©2020 by Theresa Regan

Improving Relationships for Adults with Autism-- 3 Ways to Focus on the Other

If you checked out the lesson on Theory of Mind, you know that individuals with autism often struggle to remain aware that what is in "the other's mind" is not the same as what is in their mind. This can lead to a significant "me" mindset. "This is what I think. This is what I need. This is the best way for you to fix your problem. This should be done before that." Others might feel that the ASD individual is narcissitic or self-focused, even when the individual doesn't mean to overlook the needs of others.


Try encouraging the ASD individual to work on these three skills:


1. Don't: Give Advice


You will want to avoid the mistake of leading with instruction about how to fix the problem. This can imply to the person that you think s/he has handled the situation incorrectly, or it can leave the impression you aren't really hearing the emotional content of their communication.


2. Do: Ask "How Can I Help?" or "How Can I Support You?"


Many ASD individuals say they would love to do "the right thing" when their friend or family are hurting or feeling overwhelmed with tasks, but they have no idea what to do. One person said, "I know that when someone dies, I should get a sympathy card. But, beyond that, I don't know what to do."


You don't need to know what to do. By asking "How can I support you," you are (1) letting the other person know you want to support him/her and (2) you might receive clear communication about what the person wants from you. If the individual replies, "I don't know"... try saying something like "Well, I'm here for you."


3. Do: Compliment the Person, not the Task


A third way to attend to the other person is to compliment them. Many individuals I work with have difficulty telling the difference between a "thank you" and a "compliment."


"Thank you for having dinner ready" is a thank you. It is kind, but not personal. You could say that to a hired cook or to someone you know well. That's not to say that statements of gratitude are wrong - Far from it! But "thank you" is a basic kindness. Compliments are often more personal, intimate, and relationship-focused.


Consider these layers of kindness and intimacy:


a. Say thank you: Thank you for washing the clothes.

b. Compliment the external person: I like your slacks. That blue looks nice on you.

c. Complimenting the internal person: Wow, I love the way you paired that scarf color with the skirt. It really makes the colors pop. I wish I had your eye for color.


You can see that (a) is kind but much less personal than (b) and much less intimate than (c). Try speaking to the other in ways that make them feel important and seen. Focusing on the other person is an important social skill that builds relationships.



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