Category Archives: Encouragement

The right question…

A week ago, my wife and I were the guest speakers in a counseling class. The topic was the impact of disabilities on the family, but when the students learned that I also have Asperger’s syndrome , they decided they would rather talk about that. It was a great discussion and the students asked very good questions, but then one student asked the question that has stuck in my mind all week: “How can we, not as counselors, but as friends, best reach out to those with Asperger’s syndrome?” I think this question is worthy of a book, which I may attempt to write. Until then, I’d like to share my thoughts from this week.

Hans Asperger wrote:

These children often show a surprising sensitivity to the personality of the teacher. However difficult they are, even under optimal conditions, they can be guided and taught, but only by those who give them understanding and genuine affection, people who show kindness towards them and yes, humour. The teacher’s underlying emotional attitude influences, involuntarily and unconsciously, the mood and behaviour of the child.

I believe this applies to any relationship. Certainly, a friendship requires some learning as we get to know our friend, and I think we are all far more likely to be interested in getting to know someone who shows us understanding and genuine affection, especially if we can laugh with him or her as well.

If you would be a friend to someone who struggles socially, whether you know they have Asperger’s syndrome or not, you have to be willing to show understanding. Especially when I am stressed or uncomfortable, my body language and facial expressions may seem to convey messages that aren’t necessarily accurate. I’ve had several friends say to me that they feel I look angry or like I just want to be left alone. Many of my high school classmates have recently told me that I always seemed like I wanted to be left alone. (Perhaps it was because high school was terrifying to me.) Try asking me if I’d like some company, even if I don’t look very open to it. I’m often unaware of the signals I give off, and I can tell you that I will usually be delighted to meet a new friend. Give me room to be a little different as we get to know each other. I can assure you that I will be whether you let me or not, and I’ll be much more comfortable if you are ok with it. I think you will find that I’m often willing to laugh at my weirdness if I know you love me no matter what.

Speaking of love (and I’m talking about the kind of love shared between friends), my wife often likes to say that I need people to “love out loud.” By this, she means that I need my friends to demonstrate affection in ways that I can “hear” and understand. Different people like to be loved in different ways, and people with Aspergers syndrome are as unique as all others. One thing that we do have in common, though, is that we have difficulty understanding the non-verbal signals that other people use when they interact with each other. I’m not able to see that you love (or like) me by the way you look at me. Especially early in the relationship, I need you to be a bit more verbal. At first, you might tell me that you’d like to get to know me or that you’d like to be my friend. My closest friends often tell me that they love me and show it in other ways as well. In short, try to express clearly in words where the relationship stands. In some cases, that may be as simple as addressing me as “my friend,” or perhaps some funny nickname you and I come up with.

Stephen Bauer wrote, “The common belief that [persons] with pervasive developmental disorders are humorless is frequently mistaken.” My wife and closest friends can assure you that this is very true. Yesterday, I nearly made a good friend spray her drink through her nose and I even got some giggles out of her son. Most humor relies on a shared context in order to be funny. Non-verbal signals often communicate that context. Consider, for example, how you might tell that someone is being sarcastic. I often miss those signals, but that doesn’t prevent me from enjoying humor. It just often takes a different form from what you are used to. I’ve noticed that my humor often gets a delayed reaction because it takes a moment for people to get it. Keep an open mind and let’s learn to laugh together.

My psychologist told me that Asperger’s syndrome leads to social dysfunction, which leads to social anxiety, which leads to depression, which leads to further social dysfunction. By giving me understanding and affection, and in sharing humor with me, my friends have helped me slow down, then stop, and then reverse this vicious cycle. Succeeding socially leads to confidence, which leads to further successes. I won’t say that I no longer struggle, but I’ve come a long way from the deep depression I’ve struggled with. You could make a huge difference in someone’s life. Even better, you could make a friend for life. I love my friends dearly, and I thank each of them for taking the time to ask the right question.

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Filed under About Asperger's Syndrome, Autism, Empathy, Encouragement, Relationships, Social Interaction

A confession and a challenge to my fellow Christians…

I have a confession to make. I haven’t written anything here in quite a while, but not because of a lack of ideas. It’s because I’ve been struggling with some of the same junk I’ve struggled with my entire life. Like most aspies, I’m well aware that I’m different from most other people. Even if I were unable to observe for myself that there are differences, people often point them out to me. I have often thought that I simply do not fit anywhere, and because I do not fit, there is no place for me. Because there is no place for me, I should not exist. I have been thinking up ways to end my existence since before I was a teenager.

I have been wrong.

In 1 Corinthians 12:12-20, the Bible tells me:

12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body— Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. 14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

It is true that I do not function like most of the people around me, but neither does the nose function like any other body part. The conclusion that I do not fit does not follow from the premise that I function differently. I confess that I was wrong to walk away from the body as a young man, but I realized that and I am back. However, I know that I’m not the only one that left because of feeling different.  Many have even been asked to change or leave. Continuing in 1 Corinthians 12, we read:

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. 27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

My challenge to my fellow Christians is this: Reach out and reconnect with our missing parts. Help them find that place where they honor God by functioning as they were made. Recognize that, if they don’t seem to fit, you may be the part needing adjustment. I invite you to learn more at http://www.keyministry.org/.

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Filed under Church, Disability, Encouragement

Who wants to be in the movies?

Not long ago, I watched a movie with my family about a young lady you’ve probably heard of – Bethany Hamilton. It’s an awesome story, and I would certainly recommend the movie to friends, but it left me with a couple of questions. Before I ask, let me assure you that I have no intention of making light of Bethany’s success. Having lived nearly half of my life with only one usable arm, I can assure you that I understand the magnitude of her achievements and that I believe she deserves the recognition she has received. That said, I had to ask…

We love watching these stories, so why don’t we see the great stories right around us? More importantly, why don’t we step in and be a part of the story? You might tell me that you don’t know anyone like Bethany Hamilton, but she wasn’t the Bethany Hamilton everyone cheers for before the events the movie was based on. I don’t think anyone involved realized what was really happening until they reached a point, looked back, and said, “wow, that was awesome!”

You might also ask what role you would play. Well, that depends on the story. I can tell you something that all people need, especially those with disabilities, that Bethany had in abundance: encouragement and support. The Bible tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:11 to “encourage one another and build each other up.”

I lost the use of my left arm when a car hit me on my motorcycle. I never thought I’d ride again. I’ve since ridden over 45,000 miles because a friend encouraged me to try. My wife and I have started an annual motorcycle ride for autism awareness, and I’ve had the privilege to be an encouragement to that friend’s daughter, who was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome shortly after I was. It all started because someone had a little faith and offered a little encouragement.

In John 9:1-3, Jesus and his disciples encountered a man who had been born blind. Jesus’s disciples asked him whether the man or his parents had sinned to cause him to be born blind. Jesus told them, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

Take a good look around you. You might be surprised at what you are missing.

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Filed under Disability, Encouragement