There is a lot of stigma about what it means (especially in adulthood) for an adult to have Asperger’s Syndrome. Why is that? There are as many reasons as people who hold stereotypical views about Asperger’s Syndrome in adults. The number one stereotype is that all with Asperger’s are the same and fit all listed criteria (no longer included as such in the DSM-5 as it was in the DSM IV) that you can read about online. This is just not true at all. Firstly, there is are many differences between all who have Asperger’s Syndrome (listed now in the DSM-5 within the “Autism” outline – something that most in the Asperger community do not like) the most obvious one being the differences, for the most part, again, allowing for individual differences, between males and females. Females tend to be less affected when it comes to lack of empathy, lack of compassion, and other aspects of Aspergers than males are (which varies in a wide-ranging way with all adults with Asperger’s anyway) because females are still socialized differently (Reference: “Asperger’s Syndrome” by Dr. Tony Attwood) from males and Asperger’s does occur more often in males than females. Or, because there is only a diagnostic scale for males and not one for females, more females who fit the criteria would be diagnosed if not for this prejudice in the diagnostic process.
Other stigma producing misconceptions about adults with Asperger’s include the following:
- That Asperger’s Syndrome is just a disability
- That adults with Asperger’s have no social skills
- That adults with Asperger’s get “triggered” by things – that’s not really an accurate statement at all
- That adults with Aspergers are difficu
- lt to get along with
- That adults with Aspergers are people to fear, angry a lot, or often having meltdowns
- That if one has Asperger’s is effected by everything attributed widely to it – this is far from true and is very individual
- That all with Asperger’s need or even want to be “cured” – there is not cure currently but not everyone feels they want one
- That adults with Asperger’s can’t have empathy, compassion, learn to navigate effectively socially
- That adults with Aspergers are only interested in narrow focus of interest
- That adults with Aspergers are mentally ill – this is not a mental illness at all
1. That Asperger’s Syndrome is Just a Disability: As an adult with Aspergers I happen to know first hand that there are many blessing and a true giftedness that I have in part because I have Aspergers. Many, like myself, with Aspergers in adulthood are very “high functioning” and learn or have learned to use our narrow focus or focuses of interest to our benefit to take the unique and often faster and more efficient way that we can take in information, process it, synthesize it, and move forward with it in many ways, along with an above average intelligence, to pursue University education and contribute to the world in many fields as professionals. In my experience as a person with Asperger’s Syndrome, I believe it has given me a giftedness in many areas (Okay, not socially, but that doesn’t mean I have weaker social skills than the average NeuroTypical). Aspergers, in my experience, is also very much about having a different ability. Why do we have to judge the way “most people” do things then ascribe to that understanding, “normal”, (which is flawed non-existing concept to begin with) to it? Why is this incorrect assumption supported by an “us” vs “them” neurotypical version so supposed “reality”? A supposed “reality” that is lacking in any logic. Why is a different ability and other differences judged or perceived as “les than” or “abnormal” or “undesirable” when really any comparisons are “apples and oranges” type comparisons and do not even have their genesis in any common logical factors from which to draw this conclusion of disability in the first place.
2. That adults with Asperger’s have no social skills: While there are some deficits that are a part of Aspergers and the context of “socialization” is one of them, why is it assumed that all people with Asperger’s are without adequate social skills? The truth about his is that the degree to which people – individuals with Aspergers have or lack social skills is highly individual and therefore it is stigmatizing and stereotyping to think that we are all the same. I have found that one can map and learn from past experience enough to be able to continue to learn to better socialize and to function in social situations in ways that pass as “normal”. The biggest difference I find in this area is that I am firstly an introvert, (according to Myers Briggs test results, actually I am an Introverted-Extrovert) just to make things a little more fun, as in complicated an challenging This not withstanding, what I know about my experience as an adult with Aspergers is that I do not have the same “social drive” or “social needs” as extroverted people or as NeuroTypicals generally. However, that is not something that is easy to accurately measure or quantify because there are many Neurotypicals who are introverts and/or lack social skills or a drive to socialize as much as extroverts for many reasons and they aren’t considered “weird” or to have s disability. Though they too, may be judged as “too different” or “weird” by the most social extroverted Neurotypicals. My question for you to consider here is, if you are an extroverted and very socially driven Neurotypical why do you consider (if you do) that this is the only desirable or “normal” way to be? Could it be that you judge based only on your own ideas about how people should be perhaps because you feel uncomfortable or confused by people who are not the same as you?
