all the communication difficulties taking so much out of me. Now that he’s over 50 it’s escalating (less filter maybe?). I’m constantly trying to keep things smooth which isn’t good.
      I recommend a therapist for yourselves at least. One that is high-functioning autism aware for sure, and focus on your own self-care as much as possible. That’s the only way I survive…lots of friends I can vent to that I can trust to be reminded that no, I am not insane, lots of therapy reminding me to self-care lol, lots of positive scriptures, quotes and Bible studies about God’s strength and peace and the truth of how much I am loved, positive contemporary Christian music speaks volumes within minutes bringing down my anxieties, and outings where ‘normal’ back and forth conversations can occur without me having to think so hard all the time. You are not alone I promise, but you will have to advocate for yourselves every single day by taking time out just for you to regain your sense self even. I wish I had more to help us all!! 🙂

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