Why is Small Talk the Bane of “Aspies”?

Is Small Talk confetti?

Kathy Marshack - Why is Small Talk the Bane of “Aspies”? I guarantee you that this topic is the lynch pin to everything you need to know to understand and communicate with your ASD loved one. This is because Small Talk is everything to Neuro-Typicals (NTs), and means absolutely nothing to “Aspies.” How to get past this relationship abyss is the solution to many of your emotional woes.

I have heard disparaging comments from “Aspies”regarding Small Talk, and their NT partners penchant for chatting. They refer to it as “back story,” or “wandering,” or “window dressing.” They often demand that their NT loved ones, “get to the point!” And if you don’t get to the point, your “Aspie” may just walk out of the room, or turn on their computer.

Some “Aspies” are a bit more polite. They sit quietly waiting for the NT to finish, then they change the subject, or say something unknowingly disrespectful such as, “May I talk now?” Often they will sit there quietly, staring out the window, or playing on their phone, “. . . until you are done talking.”

My favorite “Aspie” description of Small Talk is “Confetti.” One day this ASD husband smiled at his wife, ever so condescendingly, as he described her communication style to me. He said, “She fills the room with Small Talk, as if it is confetti. I just wait for the confetti to sift to the floor, and then I talk. She never gets to the point, so I have to direct her.” Ouch! How painful for her to hear this.

Why is my “Aspie” good with Small Talk with others?

Many NTs ask me, “Why is my “Aspie” good with Small Talk everywhere but not at home with me?” 

Don’t kid yourself. They aren’t good with chit chat anywhere else either. However, they may have mastered the art of sounding like they get it. It’s not hard to practice the social graces as long as no one digs deeper for a meaningful conversation. Haven’t you wondered why they don’t get it that Aunt Susan doesn’t want to talk about her ex-husband’s fishing expertise? Yes, Uncle Jerry and your brother-in-law Karl want to talk fishing, but not Aunt Susan (especially not Aunt Susan, whose ex-husband bored her to death with his fishing stories). Good grief, why does the “Aspie” not get it?

How many times have you stepped in to save Aunt Susan? How many times have you prostrated yourself in front of family and friends, doing your best to patch up the broken connection? How many times have you had that same argument with your “Aspie” on the way home in the car? You know the argument don’t you? The one where you do your best to help him understand that there is meaning behind the Small Talk, but he still says, “What’s wrong with talking about fishing? Lots of people do.”

The meaning of Small Talk.

All NTs use Small Talk. Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, whether you have top notch empathy, or just average empathy. Whether you are Nigerian, French, Australian or Korean, and you are NT, you will use your culturally appropriate Small Talk. Why?

Kathy Marshack - Why is Small Talk the Bane of “Aspies” Pay attention because this is very important. We use Small Talk as a guide to connecting with others. When we NTs talk, we aren’t just drilling down to prove our point. Small Talk enables us to synch with others, to insure that we are on the same page. Like dancing, if the other person leans to the left, so do we. If we laugh, we look to see if others are laughing. If they aren’t leaning or laughing, we adjust. 

The point is that Small Talk enables us to guide the conversation in the direction of the topic, but not necessarily to even stay on the topic, if to do so would destroy the cohesion of the relationships. What’s more important to NTs, is to keep the people involved, connected, wanting to talk with each other, feeling positive about the interaction, ready to keep working toward a solution, or whatever is important at this moment in time, with this group of people. 

In other words, Small Talk is an art form, a structure in which the artistic message is intertwined. Writing a stage play is much different than writing a novel, even though both tell a story. Even more sophisticated a distinction is that writing a screen play is different than writing a stage play, for obvious reasons. Those of us who readily use Small Talk, understand these differences and adjust accordingly.

Bridging the relationship abyss.

One day Arnie asked me, “Dr. Marshack. Will you help Darren understand how to get to the point sooner? I’ve tried to explain that I really don’t get the small talk. It would just help me if he would be a better listener and stay on track with me.”

