I’ve never been good at asking for help. A few memorable examples to help you understand how nonexistent my “asking for help” skills were as a kid:
When I was five, I fell out of a tree that I was climbing and landed on my back. As you can imagine, I completely knocked the wind out of myself. Not being able to breathe was scary. Falling out of the tree hurt. Did I run to my parents in tears, wanting to be comforted? Nope. I can still remember squatting on the garage floor, crying, trying to catch my breath.
In third grade, during small group reading time, I only brought one tissue with me to the group reading table. I had a nasty cold and quickly used up that tissue plus both shirt cuffs. So I sat there, right next to the teacher, pretending that I didn’t have snot running down my face and that I wasn’t licking it as it reached my mouth. Eventually I guess she couldn’t take it anymore. She went and got some tissues, setting the box in front of me with the admonition that I should ask next time.
In sixth grade, a boy trapped me in the coat closet and kissed me. Not a cute puppy love kind of kiss. More like a gross, smelly, pinned in the corner so hard I couldn’t breathe kind of thing. I spent the rest of the spring avoiding him. He was bigger and stronger and I was afraid of him. I never told an adult. I never asked for help in keeping myself safe from him.
All three of those memories are traumatic in their own way. I remember feeling scared and alone. I don’t remember even thinking about asking for help. For some reason, among all of the options I came up with, none of them involved going to another person to see if they could assist me in solving my problem.
The Why of It All
Difficulty with asking for help is often listed as an autistic trait, though I’m not exactly sure what about being autistic makes it so. As an adult, I can identify a few themes that have run through my life when it comes to asking for help:
1. Recognizing that I need help is tricky. As a kid, it didn’t occur to me that I could ask for help. As an adult, I often get so absorbed in trying to do something that I forget that asking for help is a potential solution.
2. Asking requires speaking. Which requires engaging with people. Which may require preparing a script or being ready to answer questions or provide clarification. Thinking about this can be intimidating, which often makes asking for help seem like more trouble than its worth.
3. What if this makes me look stupid? As an adult, I’m conscious of the fact that some of the things I need help with are atypical. I often ask questions people consider odd. I sometimes fail to see the obvious solution to a problem. I get stuck in one particular way of thinking and can’t see any other way ’round. So I worry that instead of a helpful answer I’ll get teased or be met with a puzzled look.
4. I’m stubborn. And I have a lot to prove. I’m very much of the “I can do this” mindset, even when it’s clear that I can’t. I’ll struggle with something past the point of realistic hope of succeeding, often leading to some sort of minor mishap or disaster.
5. Executive function comes into play. Asking for help requires troubleshooting, planning, and initiation, all of which fall under the EF umbrella.
Practice, Practice, Practice
The reason I’m writing about this topic right now is because I decided that I would practice asking for help on my trip. Being in foreign countries, some where I didn’t speak the language, and all where I was unfamiliar with the environment, seemed like the perfect opportunity to work on this.
For one thing, being a tourist and a foreigner is a good reason for needing assistance. Most people seemed eager to offer help and I didn’t have the “will this make me look stupid” feeling because I kept telling myself that it was perfectly usual for someone in my situation to be asking for directions, etc. Also, I anticipated I would have many opportunities each day to practice recognizing that I needed help and going through the steps of getting it or at least trying to.
So how did it go? Pretty well, I think. Complete strangers gave me directions, answered questions about the train, helped me print out my boarding passes, and explained how to use my transit pass. People had varying degrees of enthusiasm for being helpful but no one outright refused to help and some people were even apologetic when they didn’t know the answer to a question.
The more I practiced, the more self-reinforcing the process became. I did notice that I was more likely to be eager to ask for help when I wasn’t feeling overloaded, but other than that, it was less difficult than I thought it would be.
A few guidelines I used:
1. Putting a time limit on how long I’ll try to figure something out by myself is helpful. In a software course I took in college, the syllabus said that no one should spend more than 10 minutes trying to work out a technical issue. If we couldn’t fix it by ourselves in 10 minutes, we probably couldn’t fix it and should ask for help. I applied this rule to my experiment, giving myself less than a minute for simple questions and a few minutes for more complex situations.
2. Signalling is important. When approaching a stranger for help, it’s good to start off by signalling that you need help with one of the following phrases: excuse me, can you help me, may I ask you a question, are you familiar with _________ or (in non-English speaking countries, in my case) do you speak English. Having scripts can also make initiating encounters less difficult, which is a bonus if you’re like me and find initiating conversations with strangers especially hard.
3. Be specific. It’s easier for people to offer help if I ask for something specific. That means I need to do some internal work to identify what I need. This was pretty straightforward during my vacation because what I needed was often specific information like the location of my hotel or whether I was on the right platform to catch the train going to a certain place. There was one incident in particular that reminded me of the value of being direct and specific in a crisis.
4. Don’t forget the reward. More than once after successfully approaching a stranger, I turned to The Scientist and pointed out how well it had gone. The process of postgaming successful encounters helped me feel more confident about trying again. Sure I felt a little silly but I also felt proud of myself for working hard at something that has never come easy.
I recognize that these are baby steps. Asking a stranger for directions isn’t fraught with the emotional baggage that other situations might be. It’s low in potential for trauma and there’s a high likelihood of success.
And when I put it like that, I see that there is something else at work: trust. Asking for help requires that we trust the other person to respond genuinely or at least not malevolently. As my daughter put it when I told her how helpful people were, “it’s great that no one sent you in the wrong direction.”
Asking for help is an act of vulnerability in so many ways. It requires courage. In that sense, it’s not an act of weakness as I’ve often thought, but an act of strength.
62 thoughts on “Asking for Help”
For me, asking for help runs into four blocks:
First, I have to recognize that I need help. Even if I know I’m overwhelmed and in over my head, it won’t necessarily occur to me that I need help with something.
Second, I have to accept that this is something that’s okay to ask for help for. I’d asked for help so often as a kid and was told, “you should be able to do this!” that I’ve internalized that and have to fight the I-should-be-able-to-do-this stubbornness/not-wanting-to-fail-ness/perfectionism.
Thirdly, I have to figure out who I can ask for help from it. I’m getting better at keeping an eye out to see who’s good at what, but I’m not great at it.
Fourthly, I have to figure out how to ask for help. Politely. And without getting overly upset. Which is hard because I get all anxious that I’m going to get “you should be able to do this!” and similar ‘if you’re so smart why are you being so stupid?’ type of sentiments and plus I have the failure to do it myself sticking in my craw and bruising my pride already. Asking for help can sometimes provoke enough anxiety to send me into a meltdown, especially if the other person makes fun of me for needing help with it.
This. All of this.
The recognizing part has been especially challenging for me, but I feel like I’m getting better at it. And also getting better at admitting when I need help, after I recognize it.
I don’t remember being told I should be able to do things by myself as a kid, but perhaps I somehow picked up on that vibe anyhow? I can’t find a specific root to my early reluctance to ask for help and this present-day stuff just feels old and deeply ingrained.
Asking for help is really hard, especially when there are almost always social and verbal components to it.
My asking for help skills as a kid were pretty nonexistent after about kindergarden: When I was in grade school, my mother had to keep me home on high pollen count days because I wouldn’t ask the teachers to give me my inhaler and would instead try to wait it out. I waited it out to unconsciousness in school once, and that was when my mother stopped letting me go to school when I was sick. This one was one where I knew I needed help, but didn’t want to ask about it because I’d been denied my inhaler once before by the teacher and thought she would deny it again (… I form mental rules very quickly – sometimes too quick. Teacher had been told that she needed to send me for my inhaler immediately if I asked for it after I returned home for lunch blue in the lips and told Mom that Teacher didn’t let me use my inhaler, but the next time I asked, she made me wait till recess and even though I told my mother and my mother had her reprimanded again because denying inhaler to a severely asthmatic kid is dangerous, the mental rule of Teacher-will-say-no-if-I-ask was formed).
When I was in high school, I woke up with severe abdominal pain. It was about 2 or 3 AM when I woke (a while into it, I glanced at the clock and it was sometime shortly after 3). My parents found me doubled over in pain on the floor outside of the bathroom at 8AM. This time, I was just too overloaded by pain to have it even occur to me to go ask for help. Everything was pain, and I had no words to call for my parents even if the thought had occurred to me. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to ask for help, it was that I couldn’t.
