With any advice must come the underlying principle, that above all else, Aspies are people first, with feelings just like everybody else. This may seem obvious, but Aspies can have a hard time expressing their feelings in a way that is expected. This can lead someone to believe they might not have feelings at all, and that is simply not true. With that always in mind, here is my advice.
Say what you mean, and mean what you say.
This little gem alone will improve every aspect of your relationship. Aspies process information literally and logically. Direct verbal communication is the best way to do this. Information that is presented in an abstract, emotional, or non-verbal way can get mis-construed. Sarcasm and idioms can be elusive.
- Aspies may not inherently be wired to organically ‘get’ subtle social nuances, however, they are quite capable of learning them. My son has an abundant sense of humor, and is frequently exposed to sarcasm at our house.
- The more exposure with proper direction there is in a given situation, the better they get at recognizing it and indulging themselves.
- The key here is to be clear that they understand it. The more exposure to your way of expressing things an Aspie has, the less explanation he or she requires.
If you ask a yes or no question, expect the answer to be yes or no. Period.
If you are looking to strike up a conversation, do not expect your friend to assume you are wanting him or her to elaborate on a question that can be answered with yes or no. The conversation could end abruptly with awkward silence.
- Ask leading, direct questions that don’t require a multipart answer.
- Many Aspies focus on details, more than the whole big picture, if you ask their opinion on the Theory of Relativity, you could be met with more awkward silence. Ask about specific details.
- You will always have the best luck discussing areas of interest that you have in common, try to find common ground.
- Be sure to add your own thoughts on the subject, and encourage your friend to ask you to expand your thoughts. This does not always come naturally to Aspies.
Or Worse…you are bombarded with a one-sided monologue that makes you feel like a trapped animal
This is a common pitfall for Aspies. If you happen to tap into a favorite subject of theirs, they may just feel compelled to vomit a monologue that will leave you frantically looking for the nearest escape route.
This doesn’t mean you should have to put up with it. First and foremost, try to remember that they are not trying to annoy the ever loving life out of you. When you are in the throws of it, it is hard to keep this into perspective. Apsies excel at rule-following, sometimes they just need to know what the rules (boundaries) are in terms of your friendship.
- Be respectful, and be very direct. Many of us are concerned about stepping on other people’s toes and don’t want to come across as mean. This is not the time to tip-toe around the issue. It can be done in a respectful way.
- Acknowledge that you appreciate their topic of interest is important to them (this is important), but that it is just too much information for you (Introduce the term TMI).
- Point out to them that you would not force them to listen to an un-ending lecture on (fill in the blank with the most obvious thing you can think of), and you expect the same respect in return.
- Assert that you are sorry, but will have no choice other than ending the conversation if it does not stop. Resist the urge to abruptly end the conversation without explicitly explaining the reason first, and give them a chance to end it on their own, or accept another topic.
- Assure them that you do want to be their friend, and introduce another topic or activity.
- If all else fails, follow through on your assertion, tell your friend you can talk another time, and leave the situation. Do follow up with your friend after you’ve had a chance to recover.
- Wash, rinse, repeat. It will stop. Eventually a simple queue of “TMI” will be enough to re-direct, and you can both chuckle about it and shrug it off. It will also be helpful if you see your friend vomiting a monologue on another unwitting participant to intervene with your TMI queue.
If you don’t want an honest answer, don’t ask the question to begin with.
Dig deep here, if you ask someone if you look fat in your jeans, and in fact you do, is the response you’re looking for; “You are fat, and what does that have to do with your jeans?” Probably not. It is human nature for us to seek validation from those who are close to us.
Subjective questions, questions that are seeking the opinion of someone else, can often leave an Aspie feeling like they fell into a trap. Aspies are notoriously honest. It sometimes just does not occur to them to filter their thoughts to protect the feelings of someone else. Again, their brains are wired to process information in a literal, logical way. This does not bode well when someone is fishing for a compliment in an obscure way. Sometimes the truth hurts, and that was not what you were really looking for to begin with. Before you storm off with your feelings left in a tangled mess, consider this:
- Where the answer may not be socially appropriate, was it an honest answer to your question? It may not be a wrong answer, per se, just not the answer you wanted it to be.
- You may very well be offended, and possibly rightfully so. In all likelihood, this was not the intention. In addition to that, your friend may be baffled as to why you are offended.
- Tell your friend that you are offended, and explain why. You too, have every right to be, and should be, honest, straight forward, and direct. Your friend probably doesn’t want to hurt your feelings, give him or her a chance to rectify the situation.
- Pointing out that their behavior is rude, and telling them they cannot talk to you that way is not a good approach. Be specific as to how it made you feel, and why you feel it was rude.
- You do not have accept this behavior at the expense of your feelings. Remember, for an Aspie, it is about understanding the “rules” or boundaries of your friendship, that is your goal, keeping in mind that the offensive behavior was likely unintentional.
- In return, you have every right to expect your friend to respect your boundaries, as long as he or she knows what they are. Friendship is about give and take.
Do not ever assume anything, ever
This can lead to disaster in any relationship. With an Aspie it can be especially disastrous. It does not matter how obvious you think a given situation is, unless it has been verbally presented in a direct, literal, straight forward way, it isn’t. Always keep in mind that Aspies are rational people, but do not necessarily respond in an emotional way.
- If your friend acts or reacts in a way that you find offensive, or doesn’t react at all, tell them how you feel, and ask them why they acted the way they did.
- Aspies can sometimes have trouble interpreting their own emotions. This makes it difficult to express them in a socially expected way, and even more difficult for them to decipher someone else’s.
- Do not talk down to them, this is degrading, and they will recognize that. They are not stupid, they just need to process the information in a different way. It all goes back to saying what you mean, and meaning what you say.
- Aspies often feel things even more intensely than others, and can get overwhelmed by that intensity, even over-reacting in some situations.
- Encourage your friend to always ask if they don’t understand something. Do not humiliate them if they don’t understand something you think is obvious.
Be sensitive to possible sensory overload
- Some Aspies have sensory issues that can make them quite anxious.
- These situations can be, at best, very distracting, and at worst, cause a full blown panic attack or melt down.
- Ask them if they are in an environment that is uncomfortable. If it is, and if it’s possible, change the surroundings to a place or situation where they can relax.
- If they have rituals that help relax them, accept that they are a coping mechanism. If they do something that looks weird to you, ask them about it, and don’t ridicule.
All of this can seem like a lot of high maintenance hand holding. Where the typically wired brain is designed to pick up on social nuances organically from friends and relationships, Aspie brains are not afforded this luxury. Aspies can still learn from their friends and family, it just has to be done in a different way. With a little patience and understanding, like any relationship, it will improve over time.
If you are an honest, trustworthy, loyal friend, your Aspie friend will return the favor tenfold, and you both will be better for it. My own son, who is even more introverted than some Aspies, just wants to fit in. Other Aspies want desperately to have more friends, they just aren’t quite sure how to go about doing it. You can help.