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Asperger’s syndrome: Helping the helpers

For persons with autism and Asperger's syndrome, a supportive friend or mentor can be essential to success.
For persons with autism and Asperger's syndrome, a supportive friend or mentor can be essential to success.
Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images

For a person with Asperger’s syndrome, it can be hard to find a friend or family member who is sympathetic and compassionate.

Some are eager to help, they just don’t know how.

Many autism experts would have us believe that there is no hope or help. They tell us that Asperger’s is an unfortunate condition that could lead to dangerous sociopathic behavior due to a lack of empathy.

Statistics of high unemployment and crippling depression are quoted.

Those who live with the condition, insist that they are not criminals in the making. Many, in fact, follow rules and laws to the letter.

They speak of empathy so great that it can be overwhelming and cause a complete emotional shutdown.

The existence of celebrities and scientists on the spectrum indicates that there is hope, but how can a person help without enabling?

It starts with patience. There will, most likely, be a period of trial and error. The person with Asperger’s is not trying to be frustrating; they just don’t always know what they need.

There will be meltdowns; the helper must learn to not take them personally, yet still maintain boundaries for appropriate behavior.

It would be acceptable, for instance, for the Aspie to go into another room to pace until a meltdown passes. It would not be acceptable for them to hit, break something or yell at the person trying to help them.

While some quirks can be accepted, it does the person no good to be spoiled or led to believe that society will bend to their will and allow them to behave inappropriately.

It’s important to keep in mind that sensory issues are often the cause of most difficulties and should be ruled out first.

Are there itchy tags or fabrics on clothing? Is the lighting too bright? Is the room too noisy?

A mentor should experiment with coping strategies and always have a backup plan. A sensory escape area, such as a quiet room is best, and an appropriate calming activity, such as rocking, is good as a second choice.

The bottom line is: Don’t give up. The person with Asperger’s syndrome would gladly express their needs if they knew what they were.

It's a learning process for everyone.