Let the autist learn from your mistakes

It’s a misnomer to call the ASD husband non-reciprocating. Oh, I get it. Tennis-ball messages, easily tossed and caught in a pleasant back-and-forth, are more like eggs thrown against a glass wall. We ask about his day, get an accounting, then hear no inquiry about ours. So we run to his end of the table and hit the ball back to ourselves so we can feel normal, and say something like, “Would you like to know how my day went? Dear?”

This unrecognized emotional labor is known as “prompt dependence.” It is what keeps mixed neurological relationships afloat until separate bedrooms.

But wait, there is one thing guaranteed to break the cycle of non-reciprocity. Make a factual error. Say Tuesday and he will cut you off with no, that was Wednesday. Say we had strawberries and he will interrupt that no, we had blueberries. You might say you found that in the parking lot at Target. No, you are mistaken, you picked that up from the the entryway at Kohl’s, he’ll say, deadpan, while you stare blankly at each other, one of you waiting for the punchline. Good luck with that. Correction will be his sole response to you anywhere, whether you are trying to enlist him in laughter or tears. This propensity is rock solid, you can bank it to the set your watch to the take by it. I mean, imagine going senile with this character.

Error-correcting isn’t something you can argue autistics out of. This calls for baring your neck, aikido style. Go forth and make factual errors deliberately. Let him know you’re done defending your dignity and it’s time for you to be a good sport. Let any humiliation take on this air of kooky fun. Attempt your meaningful dialogue, and toss out some meaningless errors. Your ASD partner will talk to you as much as you want, it’s your call. Be consistent. Make it real. How he’s interjecting – precisely – to offer no content while blocking connection in a one-word display of form over substance after which he instantly shuts his mouth. And you are totally cool with it. Extra points for doing this in front of a couples counselor, where you will no longer be considered the problem.

My partner hasn’t encroached on my linguistic boundaries in over a year. I didn’t do anything and take no credit for it. It’s the improv that keeps me going.

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