RE: "How should I treat my friend who has Aspergers?"
First of all, thanks for asking. You must care about your friend. Aspergers (high-functioning autism) is the name given to a group of problems that some people have when they are trying to communicate with others. They have difficulty understanding others. Kids with Aspergers can hear what others say to them – and they know what the words mean – but they don't pick up the 'non-verbal' part of communication. As a result, they often don't get the full message.
You might get angry with someone, and say ‘go away’. Most children know that means 'leave me alone', but a child with Aspergers might believe that you want him to go very far away.
Aspergers is sometimes called an 'Autism Spectrum Disorder' because it is a little like autism. A child with Autism cannot communicate well with others and really does not understand that people talk about feelings and have emotions. Children with Aspergers can talk, but they get confused a lot in social interactions.
Here’s what that may look like in real life:
• Because children with Aspergers (Aspies) don't understand the feelings of others, they may do things which upset other people (e.g., using things that do not belong to them without asking permission).
• Children who have Aspergers may have problems understanding that they have to listen as well as talk.
• Some may do inappropriate things to try to make friends, and this can get them into trouble.
• Sometimes Aspies get very upset and aggressive.
• Their behavior can seem a bit different or unusual, or it can be really difficult.
• Aspies are often really interested in things, like computers, stars, making things – but they have trouble having a conversation with someone.
• Aspies can be obsessive about something they are interested in, and don't understand that others are not as interested.
• Aspies can be targeted by bullies because they can easily be upset.
• Aspies like things to happen the same way all of the time, so they may get upset when lesson times are changed, or they have to move to a new desk in the classroom.
• Aspies may be surprised when people do something they haven't expected (e.g., if someone laughed because of something amusing, they might not know it was funny).
• Aspies may be upset by some noises or smells or by what some things feel like or look like (e.g., they might hate the feel of shoes on their feet, or how sand feels, or refuse to wear anything that is red).
• Aspies may choose to play alone and stay away from other children, or talk to adults.
• Aspies may find it hard to understand the feelings behind a facial expression. They may think that if someone smiles at them in a friendly way, that person wants to be their best friend. They can then be very disappointed when the person wants to play with someone else.
• Aspies may have problems making friends. They often want to have friends, and they can feel very lonely, but they don't know how to be a friend.
• Aspies may like to be playing with a computer rather than with other children, as they don't have to communicate socially with the computer.
• Aspies may take a long time to understand the ‘rules' about not interrupting when someone is talking, or how to take turns, or how to share.
• Aspies may think that other children have done something deliberately to hurt them when they have accidentally bumped into them. They can even believe that a chair tried to bump into them!
• Aspies might be called 'eccentric', which means a bit odd and different to other people.
If your friend or someone in your class has Aspergers, here’s how you can help:
- Be friendly
- Don’t bully him or play tricks on him
- Help him to learn that he must be kind to other people
- Help him to practice skills like talking to the class
- Help him to understand the rules by being firm and saying things like, "It's my turn now, then it will be yours"
- Help him when he has trouble understanding
- Ignore 'bad' behavior
- Include him in your group, but don’t get upset if he doesn't want to join in
- Let him know that you like him
- Praise him when he does well
- Stand up for him if others are being unkind
- Understand that he is not trying to be difficult
- Understand that unfamiliar things and unfamiliar noises can be upsetting for him
The Aspergers Comprehensive Handbook