how to communicate and be an ally

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beezus
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01 Jun 2006, 2:13 am

I am trying to establish a relationship with a 17 year old family member who I just met, who has AS. I would like to be a favorite aunt. I don't know anything about AS whatsoever, but I really care about connecting with him and learning to converse and hang out. We communicate mostly by online chat, and it's a chore to keep the conversations going, but we both have a sense of humor so it's OK. I just want to avoid being a jerk. Help! I love this person very much.



ster
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01 Jun 2006, 5:58 am

one very important thing to remember is that most aspies take what you say very literally....so if you say something like: "OH! I could've just died!"~ expect the aspie to be concerned about your health...........other than that, just be yourself~be kind...treat him the way you would want to be treated. realize too, that many aspies do not like physical contact. i find it's best to ask if they mind getting a hug~and don't be too offended if the answer is "no"



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01 Jun 2006, 12:34 pm

Becoming a favorite aunt is not hard at all, it's just that you have to earn that status. Just give him the respect you would expect for yourself. The reason I said "respect" and not "love" is because I find it easier to understand, so it might be true for other aspies as well. Anyway, here are some things that should help you build your relationship with your nephew. (The "give him respect" statement probably sounds too general.)
:arrow: Show thoughtfullness. For instance, if you're making coffee for yourself, ask him if he would like some too. If you're going to a store, ask him if he needs anything.
:arrow: Talk to him about his interests. By talk, I mean actually have a conversation where you contribute your own things, rather than simply saying "uh huh" or "that's good" in response to what he tell you. Read a book if you have to.
:arrow: Don't pressure him to talk about his daily life. For instance, if he tells you he had a bad day at school, you may ask him: "what made it bad?" If he doesn't tell you, leave it at that.
:arrow: Don't act as a spy for the parents. If your nephew tells you something, be it a bad grade he got, a bullying incident, or depressive/suicidal thoughts, do not report it to the parents at the first available opportunity. Since he has AS, it's highly likely that his parents are too harsh.
:arrow: Be aware that he might have issues with physical contact. If in doubt, you can jokingly ask: "would you like a hug?" If declines, don't be offended. If he accepts, keep it short.
:arrow: Take him to a museum of his choice. If he wants to wander around on his own (I remember wanting to do that), let him. However, ask him questions afterwards about what he saw. You'll learn about his interests, and get to know him better as a result.



anandamide
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01 Jun 2006, 2:05 pm

ster wrote:
one very important thing to remember is that most aspies take what you say very literally....so if you say something like: "OH! I could've just died!"~ expect the aspie to be concerned about your health...


I have now met three other aspies aside from myself. I don't think any one of them would ever take someone saying a conversational phrase like, "Oh I could have just died" literally. As well, I haven't seen anything to indicate that the people in these forums are that low level of mental functioning either. I know that bit about aspies taking things literally is in alot of published dreck, but it is not an accurate view. Where are you getting your information from?



walk-in-the-rain
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01 Jun 2006, 2:39 pm

[quote="anandamide] I know that bit about aspies taking things literally is in alot of published dreck, but it is not an accurate view. Where are you getting your information from?[/quote]

There is also something to be said that people on the spectrum develop more skills as they grow up too. However - concrete thinking and taking things literally are considered common on the spectrum. I don't know if the above example was typical. Here are a couple of personal examples from my kids: one time at recess in the winter they told the kids over the PA that day that they would be in trouble if they threw snowballs or snow at all - and I guess a joke was thrown in there to not even touch the snow or something to that effect. Well, guess who was very frightened at recess because there was snow all over the playground. That is an example of taking things literally. It was quite serious and the teacher had to comfort and assure that touching the snow was allright and even told me about it in case there was any residual fear from it at home. Another example was when they had this "walk to school" campaign and kept encouraging the kids over the PA and on posters and in class to make sure they "walked to school" on a particular date. Well on that day my son was bordering on hysteria because we drove to school because it was a school of choice for him and we lived miles away. But - he was convinced that he HAD to walk to school and again there needed to be reassurance.

