What to say to a friend who is suffering

When you have ASD, it can be very hard to know what to say and how to respond to people. Even under ‘normal’ circumstances, such as having a coffee and a chat with a friend or speaking with colleagues at work, this can be difficult. So what happens when someone you know becomes involved in a far more unusual situation, such as when they are suffering because of a loss or an illness? How do you know what to say to them then?

Mourning and suffering occur for lots of reasons. It can be the more obvious, e.g. the death of a loved one or a pet, but it can also mean a break up, an illness, moving away from your birth town, etc. All these things can cause a person to suffer and trigger grief or mourning. It is never easy to deal with, and finding the right words to help someone who is suffering can be tricky.

Here are our 5 tips on how to communicate with a friend who has known loss, illness, depression…or is faced with any type of suffer or mourning.

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The very important people vs alone balance

What I describe in this blog article is something I wish I had understood a long, long time ago! Thinking back over my life I come to see that all the major times of emotional distress I experienced came from when I was spending too much time around people and too little time on my own. There is an optimal balance of ‘people time’ vs ‘alone time’ and you have to work out what exactly it is for you. Once you know what it is, you can work out how to maintain this balance through your day to day and long term plans.

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Things for people with ASD to consider when looking for work

In October 2016, the National Autistic Society found that only 16% of autistic adults were in full time work. This is such a low percentage! But I completely understand why it might be so low. Reasons can include the person with ASD having trouble with the whole job application process, not passing interviews, or struggling to keep up with the social and executive function demands of employment once they do actually get a job, hence not lasting long before leaving. Another big reason is that most potential employers are not understanding of ASD in general and do not quite realise the reasonable adjustments that ought to be made to help a person with ASD pass the interview, for example. I know of someone who has applied for hundreds of jobs, has had hundreds of interviews, yet has not been in work for 10 years, despite really wanting to and trying hard!

I’ve had – and still have – lots and lots of different jobs. It has taken me a while to get myself on the right career path however and I’ve been very miserable in some of the jobs I’ve had (jobs that should have, in theory, been very good for me). Here’s my advice on finding the right job and perhaps thinking about it in ways you’ve not thought of.

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10 ways to ease primary to secondary transition with ASD

The transition from primary to secondary school is thought to be one of the most difficult times for children on the autistic spectrum. Many girls in particular seem to cope quite well at primary school (even without an ASD diagnosis or without ASD even being suspected); and indeed it’s far more common for girls to only be diagnosed at or after puberty, rather than before. There are lots of thoughts about why this is but in this article I will write to parents about some of the difficulties that may occur for children with ASD because of the primary to secondary transition and some suggestions on what can be done to make it easier.

I would like to emphasise the huge importance of thinking about the move to secondary school well before the time actually comes. I sometimes talk to parents who tell me that their child is “only [age]” [and so] “it’s a bit too early to think about that now” but I can assure you that it is not too early to at least be somewhat aware of the challenges that may arise. Many of the challenges can be greatly reduced by preparing early or, for some things, simply by being aware of them.

Girls with ASD (in particular) are prone to suffering from mental health conditions in their teenage years. Some of these conditions, such as eating disorders, can negatively affect that person for the rest of their life. If there is the chance therefore, that we can reduce the likelihood of these conditions from arising, we should take it! Here’s my advice to parents, based on personal experience of the things that would have helped me:

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‘High maintenance’

This is an article describing why people with ASD (especially girls and women, as they tend to be more sensitive) may be considered and described as being ‘high maintenance’ by their loved ones. Personally, I am not interested in material things and my life is very simple and inexpensive. I don’t go out very often, I don’t really care about how I look, and my interests/needs don’t require me to spend a lot of money. In this sense, I’m very low maintenance. I do of course have ASD however, which means I have “special needs”, and there are lots of other things I do require. In this article, I will talk about a few of them.

Not wanting things rather than wanting things

Sounds, smells and tastes

The chapter ‘Try Feeling This!’ in the book

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Difficulties associated with being an introvert

Once I learned what introversion was, a lot of things made sense to me. I am an introvert. Once I began to understand what it meant, I felt a lot better about myself (before I knew about introversion and extroversion, I used to wonder why everyone else was so social and I wasn’t).

What is difficult however, is that 99% of the people around me are not as introverted as I am. In fact, I have not, to date, come across anyone who is as introverted as me.

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Dealing with unsafe situations – recognising danger

Children with ASD may be more prone to putting themselves in dangerous situations than children without ASD. It doesn’t stop in childhood – adults with ASD too, may unintentionally put themselves in dangerous situations more frequently than other people. There is already lots of interesting and helpful information about this subject on the internet and in books. In particular, sources often detail on sensory processing challenges – for example, a person not being able to recognise when something is too hot, too cold, or too sharp and touching it. I am going to look at recognising danger from some other angles, however. I hope you enjoy my thoughts!

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‘Cognitive loading’ and how to improve learning

‘Cognitive Load’ is a theory developed in the 1980s by a psychologist called John Sweller. It refers to working (short term) memory.

Cognitive Load Theory is a good way to describe how much ‘load’ there is on the brain, i.e. how much mental effort is being used at any given time. When a person is learning, the most efficient way to learn is to reduce the cognitive load so that information will be retained – and more easily stored in the long term memory – with the least mental effort involved.

In this article we will look at the process of learning, the types of load, how they are influenced by autism, and how the load can be reduced in people with autism.

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How to make a decision about engaging in an activity

Upcoming activities can often cause stress or excitement for those on the spectrum. Deciding whether it is a good or bad idea to engage in them can be quite difficult.

When are we not well enough?

Determining when you are too sick, too tired or simply not well enough to engage in activities can be tricky for those on the spectrum. It is very difficult to understand when “too” tired is too tired, or “too” sick is too sick. Let me illustrate this with an example:

‘Ella (29, ASD) has a daily habit of engaging in yoga after work. Today she came home with a bad headache and she can’t stop sneezing. She feels greatly confused about this and is in doubt as to whether she should do yoga or not. She can’t determine if she is too unwell. She decides to do yoga but after half an hour feels so ill she has to retreat to bed.’

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Choice – a burden or a privilege?

Lots of people like having choices. Choice makes many people feel they have a ‘freedom’, or that it’s their ‘right’ to have a choice. Choice can make people feel good.

However, we have to be more thoughtful when giving choices to people on the autistic spectrum. Often, a choice tends to be a burden rather than a pleasure.

One of the constraints of choice is that choice does not define expectations or parameters. For someone with ASD who already has anxiety in daily life, not having clear parameters can add to their anxiety. Another problem with choice is that to decide, or to make, a choice, requires quite complicated mental processes (executive functioning). Neurotypicals tend to have good executive functioning, but it is something that many people with ASD have difficulty with.

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