Aspergers and Familial Embarrassment

I’ve complained about feeling like a target of disdain from my family but the truth is, I’m not the only one.

I have this uncle on my father’s side who probably has Asperger syndrome but I don’t believe he has ever been officially diagnosed. He has trouble reading social cues and empathising with others so overall his capacity to function in mainstream society is very low. He lives with my grandma and has been unemployed for at least ten years, possibly longer.

And yes, he’s the one that my mother holds over me whenever we’re having conflict. You’re the one with the social dysfunction, and that’s obviously what any conflict we have is based on. You need to apologise and accept that you’re just a shitty person compared to the rest of us. If you don’t, you’ll end up living in the basement like him.

As far as I know, he’s not there because he refused to lie down to his mother’s emotional blackmail. He’s there because he’s tried to live independently in many different contexts – as a bachelor, married, as a Buddhist monk – and it’s all gone to shit because he can’t empathise with others and live under anyone’s rules but his own. Maybe he could have if he got the same kind of support when he was younger as I did.

Not that my grandparents didn’t care; it was a different time where there were no behavioural disorders, there were just bad kids who were socialised into a lifestyle of ostracisation that would be so hard to escape.

He presents as what you would call an oddball but he’s harmless unless you’re the type of person who is distressed by conversations dominated by talking about chewing tobacco and tarot cards. My mother would appear to be one of those people.

He embarrasses her. I came to understand that very early on in life, I didn’t fully understand why until my understanding of adult interaction developed later on. I knew there were tough times. He’d been married twice, to the same woman but both marriages were short lived. He’d attempted suicide a couple of times. His life seemed far removed from my own until I started struggling myself in my early twenties and the similarities became frighteningly clear. Looking at him can be like looking into a possible dismal future of wasted potential and suddenly my mother’s threats developed a powerful hold over me that still keeps me wake at night.

It makes me sad, thinking about how things could have been different but I don’t know if my mother feels that way. She never lets on if she does. She just gets embarrassed. Every time we have a family get together, she can be heard bemoaning his presence afterwards. He makes her uncomfortable, and dislikes the way he dominates conversations.

Last weekend we had a party for my grandma’s 80th at a nice restaurant. I brought my boyfriend with me, this being the first time he’d met my extended family. As soon as we walked in my uncle came up and thrust a packet of tobacco under my nose, joking that it would enhance my sports performance. I had to politely decline a couple of times before he got the message but by now I’m used to his manner; this interaction didn’t bother me at all.

Out of the corner of my eye I could see my mother looking alarmed as she does whenever he talks to one of us children but no drama ensued and we got on with the party. All was forgotten and my strongest memory of the day was the look of pure elation on my grandmother’s face when the waiter placed her birthday cake in front of her.

My mother however was still bothered by the interaction between my uncle and I today when I went to her house to do some work. She stood with me as I typed away and asked me fretfully,

“Did I imagine it or did he try to make *BF* take some chewing tobacco?”

I assured her that he was offering it to me and tried to laugh it off, but she wasn’t done.

She vented at me for a while about how embarrassed she was. She asked me if I could see that the chewing tobacco represented a destructive fixated interest. I shrugged.

I wish I could pinpoint why this makes me so uncomfortable.

Maybe it’s just as a fellow aspergian I feel uncomfortable hearing him described as an embarrassment. My view as an insider is going to be different and my mother has made her feeling over some of my less than genteel behaviours abundantly clear. She doesn’t like me ‘engaging’ him. I talk to him but I’ve become good at keeping our conversations being derailed by fixated interests. I don’t see why I should pretend he doesn’t exist but I feel like the rest of the family are on a different page. Mother got annoyed when she found out that I’d been interacting with him on facebook. By interact I mean that he comments on my status, I reply to him. That’s as far as it goes

Is it just my non-NT status that makes me sad, rather than embarrassed? I can see that his behaviour is often totally inappropriate. It’s not hard to see how his life ended up as it has and while I struggle to accommodate other people in my life, it’s something that I consciously work on because life is impossible without some form of coexistence.

It’s also interesting that he’s my dad’s brother, the closest one to him in age but I don’t recall him ever giving his take on the situation. I feel like I’m going to have to ask him about it at some point just to make sense of it all. Right now though the thought is too upsetting, I have the feeling that at least it would make him uncomfortable.

In the mean time I can’t stop wondering, how long until my family start pretending that I don’t exist?

Mac