3. That adults with Asperger’s get “triggered” by things: This is not an accurate understanding, in my opinion. People with Aspergers are not “triggered” in the sense that someone with PTSD may be “triggered”. Rather people with Aspergers have sensitivities to various – again individual – things or experiences in daily life. Rather than being “triggered” we have different ways of coping with stress. We have challenges with “flow” and with quick or seamless transitions from one thing to another. Some have tolerance thresholds that vary. Meaning that if they have to work, they cannot transition from interruptions back to work, or be interrupted in their work for other reasons and have people coming and going who don’t show up and leave at times that are predictable. Aspergers does leave us much more literal than NeuroTypicals. If we are told something will happen at 1pm (even though many of us know better intellectually) we will find it stressful if that literal arranged time is not met. How each person with Aspergers can or cannot cope with this varies greatly. It is also very difficult for many with Aspergers to transition from work to different tasks, to socializing, and then having to transition back to work. For example, if I have to wait for a contractor to come to my home and do some work, and even though I hope for the literal time I was told this would happen (knowing intellectually it’s unlikely anyone arrives on the dot of that literal time) I often have to put off other tasks or work until that contractor arrives and/or his work is under-way. Then I can leave it and go on do my own thing o work while they do their work. Stress can be produced, for example, in my example, when the contractor comes two hours after the literal time given, or when the contractor fails to show up at all on the day specified, let alone anywhere near the literal time arranged. If this continues over a period of time the stress that is causes me increases. While I try to continually de-stress, and often do so quite effectively, a cumulating stress that is on-going for a month plus for example, will become somewhat untenable to continue to tolerate and be able to get my work done and other things I want to do done or just relax and find something recreational to do. The point is that I am not “triggered” by the work of the contractor or unfinished things. It is the stress of managing to deal in and on-going way with a situation (I recently encountered with what is at the time of writing this a still on-going renovation of a townhouse I moved into recently) that feels invasive and intrusive to me. Even though I know intellectually that it’s not intrusive and invasive in any personal way or even isn’t as such in reality. It is the nature of my needing and wanting more time alone to pursue whatever I might pursue in work (writing, caring for my dogs, with friends, or many other things). It is not only an Asperger transition difficulty, it is also an introvert’s need to not be having people coming and going so much and end up with a lot of wasted time if time is set aside and then no one shows up at time I was told they would. (I get, again, intellectually that these things happen) Knowing that others may well not understand any of this if I try to explain it, nor can it be “accommodated” or change a given situation, necessarily, I am left to deal with higher stress than I would normally feel. This is not a “trigger” it’s long-term low-grade stress that builds and it is also low-grade frustration that builds and increases making things more difficult for me in ways others may not be able to relate to. But this is different from the traditional psychological definition and scope of a “trigger” in many other challenges that people face.
4. That adults with Aspergers are difficult to get along with: This is a stigmatizing stereotype that does not take into consideration differences to which we are entitled and worthy of having respected by others. Just as we have to be willing to compromise with others in situations where, for example one is living in the middle of a renovation, or requires repair work done on something, or things of that nature, others have to be respectful of perhaps different needs that I know can’t always be accommodated but that definitely are worthy of being without disrespecting a person’s difference, wherever possible. There is an inherent and very quick-to-judge a person with Aspergers as “difficult to get along with” if others to not pause to ponder differences and not expect that those with Aspergers or more introverted NeuroTypicals will all handle the stress of certain situations in the same way. I’m not sure that all NeuroTypicals would handle all situations in the same way themselves. When you move into a new place and people don’t know you, as I did recently, they can’t know I have Asperger’s either can they? So beginnings can be more difficult generally for me and for others due to this. Why? Because learning about me as an adult with Aspergers – me as an individual with Aspergers not me as a person with that “Asperger’s” read about online with all kinds of “traits” or things described therein that have nothing to do with me takes time. Also, because people, rather than jump to the judgment or unrealistic expectation that everyone new in a place will know what to do or will be included or assimilated in the same way, need to first try to dialogue and understand differences before they return to an unwelcoming (perhaps by my differences – and we all have them regardless) self-comfort culture of who they know and are comfortable with and then leaving me on an island of sorts. People with Aspergers like all people, perhaps to a somewhat lesser degree, hard to quantify, are not more difficult to get along with for anyone willing to be friendly, welcoming, and take the time to set aside judgment or what have you about differences and get to know an individual who is new and not pre-judge and end up talking about that person as “weird” or “difficult” when in my case, I can say with assuredness, this is just not really the case at all, when people really talk to me and get a feel for who I am. People with Aspergers are not more difficult to get along with when they are given the decency of respect and a chance to be known versus being pre-judged whether others know or not that they have Aspergers. People need to realize that while we all have difference, we still do have a lot of basic human things in common. We need to build bridges and not be in such a hurry to categorize and label and judge people and then just ignore them or as some people do just get their backs up. People who pre-judge and are not welcoming or willing or able to consider differences have their own issues and may be considered somewhat difficult themselves and need not project that on to people with Aspergers.
