A Letter from a Father with Asperger’s to his Aspie Child

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The following is a heartfelt letter written by a father to a child with Asperger Syndrome.  The letter explains the gifts and challenges of growing up on the autism spectrum.

I know how much it feels like nobody understands you right now. I know how much it feels like you don’t really know yourself, and how enormously big and scary the whole life thing is.

But there are other things at play here that you need to understand, things about you that change everything for the better, which you can use as soon as you learn how to wield them.

This isn’t a pep talk. I’m not here to happy clap and make jolly. I’m here because the condition we both have literally affects everything in a way that you won’t realise yet. If you can be taught to control it and guide it, you can do anything you want. Fortunately, it’s easy to understand; and it’s the sort of thing that once you understand it, you’re half way to mastering it, too.

People use a part of their brain called the “Amygdala” to help them figure out the emotions of others.

As an Aspie, your brain’s amygdala is different from neurotypicals (NTs), and you have a larger portion of brain dedicated to “rote memory.” People usually use their amygdala to quickly guess how other people are feeling, but your brain doesn’t like guessing.

system-2660914_1280NTs use their amygdala to determine where they stand, socially. They look at people and immediately make a bunch of guesses about them, like how much money they might have or how popular they are. Your brain doesn’t do that, though.

Sucks, right?

No. Actually, quite the opposite. Where NTs rely so much on the amygdala, we Aspies have rote memory… and not shallow, low-­powered, occasional-­use rote memory either. Aspie rote memory is phenomenal compared to an NTs because we have a larger and more developed hippocampus.

The hippocampus is the area of the brain responsible for rote, long-term memory.

So what’s rote memory? You’ll actually have used it a few thousand times today already without realising. It’s memory that stores facts, events, and experiences and plays them back to you.

You know how if someone says something annoying, and you think about it later so much that it becomes even more annoying? And you can imagine their actual faces as they were saying it and the inflection of their voice and exactly how you felt at the time? And then it plays back to you and back and back again… That’s rote memory.

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Well, it’s Aspie rote memory. Why is it so different to NT rote memory?

Details. Our hippocampus knew we were Aspie loooong before anyone else did, so it made itself bigger and more capable to try and take as much work off of our unreliable amygdala as possible. As a result, we store intricate details of every interaction and event, including emotional content and the microexpressions and gestures of everyone involved. In social situations, this can lead to difficulties.

Everyone else in the conversation caught on to something long ago, but they missed so much. We might be behind the flow of the interaction because we noticed thousands of details the NTs missed. We can’t process all of that until we have some quiet time later to let rote memory do its thing.

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