“Get a Clue”: An Aspie’s Need for Specificity

By Emily Smith

The following is a compilation of several phrases that Aspies hate, in no particular order:

  • Be nice.
  • Try and “wow” me.
  • Do something.
  • Just make an effort.
  • Get a clue.

Here’s why we hate them. At least, here’s why I hate them. I’m guessing that a lot of Aspies agree with this designation of hatred, but for now I’ll speak for myself.

Consider the following. How many different things can each of these phrases actually imply? One person’s nice is another person’s nosy, so what kind of “nice” am I supposed to be? Even the most concerted effort can be useless if the approach is wrong— so how should the approach look? The “wow” factor is going to be unexpected and indescribable by nature, so how is telling someone to embody “wow” anything but useless? And finally, my personal least favorite. Get a clue.

A clue about what? How am I supposed to know? I hear that phrase as “hey! Learn what I’m thinking about, right now! Just go ahead! Learn that particular thing, with zero prior knowledge of it!”

Is that really supposed to be easy for me? How is that easy for anyone? Are there big blue pawprints on said “clues” that I just don’t see?

In a lot of cases, it turns out that there are. Social cues provide context that NTs have a lot less difficulty decoding and translating into corresponding actions. Aspies don’t have that, even if we learn the rudiments of it. If you’re frustrated with me, for example, I’ve learned to pick up on that. I pick up on that very much. It distresses me. I do not want you to feel frustrated about my behavior. But unless I’m told what the problem is, I probably don’t know what to do about it.

In the Harry Potter universe, there’s a device called a Remembrall. It’s a little glass ball that fills up with red smoke when its holder has forgotten something. The fatal flaw of the Remembrall is that forgetful people, who need its reminders most, don’t always get what they need out of it. As the absentminded young Neville told his classmates, “I can’t remember what I’ve forgotten.”  That’s more or less how I feel whenever I’m told something action-oriented, but vague. I’m glad to know I’ve failed to do something, but I have no idea what the something was.

Take this for example. I’ve been living at home for a long time now, which isn’t exactly a picnic for any of us, but for now it’s working. I always did chores and errands around the house when asked, so for the longest time I didn’t understand that my parents felt unappreciated. My demeanor still appeared ungrateful. After a year of miscommunications, in the messy aftermath of all our bottled feelings exploding, we finally landed on the idea that adults do chores without being asked.

That’s pretty dumb, right? Rock-stupid obvious. Most people my age would understand that after a year of living at home, or living anywhere with other people. I feel bad about not having known that, but I really just needed to be told that this was an ongoing social expectation. So I finally learned that, and I fixed it. I even found a part-time job and I’m actually moving out soon. I’m doing what others tacitly expect of me. I remember.

If you’re an NT who gets bummed out by Aspie behavior, try and take this with you. The way a lot of us tell people’s feelings is kind of like a Remembrall. Are we cool? Okay, Remembrall’s clear. Are you mad? Frustrated? Did we forget to do something? Red smoke. What’s it for? I don’t know. Panic, panic, panic.

Help us not panic. Remind us what we forgot.