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25 Challenges You May Experience When You Leave Home for College

Tips for Young Adults on the Autism Spectrum:

1. Colleges have vocabulary and rituals that will seem new and unique. Concepts like deans, provost, convocations may be new to you. What do you call your professors? Dr.? Ms.? Mr.? You need to ask. Some campus rituals will feel strange.

2. Family structure will change. Your mom and dad may experience freedom when you leave home, or they may feel a great sense of loss, or they may feel both! Your dad may find himself the only male among his wife and daughters. Your mom may find herself the only female among her husband and sons. The phone may be quieter than before. New space may become available. When you return home for visits, you may feel like everyone has gobbled-up your space and moved on.

3. Your mom and dad need to express concern and interest, and empower you to seek appropriate kinds of help when necessary, to make good choices, and to learn from the college experience. But, they can’t step in and do it for you. However, some of the situations that come up can be stressful and difficult for you. For your parents, there is a fine balance in taking a genuine interest and offering help – but not encouraging you to rely on them too much.

4. Roommates will probably have different lifestyles, values, and ways of doing things. Your roommate may be particular, messy, reliable, unreliable, assertive, helpful, noisy, confused or difficult to live with. You may find it challenging to live with a new person, or it may be easy and a friendship will emerge. Rather than calling home to complain about a roommate problem, try to work things out yourself first. There are Residence Assistants who have been trained to assist in this process. You may need to talk about switching roommates if the situation becomes intolerable (e.g., if he or she is abusive, a bully, a drug user, etc.).

5. Some professors may not be as exciting and interesting as you thought they would be. While some professors are captivating lecturers, some are not. Some lead discussion classes and expect you, the student, to do a good deal of the talking. This may challenge the reserved, self-absorbed student with Asperger’s or High-Functioning Autism.

6. You may call home often, or not so often. Understanding your parents’ expectations about the kind of contact that will be maintained is important. Have a discussion about what you need as a minimum and want as a maximum of contact. Also discuss ideal conditions (e.g., times of day and days of week that respect everyone’s sleep habits, study needs, work schedules, etc.).

7. You may have trouble with reading and writing assignments. The level of writing required may be higher and in greater quantity than what was expected of you while you were in high school. You may need extra tutoring in writing, grammar, spelling, etc. Some readings may be more complex and difficult than expected. Assignments may require several readings and much more time than you allot. Thus, you may experience some anxiety about your performance. This is normal and expected.

8. You WILL be homesick at times, missing your parents and siblings, friends, and pets. You will miss old routines and structures. This, too, is normal and expected.

9. You may notice that your peers dress differently than in high school. Some have body piercings and purple hair. As you explore your identity, you may look radically different to your parents during the first vacation or two home.

10. You may feel ambivalent about dependence versus independence. You may openly ask for parent support, or you may choose not tell your mom and dad important details. They need to ask you how you are doing without prying too much – while also being accessible and open.

11. You may become excited about whole new areas of study and may change your career goals and major plans. Your mom and dad (who thought your goals and dreams were set in stone) may be surprised – or even disappointed. Again, this is common.

12. You may choose to not come home for vacations, or may not be able to do so because of cost or distance, or you might be invited elsewhere. You may decide to join campus service trips like Habitat for Humanity. If your mom and dad are looking forward to home visits, you may have to adjust your expectations. Communication about expectations is the key.

13. You may really like their advisor, or may not. If you have an advisor you do not get along with, you will most likely hesitate to ask that advisor for help. Most advisors can work well with young adults on the autism spectrum, but occasionally personalities don’t mix well. Don’t worry, because you can change advisors. Communication is the key here, even if personalities don’t match.

14. You will be confronted with different people from a variety of backgrounds. There are cultural differences, racial differences, and differences in sexual orientation, religion, values, and lifestyle. It can feel overwhelming to start over with new people. It can be hard to make new friends. However, this experience also gives you a chance to develop a new identity. There will be feelings of acceptance as well as rejection. Coping with new ideas, new people, and the possibility of rejection takes energy.

15. You will be expected to maintain your own schedules and develop good study habits. There is no one around to force you to study, to go to class, or to get a good night’s sleep. You have to create a structure that works for you!

