Thank You for Saying My Name

When I looked into the Zoom screen, I saw a beautiful woman sitting in front of me. We were meeting for the first time for a psychotherapy appointment arranged a few weeks earlier. From her intake forms, I knew she wanted help with her Neuro-Divergent relationship, but other than that, I knew very little about her.

“Good morning, Shirleen. How can I help you?” I said.

Shirleen smiled shyly and looked into the camera as if to let me know she was “seeing” me. She took a long pause and said, “Thank you for using my name.” This comment told me a lot about Shirleen right away.

Addressing someone by name, especially their first name is a social skill that most of us take for granted. Yet, I want you to consider the impact of recognizing the person behind the name. “Shirleen,” is a woman, a wife, a mother, a sister, a daughter, a friend, a neighbor. But more than all of those roles she manages to juggle, she is a human being — a soul. When I greeted her by her “given” name, I honored the unique individual in front of me. In that moment, she became more than a role. Shirleen is.

If you are Neuro-Typical in a Neuro-Divergent relationship, you may be tearing up, as you realize how seldom — if ever — your Neuro-Diverse family member uses your name. My autistic mother never used my name. She called me “daughter,” my role. My former husband, also autistic, did not use my name either. He just started talking at me. Even my autistic daughter, Bianca, never called me “Mom.” Instead, she spelled it out, “M.O.M.”

Think about it. Failing to use your name is just another example of the Empathy Dysfunction so common among our Neuro-Diverse loved ones. Autists can recognize your significant role in their lives, such as daughter, mother, and spouse, or someone to talk to. But without empathy, they don’t recognize who you are. They don’t know how to honor and respect and lovingly connect with the special person who is right there in front of them.

Years ago, when my autistic daughter Bianca was participating in Portland Symphonic Girl Choir, I had a stark comparison between my own child and another mother’s daughter. Bianca forgot part of her uniform for a performance, so I dashed out of the concert hall to buy her a pair of pantyhose. As I raced back from Fred Meyer, I found the girls all lined up, ready to go on stage, with only a few minutes for Bianca to wriggle into her pantyhose and get back in line.

As Bianca jumped back in line, she said rather loudly, “Thank you M.O.M.” Then she turned to face her group.

Out of the sea of girls, I heard a delightful voice saying, “Oh my goodness. My Mom spells her name the same way!” Then there was a burst of laughter from several of the girls, as they started walking on stage.

I felt oddly special but I couldn’t put my finger on it way back then. Now I realize that this other mother’s daughter recognized me and recognized Bianca in one short amusing quip. (Plus she connected with the energy of all of the girls at the performance). Whereas, my own daughter treated me according to the function I served: M.O.M. brings pantyhose to the rescue. The other daughter recognized the Mom who cared.

The simple act of empathically connecting with another person by using their name is important, isn’t it? Shirleen was so hungry for this connection, that she felt overwhelmed with gratitude when I started our conversation with her name. If you spend years being nothing more than a role in the lives of your Neuro-Diverse family members, you may come to feel invisible. You may even forget who you are.

Human beings need each other. We come to know who we are in relation to others. Without these almost imperceptible acknowledgments (such as using your name), we can come to feel unimportant, inadequate, and depressed. After all, empathy between people is love — and without love we are alone.

3 Replies to “Thank You for Saying My Name”

  1. I’ve had an extreme light bulb moment over the past week, and am realising that all of the cute quirks and bizarrely confusing miscommunications I’ve been having with my long-distant boyfriend are almost certainly due to undiagnosed aspergers. I am so deeply in love with this man, and we have been intending to marry later this year. But, with this sudden realisation that his frequent faux pas’ are not just a quirky character trait, but rather, an inability to see and understand my deepest emotional needs, I am realising that I just don’t think I will ever feel deeply satisfied in a marriage with him. I also suspect he may be treating me as a special interest, and that all the doting attention I am currently receiving would suddenly disappear after marriage (as I read is a frequent occurrence in relationships with Aspies).

    I’m truly DEVASTATED and crushed to come to this realisation, as he is a sweet, kind, and good man, and truly tries his best to meet my needs (and often he does, but other times misses the mark in the most confusing and frustrating ways).

    I have a question… Where do I go from here? I do believe it is best to end this relationship, and sooner rather than later, so as not to lead him on, but how do I explain such a sudden switch of the flip to him? Last week we were excitedly discussing our plan to marry, this week, I cannot foresee a future together. He has done nothing wrong. I don’t want to put blame on him. I don’t want to hurt him, or leave him without any explanation whatsoever. He has no idea he has Asperger’s, and I don’t intend on bringing this up, especially not in the context of a breakup. If he learns he has Asperger’s, I want him to learn of it in the context of feeling loved and accepted, not rejected. So, how can I lovingly explain to him what must seem like extremely confusing and hurtful behaviour on my behalf?

    1. The best place to start is with a good NeuroDivergent aware therapist. It will be very complex to explain this to your NeuroDiverse loved one. It will be difficult for him to grasp what he is missing. For example, the other day a NeuroDiverse man complained that paraphrasing felt “stilted.” He had no idea that paraphrasing with empathy is a loving way to affirm the other person. He thought paraphrasing was just words. Empathy is More Than Words.

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