How to Be a Friend and Advocate for Someone with a Neurological Disability (Such As Autism or ADHD)

Three Methods:Understanding Your FriendUsing Good MannersBeing Helpful and Kind

People with certain developmental or learning disabilities, such as autism, Asperger's Syndrome or ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) often have a lot of difficulty understanding social interaction. However it has been found that it is possible for them to master the skill with a lot of indirect and direct assistance.

Method 1
Understanding Your Friend

  1. 1
    Read a bit about the disability, and the disability community. Understanding the perspectives of various disabled people can help you understand what they want, feel, and need.
    • There is a strong autistic community presence online, where you can learn more about autism (which includes Asperger Syndrome).
  2. 2
    Push aside stereotypes and misinformation.
    • Autistic people are not necessarily savant-like, sleepwalking through life, unfeeling, or suffering deeply.
    • A developmental disability does not always mean an intellectual disability. While they can co-occur, don't assume that being nonspeaking or flapping one's hands means that someone is less intelligent than you.
  3. 3
    Recognize that your friend is an individual, with their own talents and challenges. Each disabled person has a unique personality and set of abilities. Recognize that your friend might not meet every diagnostic criterion to the letter, and their experiences may differ from other people who have the same ability.
    • If you've met one disabled person, you've met one disabled person. Don't assume that your friend with ADHD will be just like your four-year-old cousin with ADHD.
    • For example, one might have a tendency to think that anyone who as much as greets them wants to be their friend while another might have a tendency to misread rudeness into subtle negative feelings such as disappointment or annoyance.

Method 2
Using Good Manners

People learn how to say "please" and "thank you," but aren't always taught how to be polite to a disabled person. Here are some tips.

  1. 1
    See the person and the disability. On one hand, your friend is an individual, and it's important to consider them as a unique person (not a label). On the other hand, the disability is real, and ignoring their struggles or limitations can put a lot of pressure on them. You can balance this by acknowledging and accommodating their needs, without making a big deal of it.
  2. 2
    Offer help, without pushing. Sometimes, people don't need your help, or want to keep trying to do it themselves. This is okay. Ask if they'd like help before you jump in. This way, they have the chance to say no if they don't need or want it.
    • Never force your "help" on someone who doesn't want it. You may actually make things worse. (For example, taking away a chair from a wheelchair user, when they were going to sit in it.)
  3. 3
    Don't disclose a disability without permission. Some people are open about their disabilities, and others want to keep it quiet to avoid discrimination. Never tell about the disability without permission. When in doubt, keep quiet.
    • If you're unsure, you can ask them how open they are about it.

Method 3
Being Helpful and Kind

  1. 1
    Be patient with your friend's struggles. The world can be a confusing, exhausting, and even painful place for disabled people. Your friend is doing the best they can. Recognize that if a situation is frustrating, it's even harder for them than it is for you. Take a deep breath, be encouraging, and don't blame them for what they can't control.
    • If you notice stress beginning to boil over, remove them from the situation. Taking them somewhere quieter can help them relax. They might not realize that they need it, or that they're allowed to leave.
  2. 2
    Run intervention with problems. When your friend is having a hard time, they might not always be able to recognize why they're upset, or know how to handle it. You can be helpful by suggesting a solution to them.
    • Notice problems and offer solutions without complaining. For example, if your autistic friend is cringing in a noisy restaurant, you could say "I see you squinting and covering your ears. It's loud in here. Do you want to wait outside while I order takeout for the two of us?"
    • Ask what to do in case of emergency. During a calm time, it's good to ask what to do in case of sensory overload or a seizure. Having a plan will let both of you relax a little.
  3. 3
    Help them out with social situations. This can be very challenging for your disabled friend. Try taking initiative, such as inviting them to lunch or offering to introduce them to your other friends. Be gentle, and don't push if the person seems hesitant or disinterested.
    • Some people have trouble interpreting social situations. If they're confused, offer a brief translation, such as "Drake's being sarcastic. He's criticizing the coach, not you."
  4. 4
    Be clear if they are bothering you. Your friend might not understand when or why they are breaking a social rule. Explain it to them clearly and non-judgmentally, the same way you might speak when teaching a new driver how to merge lanes.
    • Use "I" phrasing to explain problems. Then propose a solution for next time. For example, "When you didn't show up and didn't text, I worried if you were okay. Next time, if you're running late, would you please send me a text so I won't worry?"
    • Say "I need a break" if you are getting overwhelmed by anger or frustration. Many people with disabilities get very scared if they see someone getting mad or shouting. Handle it on your own, then come back once you're more level-headed.
  5. 5
    Encourage them to speak up. Your friend might be worried or afraid to voice their opinion or concerns. Provide an accepting, relaxed environment, where they have all the time they need to get it out.
    • Your friend might speak slowly or with difficulty. Wait patiently to let them be heard, and stop others from interrupting or speaking over with them.
    • Try prompting them, such as "What do you think?" or "You seem hesitant about going to the mall. What are you thinking about?"
    • Be prepared for others to disregard what they say. Enforce their decisions or boundaries as needed, such as saying "She said she doesn't like that" or "He said he didn't want that."

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Categories: Disability Issues | Supporting Friends