This year, we found out my husband has high-functioning autism (HFA), also known as Asperger's Syndrome. The news came as quite a shock, and we've had a rollercoaster learning experience over the last few months. Every case of autism is unique, but here are some general tips for coping with HFA.
1. Understand that they see the world differently
HFA individuals have a different way of looking at things and often take things literally than other people. For many individuals with HFA, social context must be learned, much as you'd learn a new language. Be patient with them as they learn how to communicate in new settings.
2. Be clear
Direct, clear communication is key. Let them know exactly what you expect and how you feel. If you're upset because they didn't do the laundry, tell them. If you want them to say "hi" to you when they get home from work, don't assume they'll "figure it out" - tell them.
3. Encourage their hobbies
People with HFA often tend to fixate on one interest at a time, and sometimes, it's all they want to talk about. So listen, share their enthusiasm when you can, and encourage them to pursue their interests.
4. Give them space
Socializing takes a toll on individuals with HFA, even if it's just talking with their spouse or a good friend. Sometimes, they need downtime. Give them some space to themselves, let them indulge in hobbies, and understand when they don't feel up to talking.
5. Set clear rules and establish routines
This goes back to tip #2: Be clear. Routines and rules help those with HFA feel secure and stable. If something is routine and regular, they know what's expected of them and can feel confident in their ability to handle the situation.
6. Find support
Living with a spouse or loved one who has HFA can be difficult and sometimes lonely. It's important for you to have friends and family you can turn to when you feel a need to be social or you need someone to help you through hard times. It is also important for those with HFA to find support, whether in other HFA individuals or those who share their hobbies. Again, every case of autism and Asperger's is different, so find what works for you.