My name is Carlos and I’m 52 years old. I was diagnosed with Asperger’s back in 1997 at the age of 32. Through many years of painful trial-and-error, I learned a few things that have helped me cope with my disorder. I tried to be proactive from the very beginning of my Asperger’s journey – learning about the disorder, being honest with myself regarding my challenges, and finding the areas where I had strengths so I could become even stronger in those areas. I also give presentations in some schools here in my community to educate children about autism spectrum disorders.
I was asked to share my coping tips with the readers of this blog. So, here goes…
Below are THE TOP 10 most important things I do – or have done – that have helped me to lead a relatively ‘normal’ life. I trust that you will find something here that will help you, too.
How to live with Asperger’s:
1. When I first learned that I was on the autism spectrum, I consulted a psychiatrist, Dr. Wright, to learn more about Asperger’s. He developed a treatment plan to assist me with daily living skills, and he helped me to develop a few crucial social skills. For example, how to converse with people in different social situations, how to engage in small talk, how to show an interest in the other person’s area of interest instead of droning on about my favorite topic, just to name a few.
2. I learned that when someone is talking about a problem in their life, they are not necessarily asking me how to solve it (even if I have the answer). As an alternative to offering solutions, I simply ask them how they feel about the issue or what they have already tried – or are considering trying – to solve the problem. This lets them know I do have empathy, and respect their ability to solve their own difficulties.
3. I try to talk “with” people rather than "talking at" them. I used to go on and on about one topic until the listener simply excused himself/herself. I think a good ratio in a one-on-one conversation is to talk about 30% of the time and listen about 70% of the time. I try not to talk for more than a few minutes at a time, and I let the other person set the pace of the conversation.
4. Since I don't always pick up nonverbal cues about other people's feelings, I simply ask if they are interested or have time to listen before I launch into an elaborate conversation on my favorite topic.
5. I’ve learned the importance of maintaining eye contact, but without staring. The best way I achieve this is to look at the person’s right eye briefly, and then shift to their left eye. This is followed by a few seconds of no eye contact.
6. I’m a member of several clubs that feature activities of interest to me (I’m a big civil war history buff).
7. I don’t discuss sensitive topics. For example, if someone wants to know about my disorder, I keep my explanations rather short and sweet without revealing the areas I struggle in. I’ve discovered that some people will use the information against you. If you self-disclose too much regarding the deficits associated with the disorder, some people may feel they have license to correct or berate you.
8. I’ve learned to pay attention to the “anxiety-triggers” that often launch me into a meltdown. For example, bright lights, crowded stores, loud sounds, unexpected changes in routine, just to name a few. I avoid – or at least minimize – these situations.
9. In addition to knowing my triggers, I also have learned to pay attention to the behaviors I exhibit when I am in the process of “flipping-out” (sometimes I start to pace, talk more rapidly or less coherently, fidget, or rock back and forth). When these signs appear, I try to find a quiet spot, breathe regularly and deeply, relax, and focus on pleasant thoughts. This usually prevents – or at least minimizes – my meltdowns.
10. I’ve saved the best for last: Prayer and a strong Faith. Honestly, I don’t know how people who don’t have God in their life cope in this crazy-ass world we live in today. The world is going to hell in a hand basket as far as I’m concerned. Country music singer Billy Currington said it best: "God is great, beer is good, and people are crazy."
Peace to all my Aspie brothers and sisters out there,
==> Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples