How to Be a Better Friend to an Adult with Aspergers Syndrome a.k.a. High-Functioning Autism
Sometimes, People with Aspergers Would Like to Stop Accommodating You and Relax
To present even a reasonable appearance of normality, many people with any degree of autism at all, even those of us who are labeled as high functioning, must memorize hundreds of social rules. We aren't done even then; we still have to memorize what expressions on your faces mean what and practice in front of mirrors so we can put them on our faces when we communicate with you. We Aspies also have to try to decipher the hints, innuendos, subtext, and passive-aggressive attempts at behavior modification many people use instead of plain speech.
While we are doing all of that, we may also be attempting to simulate normal eye contact to make other people comfortable and to insure they don't think we are sneaky, lying, or undependable based on what we look at or don't look at on their faces and how we go about it. All the while, we're worrying about whether people are going to misinterpret what we're saying. Many Aspies are worrying so much it makes the concentration necessary to do all that other stuff somewhat elusive.
Most people appear to put more weight on body language, facial expressions, and physical appearances than on words or actions when it comes to what they think a person is saying and what they think of that person's character. Most people have a lot of conditions they require fulfilled, a lot of rules they require to be obeyed, and a there's a lot of acting to be done to communicate with them without upsetting them. They can easily become volatile and make verbal attacks or form intense negative opinions about us if we make even a minor misstep in communication. Communicating with non-autistic adults requires many people on the autism spectrum to almost constantly walk on eggshells.
Many people with high-functioning autism or Asperger's Syndrome are spending most of their time in your presence doing difficult and tiring things to accommodate you. Most people only notice the slips, when our memories fail us and we forget how to make an expression correctly or perhaps choose the wrong one or when we react to what they've said rather than what they've meant.
As you can probably imagine, all of this makes having relationships very difficult for people with autism. People with even the highest-functioning forms almost never get an opportunity to just relax and enjoy themselves when other people are around. If those of us on the spectrum acted and spoke in ways logical and normal for us, the vast majority of people would never take the time or effort to get to know us or might even stop associating with us. Sometimes, it's just too much work for us because we still have to do everything you have to do on top of it.
If you love or care about someone who has AS, I'm asking you to read on and consider a few compromises and very easy accommodations to our differences. With very little effort you can make the life of that person you care about easier and less stressful. You can improve your relationship by changing just a few of your habits every now and then so your friend or family member can sometimes just relax and be himself or herself around you. If you are looking to learn about getting along with high-functioning autistic people, you've found a great place to start.
DISCLAIMER: I am not a licensed therapist or medical professional of any kind. I am simply a person who has Asperger Syndrome, another name for high-functioning autism. The purpose of this page is to give insight to people wishing to understand more about AS on a personal level - to help them understand more about what it's like to have a spectrum disorder. None of the suggestions on this page are intended as replacement for advice from a professional.
Stop Hinting and Using Subtext
Try to think about what you say before you say it. Are you meaning exactly what the words mean according to a dictionary or are you trying to say something more than the cut-and-dried words alone are stating? If you are trying to modify a person's behavior without directly asking him or her in words, you are hinting. If you are trying to communicate something different from what the actual words say by combining them in a certain way to convey a subtle and more emotionally significant meaning you are using subtext.
Don't beat around the bush, nothing is going to come out of it that you want! The person on the autism spectrum will only get confused and frustrated and is more than likely going to try to guess what you mean. I usually guess wrong and upset the other person. He or she usually guesses (incorrectly) that I'm being contrary or purposely rude or that I'm just pretending I can't understand what is being hinted at.
Wouldn't it be so much easier for everyone involved if we all just said what we meant?
Don't beat around the bush, nothing is going to come out of it that you want!
Learn How To Talk About Aspergers
Lots of people in our culture don't believe in the existence of learning disabilities or problems that do not have any visible physical indicators. This book helps explain that Aspergers exists and what it is in a way that would be helpful for use in communicating with people who do not understand what high-functioning autism is.
The cover of this book makes it look as if it's intended for children. While it would be helpful to them it's really geared to helping anyone understand more about Asperger Syndrome. It provides several clever ways to explain the condition to adults and children.
Stop Assuming Autistic People are Making Hints or Speaking with Subtext
Focus on the Words
You will get to relax a bit more if you follow this suggestion, too. When an autistic person is speaking to you, focus only on the words. Think about what the words mean strung together and let go of any feelings you may have that the speaker has hidden a secondary and secret meaning in them for you to find.
While some autistic people enjoy playing word games like making puns it is not usually natural for us to speak in emotionally saturated code like most people do. If you assume we are saying what we mean, you stand an extremely high chance of being right.
When people assume I am hinting it only frustrates me and makes them have difficulty understanding the actual words I have spoken, no matter how simple in meaning those words are. This makes other people seem a lot slower than they actually are. Average people usually aren't stupid; they are just usually spending so much time searching for things that don't exist that it sometimes seems that way. Perhaps this is why many Aspies seem to get along better with children than adults; children usually don't speak in or expect other people to speak in hints or subtext.
Life isn't a Cold War spy movie; we don't need to communicate in code.
Think about what the words mean strung together and let go of any feelings you may have that the speaker has hidden a secondary and secret meaning in them for you to find.
Act on How Your Friend or Family Member Says She Feels, Not on How You Think She Ought to Feel
This seems kind of obvious and I think it's good advice to apply to everyone you know, whether on the autistic spectrum or not. If your family member says doing a certain thing makes him uncomfortable, it makes him feel uncomfortable even if you think it shouldn't. If your friend or family member says she is fine with something, she is probably fine with it even if you think she ought not to feel fine with whatever it is. However, many people learn to say they are fine with things they are not fine with (autistic or not) because they've learned that they can avoid the much more painful embarrassment of other people dramatically overreacting and making a scene.
With very little effort, you can choose to be polite and act like the autistic person means exactly what he or she says.
Please do not make a scene or attract attention in public when you decide to not believe what your friend with Aspergers says about how he or she feels. Insisting that that person act offended or acting loudly offended on his or her behalf will probably only make your friend or family member intensely uncomfortable, embarrassed, and ashamed. The more often you make scenes in public, the less he or she will want to do with you.
Let Us Be Ourselves
And really, really mean it
When you are spending time with your autistic friend or family member you can really ease the pressure on him or her by telling him or her that it's OK for him or her to stop acting around you when you aren't in a public setting. Only say this if you truly mean it. If you can't handle a lack of eye contact, a lack of appropriate facial expressions or body language, or the presence of autistic behaviors such as hand flapping, spinning, or rocking do not make this offer.
Negative reactions to being ourselves when we've been invited to be ourselves are very emotionally painful and will cause us to lose a great deal of trust for the person who reacts in such a way. In my opinion, such reactions, when combined with a request to be ourselves, also make the normal person look like an immature jerk.
Be prepared to explain what you mean because people usually don't mean we really ought to relax and be ourselves when they say that, they usually actually mean to act and speak as they do when they are relaxed.
I treasure the time alone with my significant other because he accepts me as I am with only a very little reassurance now and then.
Questions & Answers
I am caring for a 25 yr old girl who didn't get diagnosed w/Asperger's (Autism spectrum) untill 18. She doesn't understand that she has Autism. She has had one parent who just told her she should be locked away in a crazy house. How can I reach her. What things can I do to get her interested in things again? She's turned I side her room after a lot of family and caretaker changing issues that were not her fault, but she may think it is.
If you re-read this editorial you'll see I'm just a woman with autism. The proper place to seek help is a trained medical professional, probably the person's neuropsychologist.
If she were my friend, I'd use whatever mode she communicates with to tell her that the things (being as concrete and specific as possible) the people emotionally abusing her are doing wrong are not things she deserves.
But, please do get help from a professional, that's just what I'd want if I were confused and someone were being abusive.
© 2012 Kylyssa Shay