I can get overloaded into no-words-land if I’m in severe pain, stress, or overload. Others can sometimes trigger scripts if they ask me stuff when I’m in that state, but I can’t do spontaneous language. Not sure if that’s common to autistic people, but for me it’s downright dangerous – there was the above situation, and a time I broke my ankle and couldn’t call my parents because I knew I couldn’t word, and another time I sprained my knee skiing and was just lucky I was on a busy trail and someone realized that wreckage + person in fetal position = probable crash with injury AND I lucked into them asking the right question. Also have been times when getting prompted to the wrong script made it difficult to be taken seriously at hospital (docs don’t believe you’re really in pain if you answer their “how are you today?” with a cheery, “I’m-fine-how-are-you?”, for example).
That’s a great point about how prompting can erroneously lead an autistic person in the wrong direction if they’re having trouble with words to begin with (due to pain, overload, etc). When I’m sick or in pain, I tend to need someone else to push me into seeking help, going to the doctor, etc. I have an irrational urge to wait and see, even when it’s obvious that I’m in a downward spiral.
Yeah, I’m the same way, but I’m told by the respiratory therapist I saw that’s pretty normal for NTs, too. She was saying it’s a good idea to give your S.O. updates on how your breathing is doing because sometimes they can see the situation better than you can, as denial is a very common knee-jerk reaction to distressing physical symptoms.
I want to say thank you for posting this.
I believe I am autistic, my son was diagnosed last November and it has been a struggle to accept and learn how to work through this, especially when I myself have many of the same issues. Trying to teach someone something I don’t even know has been a challenge. I have had lots of help available to me, but I am so determined to do it all myself that I have not always accepted the help available.
This came up on my blog reader this morning and seemed it was exactly what I needed. I am sitting in the library trying to make it not so obvious I’m crying. It hit me hard, all of it. I know most of it, but knowing and actually “knowing” are two different things. Thanks for sharing.
You’re very welcome! My daughter isn’t autistic so I faced a whole different set of challenges, but I can see how difficult it might be trying to teach your son skills that you don’t feel are your strong suit to begin with. There’s a lot of support to be found online, if that would be helpful. In particular, I like this parenting Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/ParentingAutisticChildrenWithLoveAcceptance (if you’re on facebook). They have a feature where you can ask questions or just join in the discussion and share with other parents (a bunch of whom are also autistic).
There is another Facebook group that is really helpful also, Asperger’s Awareness Community. They have lots of discussion questions and opportunities to build relationships. I find it difficult to teach my littles’ about the things I struggle with. I truly believe that both my children have Aspergers, like I do. It’s hard to talk them through all the different things they have and will encounter in life. I believe that just letting your child know that you are doing your best gives them courage to do their best. I am very forthcoming with my littles if I am in an overwhelming situation or I even tell them to ask their dad because I don’t have all the answers for them (He is an NT). It is a very difficult thing to admit that you cannot help them. But hopefully by showing them that it is okay to ask others for help, you are giving them life skills to learn to ask for help. You are showing them how a community works and how very brave you are for all you do already.
Thanks so much, any help is worth a look. I appreciate you taking the time to reply.
Asking for help is incredibly hard. I’ve gotten to the point where I see it’s necessary, but there have been times in my life where I was left in ridiculous circumstances because I couldn’t because of it. As has already been mentioned, knowing when you need help, figuring out how to ask and from who, and then actually doing it. Plus, for me, if I receive an ambiguous answer to my asking for help or anything, it totally shuts me down. In second grade I peed on myself at my desk for weeks on end because the few times I asked to go to the bathroom, an hour or so into the school day, I was told I had to wait until break time. And I didn’t have whatever it takes to say,”Lady. I have to go NOW.” Finally my mom figured out what was happening and talked to my teacher at the same time that I realised I was drinking too much before school. Not too much physically, but too much for an institution that doesn’t allow you to use the bathroom when you need to. If I don’t receive a positive and unambiguous reply, then it negatively impacts my ability to ask for help at another time. Also, and I’m not sure why, but I always feel like I shouldn’t need help. Intellectually I understand that is stupid and counterproductive, but emotionally I feel like I’m less than if I need help. Plus depending on others isn’t a good feeling.
