Of devils and detail: Picking up the pieces after an Aspie upset

And is it over now
Do you know how (to)
Pick up the pieces and go home

From “Gold Dust Woman” by Fleetwood Mac


Water under the bridge? Not always. Cremorne Bridge over River Thames. Photograph by the author

It’s a well-known fact. Sometimes we upset people. Sometimes we partly understand how we managed it. But note that little word ‘partly’. It’s more clear to us at some times than others. And sometimes we will need to talk it through with the offended party once he/she/they have been given some cooling off time.

Often it may look as if we enjoy raking over the coals. But remember we don’t have an automatically developed ability to read between the lines like you lucky neurotypical folk. For us in these situations, the devil isn’t in the detail so much as in the lack of it.

Here are some little phrases not to use with us if the Aspie comes to you to make peace after a grievance:

1. JUST LEARN FROM IT AND MOVE ON: Even in the most reassuring tones this is not helpful. We WANT to learn and move on. But sometimes we are only partially aware of how we have managed to cause offence even if only mild annoyance. We want to avoid doing it again. You may feel frustrated that we do not appear to already know what you have had issue with but please let us ask you questions after a reasonable cooling off period.

Maybe this is just personal diatribe. I’m sure I remember a time or two when I thought I knew what the offence was but didn’t at some time in the childhood. Or when I partly but not entirely knew the offence.

2. IT DOESN’T MATTER, IT’S FORGOTTEN ABOUT: It’s certainly reassuring to know that you have deemed the offence, intended or otherwise, minor enough to let go of. But what if we overstep the line into it again? We can’t promise not to and if we ask to talk things through then it’s not so much because we bear a grudge as because we want to avoid overstepping the mark with you in future and possibly pushing you over the edge to the point where you’d want to sever things with us.

3. WELL THINK ABOUT IT: We can do that for England (or whichever country you’re in). And without a little bit of extra clarification, that thinking can turn to obsessive brooding and blowing the matter in hand way out of proportion. Even common sense can get things wrong. As a colleague once told me sarcastically, “Thought planted a feather and expected a chicken to grow.” That’s not to discourage the Aspie reading this from engaging their powers of thought, just a notification to you lucky neurotypicals that sometimes it won’t work and in the case of more deeply rooted upsets our need for clarity and your need for distance might have to meet each other somewhere partway depending on the individual circumstances.

A WORD TO THE EXCEPTIONALLY HACKED OFF: If you’re not comfortable talking directly to the Aspie for whatever reason, they may still need to gain extra clarity from you in which case someone in a mediatory role, either who’s on friendly terms with both of you or senior in rank to you both will need to get involved should one of you request it. This leads me neatly to my next point.

A WORD TO EMPLOYERS AND THOSE IN MEDIATORY ROLES: I am speaking here just as much to the leaders of social and common interest groups as to those who function as boss or mediator in charge of an Aspie’s job, paid or otherwise or even family members if the upset is between an Aspie and their NT relative. It may be that if one party or another won’t talk then your input will be necessary to help the Aspie see their error even if it’s something as embarrassing as “He picked his nose three times in yesterday’s board meeting”.

We ask these questions because WE LOVE YOU and we want to avoid frustrating or hurting you in the future.

If we don’t ask you these questions then we risk repeat offences and comments along the lines of “I’ve tried to tell you this before” or worse still, losing your friendship or our employment, membership of the club etc.

It’s what we need. Please don’t withhold it.

Quote from Gold Dust Woman by Stevie Nicks © 1976, 1977 Welsh Witch Music.