Arnie is obviously a caring, ASD guy. He wants to solve this problem with his husband, Darren. However, because Arnie doesn’t understand the dynamic of Small Talk, he thinks it is something irrelevant to Darren. In other words in Arnie’s mind, Darren needs to accommodate to Arnie, get to the point of the interaction, and move on to the next topic.

Before I could say anything, Darren burst in, “But I do get to the point. I am a very direct person. Most people find me an excellent communicator. It’s just that no matter how direct I am with Arnie, he still drifts off.”

“Wait a minute guys,” I said, as I interrupted them. “Let me help you understand how you are wired differently. For an NT, Darren is direct, but he also needs Small Talk in order to interact with you. He uses Small Talk to gauge where the conversation is going and if you understand him. He is looking at your face, and your eyes, and your gestures, and your tone of voice, and a myriad of other cues that help him redirect his “directness,” depending upon what might be needed to further the discussion toward the topic goal.” 

Both men looked at me with wide open eyes. Darren was incredulous. He said, “That’s exactly what I do. I had no idea that is what I do! So that’s the purpose of Small Talk? Amazing!”

Arnie turned his face away and started to cry. Darren and I both asked, “What’s going on Arnie?”

Arnie was choked up but he was able to say, “I am so sorry Darren. I love you and I had no idea that you were trying to read me with your Small Talk. Do you mean all of those non-verbal thingies— that never register with me — but that you are always telling me about — that they mean something to you and other people — Oh my gosh! — are you telling me I have been pushing you away all of this time when I ask you to ‘be direct.’ I feel terrible. I’m such a loser.”

Of course Arnie is not a “loser,” but the healing for this couple has begun. Darren knows that his husband cannot read the Small Talk that he uses so easily. Arnie knows that there is a mysterious world of Small Talk communication that is an extensive network of non-verbal connections, that Darren relies upon to navigate the social world. 

Both men now need to learn to accommodate the other respectfully and lovingly. With the right attitude, why can’t they get past these communication snafus? I’ll be talking more about ways to navigate the social world of Small Talk (or lack of it) at our second quarter video conferences. Hope to see you there.

 

Differences between ADHD and ASD

Can a child have both ADHD and ASD? The short answer is yes and the sooner it’s diagnosed, the better. 

Kathy Marshack Dr. Amir Miodovnik, a developmental pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital authored a study, which shows that symptoms of ADHD may, in fact, conceal ASD in very young children. The study appeared in the October 2015 print issue of Pediatrics. 

Dr. Miodovnik concluded that the ADHD symptoms sometimes masks “Autism” in very young children. A doctor may stop looking when he or she sees ADHD symptoms and then they miss that the child is also suffering from “Autism Spectrum Disorder”

The study found out that it took an average of three years longer to diagnose “Asperger Syndrome” in children with ADHD. This delay can have a big impact on the future of the child with many researches showing that the earlier you implement therapies for autism, the better children do in terms of outcome. 

For this study, researchers looked at data on nearly 1,500 children with “autism” drawn from the 2011-2012 National Survey of Children’s Health. 

About 43% of these children have been reported to have both ASD and ADHD. More than two out of five children were diagnosed with ADHD first. About 81% of them were diagnosed with “autism” after age 6. Children already diagnosed with ADHD were nearly 17 times more likely to be diagnosed with “Asperger Syndrome” after age 6 compared to children who only received a diagnosis of “autism”. You can continue to read more about this study here.

 

What similar symptoms do “Asperger Syndrome” and ADHD have?

ASD and ADHD are different neurological disorders, however they do have some symptoms in common.

  • Hyperactivity
  • Impulsivity
  • Inattentive
  • Social awkwardness
  • Difficulty in interactions with others

 

What are some differences between ADHD and ASD?