I know exactly what you mean about how discouraging it can be when someone doesn’t understand what you’re asking. I’ll often just go away and hide because it makes me feel so inadequate and stupid.
It seems like many of us have childhood stories of suffering distress or embarrassment rather than asking for help. I think this skill should be high on the list of things taught to autistic children (and of course reinforced by adults who actually compassionately provide the needed help in response).
I’ve always felt the same way when it came to asking for help.
In a similar instance, it was common for me to have stomach pains when I was younger and I was reluctant to ask the teachers for help. I’ve usually opted for asking permission to use the bathroom (which kind of helped) when I should have asked my teachers to go checked by a nurse instead who can help me get a diagnosis instead. However, since I was young at the time, I wasn’t so good at making certain kinds of decisions so I sometimes ended up with the second best option.
Luckily, now that I’m older I don’t have stomach/gastrointestinal pains anymore and I’ve started to notice a pattern; I would usually be under conditions of stress or cold environment beforehand. Either way I wish I had the strength to plead my mother to do something serious about it because my teachers did not always take me seriously when I wanted to excuse myself/suffering excruciating pain and nervousness.
I really like the guidelines you set up. I think they are really helpful even in day to day situations. Good for you on all your hard work! I struggle asking for help. All the time. I always feel like I should be able to do it myself and get frustrated if I have to depend on someone else. Lately it has been with the volunteer work I do at my littles’ school. I am in charge of a small group of ladies that put together weekly packets. It has taken me almost two months to put together an actual schedule for everyone for their volunteer days. The first few weeks of school, I just did the packets together myself because I felt awkward asking people for help and I was perfectly capable of doing it myself. I am learning that in these situations (where it is required to have a group) that it is okay to ask people to be there. I do not like doing it but I am hoping it is good practice for other areas of my life where I do not ask for help (when things get too overwhelming, help with day to day, etc.).
The situation you describe sounds like one of those in which asking for help is actually a way of bonding socially with others in the group (rather than necessarily needing help because the task is too much work for one person). It does sound like a good practice situation too. 🙂
Hopefully the guidelines will work beyond the obvious in-need-of-help situations I encountered on vacation.
Thank you! It is a way of bonding. There is one lady in my group who is about ten years old than I am and who has worked in this group for a few years. She has sort of taken me under her wing and helps me manage the social situation. She calls our weekly volunteering “therapy” time and she is very vocal about everything which makes my social stress go down considerably because I do not have to wonder about what she is thinking or what I should do. It has helped give me some confidence in my people skills and someone who I can ask things that might seem “silly” to other women.
That sounds like the perfect sort of friend. 🙂 You’re lucky to have her!
“The why of it”: yes, yes, yes, yes and yes. I find scripting is essential because otherwise I sound so confused that the person I have managed to approach often doesn’t grasp what I’m after. I have gotten better as I’ve aged: in kindergarten I accidentally soiled myself because I was too intimidated to ask to go to the bathroom.
…You mean most people don’t rehearse what to say when they’re asking for help to make sure it makes sense before they ask it? 😛
So I’ve been told. Not sure I believe it. Can’t see how that would work… 😉
“…You mean most people don’t rehearse what to say when they’re asking for help to make sure it makes sense before they ask it?”
While “rehearsing” do you approach it as a chess master might, and think several responses ahead? 🙂
I approach it as a go player might, forming a mental tree of responses and counter-responses. I don’t play chess, so I don’t know if the same philosophy works there. 🙂
Scripting is a godsend. And I think a lot of nonautistic people also rehearse what they’re going to say in certain situations, though probably not as much as we tend to. Or maybe my habits have rubbed off on family and friends. 😉
I never asked to go to the bathroom in elementary school. I remember my mother warning me that I’d get a bladder infection from holding it all day. The upper grades were better because each teacher had a key attached to a giant wooden number (no idea what the numbers meant) and all we had to do was go take the key if it was available during quiet working time. Of course that meant I had to worry about other kids noticing that I was getting up . . .
