All of us say things we regret.
At the very least, we recognize that certain things should not be said, but this is not necessarily true of people with Asperger. One of the traits of the disorder is a marked lack of what we would refer to as “tact”. Some researchers theorize that the area of the brain responsible for emotional intelligence is physically different in an Asperger individual. (What I envision are certain synapses with disconnects. There might be one labeled “common courtesy in conversation”. In an ordinary person, this synapsis fires signals through the brain that process feedback from others we are communicating with. A smile is processed as pleasant and serves as a sort of “green light” in communication whereas a frown might be like a “yellow light” saying caution). Children are given to brutal honesty as they grow up anyway; the difference with the Asperger child is that you literally have to teach them what is appropriate and what is not. In other words, I might have to explain to Wylie that what he just said made someone sad or angry or hurt. I have to connect the word with “yellow light”, or “red light” until he learns the signal. Other children seem to learn this independently.
Thankfully our verbal accidents have been mild with no major injuries reported. For your amusement, here is a list of things Wylie has said out loud to people alongside a list of the victims. Have some fun and see if you can match up the observations with the subject.
“Boy, that’s an old neck” Nana (grandma)
“Why are you so black?” Great Grandpa Kelley
“_____, why are you so fat?” School Bus Driver
“You ate your baby?” Me
“_______, your legs are kinda big” Pregnant neighbor
What’s great about this list is that all of the people involved were very gracious. Some of the responses were priceless. When Wylie asked our wonderful school bus driver (who is African-American) why he was so black, he simply said “Because I AM black!” and laughed and laughed at Wylie. He had been driving the Special Day Class kids for months and knew and appreciated all of their individual quirks. Grandpa Kelley said “It matches the rest of my parts!” after Wylie commented on how old his neck was. Equally as magnanimous was Nana, Wylie’s grandmother, when he commented on her tummy. She chuckled and explained that it had a little bit to do with her love of food.
When Wylie began to notice our neighbor, Sonia, was growing quite a belly of her own due to pregnancy, he asked her what was in her stomach. She said “a baby” and that’s when Wylie exclaimed “You ate your baby?” Finally, I was the last victim in the list above when I came downstairs in some shorts one summer and Campbell said “Mom, you look cute like you’re 15 or something” which brought a big smile to my face. I was about to thank Campbell for the compliment when Wylie added “Yeah, except your legs are kinda big”. That zapped the thanks right out of me, but made me chuckle, too. And, so, part of my role with Wylie is that of Verbal Traffic Patrol; I signal to him when he can proceed and when he needs to slow down and use caution. I cannot physically connect those disconnected brain synapses, but I can train him to use other parts of his brain that work effectively to get along on the social highway with minimal collisions. He is learning to read others’ emotions and even apologizes quickly when he errs in his speech. After all, “…to err is human”… and forgiveness is a way of life on Asperger street.