”Asperger’s Syndrome”

  • All-absorbing interest in specialized topics, like sports statistics or dinosaurs
  • Lack of nonverbal communication – eye contact, facial expressions, body gestures
  • Lack of empathy or understanding others’ feelings
  • Monotone pitch or lack of rhythm when speaking
  • Missed motor skill development mile markers, such as catching a ball

ADHD

  • Easily distracted and forgetful
  • Problems processing information accurately and quickly
  • Touching or playing with everything especially in a new environment
  • Very impatient and can’t wait their turn
  • Over-reacting when upset or bothered, without consideration for others

 

The similar symptoms make it harder and more complex to diagnose “Asperger Syndrome” in children with ADHD. Read these two blogs to understand a few of the challenges people with these disorders are facing: Male and Female Differences in “Autism Spectrum Disorder” and Do You Live in the ADHD or “ASD” Time Zone?

Dr Miodovnik recommends that parents who believe that a child younger than five has ADHD should take their child to a developmental pediatrician, rather than a family physician, to make sure that possible autism will not be overlooked. He also recommends this, because managing a child with ADHD can be complicated.

If you have a loved one that has been diagnosed with “ASD”, you will also benefit from learning how science is unlocking the key to understanding “Asperger” behavior. My book, Out of Mind – Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome (ASD), explores the science behind Asperger’s. If you want to understand your “Aspie” better, this is a must read.

Kathy Marshack

Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Itchy: Reasons for ADHD or ASD Meltdowns

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a very real neurological disorder. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 3% to 5% of children have ADHD, while other experts believe it could be more. Along with ADHD, people may experience anxiety disorders, learning disabilities, sleep disorders or depression.

Kathy Marshack Autism Researchers have discovered that ADHD is, in part, caused by the brain’s inability to release enough neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and norepinephrine. These are the chemicals that enable us to be attentive and in control. I’ve written a comprehensive blog post about ADHD that you can read here, to learn and understand more about it.

Along with attention-deficit and hyperactivity, a common trait is hypersensitivity. Bright lights, loud noise and scratchy clothes are a thousand times worse for a person suffering from ADHD than for us. They can’t just ignore it and move on, like we can.

ADDITUDE Magazine published an interesting article with people suffering from ADHD telling about their sensitivities:

  • Tactile Sensitivities: clothing tags, jewellery, etc.
  • Auditory Sensitivities: ticking clocks, dripping taps, cutlery scraping the plate, etc.
  • Olfactory Sensitivities: perfume, hairspray, diesel fumes, petrol fumes, body odor, etc.
  • Visual Sensitivities: flickering lights, halogen lights on emergency vehicles, leg wiggling, etc.
  • Claustrophobic Sensitivities: crowded places, elevators, supermarkets, etc.

If these hypersensitivities are interfering with the ability to function in daily life, people suffering from ADHD should consider cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). I wrote about the different types of therapy in this blog post.

Can a child have both ADHD and ASD? Yes, and a delayed diagnosis of autism delays vital treatment. ASD and ADHD are different neurological disorders, however they do have some symptoms in common. Which similar symptoms do Autism and ADHD have?

  • Hyperactivity
  • Impulsivity
  • Inattentive
  • Social awkwardness
  • Difficulty in interactions with others

Do you suspect a family member of having ADHD and/or “Asperger Syndrome”? The cycle of frustration and failure can be broken with proper treatment. Please, I urge you to seek help immediately. Knowledge is power, so learn all you can about ADHD and/or ASD. The more you understand, the more supportive you can be. 

If you are a friend, partner or family of an adult on the spectrum, please join our private community, ”ASPERGER SYNDROME & RELATIONSHIPS: Life with an Adult on the Autism Spectrum”, to learn more, but also to talk and to get support from people with similar life challenges as yours.

Shaming in “Aspie”/NT Relationships

Shame in “Aspie”/NT relationships is a sign of codependency where you mistakenly take on responsibility for your “Aspie’s” misconduct.

Kathy Marshack I’ve written before about “The Shame of Being Married to Someone with “Asperger”, where I’ve talked about the stigma of being labelled “Asperger” or “Autistic”, that “Aspies” may fear losing their standing in the community or their business relationships, so they don’t want anyone to know of the diagnosis, if indeed they consent to being diagnosed at all. 

This puts pressure on the Neuro-typical family members to hide what their lives are really like. In fact, Neuro-typicals are terrified to come out and talk about their lives. NT family members work so hard to please the person on the spectrum that they aren’t able to live their authentic selves. A blog with great resources on this topic is “How to Explain Asperger Syndrome to Others”.

However, in this blog, I want to address the “Aspie” blame and shame. I believe this topic needs to be addressed, to be talked about openly so we can start healing ourselves from all past wounds. This is the reason why I’ve decided to turn this subject into a video conference for January, the time after December holidays when people tend to stop for a minute, reflect on their lives and try finding their way to normal. The video conference is entitled “Ashamed?” and members of our private community, “ASPERGER SYNDROME & RELATIONSHIPS: Life with an Adult on the Autism Spectrum”, can register for it on our website.

I define “Asperger Syndrome” as an empathy disorder and because of this lack of empathy, people on the spectrum are naturally blaming others for their troubles. It’s hard to take responsibility for a misunderstanding when you don’t have empathy to put yourself in someone else’s shoes or understand someone else’s point of view. As a result, people on the spectrum can become manipulative, narcissistic and engage in gaslighting, unless they develop a strong moral code. 

Neuro-typicals can also be blamed for overreacting to our “Aspies”. I know I used to be called on the carpet for not “controlling” my “Aspie” daughter’s public meltdowns. I was accused right on the spot of being a “bad” mother.

That’s where the shame comes in. If you are blamed long enough, and you have made a mistake or two in the relationship, you might take on responsibility for too much and feel shame. Shame is also a natural byproduct of living daily with a blaming spouse or partner or acting out “Aspie” child.

We take responsibility for the harm our “Aspies” are doing, whenever she/he is unintentionally rude to our neighbor or having a meltdown — because somebody has to. But we shouldn’t take responsibility or the blame for someone else’s actions.

I’ll be giving a video conference entitled “Ashamed?” (repeated three times on January 21st, January 23rd and January 29th) to talk about how to stop the shame dead in its tracks, and walk away from codependency. This video conference is available only to members of our private community “ASPERGER SYNDROME & RELATIONSHIPS: Life with an Adult on the Autism Spectrum”. If you are not a member, you can register here.

I hope you will join our discussion. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, it’s not enough to understand what’s happening to you. You need strategies to take back your life and to know how truly wonderful life can be!

A Different Christmas Story

Not all of us get to celebrate Christmas with our loved ones. Among those separated from family at this time of year, there are broken-hearted souls who are disconnected from their children and parents due to parental alienation. We don’t often think about these families, especially the lifetime trauma of being cut off from loving parents who love their children forever.

I haven’t spent a Christmas with my children and grandchildren for 14 years. There’s a long story behind this tragedy, which is the subject of my next book, “LOVE GONE BAD.” For now, I want to tell you a Christmas Eve story that gives you a hint of how I manage the loss.

For several weeks my assistant Emily and I have been busy winding down operations at my leased office, preparing to leave December 31st. We have sold furniture, tossed out lots of garbage, filled the recycling bins several times, given away books and toys, and packed the rest with neat labels so that we can unpack at my home office.

Running short of time, Emily and I worked on Christmas Eve. Joseph, my IT wizard, dropped by to pack up the computers for transit. At noon, I took everyone to Christmas Eve lunch, where we laughed and told stories. But soon enough we were back to work.

Julie joined us about 2:30. It was her birthday, so I put her to work of course because we were way behind. She didn’t mind. We continued laughing and telling stories while shredding, sorting, and packing.

My doggy Simon joined us too. He wagged his tail and sat on our feet if we stopped moving for a second. He has doggy priorities, you know.

Larry and his roommate Bryce came by around 4:30 to load up some furnishings for their new house. Larry lost his mother (my cousin) a few years ago to a murder/suicide. He has worked hard for years to hold his family together through this trauma. Now he and Bryce are moving into a house with Larry’s sister and niece, a family home once again. They took a couple of lamps, an old table, a desk, and some electronics.

