Three Necessities for the High Functioning Autistic to Combat Depression

An Asperger's Bill of Rights

If you are a High Functioning Autistic (HFA), the odds are troublingly high that you also suffer from some form of depression. As someone who suffers from depression myself, I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about how to find happiness when you struggle with the burdens of having an autistic brain. One possibility for the prevalence of depression in autistic brains is that HFAs, for reasons distinct to their neurological condition, are innately more likely to feel depressed.

My sense, though, is that we tend to be depressed because life is difficult for us in ways that are somewhat different from the experiences of the Neurologically Typical (a satirical term for non-HFAs). As such, any discussion of why HFAs tend to be depressed must be approached as a social justice issue, with a clear statement of ethical axioms that, if followed, would help HFAs and non-HFAs alike.

Note: This article refers to Asperger’s Syndrome by it
s clinical term, high-functioning autism. It is meant to be distinguished from more severe forms of autism. For a description of Asperger’s from the author, click
here.

  1. We have the right to not be harassed or criticized for behavior that – though seemingly strange, absurd, or even obnoxious – isn’t harming anyone. When people bother others in this way, it is a form of discrimination.

Every HFA has them – a plethora of stories in which they were embarrassed, mildly or worse, in a social setting because they’ve behaved oddly (I discuss some of mine here). Feelings of rejection inevitably even drive a disproportionate number of HFAs toward suicidal thoughts. One major step toward solving this problem is spreading tolerance toward atypical neurological behavior. (My twin sister always hated the word “tolerance,” but it’s appropriate here.)

Most of the stories I’ve heard of HFAs being embarrassed, ridiculed, or unduly criticized are over offenses that didn’t really harm anybody. So the standard should be this: If you see someone behaving abnormally, but they aren’t harming anyone, recognize that they probably are on a psychological spectrum (autistic or otherwise) and are simply making their way through life, just like you. If you’re unwilling to do that – if you feel the need to judge, mock, or harass the other person – then the social stigma should fall on you.

  1. We have the right to be taken seriously when we are forthright about our condition.

When you’re an HFA, you will regularly hear people express surprise or even doubt that you’re really on the spectrum. Some inevitably notice, of course, but those who don’t usually fall into two camps:

  1. They either flat-out disbelieve that you are autistic (usually with the implication that you’re trying to get away with something),
  2. Or are impressed at how you don’t come across as having Asperger’s at all.

Both of these reactions are rooted in exaggerated misconceptions about how autism makes you behave, whether it’s the nerd caricatures on “Big Bang Theory” or Oscar-winning films like “Rain Man.” In fact, autism can manifest itself in a number of ways. HFAs often receive years of therapy learning how to develop social and self-sufficiency skills so they can be functional.

  1. We are still accountable for our actions when they harm others.

Let’s face it: Being HFA doesn’t just make you particularly prone to be hurt, but also prone to hurt others. Very often it’s unintentional (although HFAs are certainly as capable of malice as anyone). Nevertheless HFAs are frequently perceived as arrogant, cold, or mean-spirited because of their insensitivity to other people’s emotional needs.

As mentioned in Point #1, this shouldn’t be problematic so long as they aren’t offending, upsetting, or otherwise hurting anyone. That said, when those things happen, HFAs shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it simply because of our condition. We deserve the benefit of the doubt in terms of our intentions and the opportunity to explain ourselves. Which, frankly, should be the case for everyone. But as long as we are informed of the situation in direct, unambiguous language, we should (and deserve the right to be) held responsible like anyone else.

In the documentary Aspie Seeks Love, the goal of David B. Matthews (the titular HFA) is, in his own words, to find “someone to converse with, someone with whom to share my life”. Although he meant this in terms of falling in love (which HFAs do just as romantically, and painfully, as the Neurologically Typical), his words speak to a broader truth as well.

In the end, HFAs simply want to be able to share their thoughts, feelings, and experiences with the rest of the world – from friends, family, and loved ones to casual strangers – as we see many non-HFAs doing. Right now there are a lot of lonely HFAs out there because it is difficult for us to do that and it doesn’t have to be that way.

By Matthew Rozsa

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Matthew Rozsa

Matt Rozsa is a Ph.D. student in history at Lehigh University, as well as a political columnist. His editorials have been published on Salon, the Good Men Project, Mic, MSNBC, and various other newspapers and blogs. Matt actively encourages people to reach out to him at matt.rozsa@gmail.com.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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11 thoughts on “Three Necessities for the High Functioning Autistic to Combat Depression

  1. Good article.
    My husband and I have recently become hyper aware that my husband is hfa. Are there resources we can go to to help cope? Therapies to help aide in the depression, and daily functions?

  2. I just want the pain to be over. Almost every day I wake up and feel terrible that I am still alive in this world, which I am now convinced is actually Hell. Many of us are more righteous and virtuous than most neuro-typical people, yet for this we are ridiculed, marginalized, and generally treated like crap, whilst we watch selfish, ignorant, inconsiderate, irresponsible, insane people succeed. We are told it will get better, but that is a lie. I’m tired of the lies, and the prejudice, and the hatred, and the greed on this Earth. I can’t do this anymore…

    • Charlie your comment here touched me deeply. My son had aspergers and he was my hero. He was the most loving, giving, kind person I ever knew. He’s my hero because he struggled day in and day out (which I know you understand) just to get through a day and keep smiling. But he was smiling on the outside while hurting on the inside in his lonely world. He took his life at age 24 after being strong for so long. It’s still torture to me daily to not have him here. So many loved and miss him. I hope you know how valuable you are to so many people also and how special you are! I absolutely know that people with HFA are a blessing to the rest of us who gets the opportunity to know you!! You have some amazing qualities that we can only envy. You’re absolutely right when you say people with HFA are better than the rest of us. Hang in there please. This world desperately needs people like you!

      • Quit acting selfish. You have no business interfering with our lives or questioning our decisions. You talk about how cheerful your son appeared to be, so you assumed he was okay and never really bothered to talk to him / check-up on him. In the worse case scenario, had he told you about his true feelings, you’d probably just throw him in a hospital where he can get “help”. You better have a very good reason as to why we should stay. Otherwise, we’re going to do what’s best for us NOT you. You wanna talk about how torturous it is to lose your son, well imagine all the pain he went through. All those days of tears, frustration, implosion, all the while putting on a happy face. What rational being would want to live through that?!? Even if he didn’t take his life, he would have long-term damage and eventually his body would give-in.

  3. I just subscribed. I found your articles uplifting.
    I’m hoping my son will as well. He has struggled with Asperger’s and The accompanying depression for 38 years. He
    is kind and gentle with a wonderful, delightful sense of humor and is a genuinely talented writer, and poet. He is finishing his undergrad degrees in English and philosophy. It has been a harsh and difficult journey. However, he is still struggling though, and I’m searching for all that I can do to support and lift him up so he can not only reach his potential, but find his fit in the world and be happy,
    So thank you for one more form of support

  4. The irony for us higher functioning people on this spectrum, is that the lower functioning people are often happier and more at peace than we are. In their lower functioning state, they are largely unaware of what they miss out on and the derogatory tones they receive from others. Ignorance is Bliss as the saying goes.