Great article. I can completely relate to this
Great post. It reminded me of when I had mumps as a kid. No one knew for several days because I didn’t tell anyone I was sick and not eating. I don’t show pain in expected ways and I had so little skill at asking for help that it never even occurred to me to tell anyone that I couldn’t swallow food.
It’s amazing how much we put up with simply because we don’t have the skills to ask for help. This should be Autistic Kid 101 instruction, I think.
This is one that I’ve dealt with a couple of ways. First, like the way typical males are generalized as “refusing to ask for directions” I used to be like that. A typical guy would rather spend an hour in a hardware store, looking for that particular item, than asking for help… early on in my adulthood I rebelled against the stereotype and found the joys in asking for directions/help though there is that nasty little part about approaching a stranger involved.
Still, there are other times that I don’t ask (haven’t asked) for help even though the help was readily available. After buying a house at age 36, I’ve done many things to it. Added a wall in the house, a short decorative block wall outside, and three patio covers for different parts of the house. My step-father would have been more than willing to help me, but I wanted to do it myself. I would go and look at a similar structure, think about the best way to design the one I’d need, and then purchase the materials and build it. First, there is the self satisfaction of doing something without help. Second, you don’t have to explain yourself or “why you want something like that” to people that would help on a project.
They key is knowing when something is outside your ability and not being too proud to admit it.
It’s funny you bring up the hardware store example because I’d look for an hour but my husband will spend exactly 30 seconds before he’s off to find someone who works there to locate what he needs. That last distinction you make is really important and those are the cases that I’m talking about. I take self-sufficiency to an extreme and it feels not very smart or healthy.
Very helpful guidelines, thank you. And you make an excellent point about how essential it is to teach these skills to children. This is something I really wish I’d known how to do-I can remember coming home every day with a thermos full of juice because I couldn’t ask for help opening it, and I had accidents into the third grade because I couldn’t bring myself to ask for bathroom breaks. And I think in addition to that it’s important for adults to make sure their responses are encouraging. When I asked for help only to be made to feel like an annoyance or told I should be able to do it myself, it left me feeling gun-shy for months.
My biggest hurdle right now is that the rules surrounding this seem so complex-I never know whether an offer is sincere or not, if/when/how I’m expected to reciprocate, whether I’m asking to much or even too little, since I know that asking for help can deepen friendships. I’m very slowly figuring these things out.
Yes! Positive encouraging responses from adults are essential. Asking for help is so hard to begin with and a discouraging response will quickly squash those budding efforts. Lots of positive reinforcement is needed.
It does feel really complex as an adult. I think sometimes people offer to help more out of kindness/empathy than a sincere intent to act on the offer (assuming any reasonable person would decline it, I guess). Just today I asked an online friend to do something for me and then felt guilty, like I was imposing, even though she offered to do it, just not right away. But I’m (mostly) sure that she doesn’t mind doing the thing at all and yet . . . so confusing. Lots of trial and error.
THIS. SO MUCH THIS. ALL OF THIS. THE COMMENTS TOO. JUST ALL OF IT.
As well as all of the above, I have this annoying habit of telling people I’m fine when it’s clear that I’m not and someone offers to help. That issue cropped up last night, funnily enough. I was at the freshers’ welcome for my university’s women’s campaign (I’m on the committee now), and LOOOOOOOOOOOADS of people showed up, more than anyone was expecting, and obviously that’s great but people kept pouring in and I got massively overloaded. I had a friend with me who managed to keep me vaguely calm in the beginning, but when everyone stood up and started mingling she wanted to sign up to one of the smaller sub-groups and I couldn’t find the other person I was looking for and PEOPLE and I gradually just went into shutdown. Anyway, I was thinking about grabbing my phone and escaping outside for a few minutes (and for some reason it takes forever to get from thinking about to doing) when someone else on the committee said hi, and by this point I must have been really obviously distressed because she was concerned. She started out with some guesswork (“There’s loads here, isn’t there, is that stressful for you? It’s quite warm, isn’t it, are you warm?”) then directly asked if I needed to get out for a bit. Which, I should stress, is the exact thing I needed. And yet I couldn’t tell her that; I sort of froze and possibly managed to let out an “I’m fine, sorrysorrysorrysorry” and then wandered off and continued to overload for a few minutes before eventually heading out.
