TL;DR

How do I tell this Facebook friend that they might be on the autism spectrum without being too intrusive?

Background

I have this Facebook friend that I care deeply about and with whom I interact often.

This person cares a lot and is very compassionate. They don't know it but all the links and messages they posted really helped me and changed me a lot. And, today, I believe I am a better person because of them.

It's also this person that helped me realize (thanks to the article about autism they posted) that I'm on the autism spectrum. And, I strongly believe that, at the time they were posting those links, they were wondering if they were on the spectrum themselves.

They never posted that they discovered that they were in the spectrum and, giving that they share a lot about really personal matter on Facebook, I believe they would have posted that.

The Problem

Not knowing that you are on the autism spectrum is fine unless it makes you suffer. Two days ago, this person posted:

I didn't understand what he was saying [..] I see that he thinks I'm stupid. Maybe I'm stupid.

It's usual for people on the autism spectrum to not understand what a neurotypical person is saying because we (people on the autism spectrum) don't have the same way of thinking. It's like speaking in a foreign language where there are cultural differences involved.

I believe that, if my Facebook friend knew that they were on the spectrum, they wouldn't have thought they were stupid. It's easier to accept oneself when you know why you are so different. At least, it was easier for me.

That is the reason why I want to suggest to this person that they might be on the spectrum.

What I have tried

Nothing (yet).

Question

How do I suggest to this Facebook friend that they might be on the spectrum?

Note and clarification

  • I never saw this person "in real life" and don't plan to but, based on what they have been posting for the last 5 years, I think there is a really good chance that they are on the autism spectrum.

  • Wondering if you are on the autism spectrum isn't the same thing as taking it seriously enough to ask for a professional diagnostic. And I know from experience that having someone apart for yourself who also believe you are on the spectrum can help take this possibility more seriously (it helped me, even if I still waited two years after that before asking for an actual diagnostic).

  • We don't have any mutual friend.

  • This friend have, in the past, posting things that show interest in knowing why they were the way they were and why they were soooo tired all the time (for people who don't know, tiredness can be an indication that someone is on the autism spectrum).

  • You say your friend posts a lot about personal matters on Facebook. Have any mutual friends voiced concerns over him before (to him or to you)? Not necessarily about autism but in general. – Kozaky Oct 15 at 8:37
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    Could you elaborate on how he helped you realise you were on the spectrum? Maybe it might work out to use a similar approach to his. At least it sounds like you are somewhat similar. (Although the spectrum is wide and personalities can still differ.) – ArtificialSoul Oct 15 at 8:41
  • @Kozaky We don't have mutual friends so, no (I edited) – Noon Oct 15 at 9:27
  • @ArtificialSoul They just posted a lot of link to article about autism (a lot of testimony from adults who were diagnosed late in life and, at one occasion, a quizz to know if you are neurotypical or not) – Noon Oct 15 at 9:33
  • @JamieClinton At the time, they were linking to autism articles because they were wondering if they might be on the spectrum themselves. But there is a huge cap between wondering if you are on the spectrum and taking that possibility seriously (and seriously enough to seek a professional diagnostic) – Noon Oct 15 at 18:49

You don't

As someone that has been in a similar situation, I can give you a bit of insight in how this would be received by your friend. Simply put, you are not in a position to diagnose (or meddle with) the mental state of others, especially over the internet. Frankly put, this is none of your business. Later down in the answer, I will outline what you can do instead.

Autism Spectrum Disorder

Ok, so a bit about ASD. As is mentioned in the name, it is a spectrum. Not everybody will be equally affected by it. Some (more than you might expect) people have it and live their lives normally, as they would, without caring too much about it. A few quirks here and there, a bit awkward in communication and interaction maybe, but nothing too severe.

People with ASD struggle with things like (new) social situations, deviations from daily routine, reading between the lines, and so forth. Not necessarily all these things, maybe only a few; it is a spectrum after all.

