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For what it's worth, this friend (I'll call him Jon) has Asperger's.

The problems

Lately, Jon's life has been a rollercoaster of emotions. It all started when his mom (I'll call her Jane), after suffering 10 years of all kinds of abuse, tried to report her wife and she discovered it, so she left with the two small kids, all of the money and falsely reported Jane for child abuse.

Now this is a very serious matter and Jon, who didn't know what his mom was going through (he lives with his father) didn't take it so well. He started acting erratically, skipping classes in uni and having social anxiety symptoms. He told me that his relationship with his girlfriend was deteriorating in every way up until the point that she dumped him.

Because of this, he stopped going out with the main group of friends we both have, because his ex belongs in this group too and he didn't want to make everyone uncomfortable. He now evades places she might be on and goes out only when she's not coming.

Now it's exam period and he's already skipped one, I think he does not have enough confidence to take them and he's avoiding anything that might be hurtful for him, such as failing and dissapointing his mom.

My goal

I am very concerned about Jon's well being. All of this happened in three to four months and his state has decayed rapidly. He has started going to a psychiatrist and taking antidepressants. I want to address several things:

  • I want to support him the best way possible without being too intrusive. I've been trying to hang out with him, just the two of us and get him to talk about his feelings or trying to distract him doing something interesting such as watching a movie that he likes, but I feel it's not enough to cheer him up.

  • I want to correct his behavior about skipping classes and eviting places just because "he doesn't want to be an obstacle". I think that is self-damaging and he's digging himself into a hole.

  • I want to be prepared for the outcome of the incoming trial between Jane and her wife. To be honest, I think Jane is going to lose because she's not the biological mother of the kids and has little proof of the abuse. This will probably lead to Jane being left unemployed, vanished from her home and having to pay for the kids nutrition which I fear will be devastating for Jon.

  • Have you asked him about what he needs? – apaul May 10 '18 at 4:28
3

FWIW, this may be a misread, but I hear in the "goals" section some language that concerns me. It's in the phrases:

  • "I want to address several things"
  • "it's not enough to cheer him up"
  • "I want to correct his behavior"
  • "I want to be prepared for the outcome of the trial"

What concerns me is that I hear in that language an attempt- well-meaning, to be sure- to hero problems that are fundamentally someone else's- even with a disability- to solve.

If you are able to approach this from a place where you recognize where even with his disability, he is ultimately responsible for his own well-being, and the best thing you can do in that vein is to be an example with your own self-care, and to be his ally and supporter in his- then by all means. In that work, though, none of it is about you, or what you can address or correct, or any of that.

Hope that's helpful and makes sense. Of course it may be overreading, and if that's the case, I apologize.

Meta analysis aside, in this- dealing with a disability, dealing with exams and classes, dealing with horrible family dynamics- the logistical details can be very complicated and very situation specific. The best support is to get to a place where burdens can be shared, challenges can be seen with a second pair of caring and understanding eyes. He may or may not want that from you, and he may or may not know what he wants. You have to be ok with that.

My concrete advice is to reword the goals as follows, and see what you feel prepared to do.

  • I am prepared and committed to be present and available to him, to recognize the boundaries of privacy, to repay any trust he shares with kindness and understanding, and if he opens himself to taking advice, to advise him on a path of self-care both for now and for what is to come.

  • I want without breaching trust and privacy, for his university, which has a responsibility for his health and well-being, to be aware of his situation, and to be supporting him in every way possible. I understand that the first responsibility every university has is to their own liability, which reduces their incentive to act and assist. My friend may need an advocate to show up at offices, talk to people, work through obstacles, follow through on promises, and go up the chain of accountability. If he is in a place where he is ok with me helping here, I am prepared and committed to help with those logistics and to be a resource for him in arriving at the best outcome for his situation.

  • I recognize that the situation with Jane is very, very complicated, and as I am not in Jon's family, it is none of my business. That said, it will likely be deeply emotionally impactful on Jon and I am prepared and committed to be present and available for him, to help with logistics where possible, but to be supportive above all else.