5. That adults with Aspergers are people to fear, angry a lot, or often having meltdowns: People with Aspergers, speaking generally, are more likely to be honest to a fault, perhaps out of “socially accepted convention” in ways that seem or are perceived as blunt. Many with Aspergers have little to no frame of reference of the NeuroTypical “social context” of saying things that they don’t mean or being dishonest – presenting as friendly while not meaning it which a person with Asperger’s will literally believe to begin with and then be confused by as they have to then try to figure out the duplicity. Speaking for myself, I am used to this so-called “NeuroTypical social context” which can be defined as a less than honest way of communicating and handling needs/wants, boundaries and the like effectively. Simply put, not having Aspergers does not mean you are “normal”. What is normal? Normal is a concept thrown around, thought about and judged that I defy someone to actually define. People with Aspergers, just like people who do not have Aspergers (called NeuroTypicals -NT’s) can have meltdowns. Like any individual, the propensity for a meltdown is an individual thing. In my case, it is very rare I have a true meltdown. And not all meltdowns would be the same regardless. There is no reason to fear people with Aspergers. This is especially true when you learn a bit about Aspergers but not without getting to know what is true for any individual with Aspergers (AS) or not because as I’ve said, each one of us is not effected in the same way or the same degree that you may think if you just paint us all with one brush of what you may read online. People with AS are often a lot less angry than their NT counterparts. This notion, stigma and stereotypically uninformed way of thinking that people with Aspergers are to be feared or are angry a lot or are often having meltdowns is prejudicial thinking to say the least. Again, it is highly individual. Not that anyone with AS alone would need to be feared at any point regardless due to having AS. Speaking for myself, again, I experience a tremendous amount of inner-happiness and joy in my life in many ways. I can experience this with others but I experience and to be honest value the quality of the inner-experience more than shared with others experience. That does not mean I don’t like to share with others, work with them, or be social. I do. It just means I will prefer and need more time on my own than I share with others which again is not totally about having AS, it is also a lot to do with being introverted. I think people easily fear what they do not understand. So working to help others understand me as an individual and yes, an individual with AS, as I need to get to know and understand others and often the different challenges they are facing in their own lives is how we can bridge differences in an accepting way and find common understanding, respect, and common ground with each other.
6. That if one has Asperger’s is effected by everything attributed widely to it: This is perhaps the most stigmatizing, stereotyping, disrespecting, painful, derisive, unkind, and inaccurate assumption made about people with AS. We, who have AS, are not all the same at all. The fact that I have AS does mean it is the sum total of who I am. It is not. It is something that is a part of me. Their is much more to me than just AS. I value very much the positive attributes that result in my life and my different ability that is due to being an individual with Aspergers. Unlike what you can read about Asperger’s Syndrome, that would not apply to me, would be that “all with AS lack empathy,” have no compassion, lack personal insight as to how they relate to others or are perceived by others, care only about themselves, “lack social skills”. These do not apply to me at all. They do not apply to all with AS. There is also that vast difference between genders with AS. However, having said that, you still have to consider the individual, be the male or female. Please do not read about Aspergers and then think you know someone and that’s who or how they are. It is pre-judging and intolerant and disrespectful to generalize based on a label that many write about from a “professional” or “academic” perspective (who do not have AS) and who really may not have encountered those of us more “high functioning” as much (if at all) to the degree they encounter those who are much more greatly affected and lower-functioning due to Aspergers. It is just a common sense reality that those who have more of the listed and defined “Asperger traits” than those of who don’t are not the same and need to be considered (all of us) individually and that “professionals” encounter much more often those who need more help and are lower-functioning than those of us who do not need their help and are higher-functioning. People with Aspergers are not going to fit all criteria you can read about and again, each is an individual who needs to be seen first and foremostly as such and not painted with the broad-stroke “abnormal” approach to defining what it means to have Aspergers.
