I watched The Imitation Game a few years ago. It stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, one of the famous Bletchley Park code breakers. I’d say it was worth a watch if you haven’t already seen it.
Alan Turing was clearly portrayed as someone who was on the autistic spectrum. In the 1940’s very little was known about autism and so it’s no surprise that this was not mentioned in the film. I have no idea whether or not Alan Turing was actually autistic.
Nick, Edward, Leila and I saw The Imitation Game at the cinema and during one particularly socially awkward scene between Alan and his colleagues, Edward leaned in towards Nick and in a stage whisper announced, “I suspect this character has Aspergers.”
One clip that has stayed with me is a seemingly trivial little exchange between Alan and one of his fellow code breakers. Alan is busy working away at his desk when his colleagues all start getting up and putting on their jackets, one of them approaches Alan’s desk and in a friendly enough manner says, “Me and the boys are going to get some lunch.” clearly in his minds eye he is inviting Alan to join them. Alan picks up none of this intent and just continues to sit at his desk beavering away; he doesn’t respond in any way to his colleague.
The following exchange occurs between them.
Colleague A: “Alan?”
Colleague A: “I said we’re going to get some lunch.”
To which Alan gives no response and continues to focus on his work.
Colleague A: “Alan?”
Colleague A: “Can you hear me?”
Colleague A: “I said we’re off to get some lunch (chuckles awkwardly) this is starting to get a little bit repetitive”
Alan: “what is?”
Colleague A: “I have asked you if you want to come to get some lunch with us.”
Alan: “No you haven’t. You said you were going to get some lunch.”
Colleague A: “Have I offended you in some way?”
Alan: “Why would you think that?”
Colleague A: “Would you like to come to lunch with us?”
Alan: “What time is lunch time?”
another colleague pipes up, “Christ Alan, it’s a bleeding sandwich.”
Alan: “What is?”
Colleague B: “LUNCH”
Alan: “I don’t like sandwiches.”
The exchange was really uncomfortable for me to watch as I could see perfectly well how it came about and knew that Edward could easily experience similar miscommunication through no fault of his own.
Edward said something to me a couple of years ago which triggered my recollection of this film scene.
He said, “Mum, I wish there were two different words for the word “we”; one which meant “we including you” and one which meant , “we, but not including you”.
It was another moment of insight into how confusing social communication must be for my son.
I do wish social communication was easier for Edward but I have to say he deals with social ambiguity amazingly well.
Edward finds it really difficult to pick up from social cues, context and body language whether or not he is being included in the group or not, to the extent that he is never 100% sure whether he was being invited to join in or subtly being asked to stay out.
I asked Edward how he handled this and he said that if he wants to join in the activity he’ll just ask his friends, “Are you including me in this?”.
I hope when he goes to university he finds good people to be friends with so that he continues to have the confidence to request explicit communication in these kind of hard to read social situations.
If you are friends with someone who is autistic or if you have an autistic colleague it will help them greatly if you can be explicit when you are inviting/asking them to do something as part of a group.
Don’t assume that they realise you are including them when you just make a general sweeping suggestion of an activity to the whole group. You will most likely have to invite/ask them directly and clearly.
This is all part of learning the art of speaking “Asperguese”.
It’s a language worth learning.