My son has been diagnosed with HFA - although I think AS is included in this thinking also but maybe not to the same extent. And again - as a person get's older they will be more familiar with "sayings" and colloqialisms, but still may "do specifically what they are asked" where the person not on the spectrum might expect more from a general statement. That is why some kids with AS particularly can be considered oppositional or defiant because they don't comply appropriately but that does not have anything to do with IQ.



anandamide
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01 Jun 2006, 3:48 pm

Those all sound like typical kid behaviors to me. The schools really push that walk to school thing don't they? I guess it's a way to fluff up the curriculum.

I doubt you would find one person on this forum over the age of 8 years old diagnosed with Asperger's who would take such a phrase literally. I could be wrong, but I don't think so. I would be surprised if I was wrong.



walk-in-the-rain
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01 Jun 2006, 5:41 pm

anandamide wrote:
Those all sound like typical kid behaviors to me. The schools really push that walk to school thing don't they? I guess it's a way to fluff up the curriculum.

I doubt you would find one person on this forum over the age of 8 years old diagnosed with Asperger's who would take such a phrase literally. I could be wrong, but I don't think so. I would be surprised if I was wrong.


School "curriculum" is getting so far from any form of academics. Even one K teacher expressed her frustration at good citizenship stuff they were pushing on the little kids - like how they were supposed to do these good deeds outside of class. I used to get annoyed at that stuff and not play along.

My son was considered in the age range of should have known better. And it was very hard to calm him down about the walk the school stuff. When he started school I was kind of surprised how "savvy" these little kids were. But really though I don't consider following the rules or taking statements at face value as being a deficit. It is actually amusing to observe how the majority (mostly NT say) tends to do quite the opposite of what they say or mean. Or how their actions seem to be in opposition to the results they claim to be trying to get.



beezus
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01 Jun 2006, 5:53 pm

Thanks for your responses. The discussion about the nuances of literal interpretation and expression was helpful.

I, for example, asked him if he looked over a website I did, and he said he did. I asked if he found anything interesting...... drum roll please. He said not really. So my feelings were a little hurt, but hey at least he doesn't lie to me like other people would!
And I understand the mechanism in play, him not feeling compelled to be "polite" or whatever, I can accept him on his terms completely, I just want to understand so I don't interpret him like I would interpret someone who doesn't have AS.

What I am having a hard time with is conversation online. I will ask thirty innocuous questions about his day, his meals, what he's reading, politics... everything I can think about asking, and I am getting just one or two word answers. With my children this indicates "I am bored by this conversation." And the topics seem very inane to me. (I am frankly bored.) I have tried talking about things he is interested in, but the same thing happens. There's rarely room left for more conversation about a topic. But he says he likes chatting, and he keeps responding cheerfully. he keeps messaging me. uestioning unendingly makes me feel like an inquisitor, but if I say "I feel like I am giving you the 3rd degree," he says he doesn't mind me asking questions. And he says he wants to save his questions for when we meet in person.



ster
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02 Jun 2006, 5:32 am

anandamide~ "where am i getting my information from?"....my kids and hubby...my students too (ages14-21),.....the phrase i used was just a sample~ there are plenty of times when i've been taken literally when i've been speaking figuratively.

beezus~ re:the questions you ask-ask more specific questions...don't ask questions that require only a yes or no answer. i've found that when i ask yes or no questions, i only get yes or no answers...nothing more in depth. don't take it as a lack of interest~just take it as him responding exactly to what you asked.



anandamide
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02 Jun 2006, 10:48 am

beezus wrote:
I, for example, asked him if he looked over a website I did, and he said he did. I asked if he found anything interesting...... drum roll please. He said not really. So my feelings were a little hurt, but hey at least he doesn't lie to me like other people would!
And I understand the mechanism in play, him not feeling compelled to be "polite" or whatever, I can accept him on his terms completely, I just want to understand so I don't interpret him like I would interpret someone who doesn't have AS.