So there are a few things to note here:

  • Most people with ASD learn to live with it, quite often in such a way that they don't necessarily realise they have it in the first place.

  • The term ASD is very broad.

Telling someone they might have ASD.

What good is that going to do? A diagnosis in itself isn't worth much. When I received my diagnosis, it didn't mean anything. I didn't learn new things, it's just a label psychiatrists use. What does matter is that the diagnosis might unlock counseling or other means of helping with the problems.

Remember that for many people, having ASD isn't a problem. If it is not affecting their daily life in a way that they would need help with dealing with ASD, what good is a diagnosis. This is a big part of the reason you shouldn't offer your opinion to "strangers over the internet". You don't know whether:

  • They are aware of their ASD

  • They struggle with their ASD

  • They want to seek help with their ASD

And frankly, unless they make it so, these are none of your business.

So how can you help?

You see the person and their symptoms. Try to address those, instead of the diagnosis. Be helpful by aiding with their struggles, don't label for the sake of labeling.

  • 5
    While I do agree that he should not diagnose him in detail, but I didn't get from the question that he attempts to do that. He is quite certain the other one might be thinking they are on the spectrum and might benefit from an outside source with experience on the topic to throw their cent in. OP does not act like they are a professional and merely wants to suggest the friend might suffer from the same condition (?) as they do. – ArtificialSoul Oct 15 at 8:49
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    This answer is currently discussed on meta. As I feel it does not respect the premise of the question (from a misunderstanding in my opinion). I do agree with your last paragraph and think that in itself is a valid answer, but the rest seems to come from a misunderstanding of the question and the given context of the situation. – ArtificialSoul Oct 15 at 15:17
  • I added an information in my question and would like to know if it changes your answer. The information is this: I know that, in the past, this friend were looking for an answer to why they were the way they are (and why they were always so tired). Also, if there is a chance that I might help this friend by pointing them in the direction of ASD (just suggesting to them that it might be worth looking into it), why shouldn't I do it? What are the drawbacks? I understand that "it's none of my business" but is there something else I should take into account? – Noon Oct 15 at 17:23
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    "If it is not affecting their daily life in a way that they would need help with dealing with ASD, what good is a diagnosis. This is a big part of the reason you shouldn't offer your opinion" -- If it doesn't hurt but can possibly help then I disagree, OP should suggest it to their friend. If the worst that can happen is "nothing really changes", but the best that can happen is positive change for OP's friend then why not try it when there's no drawbacks? – Quantic Oct 15 at 19:09
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    @Quantic that's completely disregarding the time (and depending on your location money) it takes to get a diagnosis. it can take months to get a diagnosis. That's a significant investment if you ask me. And even then my point still remains the same. Address the problems the person is actually having, bring those to a psychiatrist, and let them figure out what diagnosis and help is useful in that situation. Addressing the symptoms is so much less likely to be taken a/the wrong way. – JAD Oct 15 at 19:56
up vote 8 down vote accepted

OP Here

I finally decided to go ahead and sent a private message to my Facebook friend. Here is a summary of what I have put into it (warning: everything was written in French, so this is a translation):

  • First, I wrote a warning that I was unsure of how to tell them what I wanted to tell them and that I was sorry if it was clumsy.

The aim of this first part was to make them more lenient and well dispose toward me. I don't know if it worked but that was the idea.

  • I started the second paragraph by telling them that the message was mostly about thanking them. I followed by all the way they open my eyes and made me a better person thanks to all the links they shared.

  • The third paragraph was about how they helped me realize I was on the autism spectrum thanks to all the links they shared, how it took me a long time to go get an official diagnose and how it helped me.

Those two paragraphs above were about thanking them so that they would understand why I would want to help them.

  • The fourth paragraph was about the fact that I knew they suspected that they were on the autism spectrum. I followed by telling them that I wouldn't have gone for an official diagnose if someone else didn't believe too that I was on the spectrum (because I didn't trust myself and because it sounded like a crazy idea). I told them that the person who diagnosed me told me that, for them, "tiredness is the key". I then told my friend that I knew they had tiredness issues and all this was why, even if they didn't trust themselves and even if it sounded crazy, I was advising them to check it out (if it wasn't already done).