16. You will be leaving old friends behind. But, you can keep up with them through email and home visits. In some cases, you and your friends will go your separate ways. This may surprise and sadden you, especially if you have had the same friends since grade school.

17. The food is not like home cooking. You may gain weight during the first year eating too much fat, starch and junk food – or you may lose weight because the food tastes terrible. This is just another thing that is normal and expected.

18. The college may not live up to the expectations set by the brochures and admissions counselors. Rarely does an admissions pamphlet tell all about the ins and outs, and the limits and shortcomings of the college. So, be prepared for a bit of disappointment from time to time.

19. The work is going to be hard, and you may experience your first low grades. You may have done well in high school. Most high school courses are not as demanding as college. So, you will have to learn each professor’s expectations and style of grading.

20. There are so many choices that you can be overwhelmed and may not complete projects and tasks. There are so many clubs, organizations, activities, courses, lectures, sports practices, and concerns that it is sometimes hard to decide what to go to. Work can suffer if you are spread too thin. On the other hand, studies show that judicious active involvement can help you make better use of your time and increase the quality of your work. You may not get enough sleep or may get sick because you are committed to too many groups and/or projects. So remember, balance is the key!

21. There is a maze of things to figure out (e.g., which courses to take, who to get to know, where to go for this or that). A lot of energy goes into trying to make sense of the new environment. As a result, you may feel confused and bewildered from time to time. This is what? You guessed it: normal and expected.

22. There is some promiscuous behavior and some drug use on college campuses. You have to be mature, make responsible choices, and be aware that others may not engage in the most constructive behaviors. Sometimes your roommate may want to bring his or her drug-using friends into the room. Some of your peers may even talk like “everyone else is doing it.” Keep in mind that this is their perception rather than the reality.

23. There is the stress of making a good adjustment, because you believe the future depends upon your doing well. Should you change courses, direction, or major? How can you be sure? Did you make the right choice? Putting choices into a longer-term perspective is useful. There are many people on campus that can assist you in making decisions (e.g., professors, peers, and staff).

24. There may be troubled peers who want to rely on you excessively for support, care, or nurturance. They may want to borrow some of your stuff or some money. Some peers may be very emotionally distraught and needy. This can be demanding and take a lot of your time, energy, and other resources. Keep in mind that many people on the autism spectrum tend to be gullible and unintentionally let others take advantage of them. You need to know when to say, “No” …or “I can’t help you with that,” and then refer your fellow student to the counselor or some other form of assistance.

25. While many classes are small, you may feel overwhelmed by large classes. You may be the youngest person in the class or the least experienced in the subject matter. In your last year of high school, you may have been used to being the oldest and the brightest, but now college is a big shift for you. This is, again, normal and expected!

Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples

The Angry Aspie: Tips for Adults on the Autism Spectrum

Many adults with Asperger’s (Aspies) and High-Functioning Autism, by self-admission, have an anger-management problem. Also, in my years of counseling couples affected by Asperger’s (usually in the cases where the husband has AS and the wife does not), I have received literally hundreds of emails from neurotypical wives describing horrific outbursts and meltdowns exhibited by their AS husbands.

Anger is triggered by people, events, or circumstances that make us feel vulnerable in some way. However, anger is a secondary emotion. In other words, your anger distracts you from other emotions that you are feeling. You can also think of anger as a surface emotion. In other words, it is the emotion that people see, but the anger exhibited is really a cover-up for a primary emotion. Anxiety, depression, grief, guilt, helplessness, powerlessness, shame, uselessness, and worthlessness are all very common primary emotions that hide behind anger. These are also very common emotions found in people on the autism spectrum – especially anxiety and depression.

You lash out in anger to prevent others from becoming aware of these vulnerabilities. But, once your anger has run its course and you return to your rational state of mind, you are left to deal with the repercussions of whatever situation triggered your anger. In the world of the Aspie, sometimes these repercussions are grim and life-changing (e.g., job loss, separation, divorce, etc.)

What’s really behind your anger? Let’s take a look:

1. Anger hides anxiety: Our bodies interpret anger as a threat to survival, and as a result, will release adrenalin and nor-adrenalin to help us cope. These hormones act as an analgesic. In effect, anger makes us feel better in the short-term – it numbs our emotional and physical discomfort. But, this is not a healthy long-term solution. We, as adults on the autism spectrum, should not allow ourselves to get addicted to this kind of painkiller. If we do, then outbursts of anger may become a way of life. And sad to say, for too many of us, it has already become a way of life!

