Is it common to be a "card-carrying" Aspie?
March 14, 2010 3:41 AM   Subscribe

Is it normal practice for a therapist to give a patient an "explanatory card"?

I started undergoing cognitive therapy for Asperger's Syndrome fairly recently, and mentioned to my therapist that I sometimes have significant trouble dealing with people in public situations (e.g shop workers, customer assistants) when their words or actions are vague and open to interpretation. On my next visit she gave me a small card (about the size of a business card), which explains briefly (in the third person) that I have a cognitive disorder and to speak clearly and simply. I can't help but feel embarrassed about just passing it to a stranger so that I can understand them; when should I use it/not use it? As she explained, it's probably better than trying to explain to them when I'm already flustered and nervous.
posted by malusmoriendumest to Human Relations (14 answers total)
Best answer: When I worked in retail, I had a regular customer who was Deaf and couldn't speak. The first time she came in, she brought a little card which explained her situation: "Hello. I'm Sally. I am Deaf. I can lipread, but please speak clearly." Then she'd point at what she needed or write her requests on a notepad.

It didn't phase me at all. I really appreciated it that she had made her needs so clear. Without the card, it might have taken me a few seconds to realise she was Deaf, and in that time I might have embarrassed myself by assuming she was just being rude or difficult. By giving me the card, she put me at ease and made it easier for me to help her.

Go ahead and show the card to people whenever you think it would help. If you're embarrassed by the way it's phrased, make a new one and write it in the first person.
posted by embrangled at 4:46 AM on March 14, 2010

If you are embarrassed to be handing out the card, would it be possible for you to learn a few "stock questions" to get you through difficult interactions instead? I work with the public and often get confused about what someone wants when they throw a lot of information at me at once... sometimes it is hard to sort out the actual problem I can help them with through all the backstory and bitching.

I've learned to just go ahead and ask whatever questions I need to ask in order to clarify, regardless of whether I think it will annoy the customer or make them think I'm not very bright:

"I'm sorry, I don't understand what you mean by that."

"I'm not sure I understand the issue. Could you explain the part about X again?"

"I'm sorry, I seem to be having a brain fart and I'm not quite understanding... what is it you want me to do?"

"I'm confused. Tell me again why (where, when, what, how)... ?"

"I'm sorry, I'm not familiar with that word/term/product. Can you tell me what that is?"

If they say something that might be a joke or might not, and seem to be waiting for a response, I'll often just say "ummmmmmm....." in a confused tone, at which point most people will laugh if it's a joke, or clarify what they meant if it wasn't.

But if your Asperger's is severe enough that having a quick, convenient way to label yourself as having a disorder would make you feel more comfortable dealing with strangers, then by all means use this card. Like embrangled, I've been given such a card by a deaf person and found it very helpful to know in advance that there is an issue and what I need to do in order to accomodate them.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 6:12 AM on March 14, 2010

They are certainly very commonly suggested as a possibility for people who have any communication difficulty (as the example of deafness mentioned above). So in terms of it being 'normal practice', yes, it is.

In terms of when to use it - try it in situations that in the past have caused you difficulty. See how it goes, if it doesn't work tell your therapist and ask for other suggestions.
posted by Coobeastie at 6:30 AM on March 14, 2010

It's no different than a mute person handing a stranger a card saying "I'm mute." I've never had someone with your condition hand me a card, but it would cause me to speak simply and clearly. Likely I'd be more understanding as well if there was any level of confusion.

Also, Please talk to your therapist about your discomfort.
posted by filmgeek at 6:45 AM on March 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

If I read your card, I would think that maybe you have difficulty understanding speech, or difficulty understanding complex concepts. I don't think an Asperger's-type problem would even occur to me. I think perhaps "Cognitive disorder" is a phrase that some shop assistants may not understand at all.

Sometimes people have this problem with me, and lots of them have a solution that works well. If I say a lot of things very quickly, and they don't understand, they give me a nice smile and say "Sorry, I didn't understand that. Can you just explain it to me as if I'm five years old?". I'm familiar with five year old children, even though I am not familiar with cognitive disorders. It's easy for me to imagine how I would speak to a five year old child.

Mostly these people don't have any kind of disorder; maybe they are tired, or they have some misunderstanding, or I have assumed they know more about some particular subject than they really do, or what I said really made no sense. This kind of thing happens to most people at one time or another. So I don't think it's something to be embarrassed about.
posted by emilyw at 6:52 AM on March 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

Seconding what emilyw said, although I usually say (preemptively): "I have to warn you, I know very little about x, so please explain everything to me as if I was your grandmother." And even then, in longer exchanges I'll often come upon something that's unclear, and - as Serene Empress Dork suggests - I say, "I'm sorry, I'm not sure what that means. Could you rephrase that?" People have been very accommodating.