That isn’t the first time similar situations have happened, far from it in fact, and I have absolutely no idea why. I mean, usually I’d put “but I’ll look stupid” as my main cause of not asking for help, but when it’s incredibly obvious to all parties involved that I need help, surely that shouldn’t really apply anymore? It’s not like loads of word-ing was needed either; a simple “yeah” or even just a vague nod and motion towards the door if I couldn’t manage words. I mean, the required help is *right there* and I still end up not taking it. It’s so annoying.
I’m slowly getting over my default “I’m fine” response, which I hadn’t thought of as being related to this, but obviously it is. I think I do it to minimize “being a bother” or imposing on people, even though my state of being shouldn’t really impose on them to begin with. And now that I see where this line of thinking is going, I’m gonna nip it in the bud and change the subject because giant can of worms and all.
Perhaps your difficulty in the situation you mention is related to a decrease in coping/functioning/reasoning/thinking/take your pick as you get increasingly overloaded? I know that as the trip wore on and I started to struggle with the lack of routine/unfamiliarity, I found it harder to ask for help. The more overloaded I was, the less enthusiastic I was about practicing. My husband started to step in, asking for directions when I insisted on wanting to wander around and struggle with things because he’s sensible like that.
Also, if you read the tumblr post I linked to, that was an extreme situation where I needed someone to step up and point out explicitly that I needed help and they were going to offer it. Otherwise I would have just flailed around aimlessly.
It is also interesting that “not being a bother” is important to so many elderly people, who show the same behavioral patterns in this regard that we do. Not that anyone has ever made that connection with respect to me… I’m only 33.
I think ‘not being a bother’ is also gender-related. Women are taught to not make such a fuss about things. I mean, men are also supposed to not need help, but in a different way.
I agree that the “I’m fine” is the only one you can come up with anymore. It can be as simple as that. You’re so overloaded that even formulating a response about said overload is already too much and the standard “I’m fine” just crops up. At least, I think that´s what musingsofanaspie is saying?
Interesting point about elderly. I’m finding it harder and harder to ask for help and I’m worried that I have early onset dementia like my mother. Or is it common for aspies to get worse again with age (I’m 60) when I feel I used to cope better with everything.
I went to a small catholic school. 6-8 grades were self directed. I didn’t ask for help. I needed it, especially in math. It wasn’t until college that I started learning how to ask for help for school work.
I am still learning how to request for help in my adult & work life. Trial and error. Trial and more error. Ugh.
I don’t think I ever learned to ask for help with schoolwork, not even in my recent time in college. But yes, lots of trial and error in all areas.
Yeah I really didn’t ask for help much, even when I desperately needed it and would have done much better to try and get it. Like I knew there were tutors available for lots of subjects but couldn’t bring myself to figure out how getting one worked at college and couldn’t bare the thought of asking and yet again, looking stupid for not knowing.
Loved this post I have a very hard time identifying what I need from people, too. I usually spend a lot of time wringing my hands and venting about my problem, totally unable to ask for something specific. My husband, who is very helpful, nonetheless gets upset because he feels he has to come up with a solution whenever I vent, and I’m not being very helpful in giving him clues as to what I need. But you know what? Sometimes the very act of venting helps me blow off the cobwebs, clarify my own thoughts and help myself!!!
Just figuring out what sort of help we need can be a real challenge. I think executive function plays a big role in this, the whole troubleshooting, planning and problem solving arm of it at least. It’s great that your husband is willing to try to help or at least to be your sounding board as you sort things through. 🙂
Thanks for this article. I totally relate to this.
Thank you! 🙂
I remember when someone asked why I didn’t ask more questions. I thought about it (months later) and it dawned on me that, if you have no idea what to ask, then you will not ask for anything. For now, I think I’ll be asking “questions” as a way to negotiate my boundaries, like what kind of information and what kind of environment I need to work in in order to successfully do something. I like that you set a time limit for figuring things out on your own first!