2. Anger hides emotional vulnerability: Some Aspies use anger as a way of distancing themselves from their spouse (partner). Perhaps we feel safer if our spouse is held at arm’s length. Maybe we find it hard to express our true personal needs and desires. Learning to relate positively to your spouse, to allow yourself to be vulnerable to her – and to trust her to respect your feelings – are key steps you can take to a healthier relationship.

3. Anger hides grief and depression: Some Aspies respond to grief and/or depression by getting angry. This can be our way of coping with the pain we are feeling. We yell and lash-out verbally instead of seeking comfort, or instead of offering comfort if our anger is on behalf of someone else.

4. Anger hides hurt: Admitting that we feel hurt is too much for some of us. Better to explode in rage than to show we care or that we are upset by whatever has happened. Hurt hides behind anger when you feel unloved, rejected, or criticized (remember the high school days and all the teasing, harassment, and bullying?).  If we think our anger is hiding hurt, we should focus on learning to love and accept ourselves.

5. Anger hides low self-esteem: An Aspie who has been experiencing anger-control issues for many years may admit (to himself if not to others) that he sometimes struggles with self-esteem issues. He may have internal dialogues that revolve around themes such as, “Any minute now, somebody will see that I’m useless/stupid/a complete fraud/not good enough/etc.” These internal dialogues can occur even in someone who leads an outwardly successful life. Sometimes those dialogues are what drives the person to achieve; anger for him is an indication of the stress he experiences as a result of the gap between his internal and external life.

6. Anger hides powerlessness: If we go through life feeling weak, hopeless, helpless, overlooked or undervalued, anger often hides these feelings of powerlessness.

7. Anger hides fear: The most common feeling that hides behind anger is fear. But, unless we are developing a habit of “mindfulness” (i.e., making ourselves aware of our emotions as they arise), it can be difficult to identify the emotions lurking beneath our anger. Our best indication of what those emotions may be is to consider how we feel about ourselves at the times when we are not feeling angry.

We, as Aspies, should find ways to ask for what we want (or don’t want) instead of acting-out in anger and rage. Some of us have sought assertiveness training and/or worked with a counselor or psychotherapist to help us learn to appreciate our own worth and manage our anger. Maybe you should consider following our lead.

Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples

Conversation Starters: Advice from a Guy with Asperger’s

Hi everyone. My name is Todd. Those of us with Asperger’s (or high-functioning autism) typically dislike small talk and chit chat. But I’ve discovered over the years that if I don’t engage in that type of conversation (at least for a short time), I end up talking endlessly about what interests me – ONLY!

I say “only” because I have been known to put people to sleep with my rambling on and on about, in my case, current events. Yes, I’m a news junky, but that doesn’t mean everyone else is (which is what I used to think). However, when I do run into another news junky, we have a lot to talk about (and I have to remind myself to leave some space in the conversation for the other person to speak).

In any event, for those of you on the autism spectrum that get accused of singe-topic verbal diarrhea, here are 5 ideas that have worked for me that may help you to broaden your conversational horizons:

1. First of all, I will ask open-ended questions a lot. I find that most people love to talk about themselves. An open question involves an explanation for an answer rather than a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no'. For example, "What sort of books do you like?" versus "Do you like books?" Open questions tend to begin with how, what, when, where, who, and why.

2. I also combine general remarks with open-ended questions. Since either one of these can be awkward on its own, I combine them for maximum effect. For example, at a recent seminar I attended on “How to Invest in Stocks,” I said to the gentleman sitting next to me, "Fantastic turnout! Which of the lecturers is your favorite so far?" This was the beginning of a very pleasant discussion on a topic of interest for the both of us.

3. As I said earlier, people like to talk about themselves. They also like to talk about their pets. Personally, I’m a cat lover (I have two rats as well, in their cage of course). Pets are often common ground with people you have nothing else in common with. Since I have pets, it's easy to relate to other animal lovers whether they prefer reptiles, dogs, horses, cats, or birds. While talking about my pets can be annoying to some people, asking them about their pets is a great way to get them to open up and start talking.