Again, hope that's an accurate read, and hope it's helpful. Good luck.

  • Good anwser. Just a point: Jon and I have been friends for almost our entire lifetime. No way I'm trying to force him to do stuff he doesn't want to do or take over his life, I'm just trying to help him regain his life and help him go through his problems. Sorry if my wording made it look different. – David DPG May 10 '18 at 5:46
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The first person to answer already offered some really useful philosophical perspective and emotional advice. It's true that Jon is responsible for his own feelings, but if you have already decided to help him and you feel committed to be there for him, then... my answer is more on the practical side.

Be contagious.

As an example, on the matter of him skipping classes or exams: Go to his place and study with him all the time, prepare for exams together, do homework together, even if you are not in the same classes. Tell him his company helps you to avoid procrastinating (it will, so you are not lying), he will probably also know what you are doing if he is not dumb and he most likely will appreciate it.

This way you are not being intrusive (you asked for a non intrusive approach), you are not forcing him to talk about anything, but be aware that he might vent out his feelings with you eventually or even lash out, he is in pain. Your commitment will be put to the test.

Simply being there and being helpful does work, he might not say it or open up, but it does definitely work and it is appreciated.

I went through a similar phase when I was about to finish college, my whole family left me alone with a bunch of family responsibilities on top of my college final semester, everyone was dealing with their own issues at different cities blablabla, the point is that, this girl that was in love with me, kept going to visit me at least for an hour, several times a week, sometimes even more extended periods. If she noticed I hadn't done the dishes she would start washing them and that was enough to make me feel bad about a visitor doing my chores and I would gently intervene so she didn't wash my dishes. She would make conversation, she would bring other friends to cheer me up or distract me, she even called the police when she saw a stranger going inside my house when I was not there. I started pampering her out of gratitude for her company, for example cooking for her which she loveloveloved: japanese cuisine, baking pizzas, anything italian or mexican, whatever I felt I was good at. That helped a lot in bringing my spirits up. Even when I didn't fall in love with her during those days as she might have had expected, she kept being there for me, without putting her life on pause of course.

After that phase was left behind and I finished college and moved to a different city, her constant presence and the memories of her kept growing on me throughout the years, her occasional surprise calls saying she needed to know from me made her unforgettable, and I now feel deep love for her, even when married I know she still loves me too, one day she hinted she would leave her husband for me if I snapped my fingers. But that's a different topic altogether.

The point is, it does work, it helps, it strengthens the relationship too.

Best of luck.

2

I want to add some general advice to the already very good answers before mine. Anyone with Asperger's has different symptoms, so I can only speak of my personal experiences.

First and foremost: use clear words, if neccessary to the point of being crude. But speak them in a friendly manner and keep the mood positive.

It is not acceptable to skip classes and exams. You have studied for so many years, do you want to throw all that away because of one person? You are worth just as much as her.

This applies especially to dropped hints and vaguely formulated offers for help. Do not assume that he understands what you mean by them. Make sure he is aware of what you mean.

As for his not going out anymore, try to encourage social interactions with your friends. Give social activities a goal. If you "just want to hang out" it may sound like a waste of time (sorry for the harsh words, but those are often my thoughts). If you want to watch a film, study for an hour, try out the new restaurant, go swimming or skating or whatever, it sets a goal and a time frame to the activity.

(Friends name) asked about you yesterday. S/He would really like to (name of acitivity) with us.

If your (and his) closest friends agree, go out with a smaller group. It might be easier for him to accept the offer because the number of people who may be uncomfortable is smaller.

If he is introverted, consider his energy level. Fun activities with one or two friends usually have a positive effect and can "charge" him up. Interacting with more than 3 people at once can be difficult, especially for someone with Asperger's, and may "deplete" him. Since his energy is already depleted by the general circumstances, he will avoid that as a self-defence mechanism.

As a side note: his avoiding of his ex is also a depleting activity. You can actually help him preserve his energy by casually mentioning that his ex will not be present.

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