No Such Thing as Sweet Nothings; Gisela Has Only Heard the Words `I Love You' Once, Although Husband Chris Is Caring and Thoughtful. the Couple Tell Emma Burns How His Asperger's Syndrome Makes Their Marriage More Challenging Than Most
Byline: EMMA BURNS
CHRIS SLATER-WALKER was 31 when he was diagnosed as having Asperger's Syndrome, a form of autism.
The diagnosis was both a relief and a blow for Chris and his wife, Gisela.
It explained why he found it so hard to express his feelings, to respond when she was angry, or to tell if she was low and why social gatherings were such a strain for him.
People with AS cannot make eye contact normally or "read" other people's facial expressions. They find it hard to make close friends or share other people's emotions and often have obsessive interests and routines.
Chris, for instance, loves amateur radio and taking computers apart and will play the same CD over and over again.
Yet AS is also an incurable condition, with no assistance or support available for adults.
Some specialists believe that people with the syndrome do not get married, but computer specialist Chris, 36, and English teacher Gisela, 46, who have been together for 12 years and have a son George, nine, are living proof that they are wrong. They have told their sides of the story in an intimate book, showing thatan Asperger marriage can be happy - even if it is not always easy.
IMAGINE what it's like waiting for hour after hour to be picked up by your boyfriend after a minor operation in hospital and then finding he hasn't even left the office because he couldn't bring himself to tell his boss he needed to go.
Or imagine living with someone whose only response when you get angry is complete silence. He won't look at you, he won't say or do anything. You get so worked up in the end you have to go in the kitchen and smash something to take out the anger and frustration.
Or living with someone who disappears upstairs and falls asleep when you have guests round. Or who goes and sits in the car or even drives home without telling you when he's had enough at a party. Or who stalks past your children and their friends without saying a word and turns the TV off, no matter who's watching it.
Imagine what it's like living with someone who, on coming home, rushes into the kitchen and starts Hoovering the work surfaces before he even says hello, or who explains he won't help with the decorating because he doesn't like the less- than-perfect job that you do.
These are all things my husband Chris has done and now that I know he has Asperger's Syndrome, I can - mostly - understand why.
But before he was diagnosed, I couldn't grasp why, when I was sure his heart was in the right place, he seemed to go out of his way to disturb and unnerve people.
We actually separated briefly before he was diagnosed, after he went into his parents' house to borrow a tool and walked straight through it without saying a word.
They were very upset. Chris was convinced he hadn't done anything wrong, I felt caught in the middle and it all became too much.
What I have had to learn is that Chris simply doesn't think in the same way as me. It doesn't mean he is uncaring or unfeeling - that's far from the case - but his mind works in a completely different way.
One day, some time after he had been diagnosed, I asked Chris why he didn't say anything when I was cross about something he had or hadn't done and eventually (there is a long processing time) he explained that he simply didn't know what to say.
Because Chris doesn't understand what I am thinking, he cannot resolve the situation by saying something to mollify me.
I also tend to make the mistake of discussing more than one issue at a time, which is not helpful.
He is trying to listen and at the same time understand which issue is which, whether the issues are connected and which issue is the most important.
Although it has taken me a long time, I am much better now at being explicit. I tell him exactly how I am feeling and what I want from him, instead of expecting him to read my mind. …