I’ve wrestled with this question. I’m a professional therapist. I’ve narrowed my target niche to include those on the autism spectrum. But often, I wonder. I’m not on the autism spectrum. I don’t know exactly what it’s like to be on the spectrum.
Have you wondered the same thing? As a parent, a loved one, or as a writer?
I’ve gone in search of answers. The short is answer is, “Yes, you can!”
The longer question is, “How?”
Here’s some advice from respected individuals both on and off the spectrum to help you help others on the autism spectrum effectively.
I posed this question in an autism spectrum forum I’m part of:
“I struggle with being ‘neurotypical’ and trying to help those on the autism spectrum? Suggestions?”
Can A Neurotypical Really Offer Asperger’s Help? (PleaseTweet This!)
Learn and Understand Aspergers Characteristics
I hope you’ll take the time to watch this presentation by Dr. Temple Grandin on what it’s like to live with autism.
Dr. Grandin starts her talk at the 6 minute mark.
A gentleman on the autism spectrum offered me this advice:
* People on the spectrum don’t “sense” moods, either from their environment or other people. They’re blind to all the subtle emotional context that is so obvious to neurotypical people. This is what makes it much harder to empathise, to pick up social cues, to sense the atmosphere of a room, etc.
* The reason peeople on the spectrum don’t sense moods is because they don’t have a filter to process everything that enters their head before they are aware of it. Many people (though not all) experience sensory issues because the information their brain needs to process is just too much for them. Irritability is also a common consequence thereof.
* Because of their incapacity to sense moods, the Autistic emotional life is a lot more limited than that of neurotypical people and mostly restricted to the range comfort versus stress and the range satisfaction versus need. Satisfaction is often found in but a hanfful of activities and only when strongly commited to them. That’s the reason people on the spectrum tend to have few but extreme hobbies.
* Because of their limited emotional experience, people on the spectrum use communication differently. They use communication only to exchange ideas, feelings, needs and wants. Small talk and flirting feel entirely alien to them.
I think these are some of the most important insights I could offer you. Pretty much all Autistic thinking patterns can be understood once you understand the impact of these differences.
Suggested articles for more information:
Practice Nonjudgemental Respect
A certified HANDLE practitioner shared this advice:
Being neurotypical shouldn’t impede your interactions with anyone on the spectrum, nor with anyone experiencing any kind of neurodevelopmental concern, assuming you’re able to relate with nonjudgmental respect. In my experience, it’s the communal biases and stereotypes that hold the hazards. Sign up for a HANDLE training in your area, for insights and skills you can apply immediately: www.handle.org.
Work With the Whole Family
Steve, I am not a professional, just an NT parent but we interact with NT professionals and they are very capable in dealing with my child and the family. In our experience when you are dealing with an individual on the Autism Spectrum you not only treat the individual but the whole family as it is a group and life long journey for all. Professionals are trained to deal with the dynamics of the “bigger picture” and this is process crucial for success for individual on spectrum – as for understanding their thought process – isn’t it like any patient where everyone processes information differently?
Learn Non-Violent Communication
I’m NT with an ASD mother, brother, and son. The biggest difficulty for me was shifting to each person’s idiosyncrasies – the three people are VERY different one from the other except that they are all visual thinkers and so am I. We have, over the years, developed that to our advantage. We also all committed to learning NVC (Non-Violent Communication) and because it concentrates on the language of common platform/interest, the overall feeling is one of connection rather than separation. I also lead a support group of nearly 200 families in various parts of the world who homeschool their AD children. A significant number of the parents are also on the spectrum. I’m delighted with the group’s development over time in that the combination of NT and ASD parents has become quite effective for everyone. Now, as we add a couple of families a week, the newcomers remark on how comfortable they feel and I don’t have to say much about anything anymore.
If you’d like to learn more about non-violent communication, check out the Center for Non-Violent Communication
Be Willing to Accept Aspergers Help from Those on the Spectrum
a) Read Books Written By Individuals on the Autism Spectrum
For example, John Elder Robison has helped me understand the challenges and positive opportunities of those on the autism spectrum in his book, Be Different. I’ve found autobiographies of individuals on the spectrum to be priceless in helping me see the world through their eyes.
Some of the autobiographies that have taught me the most:
Thinking In Pictures, by Dr. Temple Grandin
Look Me In the Eye, by John Elder Robison
Pretending To Be Normal, by Lianne Holliday Willey
b) Use Social Networking to Respectfully Connect with Others on the Spectrum
I’m so grateful to have met many autism teachers and mentors through the world wide web. Join Facebook Aspergers groups and online Aspergers and Autism Forums.
Read the questions, the struggles, and the solutions discussed there.
Adopt a beginner’s mind. Learn, do not preach.
Can A Neurotypical Really Offer Asperger’s Help? Yes…If… (PleaseTweet This!)
Yes, as a neurotypical, you can offer Aspergers help, if you learn Aspergers characteristics; practice non-judgmental respect; learn non-judgmental communication; work with the family; and if you are willing to accept help yourself from individuals on the autism spectrum.Now I’d like to hear from you: Do you think a neurotypical can really offer Aspergers help? What other suggestions do you have? photo credit: Lara Mercer Photography