How to help an Aspie – For neuro-typicals

Hi Dale, here. I haven’t posted anything on the blog for a while. I have no excuse, just good old fashioned laziness. I don’t think that’s a symptom of Asperger’s, just a symptom of being a man!

I recall that I wrote an open letter to Aspies quite some time ago, and felt the need today to write a form of open letter to NTs (neuro-typicals… a term for all those without an Autistic-Spectrum Disorder). Specificaly I wanted to write about helping those on the spectrum, and things that DON’T help.

Before I go any further I want to make the disclaimer that I am not in any way professionally qualified to deal with the subject, this is simply a letter from someone with personal experience on the matter, but with limited input from others on the spectrum. I’ve researched ASD conditions somewhat, but not sufficiently to be authoritative on the subject.

The first point to make I feel is on encouragement. A little encouragement can go a long way, as can setting achievable milestones, but it can be too much. When pressed too strongly to do something I simply feel incapable of doing as for yet, the result is negative, and can mean that the effort and progress I make can be reverted when I go back to a safer rung on the ladder of life so as not to upset the balance.

If you give the right level of encouragement, you can see an Aspie make changes for the better at their own pace. But if you try and strongarm them into doing something they feel is impossible or simply too uncomfortable you can risk at best making them avoid situations entirely, and at worst, causing a meltdown. In my case, it’s usually avoidance – meltdowns are rare for me – but the experience of other Aspies is entirely dependant on their own make-up.

The second point to make is language. Both verbal/written and body. It’s a well known fact that Aspies can struggle with ambiguous language, body language, tone of voice, facial expressions and verbal cues. When an Aspie interrupts a conversation, it’s not meant to be rude (usually) but you can say “give me a minute” or likewise, to let them know you have been alerted to their presence and will address them. You don’t have to drop the previous conversation to allow us to speak, that doesn’t help to practice verbal cues, but don’t be angry, irritated or defensive. Most of the time, a misunderstanding of verbal cues is simply unintentional.

A common misconception is that Aspies are unemotive, or lack empathy. While this can be true perhaps of a small subset of those on the spectrum, the idea is more often false. In some cases we can be extremely empathic – more so than many NTs – but when you factor in difficulties with reading emotion in faces, voice and body language, we can read the wrong emotion to be empathic about, and that can lead to anxiety, depression and loneliness, all of which can exist and can be common, among those on the spectrum.

I think a final point to make is on specialist subjects. I for one have a number of topics I can be passionate about, but then lack interest in discussing someone else’s specialist subject. I know this is rude, and it can help myself and I think others on the spectrum to not only listen to my own subjects, but encourage interest in the lives and details of those around us, so as not to be rude and to improve relationships.

I think that’s all I want to say for now. Hope this helps both NTs and Aspies alike!


Author: Dale

Dale is a Christian, computer science graduate, and a lover of all things geeky. His interests range from theology, programming, gaming, chess, manga/anime, comics, music and a whole bunch of other stuff. He is the sole author and maintainer of mobius-strip - an as-yet incomplete engine implemented in Mono for the creation and execution of roguelike console games. He plays guitar and piano for a band in it's early stages, and doesn't like brussel sprouts.

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