The Family Dynamic

I have had a very busy four day Easter weekend – Mrs Bob’s mother is back for a while and we have had her around for a meal and vice versa. This alone has meant elevated stress levels for us, alongside Mrs Bob’s big **th birthday on Easter Sunday.  I began to wonder (as I often do) about things that I, as an Aspie, don’t quite fully understand.  Yes, I’m aware that you are likely to say “Bob, as someone with ASD there are lots of things this could mean, so be specific please”.  This is something I have noticed with lots of people’s interactions with their families – fortunately less so with my wife’s, but certainly rife in my family. It’s the unwritten rule of game playing.

“It’s as if everybody is playing some complicated game and I am the only one who hasn’t been told the rules.”

There are several types of games that can be played, and if my limited understanding of this is correct, it’s a basic form of manipulation.  It’s almost like using someone’s mind like a puppet to get something, without them knowing it and clearly this is more effective with Aspies like me who just don’t understand game-playing. Playing games and not actually addressing what people really mean or want must be somewhat confusing for most NTs, but for someone with autism these unwritten rules and expectations can be a nightmare social situation for the following reasons.

As an Aspie there are certain things that I will miss that an NT can pick up on, which means that they can understand and maybe play this game. These things are taken for granted by most people, but for us it’s almost like a foreign language.  Take these particular things for example: body language is a huge one and can give off lots of subtle and not-so-subtle clues to how someone is interacting with you. Facial expressions – this is one I really can’t read (ask Mrs Bob) and is arguably the most important non-verbal form of communication between people. Vocal communication i.e.pitch and intonation. I have barely scratched the surface of things and already I’m sure you can see that we are at a disadvantage, even in general social and family situations. Now take into account the fact that people can and will use the following tactics while playing games.

Sarcasm – this is the art of basically saying the opposite of what you mean, and it can be detected by other cues such as vocal tone, facial expression and body language. However, when you can’t read the other cues, this is dangerously confusing. Sarcasm is the very slightest form of game-playing; guilt-tripping, when someone does something and then makes you feel guilty for their own actions; lying – this one is straightforward enough.

I could go on listing the ways in which people use certain tactics to elicit the response they are after, but there are far too many. These tactics can make even the toughest NT feel like they have been put through the psychological and emotional wringer. I’m sure if you look back in your life you can remember someone doing this to you. These people might be your colleagues, your friends, or worst of all, your family. NTs will at least have been able to understand some, if not all of the rules of this very complex and stressful game.  They therefore have the advantage of being able to understand a lot more than we do, ano this puts us on the back foot, meaning that more often than not we end up saying the wrong thing as we have not understood the game properly. So please bear this in mind when we can’t quite follow the game in progress and maybe upset great-uncle Theodore by correcting him on something, or we can’t quite read the body language of Princess Amelia when she refuses to apologise for her words or actions and we are left feeling that whatever it was, was our fault. Throughout all this, we are trying to understand the game but it’s so difficult without the rules, or even knowing there’s a game to play!

Stay Safe X

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