Yesterday, I played the so-called “A-card”. In doing it, I actually said to my wife, “Uh, I’m sorry, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to play the autism card here”.
Then a short while later I think I figured out at least one good answer to the question I posed a few days ago in my post So…Why Can’t I Use Autism As An Excuse? Having accomplished this, I proceeded to feel like quite an A-hole for having played the A-card, apologized to my wife for having done so, and committed to making proper amends for the gaffe I had committed — the very reason I thought I needed an excuse in the first place.
Now, although I really do regret blaming autism for my gaffe and have resolved to be much more careful going forward about doing that, I also happen to believe that it really was my autistic neurology that caused the gaffe — in particular, my gift/curse ability to achieve some truly ecstatic states of autistic “hyperfocus”, to the point where I can occasionally become hazardously absent-minded¹.
What happened yesterday is that I was supposed to bring my kids to a birthday party for a classmate after lunch, and all morning long my thought-furnace had been cooking up solutions to a particular problem that’s been bugging me recently. Well, lunchtime came and went and a couple of hours later I suddenly remembered the party. As it turned out, the 6-year-old birthday boy had been really looking forward to my kids’ coming to his party, and he waited and waited and waited for them until about an hour after the party had been scheduled to end. I had really dropped the ball in that situation, and my wife, and the boy’s mom, and of course the boy himself were all quite upset about it.
In any case, when my wife confronted me about this, I immediately felt like a total jackass — I mean really, this was true worst-Dad-of-the-Year material — but gosh do I hate feeling like that. Very uncomfortable. And I just sort of automatically reacted by tossing out the line about the autism card.
But doing so really accomplished nothing. I still felt like crap about having forgotten the party. On top of that, I felt like I had somehow mistreated my wife. I could see that my use of this defense mechanism had also been quite invalidating, and not just toward my wife, but to the little boy and his mom, as well. When I pulled out my A-card that way, it’s like I was telling my wife something like, “honey, I realize your frustration probably feels quite uncomfortable, but you’ll just have to suck it up because my autism trumps your frustration.” Although I hope I would never actually say it so explicitly like that, I can see that one considerable consequence of A-card play is that it runs the risk of exacerbating another person’s frustration with guilt for having made inappropriate demands on a disabled person.
Now, I’m not suggesting here that one should never or even rarely use autism as an excuse. As a rule, I’d guess that the more disabling one’s symptoms are, the more one probably ought to be playing that card. But I think something like the opposite is probably also true: the less disabling one’s symptoms are, the less one ought to be playing that card. But even in the situation described above I’m not sure I can rationally see anything wrong at all with simply conveying the fact of the matter that I forgot the party because my autistic brain was busy obsessing about some problem, and that’s really what a lot of autistic brains do. In that sense my question from the other day still stands: So…why can’t I use autism as an excuse?
But what is also true is that I love my wife and her feelings matter to me. And even though I’d never met them, the feelings of that little boy and his mother also matter to me, and the fact is that my A-card play did not just invalidate all of their feelings, but it even invalidated my own feelings — the feelings of concern that I have for these other people, feelings that I happen to like and don’t want to invalidate, autism or not. And when I recognized that I really didn’t want to go around invalidating all of these people’s feelings that mattered to me so much, I just decided to make a choice and withdraw my A-card.
So, I apologized to my wife, and I resolved there and then that I would find some way to make it up to that little boy who cares so much about my own children that he was really hurt when they didn’t show up to his birthday party.
Yup, autistic or not, I’m going to make it up to that little boy.
¹I think the most hazardous thing I’ve ever done was forget to give my daughter her anti-seizure medication. This is not something I did just once. It continues to happen on occasion, though most of the time I do catch my mistake and give her the medication a few hours late. I also once forgot that I’d started running a bath, and forty-five minutes later when I realized it, I discovered that about 100 gallons of water had gushed out into the hallway. Really most of the time my absent-mindedness is just frustrating for anybody that happens to need or want my presence of mind.