People with Asperger’s often refer to themselves as “Aspies.” Sometimes even seemingly simple everyday tasks can be a source of stress and discomfort to someone with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS). Many people around them do not understand their odd behaviors, or even realize many times that an event or task could be causing stress. Here are just a few things that they may struggle with that you may have never thought about.
1. Taking a Shower
Many people with AS also tend to have some degree of Sensory Processing Dysfunction (SPD). This means that they have hyper or hypo sensitivities to outside stimuli, and some days their sensitivities may be worse than others. On these days, the water from a showerhead can feel like they are being hit with a hundred little razors. The soap scent can pierce their noses like ammonia, and the water sting their eyes. They cannot get the water to a comfortable temperature, the toothpaste makes them gag, and the towels can feel like sandpaper rubbing against their skin. By the time bathing is completed, they are overloaded; overheated, and exhausted—and getting ready has just begun.
2. Deciding What to Wear.
This may seem like a simple task. For people on the autism spectrum, choices can become a difficult dilemma and wearing a uniform would be preferable. Beyond choices, due to SPD issues, some fabrics can cause extreme discomfort. A tag in the back of a shirt can feel like a nail file constantly rubbing against their skin. Jeans that are too stiff can rub their skin raw even though the material would feel fine to most other people.
3. Going To a New Restaurant.
People with autism or Asperger’s Syndrome thrive on routines and rituals. They are exceedingly important. Routines help them make order and sense out of the world around them. It is not uncommon for an Aspie to order the same thing every time they go to a particular restaurant, or eat the same thing day after day. Many people like to “try-out” new restaurants, but for people with autism the uncertainly of a new menu, new foods, and an unfamiliar place can cause extreme stress. This stress can be significantly increased if dining with other people and they are expected to interact in a social setting.
4. Hanging Out with Friends
You may think it is no big deal to go meet with friends at random with no plan, to hang-out, to chit-chat. However, this can cause extreme anxiety to your Aspie partner. They tend to need to socialize in an activity based environment. They need a concrete plan, and to engage in a pre-determined activity. This helps them to know what to expect and prepare them for possible outcomes. Meeting friends at random creates unpredictability and causes a greater demand on them to be more social—an area in which most Aspies struggle.
5. Understanding Why You’re Upset.
Neuro-Typical (NT) partners, people without autism, seem to struggle to understand this concept. Most people can look at a given situation, factor in the words which were said, evaluate a person’s response, body language, and vocal tone to arrive at the conclusion that someone is upset. It is an innate ability, done unconsciously without thinking, but it is an ability that is deficient in people with autism. They cannot “read” other people. They simply may not have noticed you were upset, or realize they did something that upset you. In fact, many times they do not perceive their own vocal intonations and can unintentionally offend. Because it was unintentional, it never crosses their mind that you may be upset by it. People with Asperger’s have extreme difficulty reading body language, honing in on changes in tones or reading “between the lines.” They struggle with being able to “put themselves in someone else’s shoes.” If they wouldn’t behave a certain way, they don’t expect anyone else to act that way either. For example, if they would not be upset by something they said, you could not have possibly been either.
People with Asperger’s are just like everyone else—only different. They have feelings, insecurities, challenges, and desire to be accepted. They also struggle with certain areas that Neuro-Typical people take for granted. If your friend or partner has Asperger’s Syndrome, take the time to discuss various issues that may affect them differently than others. Open communication and a willingness to learn about autism, and what they face can make you more aware of areas in which they struggle, and deeply strengthen your relationship.