Then about 5:00pm, a tiny little US Postal carrier showed up with a package for me. He was no taller than five feet and had his hat pulled down over his ears, and with tiny wire-rimmed glasses. He could have left the package in the mailroom, but he brought it up to my office, on the second floor, way in the back of the building. By then we were the only people in the building. All of the other offices were dark and unlit. You need to know that my office building is on a little island, in a remote part of the city. What was he doing there?

The package was a gift from my friend Amy, who lives on the East Coast. Amy is one of those amazing Angels here on earth. She always mails her packages at the last minute. And in fact, I got a notice from the postal service just that morning that Amy’ package was late and wouldn’t be delivered until after Christmas. Apparently, Angels and Santa Claus thought differently.

By Christmas Eve, I had cleared out an old life, shared laughs with my favorite people, and got confirmation from Santa that I am loved. How does it get better than that?

Love around to you all,
Dr. Kathy

4 Critical Skills that Children Need

4 Critical Skills that Children Need - Kathy Marshack When you discover that your child has “Asperger’s Syndrome”, it makes you feel utterly helpless. I know, because I’m a trained psychologist, with a master’s degree in social work and a doctoral degree in psychology and I still felt that way about my own daughter who, by the age of 14, was officially diagnosed with “ASD”.

We want the absolute best for our children and as a result, I became a helicopter mom. Being a helicopter parent is a natural outcome of the crazy-making AS/NT world. Our natural instincts are to protectively hover over our children when they have such a serious disability. You can read about “Lessons I Learned about Helicopter Parenting from My ASD Daughter”.

4 Critical Skills that Children Need Kathy Marshack A few weeks ago, I read an article that piqued my interest. I’m talking about the article from Eric Barker’s blog,  “This Is How To Make Your Kids Amazing: 4 Secrets From Research”.

In this article, Barker mentions two experts (Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. and Tina Payne) who wrote a book on fundamental skills children should be taught to be successful in life. We want our children to know they have more options than the basic “fight or flight” reactions. As a parent, I know you are wondering the same thing: how can we raise happy and emotionally healthy children?

Siegel and Payne establish 4 critical skills children need to learn:

  • Balance: when your child has a meltdown (red zone), acknowledge their emotions and make sure they understand that you are listening. This doesn’t mean you cave. After the emotions have died in intensity, you should have a calm discussion and educate your child, by setting limits and holding him/her accountable. Bring your child back to the green zone – a state of calm and happiness. If we are dealing with those issues when we are calm, it’s a lot easier to implement those solutions when things get tense.

  

  • Resilience: the next step is to expand the green zone. This doesn’t mean to eliminate the red zone, but to educate your child on how to act and handle certain situations. Here is where a helicopter parent will have difficulties. You need to allow your child to experience negative situations and deal with them in order to grow. Here is a blog I wrote on this topic: “Does Good Parenting Mean You Shield Your Child from All Adversity?” 

 

  • Insight: help your child to be aware of their feelings and reactions, so they can know themselves better, have the ability to have an impartial view from the outside and learn to use that information to make better decisions in the future, to monitor themselves better. Help your child name his feelings to help him/her recognize that emotion.

  

  • Empathy: children go through a development phase where they are self-absorbed and learn how to behave in society. This is normal, but what we don’t want is for them to be stuck there. You can try to deliberately draw children’s attention to other people’s experiences and their feelings. This can be done during storytime in the evening, not necessarily only when something bad has happened.

 

Of course, when your child has an empathy disorder, they will never outgrow that developmental phase. However, people on the Spectrum can learn rules of engagement, but they can’t be taught empathy. The article, “Can a Person Be Kind without Empathy?”, might be a good read for you.

Let me know what you think about this blog article, specifically these skills that might help our children be happier and mentally healthier. What do you think? Are they enough? How are you teaching your children these skills in a practical manner?