4. I also try to keep my questions non-invasive. I attempt to avoid inquiring about topics they may not want to discuss. For example, some people can be very uncomfortable discussing issues that tap in to their insecurities, such as weight loss, lack of having a degree, lack of having a romantic partner, and so on.

5. Lastly, I’ve discovered that my comfort level plays a big role in how others warm up to me. Starting a conversation is a relatively simple thing to do, but it’s more difficult to keep the conversation going. In times past, what was holding me back was that I was uncomfortable about going through with it. I could start it, but couldn’t finish it. I felt shy and insecure and thought I had nothing interesting to say and that I would be bothering the other person. If this is the case with you, know that it's important to work on increasing your comfort level. And the only way to accomplish this is with practice – lots of practice! Before long, you’ll be an expert in chit chat.

Best of luck!

Todd G.

Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples

When Your Asperger's Man is a Reluctant Taker: Tips for NT Women

"My Asperger’s partner of 16 years doesn't talk to me much anymore (except for one syllable words or short sentences). Every time I broach this subject, he won't open up.  He won't even talk to me to help make things better.  I've even stooped to picking fights just to get a response from him.  Of course, this only makes things worse.  I know that he is unhappy in the relationship. What can or should I do?”

Here are some ideas regarding how to get your Asperger’s partner to open up and be more communicative:

1. Ask your partner for a specific, short commitment of time. Most reluctant talkers can handle a conversation if they know it won't last forever. Let your man set the time limit. You may find that it increases as he grows more comfortable.

2. Ask your partner what would make him feel less overwhelmed when it comes to talking openly. For example, would it help if you set aside a regular time for talking, or if you waited until he decompressed after work?

3. Don’t accept the silent treatment! If this happens, simply say something like, “Here in a few minutes, I want to get your opinion and thoughts on _____.” Be specific with the topic – and stay with ONLY one topic. Believe me when I tell you that Asperger’s men can get easily overwhelmed and can have a difficult time tracking multiple topics. After the conversation, say something like, “I really appreciate you listening to me. It makes me love you more every time you do it.”

4. Don’t assume that your man’s silence is designed to punish you in some way. Sometimes, he is dealing with his own issues and he doesn't want to worry you or doesn't want for you to think less of him.  Too many ladies assume that the man’s lack of communication is a direct reaction to them, but this isn't always the case.  Sometimes, his upbringing contributes to his communication style, or he's just struggling to deal with something alone. And of course, his disorder is a major factor as well.

5. Don't over-analyze your partner. You may think you know what's behind his unwillingness to talk, but you can't read his mind.

6. Don't start by trying to communicate about problems in the relationship. Understandably, this is a woman’s first inclination.  She sees that the relationship is in trouble, so she figures the best thing to do is just to start talking.  The problem is that, if you have a man who is in the habit of clamming up, you're probably only going to get more of the same.

7. Learn about how Asperger’s affects the person’s communication skills.

8. Learn each other's personality type, and how it shapes communication style. Make the process a discovery of your uniqueness, not an opportunity to stereotype each other.

9. Learn to not take things too personally.

10. Make sure your partner knows that you want to be there for him – and this is why talking to one another is so important.

11. Read about the differences between males and females, especially as they relate to communication.

12. Start gradually with “small talk.” It's tempting to get discouraged and think along these lines: “If he's not going to talk to me, then why should I go out of my way and put myself out there when all I'm going to be met with is the silent treatment?" This is why it helps to start small.  Start a conversation about something that he is interested in. Even if you're only talking about the news or something that the two of you just participated in, it's crucial to get the communication going on a regular basis.

13. Talk about your emotions in a non-accusatory, non-blaming way.

14. The tone with which you ask your partner to communicate with you is tremendously important. When ladies start to see a problem in their relationship, they go into "fix it" mode. Your partner is well aware of this, and as a defense mechanism, he may clam up because he doesn't want one response to lead to more questions or investigation.  He also may worry that you're going to try to “fix” him, or point out where he is wrong.

15. Timing of the communication is everything! Gently approach your partner and ask if it is a good time to talk about something important.

Best of luck!

Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples

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