So true. I guess for some people those kinds of questions come naturally? The kinds of questions you’re planning to raise sound very positive and productive. And maybe like something you could blog about because I’d be really interesting in hearing about your process. 🙂
Yes! I’ve seen people use questions to negotiate for small things like toppings on pizza-very fascinating! Didn’t know you could do that. But it still works out that everyone gets what they need. And thanks for the suggestion-I am working on a series that should hopefully come out in November 🙂
I think like everyone else here, the reasons you pointed out for why its hard to ask for help are the same for me. Although I’m aware that I should ask for help more often (and I’m getting better at doing this in formal situations such as in a shop or in my part time job, where there is nice clear understanding that you are free to ask questions if you need clarification- other good places to start for practicing? 🙂 ) I havent put much thought into *why* I find it hard. Although I think a natural inclination to not asking for help was kind of made worse, when my exasperated parents simply got tired and gave up in trying to help my constant worrying and anxiety, where I demanded emotional help pretty much all the time.
But I realize after reading and thinking about it that I particularly find asking for help in emotional situations hard because of recognizing to begin with, and I think maybe a follow on from that, its hard to give clear answers/not get frustrated or just shut off when you haven’t figured it out in your head yet and can’t express properly, but friends want to demand clarity and answers much more quickly then you can figure out. In the end its easier (and unhealthy lol!) to deal with it yourself or brush off the problem! Understanding why you dont ask for help is a good first step to take I think 🙂
It sounds like a lot of us formed early habits around asking for help that have been hard to change (or that we just haven’t thought about changing). I suppose parents think they’re “toughening up” a kid or helping them mature/become self-sufficient by telling them to quit asking for help all the time, but based on what some folks have said here, the results are actually the opposite. We just end up internalizing our problems and struggling in ways that aren’t helpful, which inhibits growth/independence.
What you describe about struggling with verbalizing your needs in emotional situations sounds like traits of alexithymia. Are you familiar with it?
my son (who has autism) became obsessed last year with wanting to visit NYC. I agreed and took him for some sightseeing. I was so worried we would be separated. He had a simple phone and his info in his pocket. I told him if we were to become separated, he should look for a lady with small children and ask for help. I finally had to use the bathroom after 6 hrs. in the museum. I had him stand right by the door to wait for me. when I came out, he was waiting with a young mother with two children. She said he told her he was waiting for his mom in the bathroom, had never been to NYC before, was nervous, and from Kansas 🙂 she was happy to help, and I was so proud of him for asking.
oh yeah….he also told her he had autism. It was the first time he had ever offered that information.
What a great story! Specific concrete instructions like that are so helpful for autistic kids. It sounds like you’re helping your son build skills that will be valuable to him throughout his life.
I always needed specific instructions. Things that weren’t specific just didn’t make much sense.
Yes, totally, and the why of it too. Autisticook wrote a blog about this recently as well, very recognizable.
I thought that my inability / reluctance to ask for help had to do with my mother being psychotic/schizofrenic and my father being distant (now recognized by me as autistic) so asking for help never got any response, or any that made any sense to me. So I quickly stopped asking for help. I have had to do everything myself for the longest time. I just don’t quite know when to stop just struggling as I have always done. It’s become automatic. In addition there’s quite a big intelligence gap between me and most people around me as I grew up, so there’s another lack of connection that increases this.
[Anecdote that I thought of yesterday as I thought of my (sort of lack of) parents, although more related to your post on ‘what teen girls need to know’:
when I had my first period it never even occurred to me to tell anyone. I knew about this period thing from books, so I wasn’t freaked out by it. But as I didn’t have tampons or pads and I didn’t see any in the bathroom of the people I was staying at (aunt & uncle), I just made do with some toilet paper. Then, when we were in a store, I got some tampons myself (actually I stole them, I shoplifted when I was younger) and used those. I didn’t tell my parents about my period until I ran out of tampons when I was home and my mother asked me what I was doing when I went to take stuff from her closet. In that whole couple of days that this must have taken it never occurred to me to tell anyone, to ask for tampons, to ask if there was anything I needed to do.
In fact, it took me until 5 years ago to ask a friend of mine what to do with used tampons, because I knew you weren’t supposed to flush them. I was 30 before anyone told me I could wrap them in TP and throw them in a bin!
A combination of this not being a subject ever properly discussed with me + not knowing to ask for help.]
But it seems very autism related too, directly and indirectly.
Directly: I usually see it explained as a part of the difficulty with imagination, as in: not being able to imagine that someone else could have a solution to a problem that you don’t see. And a kind of stubborn streak that seems inherent as well.
Indirectly: As you say, the things I need(ed) help with are usually atypical, and as mentioned by others, there has been enough bullying and ‘how can you be so stupid when you are so smart’ comments. That in combination with my parents means that ‘just struggling on no matter how difficult’ has become second nature.
Recognizing that something is not going right, that I need help with something, and then realising I can ask someone are the most difficult bits. I tend to get better at actually asking for help. Especially now that I have my diagnosis and realize that with some things I need help “because autism”, I feel less stupid asking for help. It feels more like “yay, I recognize something!” But recognizing and realising remain difficult.
I smiled when I read that you’re views on asking for help are changing since you were diagnosed. That’s so good to hear. It does change the context of needing help (though I’ve actually been feeling a bit more self-conscious about that lately rather than less).
About the difficulty with imagination . . . I’m not sure. I think as a child that may be part of it–the idea that if i don’t know what to do then others probably don’t either. As an adult, I clearly know this isn’t true but now, as you say, there’s the stubbornness of wanting to be able to do things myself. And also the embarrassment at having to ask certain things that seem to be obvious to others, like your tampon example.
About the imagination: I suppose that’s a bigger problem as a child, but I don’t necessarily mean that it is inconceivable that someone might be able to help or see. Difficulty with imagination can also mean the thought simply does not come up without specific prompting, it takes longer to develop that. So maybe that’s still the link.
Yes, the issue of spontaneously realization (and other types of spontaneous thought) is a problem for me, so I know what you mean.
How familiar this article is to my experiences with needing help was as a child. I would rather avoid the question than ask as this necessitated me talking, to adults and possibly gaining attention for the subject I was asking about. In retrospect, I see how silly many of those experiences were and how I could have easily avoided them. Other experiences were not so pleasant and I contemplate what the younger Megan could have done differently. For three years I was harassed with flem spit balls by a group of boys. I said not a word in order to avoid any attention. I would immediately dive into my studies in the basement and allow denial and time to be my medicine. It was a way I was able to deny what occurred each and every day. I understand your words and thank you for posting and article such as this.
Oh, my heart goes to that small version of you, getting harassed by those mean boys. One of the things I found helpful as I’ve looked back over my life is not just thinking about what I could have done to avoid things but also of telling my younger self that what I did do was okay, because I really didn’t know any better and I was scared. It sounds odd, but it’s helped to think of my adult self comforting and sheltering that younger self.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this tough subject.
That’s a really nice thing to do and say to your younger self. Not sure I’m ready to try that yet (was harrassed a lot as well), but thanks for the idea.
Oh m’gosh — I cannot believe how many of you have shared aspects of this experience! I thought (foolishly) I was alone in my struggle to ask for help (because “I don’t want to seem needy or be a burden to others”). Of course “I can figure this out on my own.” I recently was hired as a special ed teacher to develop an Autism program at my elementary school. I knew it was an undertaking since my specific knowledge needed to be supplemented with a lot of research and further education at the post-graduate level. I asked some questions, when I figured out what questions I had and who to ask, and if I didn’t get quite the answer I needed, I just slinked back to my desk to “figure it out on my own.” I just want to cry thinking about how captive I felt by my own inability to seem “weak” and “needy”. Thank you all so much for helping me to realize that I’m not a loser or inadequate (my friends and family have been telling me and I thought they were just trying to be nice). You all are practical strangers and you just reminded me that I’m human. And I’m not alone. Thanks! Best to all of you awesome people!
I didn’t realize this was an autistic thing until I read some books aimed at parents of kids on the spectrum and saw that I still have the same problems they were discussing when it comes to asking for help.
I’m so glad you found a sense of community here and no longer feel like you’re the only adult who experiences this. It can be so frustrating. So yay for not being alone! 🙂