This one was the hardest one to write. I guess we could summarize it like that: it's important to have someone who believes in you, I believe in you, go check if you are on the autism spectrum because it might be worth it.

  • I finished by a fifth paragraph where I told them that I wish it wasn't too inappropriate of me to tell them that. I told them that I believe they were a wonderful person and that I cared about them and this was the reason (as well as their latest Facebook post) that triggered me to send this message to them. I finished by wishing them strength, courage and all the comfort I could give them.

This is basically me sending love via the internet to increase my chances that my message would be taken well.


Here is what my Facebook friend responded to my message:

Ohlala it touches me very very much thank you!! ❤

It was then followed by them sharing a bit about where they were on the diagnose part (basically nowhere even though they strongly believed they are on the spectrum) and then we discussed for a while about our different experiences and how it was hard to find the energy to get a diagnose when we're having a full-time job/being a busy student.

So, I guess it went well, thank you all for your answers :)


Warning

For people who want to try to do the same thing, here is some important point which, I believe, could have changed the way things went:

  • I was myself on the spectrum (and I told them so)

  • I knew they had already thought about the possibility of being on the spectrum in the past

  • I knew they had no negative prejudice against autism

Those three points are very important but I believe that the third one is the most important. If someone thinks "autism" is an insult and you tell them that they might be on the spectrum, be prepare for they to react very badly.

The second point is important because, if the person never thought of that before, it might come as a bit of a choc. It's not a reason to not talk to them about that (quite the opposite, if you ask me) but it's a reason to be extra careful when doing so.

For the first point, I believe that the fact that I was on the spectrum show that I wasn't trying to insult them and that I wasn't thinking of them as some inferior (which might happen if someone not in the spectrum says that to someone. If this is your case, you may want to reassure your friend that being on the autism spectrum doesn't mean being "less", it just means being different).

I agree with the top answer that you should not directly tell this person. You state

They don't know it but all the links and messages they posted really helped me and changed me a lot.

It's also this person that helped me realize [...] that I'm on the autism spectrum.

and it's not clear whether you ever communicated this to them or not, but this would be a good place to start.

Send the person a message and let them know how much they helped you, and how they helped you realise you're on the spectrum. While here, you can mention frustrations you had before you realised, and how they feel solved now (if they do). Talk about how you came to realise (I assume you were properly diagnosed).

Since you strongly believe this person may suspect they're on the spectrum, telling them about how they helped you and how you came to be diagnosed may actually push them to go get tested. Your journey may inspire them, or may give them strength to get checked out.

You should not ever directly mention that you suspect they're on the spectrum, even if they respond and you're chatting about it. Take this next part with a grain of salt: I don't see any harm in asking them if at the time they considered themselves to be on the spectrum. If you intend to ask, I would weave it in amongst other things, and not just directly ask that one question. So if they respond and ask about your situation and you talk more about it, you could ask if they thought they were on the spectrum, but don't say that you think they are.

The reason I don't think it's wise to ask is if you're wrong: that person might believe you think they're an idiot (cause they don't understand someone sometimes, or because of other behaviours) and they don't have a disorder causing it, and then they might get really worried about what others think of them. Consider a skin condition or other physical condition instead: you ask someone if they have that particular condition (like a facial deformity), because it looks the same yours did, only to find out they don't have a disease and they will probably get upset and worry about how people perceive them. Of course not everyone will get upset, especially if you are truly friends, but being on the spectrum isn't life-threatening either, so you gamble telling them and maybe they get diagnosed and live more comfortably vs the risk of them not being aware and becoming extremely offended and paranoid. Not worth it IMO because words, once said, cannot be taken back, and we probably all have times in our lives where someone had said something about us that we remember clear as day.

