Nowadays we hear a lot about the bullying of children with Aspergers/High Functioning Autism, but there seems to be something missing. What about HFA (High Functioning Autistic) adults? I personally have only read or heard of a few stories of HFA adults that have been bullied or taking advantage of. Why is that? Well, this is obviously a subject that has been neglected too much and needs much more attention obviously.
Some of the reports I have heard included adults, men and women that have been seriously hurt physically, emotionally and sometimes even killed. All because it is a known fact that those with HFA are extremely vulnerable to being taken advantage of because of an overly trusting nature (part of the ‘underdeveloped theory of mind’ many HFA’s have), and strong feelings of wanting to fit in with the crowd among many other things. It is also known that certain types of neurotypicals (what autistics call normal people not on the spectrum) that have certain personalities, antisocial personality types as one in particular, that are known to take advantage of HFA adults because of their vulnerabilities. One example is a woman who was invited to a college party, and because she so strongly wanted to feel she belonged, she decided to go. She was lured into the basement by several college men and was severely raped, beat, and told to hang by her fingers from some bars in a building some 100 feet above the floor. They repeatedly stepped onto her fingers until she fell to her death. All for what? Because she wanted to belong and to feel wanted.
I have a list of things that are important for all to know, understand and to identify when someone may be bullying or may be severily misunderstanding one that is a HFA adult.
- Don’t be shy, but don’t be overly critical (most HFA are very intelligent)… it helps the HFA adult to explain what you are about to do, what will happen next and why. Details are important to prevent misunderstandings.
- Have patience…Give the HFA adult time to process what you just told them, wait a few seconds for them to respond if it is not given immediately. HFA brains need time to process certain pieces of information much differently because our brains are hardwired much differently. Many of us need to put the information into a visual context and play it out like a movie in our heads.
- Questions should be clear and direct. Use language that is clear, concise (factual or data like information is something HFA really like), or pictures when necessary. Do not expect the person to pick up the meaning of your questions or body language. They may need you to rephrase what you’re trying to say as well in order to understand the contexts… don’t criticize and again patience is the key here.
- Most HFA people may take what you say and do literally. Thus, avoid words with double meanings and humor that may be misunderstood. Otherwise, it could be a good way to get into serious arguments if things are not understood well by the HFA adult, or the HFA may feel they are being attacked in some way etc. Keep it simple, but don’t dumb it down so much as if the HFA is less than intelligent!
- Social difficulties include lack of eye contact, or seeming to see straight through you because we may not really be looking you in the eye, but elsewhere. Unusual body language is very common as well as clumsiness because of balance issues. Talking at inappropriate moments is extremely common. Just give us a gentle reminder that we may be interrupting a conversation, or while you’re watching TV etc. HFA adults may talk about inappropriate subjects at weird times. Don’t be too quick to get offended, we don’t do this on purpose either. Again, a gentle reminder that we are doing it is sufficient enough.
- A repetitive movement is a coping mechanism and therefore should be respected. These coping measures are called stims, as we may be trying hard to keep various stimuli in check around us, or it’s a way of keeping anxiety levels down. HFA’s are not trying to bug the crap out of people on purpose, you may have various coping skills, and this is commonly one of the HFA’s coping skills.
*NOTE: When we mention to gently remind HFA’s that they are doing something disruptive, be respectful. Don’t yell or criticize how much the HFA does it or how much it bothers you, it can prevent a lot of emotional breakdowns if you show that you understand by keeping it simple. One example is to just quietly mention they’re talking during the show, or I understand you want to talk about this but can we talk about it later. Showing understanding, patience, and respect can really help build trust with HFA’s. Trust is a huge thing that HFA’s have trouble with, don’t be quick to lose that or it can take a lot more than one thinks to gain it back!
Remember: There is an Asperger/High Functioning Autism Support group for adults in St. Cloud! Located in the St. Cloud library on Thursdays 7-9pm.