Underneath the Blank Expression: Asperger’s and Emotions

blank_face_smiley_sticker-p217085515084213312z85xz_400She said:

We were sitting on the couch scrolling through the just-released list of 2014 Grammy®* nominees when we saw Tom’s name in the classical section. I screamed. Tom stared straight ahead stone-faced.

“You’re a Grammy® nominee!” I said, trying to elicit a more enthusiastic response.

But Tom was quiet and stoic, looking much like Harold, the porcelain phrenology head that stares down on us from the bookcase.

“I’m ecstatic,” Tom said, finally.

And despite the lack of a matching facial expression, I believed him. I learned early in our relationship that the best way to find out how Tom is feeling is to ask him directly. When I try to figure out how he’s feeling from his body language, I almost always get confused.

Case in point:  My musician husband had just been nominated for a Grammy®, the biggest award in the music industry, and he looked about as interested as he does when we discuss which kind of laundry detergent to buy.

He said:

Here’s the thing. I feel emotions very, very deeply; they just don’t always show up on my face or in my body language. Until Linda, this has caused a lot of problems in my relationships. I’ve been accused of being selfish, self-centered, unreasonable, angry, depressed and downright uncaring, all because I don’t react the way people expect.

You really can’t know how I’m feeling by simply looking at me. You have to not only ask me, but also trust my response. While this is classic Asperger’s Syndrome, I think it also applies to NT relationships.

You see, I really was ecstatic. At the tender age of 5 years old, I fell in love with the sound of the symphony orchestra when my father sat me down in front of his hi-fi console stereo—remember those?—and played Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture for me. When I got to the part with the synchronized cannons, I was hooked. My mother once caught me conducting Beethoven’s 5th with an entire symphony orchestra of stuffed animals.

It has been my dream to be a musician since that time.

Now, at the ripe old age of 50, I find myself nominated for a Grammy® award along with my colleagues Aron Kallay, Vicki Ray and Willy Winant for a recording of John Cage’s The Ten Thousand Things. For a musician, this is the pinnacle, and something I never thought would happen.

When the 2014 Grammy® nominations were announced, I anxiously scrolled down, heart racing, and there it was: John Cage: The Ten Thousand Things was nominated!

I was ecstatic.

My face might not have shown it, but really. I was.

©2013 Tom and Linda Peters

*OK, I know the ® is totally pedantic, but the Recording Academy® requires it.

Leave a comment

8 Comments

  1. This is awesome on two levels.

    First of all, it’s the best description I’ve ever seen of how the “unemotional” myth trips us up. It’s simply not true! But it took me decades to realise that my face is not showing the emotions I’m feeling. It’s just not something you can see for yourself. It’s one of the ways in which my diagnosis has made me so much more aware of myself.

    Secondly, being nominated for a Grammy (are they sticklers for the ® in comments too? It seems a bit silly) is just plain awesome in and of itself. Congratulations!

    Reply
    • Thank you so much! I always cringe–at least inwardly–every time I read in the literature that people on the spectrum are incapable of empathy or expressing and understanding emotion. It shows a complete lack of understanding of our real experience.

      Reply
  2. invisibleautistic/Robin

     /  December 21, 2013

    Congratulations on being nominated! What an honor!

    (On another note, something similar happened to me too. I’d achieved something major in my life. Most people would immediately call up their whole social network to share the good news, but I actually waited until several hours after the fact before I said anything. I was still processing the excitement.)

    Reply
  3. Congratulations!!! That’s amazing!!

    Reply
  4. Joan Tenowich

     /  December 26, 2013

    Communication among people from all different backgrounds benefits from the understanding you share. Sensitive people will be grateful for these tools to enrich their exchanges with others. Thanks for a lovely reading experience via this well written account.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,208 other followers

%d bloggers like this: