Aspergers and Relationships

How Should NT’s Treat Those With Asperger’s Syndrome?

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.


Reflections on an Asperger Diagnosis In Adulthood

Learning that one has Asperger’s Syndrome as an adult is a different kind of challenge than those who find out with systemic and parental support and guidance in childhood. It gives one pause for much reflection.

Having Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) and knowing about it in childhood is one thing and being diagnosed as an adult is another. Trying to cope with AS after a life time of experiencing its many challenges and having not known the reason for its impact in my life has brought to the process a lot of reflecting and grief for me.

One of the most difficult challenges of dealing with an AS diagnosis in adulthood, for me, has been the reality that while I was finding all of this out there were no services to help in the necessary transition, adjustment, or understanding of what it will all mean in my life and for my future.

There is much to reflect upon when it comes to my experience of learning that I have Asperger’s Syndrome at the age of 40.

The struggle and process of accepting AS, understanding how it plays out in my life, and affects my life generally is a gradual, still, unfolding one. This is especially true in terms of working hard to meet my partner (NT) in the middle of all that is complicated communication and relating.

One of the biggest challenges, in adulthood, is how to not only further educate yourself, after being diagnosed with AS, but the responsibility of informing and educating friends, family, and significant others so that relationships cannot only be maintained but enriched, viable, and as painless and stress-free as possible.

In my own life I have found that the more I relate in my primary relationship, the more I learn about how Asperger’s actually impacts my ability to relate. This is important to learn, to know more about and understand. However, with each new revelation and this further understanding comes pain, sometimes embarrassment, always grief and tears.

There is a natural tendency to want to protect that which one may feel leaves them so different, vulnerable, weak, or lost and yet for an adult with AS, it is crucial to trust your significant other with this tender and vulnerable area of lack of knowing or understanding relationally as NT adults relate and communicate in order to learn more and be able to push the limits of your ability to in fact relate, communicate and learn to negotiate.

The most difficult area, where I find this really impacts me, in terms of my relationship centres upon trying to learn to be more flexible, to manage the inevitable stress and agitation that result from a lack of unpredictability and/or changeability as well as learning what negotiation is and looks like. I may not always get there but when my partner is patient and I am able to follow through with my own communication process and differences in this area, I find that we can meet in some middle place that allows us to hear and understand each other and results in us reducing the amount of conflict between us.

Generally, then, and to summarize what I am reflecting about here, if you are, like me, an adult who is diagnosed with AS at an older age, it is very important that you give yourself time and space to accept this, to grieve and feel about it and to find ways to bridge the differences and gaps with those neuro-typicals (NT) in your life so that you don’t have to be so isolated.

I am learning through just living this and a process of trial and error that healthy risk, trust in myself, and in those I know, and in my partner mean that I can celebrate my differences, rejoice in the gifts of AS and not lose out in all other areas of NT life. I choose to step off of my AS (autistic) planet and onto the NT planet more often than ever before now. I also, at times, straddle both planets. There are times when just being on my AS planet also is very necessary. Making these shifts isn’t easy but the more I choose them the more I am able to better cope with them.

I have learned, that in fact, to some degree, I can have the best of both worlds. This is not the case without agitation, some stress, and pain. The key here, I’ve found, is learning to tolerate and cope effectively with the agitation, stress, and pain.

Though I can and do reach out to others and to my NT partner in ways that require me stretching and reaching and in ways that don’t feel first nature to me, I also very much have come to accept myself as I am. This acceptance is still growing. It is imporant because I had to come to learn and really know that it is okay to be different. I am still likable and lovable even though for many and for my NT partner I am (at some times more than others) quite different. In fact my NT partner even values some of my eccentricity and quirkiness. There is so much room for bridges to be built. Don’t let the fact that you have been diagnosed with AS (as an adult or at all regardless of age) leave you believing that you can’t learn to find your own way to the kind of communication and relating needed to share time and space and feelings with others.

It is my conclusion, upon this reflection that what I have to endure at times to be in a primary relationship and to have love and companionship in my life is well worth it. There are times I still feel pretty green and fairly lost but if I allow myself to be there and not judge myself I find I can navigate those waters, in time, quite effectively and with positive results.

There are times I really enjoy a lot about space, aloneness, and what it means to live in a more natural AS/autistic realm. However, I don’t have to be totally there.

Even those of diagnosed in adulthood and without services can learn to relate and function in ways (that while they feel foreign) allow us to know what deep connection is about (even if we need respite from it and it is stressful more often than not) and to know what it is to love and be loved.

There is life after the AS diagnosis in adulthood.

There can be relationships and relating. Educating oneself is of primary importance. Also of utmost importance is the realization, understanding, and acceptance of ourselves and the reality that while AS makes many things in life somewhat more complicated it bestows upon us gifts and skills that we must celebrate and fulfill our potential with, through, and because of.

© Ms. A.J. Mahari 2004