Apparently, my son was talking to his mother and described me as “the complete opposite of a regular person”. I was not sure how to take this. I was reassured that he said it as a term of endearment. Though initially it seemed like a negative thing.
Does this mean that my ability to “mask” my autism is a total failure or that I feel comfortable enough at home to let the mask slip and to be my authentic self? I am not too sure. Masking, or the process where an autistic person attempts to camouflage their traits and ticks to remain “normal”. Because I have found out that I may be autistic rather later than others I do not think I have ever “masked” in a conscious manner. This means that I have allowed my oddness to shine like a lamp that is covered in dirt.
Another area where I am far from “normal” is the idea of meta-emotions. This is something that I only found out about yesterday and I have had it on my mind since. Meta-emotions are, in the most reductive form, emotions you feel about the emotions you have experienced. For example, you are talking to your partner, and they make an innocuous comment. Because you are tired, had a bad day or whatever, you snap at your partner. A quick flash of anger. Later in the same evening you reflect and feel embarrassed and ashamed of your reaction to the comment. This feeling of embarrassment and shame is directly linked to the original emotion and is caused by it. This is an emotion caused by the memory of an emotion. I think that it needs a high level of emotional intelligence in order to process this and recognise the all the variety of emotions felt. I, like many people with autism, find it hard to understand or recognise what I am feeling. This means that identifying, processing and then understanding meta-emotions feels like an almost impossible task.
The same issue can affect young people as they are growing up. Children can often struggle with their emotions or what is called self-regulation. This is especially prominent during puberty when a child’s emotions are all over the place. How, then, can people with autism process and deal with these meta-emotions?
The answer is: I genuinely do not know. On the one hand, I believe if you can reflect quickly after a meltdown or after a feeling of strong emotion then this will allow the person with autism to recognise their own emotional world. The difficulty here is a simple one: if you do not really feel emotions then how can you recognise them, or, if you feel too many emotions then how can you identify the most persistent one?
This brings me back to the idea of being the opposite of a regular person. If a neuro-typical person can successfully understand, regulate and explain their inner emotional world. And this is by no means true of all neuro-typical people, obviously, then this allows them to react to the world in the “normal” way. Then the person with autism will be unable to mask this and show themselves as not “regular”.
I have my ticks and my interests. I like badgers, I find them fascinating animals and when I tell people I am reading about them I get asked, “why?”. Like many autistic people I tend to read non-fiction more than fiction, which is ironic given my Literature specialism. I read biographies of dictators and serial killers because I want to understand why they have acted in the ways that they have. This is a very autistic, and Asperger’s specific, characteristic. In a meeting the other day I had placed my top over my nose, an odd thing that I do and that I believe that I have always done and was asked if I was in a blanket. I said, “no, it is just a tick” and pulled my t-shirt down.
I also take somethings literally and find it hard to conceptualise certain ideas. I struggled with Physics at school because I could not “see” the world as being made up of almost invisible atoms vibrating permanently. I was confused by the idea that spermatozoa were not alive and were just cells with a very specific function. They moved, they – by all accounts – can smell the ovum they are heading towards, then they should be alive. But they are not. The TV show ‘Married At First Sight’ I genuinely thought they were officially and legally married. They arrive in wedding dresses, say their vows, which are admittedly, not the legally precise words which couples have to say, and call each other “husband” and “wife”. These people are not actually married. It is more of a commitment ceremony with all the trappings of a wedding. This did not occur to me at all. The show says they are “married” so they are “married”. Similarly, I did think ‘Ru Paul’s Drag Race’ was an actual race across American starring Drag Queens. Which would make a much better TV show than a Drag version of America’s Next Top Model. What part of this is me being dumb and what part of me is just thinking too literally?
I am not a regular person, or a regular Dad and I don’t think I would want to be. My son will look back on his childhood and see that, yes, his Dad was odd but was loving. Which is all that matters.
One thought on “Complete Opposite of a Regular Person”
As the Mother in question here I have to pipe up. When our son said, “Daddy is just the complete opposite of a regular person isn’t he?” he was laughing at something you were doing. You were singing. You do this a lot. And yes, it’s ‘odd’ at times because you’re not singing a normal song, you make them up. “I get the poo poo out of the bum bum and it goes to the toilet” is one of your best. “I like pies and cake and badgers” is another. He did say it as a term of endearment. He loves that daddy is silly like that and for the most part, so do I.