Autism is understood today in a way that it never was in the past, which is why so many kids are getting a diagnosis, but also why so many adults that may be on the autism spectrum were never diagnosed.

You point out that there is a clear difference between thinking you are on the autism spectrum and actually getting a professional diagnosis, so presumably your goal is to encourage your friend to get a proper diganosis, not just think it of themselves. But you also say that this friend gave you the information and tools to discover this about yourself, so the likelihood is that your friend already suspects it of their self.

Some adults have found it beneficial to get a professional diagnosis later in life because it helps them understand themselves better, explain themselves to others, and even get some support if needed. Others, however, prefer not to seek a late diagnosis. Even if they suspect they might be on the spectrum, they may feel that they have learned how to deal with life, found their place in society, are happy with their friends, job etc, and do not require a label at this stage in their life.

If you do talk to them about it you are likely going to find yourself in a situation where you don't have to convince them that they might be, but rather talking about whether or not they should get a professional diagnosis. This may or may not be helpful for your friend and is their personal decision.

So, by all means, have the conversation, but don't tell anyone directly that they are definitely autistic unless you are qualified to do so. Neither should you force anyone to get a professional diagnosis if they don't really need or want it.

You could perhaps just say:

I really want to thank you for the information about autism that you sent to me. It helped me understand myself. I think that getting a diagnosis might be beneficial to me because I have a need to understand myself better.

This might just encourage your friend who may suspect the same about their self to do the same thing.

If you really want to force the subject, the most gentle way might be:

Have you ever thought that you might be on the autism spectrum yourself?

This is less direct than saying you think they are autistic, and less likely to cause offence if they do not believe they are.

Just one final point, and I hope you feel this is fair - you say yourself that it is usual for "people on the autism spectrum to not understand what a neurotypical person is saying because we (people on the autism spectrum) don't have the same way of thinking". So with this in mind, would it be fair to say that someone with autism could misinterpret the words or actions of a neurotypical person to be autism? You might actually be the least qualified person to say someone else is autistic or not.

  • 1
    'don't tell anyone that they are definitely autistic' Isn't that a slightly unfair comment on a question which is specifically asking how they can tell someone that they 'might' be on the spectrum? Also, the OP says ' I still waited two years after that before asking for an actual diagnostic' which certainly suggests the OP has a professional diagnosis. Also from previous posts the OP appears to have been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. – Spagirl Oct 15 at 9:45
  • @Spagirl Fair comment on the diagnosis - I had missed that detail in the lengthy question and have edited accordingly. I don't think anything I have said is unfair however - nobody but a healthcare professional should be telling anyone they are autistic. I wouldn't call this a reframe challenge because I have gone on to show how they can "tell" their friend in an indirect way which I feel better respects the friend's own feelings on whether or not they should seek a diagnosis. – Astralbee Oct 15 at 9:55
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    (I think a clarification is in order - but I definitely agree with the general assessment that OP should not attempt to diagnose others and especially with a communication disorder over the internet) – Benjamin Gruenbaum Oct 16 at 7:56
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    @BenjaminGruenbaum In the UK, the initial "flags" that indicate possible autism are generally spotted by parents, but more commonly by teachers. Doctors then have far more unbiased information to go off when making a diagnosis. So yes, I agree that adult diagnoses are problematic. Whether I have used the right terminology or not, I don't know, but as you say my main drive is to reframe the question and make the OP reconsider whether or not they should be giving an amateur diagnosis over the internet. – Astralbee Oct 16 at 8:37
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    Noon didn't say they wanted to diagnose anyone. They said 'How do I suggest to this Facebook friend that they might be on the spectrum?'. It is clear that Noon well understands the difference between internet quizzes and professional diagnosis and seeks to discuss a possibility with their friend, not give a diagnosis. I don't see how this answer can be 'reframing' something the OP hasn't said or asked. You suggest Noon asks if their friend has ever though they 'might' be on the spectrum rather than telling them they are, but that's precisely Noon's starting point, might be. – Spagirl Oct 16 at 12:12

It sounds like your approach to this 'problem' is one of seeking a process which you think would have helped your situation in a similar context. What you forget here is that everyone is different, and this in itself might be an answer to how you can support your friend.

Your friend has observed one specific instance of two people failing to communicate a concept, presumably an unspoken but important aspect of an interchange.

It is true that people on the autistic spectrum will not be sensitive to some of the nuances that people use to indicate their feelings - equally they can be more sensitive to some behaviours (as an artificial example, a change in habitual behaviour).

What you can do to help is to explain that 'talking cross purposes' is a very common problem. Generally two people have some common 'public' information, and some related un-shared information. It could be some other stress factor, a previous conversation, a mis-heard word - it is surprisingly easy for a mis-understanding to develop.

It won't always help your friend to ask directly 'which cue did I miss' when they realise that something has gone wrong in an exchange, but you can support them in (a) admitting that they got confused, and (b) asking questions to confirm. Encouraging them to sometimes ask open ended questions (How was your day?) could also be useful.

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    I don't really disagree with anything you said, but I don't think this provides an answer to the question posed. OP wants to know how to go about suggesting to their friend they might be on the spectrum, which is something you merely mentioned in the first paragraph. – ArtificialSoul Oct 15 at 14:12
  • It's an X-Y question to some extent. – Sean Houlihane Oct 15 at 14:14
  • I am not sure about that, as OP has a clear goal and asks for a method. It is not a question about an attempted solution. They are very clearly stating the end goal and not some off-track mid-goal. – ArtificialSoul Oct 15 at 14:22

ASD is a label but where you draw the line is pretty arbitrary. If your friend landed on the light side of the spectrum he is unlikely to recognize himself as autistic. Most of my weird friends don't.

I was never officially diagnosed but my 5yo is. ASD would explain a lot about my father's weirdness and I would not rule myself out either. But what is the point?

I know ASD can be very debilitating but we were lucky enough to just have some hard time socializing. All of my life I've been labeled as talented yet excentric. I like to think I'm just wired differently: in neurotypical persons the GPU of the brain is devoted to recognising faces and body signals. On my brain these structures serve to other purposes like drawing (for me it is as easy ad if the lines are already drew on the paper and I'm just stroking over them) or writing software. I'm pretty sure the first guy that learned how to make fire was a weirdo. Guys like Einstein, Edson and Da Vinci were weirdos too.

That said, I don't think he will be offended if you insinuate he is on the spectrum. In fact I think if he does not recognize himself in the spectrum he will just have a good laugh: aha, no, not me, no. So you have nothing to lose, he will either believe you or disregard you. If you are a friend you are entitled to your opinion. So just be candid about it, life is too short.

For several reasons, this is the type of situation that is probably not going anywhere. There are two possibilities when it comes to your skill level with this topic:

  1. If you are not trained to diagnose mental issues, which I assume you are not from the lack of mention, it is not appropriate for you to be suggesting a specific diagnosis.

  2. If you ARE trained to diagnose mental issues, it is inappropriate for you to be involved because you have a personal relationship with this person.

In either case, let it be. People have friends, family, and therapists to help them with these issues. More importantly, part of our journey in life is recognizing and fighting our own demons.

You see, it isn't the knowledge that is the important thing. It is this personal battle with the trials of our lives that is the important part.

Whether this person knows they have an issue, chooses to admit it, chooses to share it with you, chooses to seek sympathy instead, chooses to change, or chooses to stay the same ... that is all their personal journey.

You cannot cheat someone out of this experience and expect it to work out well. The most important challenge we all face is living our own lives in the company of our own difficulties.

No matter what you do, you will not be 'helping' anyone feel better except yourself. The only respectful choice is to enjoy the friendship you have with this person, listen kindly to their difficulties, and abstain from offering unsolicited advice. This is true of any good relationship with appropriate boundaries.

The important question is: why do you feel so compelled to get this involved with fixing someone else and narrating their personal journey?

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