7. That all with Asperger’s need or even want to be “cured”: I would question if Asperger’s Syndrome, now categorized in the DSM 5 under Autism Spectrum Disorders, should be in the DSM at all. Should it even be considered something that is “abnormal”? I don’t think so. I think it’s about difference. Difference in many ways and also difference in ability. People with Asperger’s or on the higher functioning end of the autism spectrum are not disabled only or that much. Rather we are differently abled in a world that seeks to still judge and understand people based on similarity to self or to group, community, etc. rather than taking each person for the individual that they are and working harder at accepting and differences and learning that in doing that we can then find more common ground similarities after all. As an adult with Asperger’s Syndrome I find it much more a gift than a “disability”. I find it much more to be a part of me then some way of defining who I am as an individual in totality. I don’t need to be “cured” from anything. I believe that Autism, all along the spectrum, is an different way of being, thinking, expressing, (or not expressing for some) connecting, (not connecting for some) but there is in everyone on the Autistic Spectrum despite what some lower-functioning “classic autism” a quality of life. A quality of inner-life in many ways that those who are NeuroTypical cannot at all understand. There is not need to cure what is simply a different way to be.
8. That adults with Asperger’s can’t have empathy, compassion, learn to navigate effectively socially: Again, this is a stigmatizing and stereotyping notion or cognitively-distorted belief ascribed to those with AS. It is also very important again to keep in mind the individuality of each with AS and not lump us all together. There are people with Aspergers (often male but not limited only to males) more profoundly affected by AS who may not show or express in NeuroTypical ways empathy or compassion or learn to navigate effectively socially. But this is highly individual. And even in those that seem to lack the expression of empathy or compassion, I have written about his on this site elsewhere in detail, this does not mean they lack empathy and compassion totally but it does mean that one would have to be very attuned to the ways that you could glean this from some those with Aspergers who are not going to express it the way that NT’s are used to receiving it. For example, and this does not apply to me personally, (though I do need to remind myself from time to time in social contexts) due to the (and it varies too) literal nature of Aspie understanding and interpretation I have had clients with Asperger’s or spouses (parents) of someone with Asperger’s ask my many times why does their Aspie loved one not tell them they love them? What is often the case, for many, is that they have been told they are loved but some with AS, being much more literal than (I and others) think that if “I told you once I love you, you know I love you, why would I have to tell you again and again”? Many people with Asperger’s (like myself) are quite capable of empathy, compassion and navigating the NT social world.
9. That adults (or children) with Aspergers are only interested in their narrow focus of interest: For many, and especially younger children (“little professors”) with Asperger’s this can seem to be the case. Their is no doubt that each individual with AS has one to two areas of intense narrow focus. And they will want to talk about it intensely, often, perhaps in some cases in seemingly-unending ways. This is not the case with all. Yes all with AS have narrow focus on interest(s) than enjoy talking about them. As adults, however, many of us have learned that relating and conversations can’t always be about our narrow interest(s) focus and that we want and need to listen to what others are interested in to have effective and meaningful relating and communication with others. Having narrow focus of interest(s) is something that many of us get to know a lot about and become “expert” in and then go on to University, get degrees, and make careers in those areas of interest and contribute greatly to this world. Does that sound like Aspergers in that high-functioning sense is a disability at all? While it is true that Aspies have narrow focus interest(s) it is also true that not all will be doomed to only talk or share about them. Many of us will learn as I have learned a long time ago, there is a time and place for this. Making a career out of one’s narrow focus of interest(s) as I have like so many others with AS is an incredibly rewarding part of having AS because we get to work in areas that we truly are totally and deeply interested in. And, just another fact, to dispel stigmatizing stereotyping of those with AS, when you love what you are interested in genuinely and deeply it becomes a burning passion that helps you to be much more effective and skilled in your chosen profession and I know this feels for me like it’s not even really work. It is such a passion and I am freely driven out of interest and love of what I do, know, and have been educated in, to, in my case, help others heal, recover, or become unblocked in goal achievement, identify issues that they want to change in their lives, and help people with personal and on-going self-understanding and self-development. People (certainly in adulthood) with high-functioning Asperger’s Syndrome can and do expand their narrow focus of interest(s) in vibrant, practical, and exciting ways that contribute to our economies and the betterment of humanity and meaningful ways of working with and for people that improve the quality of their lives in wide-ranging fields including engineering, tech innovation, psychology, philosophy, science, research, medicine, law and the list is endless.
