I have been asked these questions by people who have spent time around me, but don’t really know me. I’m sure it’s because they feel a need to help, but it’s usually best to understand the problem before suggesting solutions. The best answer to the first question that I’ve ever seen was written by Lynne Soraya:
“To me, the answer to this is obvious. The need to bond with others is a basic human need. The very definition of Asperger’s is to have trouble fulfilling that need. So why is it surprising that someone with these difficulties might fall into despair?” (The Pain of Isolation: Asperger’s and Suicide)
My doctor put it this way: “Asperger’s leads to social dysfunction, which leads to social anxiety, which leads to depression, which leads to further social dysfunction.” He also answered the second question. He told me that the depression which commonly accompanies Asperger’s syndrome often will not respond to medication because it is the symptom, not the real problem. The real problem is that social dysfunction bit.
Let me take a moment to define my terms…
Social – living or disposed to live in companionship with others or in a community, rather than in isolation
Dysfunction – failure to show the characteristics or fulfill the purposes accepted as normal or beneficial
Notice that the actual definition of socially dysfunctional behavior depends on the social environment, because it’s based on what is accepted as normal.
Most people I’ve discussed this with have had to admit that we punish those who are socially different. As I’m writing, I’m monitoring my Facebook page, and I see a post from the mother of an aspie. Her son was told today that he should just go home and kill himself because nobody likes him, much less loves him. I remember being told much the same thing by a girl I liked in high school. You would hope people grow out of this, but I’ve had a guy old enough to be my dad say to me (in a church and in front of kids): “You’re an asshole… or is that an autism thing?” I’m still not entirely sure why he said that, but I wish this sort of thing didn’t happen.
At work, I’ve been pulled aside and told that I “don’t seem to follow social norms like everyone else.” I don’t doubt that this was intended to help me, but honestly, it’s about as helpful as telling me that it’s easier to lift a big box with both hands. In theory, it’s useful information, but it can only be put into practice by someone with the capacity to do so. I can’t lift the box with both hands because my left arm is paralyzed. So if you truly want to help me, you can’t just give advice. I’ll need a hand lifting the box.
Here’s my question: Would you help me lift the box?
I hope this gives you something to think about when you see someone struggling socially. Maybe they don’t need advice. Maybe they need you to step up and help them carry the load they struggle with. This brings to mind a Bible verse…
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” – Galatians 6:2