This post is in the Family and Friends category

Children with ASD have significant support needs, and the effect on parents and siblings is beginning to be better understood (Allik, Larsson, & Smedje, 2006; Gillberg, Gillberg, & Steffenburg, 1992; Heiman & Berger, 2007; Heiman & Berger, 2008; Limbers, Heffer, & Varni, 2009; MacDonald, 2004; Pakenham, Sofronoff, & Samios, 2004; Wright & Williams, 2007), as are the impacts on spouses and partners. Literature on this aspect tends to be more focussed on books for public consumption than academic papers (Aston, 2003; Hendrickx, 2008; Rodman, 2003; Stokes, Newton, & Kaur, 2007), however the availability of books and information is clearly a good thing, as being informed about the condition is clearly the first strike in being an effective supporter of an independent person.

I make this point quite deliberately. Aspies are independent – to a large degree – and require understanding more than sympathy. I will restrict these comments to those around adult Aspies, although many of the points also fit for children. They are gleaned from the literature and from conversations with individuals with ASD through my contact with an Asperger support group and on-line forums and they include some things that people with ASD may want you to know.

  • Aspergers will tend to gravitate to those who they believe understand them. That may mean either other Aspies, or people at the opposite end of the scale of social skills and empathy (Attwood, 2008, p. 305).
  • Encourage the person with ASD to learn all they can, keep up to date and think about what aspects of the condition apply to them. Not everything will. Ask them to share this with you, as you will also learn about yourself.
  • Be explicit and direct. Central coherence issues may affect understanding of innuendo, sarcasm, irony or idiom. An adolescent or adult with ASD has learned to pretend to understand. Be prepared for directness in return, or even brutal honesty.
  • Correct social mistakes quietly and privately. Request a blanket permission to do so, and always use polite language, never sarcasm. Play the ball not the man and he won’t resent it – it’s a an opportunity to learn. Tone of voice can be confusing, so make your words exact. My own experience suggests that if the wording is clear and logical, it over-rides any defensiveness I might have about failing.
  • If something you say is meant to be confidential, say so. Don’t assume that he will know what is appropriate to talk about with others.
  • Watch out for rocking and “stimming” as this means anxiety. If the person appears to have “tuned out” it is unlikely to be because you are boring him. It may be that the situation, lights, noise people etc. is too stimulating and has caused a shut-down.
  • A shut-down is better than a melt-down, but may precede one.
  • A friend or partner with ASD will probably be very loyal, never lie (or try to and fail miserably) and have a sense of justice that is pretty fierce.
  • He may not know how he feels, especially about things that matter – such as relationships – and be afraid to speak up in case he got it wrong. You might need to ask some leading questions.
  • The person with ASD wants to be social and needs friends and people around him. He’s just not very good at it.

Being around a person with Asperger’s Syndrome, HFA or other forms of heightened autistic traits is going to impact you. You may well feel ex-Aspie-rated, speak Asperg-ese and even become Asperg-ated, but it’s worth it.

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