10. That adults with Aspergers are mentally ill: This is an absolute false-hood. A terribly stigmatizing stereotype that does not apply to Asperger’s or the Autism spectrum at all. It is true that some people with Asperger’s due to the nature of navigating deficits (to “normality – whatever that is) do develop some mental health challenges. But Asperger’s itself, is not at all a mental illness. This is why I’ve always wondered why it is seen by psychiatry to be fit into (in their opinion/judgment) the “Bible of Psychiatry” the DSM – now with version 5 being in use though being boycotted by many professionals because it has long-since been perceived by many professionals as being a rather arbitrary and pseudo-science at best collection of largely unchallenged pathologizing of humanity now driven primarily by U.S. Big Pharma with an agenda to make more money for all by taking it to such an extreme in the pathologizing and categorizing (by a small unregulated and not peer-reviewed “working group” of psychiatrists) people to the point that as noted Australian Psychiatrist, Dr. Niall McLaren, was quoted on my Psyche Whisperer Radio Show in an interview we did (or he may have said this to me privately – as having said, the DSM is so out of control and pharmaceutical industry driven (prior to the publication of the current DSM version 5) that “you could now diagnose a ham sandwich” with a variety of “psychiatric illness” which biopsychiatry has now since the “decade of the brain” (for what that is worth) in the 1990’s has laid claim to the scientifically un-proven illusion that “mental illness is a brain disorder”. This too is bunk. Abject false “flawed-theory” put forth as if it were proven science, which it is not. The various named aspects of various degrees of autism now included in the DSM-5 under the categorization of “Autism Spectrum Disorders” must be challenged in so many ways because Autism on any point of that spectrum has nothing to do with “mental illness”.
© A.J. Mahari, July 26, 2014 – All rights reserved.
Neuro-Typicals (NTs) often wonder if those with Asperger’s Syndrome really feel love for others. As someone with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS), in my own experience, I think that what is more at issues isn’t so much what someone with AS feels or doesn’t feel but can they communicate what they feel or do not feel in a way that NTs can understand.
Recola, who has an aspie boyfriend and posted in the discussion area of Aspergeradults.ca Forum describing some difficulty encountered with her aspie boyfriend. She described his not being there for her in times of needing emotional support and understanding when she needs space due to her own stresses and/or his not fully understanding her need for space when she feels this way.
She asked this question: “Do Aspies really feel love for others or do they just stay with people who give them a comfort level?” and described that her aspie boyfriend seems to take leave of the relationship when she is depressed and that things seem to switch from him professing his love for her to him saying to her that “You need a helpful loving person, someone who can get you through those tough times that you have. I don’t have the energy for that”.
The first thing I want to make really clear in response to this is that each and every person with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) has their own individual responses to life, to the stress of relating. Each individual person with Asperger’s has varying degrees of understanding of “other”. Whether or not Recola’s boyfriend can actually understand what her stresses or feelings of depression are like and what she needs and why or not is not clear. He may well not be able to empathize. Some people with AS lack empathy. Some have empathy and can’t express it. Some both have empathy and express it in their own ways.
It is important to remain cognizant of the fact that each and every situation for those who are involved in relationships with those with AS is somewhat individually different. There is no blanket statement to be made that every aspie will do this or that or not be able to do this or that relationally.
Asperger’s Syndrome is indeed a complication to many aspects of relating generally and specifically in interpersonal relationships for most. I believe that those of us with AS can learn to compensate for
that which we don’t understand very well. We can learn how to meet our partner’s needs, or at the very least how not to stress them more when they are facing emotional turmoil or other life challenges.
To the question posed, “Do Aspies really feel love for others or do they just stay with people who give them a comfort level?” forgive me for sounding like a broken record when I say that it is such an individual thing. There is no lumping us all together generally or when It comes to the ability (or perhaps lack thereof) to relate to a significant other. What it sounds like the aspie described by this poster to the discussion area of this topic is struggling with is lack of emotional reciprocity. This may well be because he, like many with AS, has mind blindness, which is described through the “Theory of Mind”
Theory of mind, or mind blindness is an impairment that those with AS must learn to compensate for to one degree or another in order to maintain heathy and functional relationships with those who are Neuro-typical (NT).
