Besides working as a software application administrator at Boise State University my friend Carlyle is a regular speaker on autism. He has spoken to local law enforcement, parents of autistic children, campus ministries and mental health professionals. He is the first autistic person to serve of the board of the Autism Society Treasure Valley and he founded Boise Autistic Adults and Allies which brings together local adults with autism as well as parents and siblings of those who are autistic. And he is the one who taught me, among other things, that many adults with autism, or as he would say, autistic adults, prefer identity first language instead of person first language.
He’s pretty impressive isn’t he? I think so and I know his wife, Kristen, and daughter, Aeriel, would agree. Besides being autistic, Carlyle’s left arm became paralyzed 20 years ago after being hit by a car while riding his motorcycle. I’m not sure though, that this happening is as bad as the bullying he has gone through as both a child and an adult.
Explains Carlyle, “I heard stuff said about how no one likes me and no one wants me around pretty much every day unless I managed not to talk to anyone. It was much worse as a kid, but I have experienced it as an adult as well.”
Part of ASD is having a hard time reading social cues which can lead to being treated poorly by others. It’s no wonder that a large study found that adults with autism are three times more likely to have depression and five times more likely to attempt suicide than the general population.*
For some, including Carlyle, having clinical depression can be what prompts seeking help and getting an autism diagnosis. Having the autism diagnosis helps “gives me a way to explain it to those who will listen,” he said.
Yet almost half of the people with autism who tried to take their own life, according to researchers with Kaiser Permanente Northern California, had not been diagnosed with depression beforehand. In my mind, much more study and writing of resources needs to be done on how disability and depression are often tied together.
And we need to listen better to our friends who struggle with disability and/or depression. When I asked Carlyle what helps him as well as what can help others to ease depression related to disability he had this to say:
“The best thing for me has been connecting with other people. It’s easier to accept what I can’t do when someone appreciates what I can do for them. It’s easier to drown out all the voices pushing me away when there are a few saying they love me no matter what and who always hug me. I think therapy and medication can be helpful but there really is no substitute for genuine connection. I believe this applies to children and adults. For me it’s never mattered much whether I have friends like me either. It matters more that they are outside of my family. My circle of friends covers a wide range of ages, interests and circumstances.”
Lord help us listen, connect, learn and build friendships with others. We will never know what others need unless we take time to listen and learn. And in the process we can make a new friend.
* Croen, L. A., Zerbo, O., Qian, Y., Massolo, M. L., Rich, S., Sidney, S., & Kripke, C. (2015). The health status of adults on the autism spectrum. Autism : The International Journal of Research and Practice, 19(7), 814-823. doi:10.1177/1362361315577517 [doi]