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Is this Person Friend or Foe?

by Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

From the U.S.: Hello! I’m going to give some background information in order to give insight to my current situation. When I was 4 or 5, I was diagnosed with “borderline” autism (autistic traits) because I had communication, behavioral, and sensory problems that were autistic/Asperger’s in flavor, but did not reach the bar for a diagnosis. Through speech and occupational therapy, I was successful in overcoming these symptoms, and have had a successful and uneventful life, having graduated both high school and college and forming many friendships along the way.

However, when I started struggling in school, I asked an old friend of mine for advice in how to get through the rough patch that I was enduring at the time. She was overall helpful, but she said that I needed to tell people that I was autistic for my future college classes and jobs. Now my family and friends are forcing me to follow this “friend’s” advice every time I have problems.

Since I talked to this friend a few months ago, I have become depressed and angry about life in general because I was not truly diagnosed as autistic to begin with, I feel as if my loved ones are blaming my problems on a disorder I do not actually have in its entirety, and these autistic symptoms have been reduced as I have grown up. Furthermore, my early childhood is a very upsetting period of my life that I wish to leave in the past.

Since then, I have constantly worried about being “different” or “disordered” in some way, and am preparing to see a therapist for depression and self-esteem issues. The problem is, the friend that I originally called up for help is a very good friend of mine, having fallen out of contact between my early childhood and my high school years, but having been a mentor through my college years, so we frequently keep in touch. Should I still keep in touch with this friend? Or shall I consider her a foe? What can I do to re-direct my focus off my current way of thinking? Please help

You are a success story. Do you know that? Early intervention like you were fortunate to receive as a small child often helps children overcome autistic-like traits. That’s great.

I suspect your loved ones are referring to that early assessment because they don’t know how to help when you hit a rough patch and they take some comfort in having an “explanation” for your problems. The problem, then, isn’t your old diagnosis, but rather that the people who love you are upset that they don’t know how to help you.

The way out of this is to acknowledge their caring and to remind them that their love and support is all you need. You can also reassure them by following through on your intention to see a therapist. I’m sure that you are smart enough and insightful enough to make use of what the therapist has to offer.

As for your friend: I don’t think she is a “foe”. My guess is that she was trying to be helpful but made a mistake based on very out-dated information in your case. (If you were truly autistic, her advice would make sense.) Mistakes are human. We all make them now and then. She has generally been very helpful to you as only a good friend can be. Good friends are hard to find. Hold onto her. Have a heart to heart conversation with her about how her suggestion hasn’t been helpful and bring her up to date on your progress and successes.

As for being “different”: The fact is that we are all different in one way or another. Often it is those differences that make us interesting and even exciting to others. You lost sight of that somewhere along the line and your self-esteem has suffered. Do talk to the therapist about this. You can recover from that diminished self-esteem just as you recovered from autistic-like traits.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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