Those with AS may lack the ability to be able to consider, understand, and cope with other people’s thoughts and feelings. There may be times when an aspie may have a degree of understanding but not have found a way to communicate that understanding in a way that an NT would readily comprehend.
This reality can lead to difficulties in the areas of trying to comprehend the intentions, motivations, and subsequent actions and feelings of others.
If you are in a relationship with someone with Asperger’s you must remember that NT’s and those with AS do not share similiar ways of processing information and/or communicating. So to highten the chances of successful communication each must be willing to be patient in hearing the other.
People with AS may also lack understanding of their own emotions and/or the emotions of others. This often manifests as a lack of empathy.
At times any lack of understanding of emotions, one’s own or those of others, can be the result of the time it takes aspies to process information. Sometimes, just allowing the person with AS a little more time will help him or her to identify what they feel or to understand more about what an NT feels.
There are compensatory strategies that can build strength and more understanding to decrease the impact and potential negative effects this impairment. This has been my experience. However, that said, not all aspie’s will be able to make these efforts or even desire to consider making these efforts to learn to bridge the emotional and social gaps between themselves and those who are NT.
To answer the question then, I believe that aspies really do love others in their own way. What that way ends up being, looks like or consists of varies. As an aspie who has stretched and grown in compensatory ways in this area myself I know that in my own case I am not seeking to be in a relationship in the search for some comfort level. Comfort is often elusive and over-shadowed by the anxiety that presents when I am relating to my partner. So to the degree that any aspie seeks to be in relationship to another (and especially an other who is NT) I believe that in most cases this would be from a place of love – love as the aspie understands it which may be quite different and much more limited than an NT understanding and experience of love.
When Recola’s aspie boyfriend says he doesn’t have the energy to cope with her emotional state or needs this may be the product to some degree of mind blindness. It may also have a lot to do with the stress that dealing with emotions causes many with AS.
The bottom line here for Recola, or anyone who is NT in a relationship with someone with AS is that you have to decide what you need. You have to clearly ask yourself what you can and cannot live with.
I would encourage each individual NT in relationship to a person with AS to also consider just where on the spectrum their desired significant other is. I say this because I know from my own experience as a high functioning aspie that I can be taught how to respond to what my partner needs. I continue to educate myself and to challenge myself to learn and grow and adapt the best I can. My partner continues to learn how to best cope with the areas that present difficulties for her and then we both work at communicating and understanding each other.
I do not believe that aspies just stay with people who give them a comfort level because the exposure anxiety and general stress involved in relating are often formidable and for most I believe would be (as in my case) motivated by very real feelings of love. The territory that those with AS have to navigate to express love and to cope with relating is very different from the terrain traveled by those who are NT.
These relationships, between those with AS and NT’s require continued effort on both people’s part to address the challenges that will present themselves and it is crucial to understand that all that a couple seeks to mirror to and for each other within a relationship will be two very distinct reflected images presented in very differing styles of relating, communicating, and emotional expression.
It is therefore very important that assumptions aren’t made “facts”. Each person, and perhaps even more so the NT in the relationship need to clarify and re-clarify things in order to accurately understand the feelings and intentions of his or her partner.
© Ms. A.J. Mahari April 12, 2005 with addition on February 7, 2009 – All rights reserved.
A.J. Mahari is a Life Coach who, among other things, specializes in working with those with Asperger’s Syndrome and their partners, relatives, or friends. A.J. has 6 years experience as a Life Coach and works with clients from all over the world.
How should neuro-typicals (NT) treat those with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS)? Whose responsibility is it to ensure that communication is constructive and/or clear? Is it all up to those who do not have Asperger’s Syndrome to make things somehow better in relating for those with Asperger’s?
Is it the responsibility of those who are Neuro-Typical (NT) to ensure that the person (or persons with AS) that they are relating to feel comfortable all the time? What are NT’s supposed to do? What NT’s shouldn’t have to do is take full responsibility for any and all relating communicating, or socializing with an adult with Asperger’s Syndrome.
I received several emails on this subject from NTs, that in many different ways were all asking, How should you treat people with Asperger’s Syndrome? What should we do?
Let me respond, firstly, by saying that how those with Asperger’s Syndrome should be treated is not necessarily so different from how each and every one of us would be best served to strive to treat each other generally.
The ways in which we all need to strive to treat each other include being kind, caring, compassionate, understanding, non-judgmental, with respect and dignity, and as inclusive as possible and so on.
With particular respect to those with Asperger’s Syndrome the first thing to consider is whether or not you are interacting with a child, teen, or adult. The way in which you interact with a child or a teen varies
greatly, generally, and this is true of those with AS also.
Of course, relating to an adult, then would differ somewhat (AS or NT) from the ways that we relate to children or teens. Adults, even with AS, have much more responsibility to be a part of the building of the
foundation from which interaction can take place between two adults, whether that’s one NT and the AS adult or two AS adults or what have you.
While there are definite and varied styles and degrees to which socializing, or relating is accepted, understood, or wanted by those with AS, it is important to keep in mind the individual strengths and weaknesses of the person you are wanting to relate to. This would be the case whether someone has AS or not.
While there is no doubt that in most, if not all cases, of adults with Asperger’s communication with others in a relational or social context can be stressful, difficult, and often time-consuming, I don’t believe that those who are NT should be expected to bend over backwards all the time to try to ensure the comfort level of the person with Asperger’s.
Each adult with Asperger’s has to find his or her own way to comfort within a relational context. This can be done. The degree to which each adult with Asperger’s will want to relate or how often or how intensely varies greatly.
Personally, I do know that those who get to know me or who are closest to me do have to learn about what Asperger’s is and what that means and then learn more specifically how Asperger’s manifests in my relating and communicating. I think that just as those of us with AS continue to try to learn more about what NTs want and need and why, the same is true of NTs needing to learn more about what those of us with Asperger’s (individually) need and want and how it is that we process information differently, the reality of social challenges, and the ways in which having Asperger’s does impact relating.
It is important for those with AS to learn how to open up and trust a friend or partner with the vulnerable places where he or she may need to explain more to an NT to be understood and/or ask for help or information about how to best give the NT what they need. I ask those that I relate to if I’m being understood and I listen to them when they give me feedback as to what they may need that I don’t know to give without being cued to do so. Being open to being cued and then doing
your AS best to give is also very important.
Ideally, compromise and openness to understanding how the individual person you are relating to with AS would feel most comfortable is a very welcome and kind thing to keep in mind. Just as those with AS, wherever and whenever possible need to continue to learn how to reach out to those who are NT and try to find some common ground from which to relate. This ensures that both parties have opportunities to be heard, understood, and feel included and respected.
There may well be some concessions that will help make relating to someone with Asperger’s more accessible than not realizing that some more give (at times – yes maybe often) may be necessary on the part of those who are NT. However, that said, I personally believe, as an adult with Asperger’s myself, that it is my responsibility to work at finding and balancing my own comfort level in interaction with others. I do not believe communication (especially in friendships and relationships) will be effective for everyone if only one person is making all the efforts at creating a comfortable interaction.
Often relating to those of us with AS will require more patience on the part of NT’s. It would be counterproductive to apply pressure or to have certain expectations as to how someone with AS will communicate or relate or socialize with you (NT’s).
While that kind of consideration and effort is kind, caring, and compassionate and has its importance for those with AS it is important that NT’s (and those with AS) realize that the NT is not wholly responsible for all things communication-wise and so forth. Bridges must be built and responsibility for interacting must be shared to whatever level of sharing those with AS can achieve. Some with AS will be much stronger at this sort of thing than others.
So, basically, being kind and understanding and accepting are very important. However, remembering that you are not responsible for any entire interaction/communication/socialization with an adult with AS and that treating them like the person that they are and with respect is the most important thing.
Sometimes, for many with AS, the more intense any relational or social experience is the more stress they may have and the more they will have to deal with their difficulties. This is, however, something that most just want to be accepted in spite of for who they are. Most with AS do not want to be treated in such a way that would see the NT denying their own needs and wants and comfort needs and so forth.
We come from different worlds in the relational/social spheres and it is important to be as inclusive as possible and as accepting as possible. Patience always helps too. Require as much reciprocity as the adult
with AS, in your life, is able to give.
Just as those with AS want to feel some comfort level in interacting with others (and this is often difficult and stressful) those who are NT need also to ensure that they can find a comfort zone when relating to someone with AS.
We are different, just as are all individuals different in general too. Each one of us as human beings requires that we be seen for who we are and accepted for who we are. This applies to those with AS and those who are NT. This is common ground upon which to build foundations of communication.
© Ms. A.J. Mahari May 22, 2005 – with additions February 6, 2009 – All rights reserved.