In the past, I've nodded and pretended I understood something I didn't, or I've understood something differently than the way it was intended - either way, I ended up confused/disappointed and realized that all I needed to do is ask for clarity. Fortunately, I've gotten over that embarrassment in order to ensure that I get what I want and understand what I'm getting. I have no cognitive disorder that I know of (it could be that I lived abroad for a while and had to intensify my listening skills to deal with non-native English speakers - and deal with myself as a non-native Dutch speaker - in these types of situations).

And yes, as filmgeek says, I'd suggest talking to your therapist about this discomfort - it's important for her to understand if one of her proposals doesn't work for you, or doesn't feel comfortable for you.
posted by pammeke at 7:10 AM on March 14, 2010

It's no different than a mute person handing a stranger a card saying "I'm mute."

Well, the main difference is that a mute person can't say "I'm mute." I also don't think you need to "out" yourself as having Aspergers to random strangers. There's more than merely the cognitive going on in these exchanges and your therapist should be made aware of this.
posted by Obscure Reference at 7:27 AM on March 14, 2010

I don't think you should use the card if you feel uncomfortable about it. There is still a stigma in our society about mental disorders. If you're gungho about helping to erase this stigma and willing to endure possible prejudices, then go for it.

I mention this because I have a friend who disclosed something similar too often and was treated, in my opinion, judgementally for it and was treated like a child by otherwise super sensitive people.

The 'tell me like I'm five years old' script is brilliant because it's a common phrase that everyone understands and it doesn't trigger any 'what the fuck, this is weird' alarms for the recipient. It's also not a physical item that you might accidentally leave at home.
posted by Skwirl at 8:58 AM on March 14, 2010

Also: disclosure is great when at the right place and time with trustworthy people who you have explicitely told whether you have a preference to share your diagnosis or keep it private. Very empowering conversations cam result.

The card feels like 'too much information' to me.
posted by Skwirl at 9:02 AM on March 14, 2010

Oops, I had another thought. It might be a good idea to keep the card in your wallet and never use it. I think something like that could serve as a great security blanket for rare stressful interactions. I'd whip it out for police officers, paramedics or any situation where the stakes for miscommunication are high. Otherwise, just knowing it's there might be comforting. Your therapist obviously knows better than us what your threshhold is, but please do discuss alternative ways to handle this since you seem uncomfortable. In fact, I bet they'd appreciate if you printed this AskMe and brought it in. You could tell them which comments made sense to you.
posted by Skwirl at 9:09 AM on March 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I've known many parents of children with special needs who carried cards like that, either because they didn't want to have that discussion once again (especially in front of the child) or to raise awareness of a particular disability. Like embrangled, as a former retail worker I can see how cards like that could have helped me with some interactions I had with customers. If you don't like the version she gave you, you could rewrite it.

You might find this discussion on Wrong Planet interesting.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:29 AM on March 14, 2010

Tell her you don't know when to use it/not use it, and that it embarrasses you.

I think this is a good thing to talk to her about. She can explain when she thinks you can use it.

Tell her about specific situations and ask what to do in those specific situations. If you're at the coffee shop, how do you use it? If you're at the grocery store, how do you use it? When do you hand it to the person? Do you say anything when you're handing it to the person?

Can she practice with you or can you come up with a routine that you can do whenever you feel overwhelmed and need to use the card?

She might be able to find a phrasing that is more comfortable for you, or perhaps you can write one together in the first person.

Good luck.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 9:58 AM on March 14, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions- I'll definitely factor in the information for future interactions with my therapist and others.
posted by malusmoriendumest at 11:03 AM on March 14, 2010

Speaking to your question about whether it is "normal" for a therapist to give someone a card like this: Asperger's is quite complex, and each individual's experience with it is different, so "normal" is relative in the world of autism spectrum disorders. The therapist gave the card to you as a tool to help allay some of the anxiety about the interactions, and it's only that--a tool to try. You're not under any obligation to use it if you're uncomfortable, but it's probably also worth considering that there could be a situation at some point where it might be useful. I like the suggestion above of rewriting the card together in a way that might feel more comfortable to you, if this is something you'd like to be able to use. Let your therapist know the things that are uncomfortable about the card, for you, and discuss it more.

Also, remind your therapist that, because of the Asperger's, you may need a little help figuring out how to use the card in a way that will work well for you, if you choose to use it.
posted by so_gracefully at 1:41 PM on March 14, 2010

« Older Is there a cheap way to use data on my iPhone in...   |   Help me make great running mixes Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.