Sorry, but in the interest of "helping" this young man with AS I have to be honest about my perceptions. Why would you be hurt when he showed disinterest in something that you pointed out? If my highschool teachers or any adult trying to teach me something felt personally "hurt" by my lack of interest I would find it a little creepy.

beezus wrote:
What I am having a hard time with is conversation online. I will ask thirty innocuous questions about his day, his meals, what he's reading, politics... everything I can think about asking, and I am getting just one or two word answers. With my children this indicates "I am bored by this conversation." And the topics seem very inane to me. (I am frankly bored.) I have tried talking about things he is interested in, but the same thing happens. There's rarely room left for more conversation about a topic. But he says he likes chatting, and he keeps responding cheerfully. he keeps messaging me. uestioning unendingly makes me feel like an inquisitor, but if I say "I feel like I am giving you the 3rd degree," he says he doesn't mind me asking questions. And he says he wants to save his questions for when we meet in person.


Thirty questions sounds like a lot of questions for anyone to answer. I can't think of one single example where I have been in a position to answer thirty questions about my day by anyone. I think I'd get a little peed off if someone were to question me so intensely. Children have less power than adults to say what they want. He might be trying to please you by responding, but not comfortable with the interaction. Maybe you should give him a little space.

I don't know if your real life description of your interaction with him is exactly the way you've described it in the email. It does seem though, from what you have written, that you might have an issue with personal boundaries. YOURS.

And the example of aspies being unable to understand a simple figurative English phrase was insulting. It sounds like something from a National Autism Society site. NOT the best source of information on people with Asperger's.



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02 Jun 2006, 1:20 pm

he probably does like it when you talk to him and ask hime questions, probably just doesnt really get how to have a conversations going. and if he didn't want to talk to you, if hes anything like me, he simply wouldn't



parts
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02 Jun 2006, 1:34 pm

Quote:
Thirty questions sounds like a lot of questions for anyone to answer. I can't think of one single example where I have been in a position to answer thirty questions about my day by anyone. I think I'd get a little peed off if someone were to question me so intensely.


Quote:
And the example of aspies being unable to understand a simple figurative English phrase was insulting.

I think maybe she was useing the thirty question thing as an example not to be took literaly but just that she was showing interest and asking about his day you know a simple figurative English phrase


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aspiesmom1
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02 Jun 2006, 1:53 pm

Touche.

My son has a pretty high IQ, yet he came home confused about jokes kids were telling in school - what happens when you cross animal A with animal B. He wanted to know why you'd want to make the animals cross (mad) at all. He's 11. It is a fairly common occurrence in our household where I have two people on the spectrum (hence my signature).

Every person on the spectrum is going to be a little different (definitely NOT dreck). Some will have better communication skills than others.

Beezus, I would say he sounds a lot like a 17 year old. And since you are on the computer, not face to face, its impossible to know what else he's doing while your chatting away. My sister in law (she's 18) will IM me, then not respond to me for 20 mins, because she's IMing 5 friends, or playing a game, or checking email, etc. He may just be multitasking. You just need to not take anything personally. I would certainly try and keep an open line of communication, unless he indicates a desire otherwise. Have you asked his folks what he's in to? I'd find out, then read up on it if you don't already know, then you can talk intelligently about something he loves.


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anandamide
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02 Jun 2006, 3:07 pm

parts wrote:
Quote:
Thirty questions sounds like a lot of questions for anyone to answer. I can't think of one single example where I have been in a position to answer thirty questions about my day by anyone. I think I'd get a little peed off if someone were to question me so intensely.


Quote:
And the example of aspies being unable to understand a simple figurative English phrase was insulting.

I think maybe she was useing the thirty question thing as an example not to be took literaly but just that she was showing interest and asking about his day you know a simple figurative English phrase


Parts, I didn't think that she asked him "precisely" thirty questions. Ster seemed to indicate by that phrase that she asked him many questions, "thirty questions" would indicate a superfluous amount of questions. In fact, she described that she felt like an inquisitor. I suggested she give him some space. That seems fairly sensible to me, and not at all a misinterpretation of her words.

Helping relationships are fraught with tensions. Not everyone automatically understands the principles that govern personal boundaries in such relationships.



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03 Jun 2006, 5:15 pm

As you continue to get to know him, it will probably get easier. It might take some time since it's mostly by computer. If he has some interests in certain subjects maybe you could choose one or two that sound a little interesting, read an article on the subject, and you might think of some questions or opinions on the subject that you could discuss with him. Just an idea.