EDIT: It has recently been pointed out that throughout the series, I use the word “We” when referring to Aspies. It has been argued that the use of this word in this manner can be interpreted as my speaking for everyone on the Autistic Spectrum. This has never been my intent. I use the word we as a general word. I do not presume to speak for everyone on the spectrum. I am only an expert on my own experiences, and cannot speak for anyone else. However, in my research and discussions with NTs, Aspies, and psychiatric professionals – I have been assured that I have a fundamental understanding of the mechanisms and underlying causes of the behaviors and issues associated with Asperger’s and Autistic Spectrum Disorders. So, when I use the word “WE”, I am only talking in a general sense.
This is the first part of my new series. As the title says, it is about the special care that Aspies need. Having an Aspie in your life is a bit like having a puppy. It will effect all aspects of your life. If you’re not ready for this kind of time investment you may wish to steer clear and get a lizard or some other small animal that can be decorative.
However, if you feel you are ready for this, the following rules should help you out quite a bit.
- Aspies need a great deal of privacy. While we, for the most part, want to be social – it is HARD for us. I know I’ve said it in the past, but what you do naturally, we have to work at. And frankly, there is a great deal of effort and anxiety for us. And by anxiety, I am referring to the clinical definition of it. So, respect your Aspie’s need for privacy, whether it is shown as a desire to be completely alone in his room or to simply hang out with you in the living room.
- Anxiety is a multisystem response to a perceived threat or danger. It reflects a combination of biochemical changes in the body, the patient’s personal history and memory, and the social situation. As far as we know, anxiety is a uniquely human experience. Other animals clearly know fear, but human anxiety involves an ability, to use memory and imagination to move backward and forward in time, that animals do not appear to have. The anxiety that occurs in posttraumatic syndromes indicates that human memory is a much more complicated mental function than animal memory. Moreover, a large portion of human anxiety is produced by anticipation of future events. Without a sense of personal continuity over time, people would not have the “raw materials” of anxiety.
- NEVER, EVER, EVER embarrass them in public. This is not an admonition to avoid parent like
behavior. Your Aspie will do things that are very odd by Neurotypical standards. Don’t call your aspie out on it. This will add to his anxiety in ways that you cannot imagine. Your Aspie can’t even imagine them either. At our core, we want, very desperately to fit in, and we need time to process things. If we are trying to process something we have messed up on, socially, we will be unable to continue other social interactions and it will exacerbate the problem. While this seems like a small problem, it will continue to cause more and more embarrassment in that situation, which will make your Aspie more and more uncomfortable until he won’t feel comfortable going out into any similar social situations.
- New situations are scary for us. And by new situations, I mean things that you take for granted. If NTs go to a bar regularly, it is very easy to go to another bar and enjoy themselves. A different bar for an Aspie is something else entirely. It is a new room, with new people, new sights, sounds, feel, and smells… So when you say, “Hey! Let’s go to that new place! I hear it kicks ass!” Your Aspie will go along with you, but will need time. The previous example is just that… an example. Any little change makes it a new situation. So, in new situations, give them a few minutes to observe. Give them the time they need to work out the dynamics of what they are seeing. Let them observe.
- When you ask your Aspie a question, they will need time to think about their answer. Unlike your average Neurotypicals, we don’t have instant reactions to questions. (IN MOST SITUATIONS). Sometimes, we will, but for the most part, we need time to reason out our responses. Give us that time to think. Don’t demand an instant response. When forced into that situation, we will have problems. We want to please you, but we tend to deal in the absolutes of truth. So, when pressed to give an answer that we haven’t reasoned out, you are pushing us into cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance can be uncomfortable, over stimulating and can actually cause mental damage, in some cases. Further, the answer you get will most likely have nothing to do with our actual reasoning process, but will be something stated in an effort to please you and lessen our distress. Also, once we have a chance to finish our reasoning processes, the actual answer will be stated, leading to misunderstandings.
- Please avoid interrupting your Aspie. At times, we have difficulty communicating in a way that is
understandable. To do it, we must organize our thoughts before we speak. When we are interrupted, out train of thought is interrupted as well. Your Aspie will have to start from the beginning. We can’t pick up in the middle and resume. Since our thoughts are very ordered, a to b to c, if we are interrupted at d, we will have to start at a, to make sure we can get everything working again. Continued interruption, ESPECIALLY at the same point in the conversation can be exceedingly distressing. Further, we tend towards a model of low self esteem and interrupting us can tell us (even if it’s incorrect) that what we have to say is of little worth and is not appreciated by the listener – which can be devastating to the Aspie ego. Keep in mind, if you’re being spoken to by an Aspie more than a week after you met them, they have welcomed you into their circle, and as such, your opinion means a great deal more to them than it would be for a Neurotypical friend.
- If you are expecting a change in your life, especially one that is likely to have ANY effect on an Aspie friend, give them advanced warning. And by any change, I mean any change. The brand of coffee at your house, the color of your uniform, your hat, the times of arrival and departure, foods in the house. Your Aspie can adapt READILY to any given situation, IF you give him time to adjust. Most of the time, this is as simple giving us a couple weeks of warning. We just need time to process the information. Keep in mind, sudden changes in environment (AND YOUR HAT IS PART OF THAT ENVIRONMENT – IT IS PART OF WHAT YOU ARE) are distressing. It changes the status quo and we have to adjust to it. Think about it this way – if you have a trickle of water and you drop a small stone into the water, it will disrupt the flow at first. Eventually, the small waves will settle and the water will flow in new channels. Our minds are a great deal like that. Give us time to establish a new flow.
- Give your Aspie a chance to finish what he’s doing before changing activities. You might not see any activity going on, but we need time to make a bookmark, finish writing a sentence, get to a save point, arrange things in a pleasing manner… 15 minute warnings before it’s time to go, or before dinner or any change in activity will make your life a great deal easier. A lack of warning can lead to oppositional behavior or outright melt downs.
- There is a time and place for everything. The time for teaching new skills and reprimands is in private – not at an event or surrounded by people. It is hard for us to comprehend that, after working as hard as we do to fit in and be like everyone else – we messed it up. And when you call us out on it, it causes cognitive dissonance and embarrassment. We want to learn, we want to grow, but we need time to practice it and integrate it into our thought processes.
- Respect the fact that your Aspie doesn’t need the same amount of socialization that a Neurotypical does. most NTs don’t feel complete without a small circle of close friends a larger circle of friends and an even larger circle of acquaintances. Your Aspie doesn’t need those, most of us need a small circle of friends. That’s it. We need those rare few who “get it” and nothing more. Respect that. The best way to respect that is by not pressuring us to get out and make new friends. Feel free to introduce us to new people, but anticipate and respect the fact that 80% of the time, the person you introduce us to will never make it past the acquaintance stage. Also anticipate and respect the fact that another 19% of the time, we probably won’t like the person. There is 1% of the people in your life that we can become friends with, but for that to happen, the stars must align. The situation, temperament, mood and timing has to be just right for that person to gain the coveted status of “friend.”