The world becomes a better place when we can understand and honor each other’s unique personalities, strengths, and differences.
I’ve been reflecting on lessons I’ve learned from some wonderful individuals on the autism spectrum.
These individuals have been adults with Aspergers.
I learned a lot from them because they’ve had time to live their lives, reflect on those experiences, and share those experiences by way of podcasts, blogs, and books.
Directly and indirectly, they have blessed me in many ways. And along the way, they’ve helped me increase my Autism Spectrum IQ. They’ve shown me how to better understand individuals on the spectrum.
My autism intelligence quotient is only just developing:
I have a long way to go, but they helped me become a respectable student.
Here are some lessons I’ve learned from my Aspergers clients, commentors, and friends, both online and off.
An Individual Is More Than Their Label
And individual in an autism forum wrote, “I’m more than my autism.”
While it’s very helpful to understand conditions that we deal with, our conditions don’t define who we are. Yet sometimes we can attribute almost everything to Aspergers in an individual we know.
As a therapist, I’ve learned from many Aspergers individuals that they’ve felt misunderstood by many professionals who’ve worked with them. These professionals assume they know everything there is to know about that individual.
We professionals need to be humble and have the attitude of a student. Just as an individual with Aspergers struggles to understand a neurotypical world, we must not assume that we know everything about the autism spectrum world. We need to be willing to learn.
Don’t Take an Aspie’s Stress Too Personally
There’s a psychology experiment I heard about. Scientists administered random electric shocks to mice in a cage.
Those mice became increasingly stressed out! And eventually they gave up jumping off the floor to avoid the shock. They had given up trying.
In the same way, social interactions with NT’s can be so stressful, coupled with sounds/noises/textures/smells that can aggravate communication attempts even further.
Yes, many individuals with Aspergers learn to navigate the social world, but it can be very stressful.
And all of us, under stress, sometimes lash out.
So if you live with a daughter, son, partner, or parent with Asperger’s, this may help you understand where their stress comes from.
Individuals With Aspergers Do Experience Empathy
First of all, individuals with Aspergers are human beings.
Second, they experience all the emotions we do.
Third, they sometimes overly experience everyone else’s emotions!
Earlier this year I read an article (please help me, I can’t remember where it was) that disputed the notion that Aspies don’t have empathy.
On the contrary, this writer argued, Aspies are often so tuned in to others’ emotions many times that it’s overhwelming. And because it’s overwhelming, they shut down.
Please do share your own personal experiences with me. This may or may not be incorrect.
All I know is that, over time, Aspies can and do learn more and more empathy and success in relating to others as they learn NT mannerisms and culture. It does take work, like learning a new language, but it can be done.
I remember reading John Elder Robison’s blog. He had been undergoing some neurofeedback or some other type of treatment as part of his extensive autism advocacy work. He reported that, as he learned more and more about himself and the autism spectrum, he developed an increasing capacity for feeling and empathy.
Don’t Be Afraid To Be Different
This is a lesson for Aspies and NT’s alike.
And it’s the title of John Elder Robison’s book, Be Different: Adventures of a Free Range Aspergian.
Aspies are many times blessed with creativity and strong individuality. They see the world on their terms. They are logical. They care little for the social niceties and mannerisms of NT’s (this is part of the NT language they have to learn).
But what I’ve learned is, it’s so important to understand who I am and live that out.
Even if others don’t like it.
Even if it goes against some of the ‘scripts’ I was brought up with.
You know: a boy is supposed to play sports. Or your parents may have thought you were supposed to go into business instead of art. I hope you understand the gist of what I’m getting at.
There are so many Aspies who have forged their own paths and have made the world a better place as they have done so.
A friend of mine once wrote (I’m paraphrasing): Don’t rob the world of one of it’s greatest gifts: You!
If you are a parent, friend, or professional working with individuals on the spectrum, I hope you will given each person this same message.
And I hope you will take this message to heart for yourself as well!
So, I’ve learned the following autism spectrum facts from my adult friends with Aspergers:
- Don’t label and stereotype me; I’m first and foremost a person. Aspergers is part of who I am, but not all of who I am.
- I care about human relationships more than you know. I may not seem empathetic, but I sense and feel a lot. I just need help to know how to express it in ways that NT’s can understand.
- I get stressed out as an Aspie living in an NT world. It’s as if I dropped you off in a country without a language guide: you’d be stressed too, wouldn’t you?! And when I get stressed, I can be irritable, anxious, and even depressed. I hope you will understand me and treat me with compassion.
- Be Different. You don’t always have to go along with the status quo. Take time to know your own personal strengths, weaknesses, passions, and interests. Live out who your best possible self, because the world needs you!