Expressing Your Needs Isn’t Asking Somebody For “Favors”

It can be hard for anybody to ask for help. For individuals on the Autism spectrum or anyone with some kind of disability, it can be an especially trying task.

All my life, I’ve been keenly aware that I’m on the spectrum, and that this means there are certain things I’ll just always struggle with. I’ve also been aware that most of the people in my life — from relatives to teachers — will be aware of my Autism and (what I feel are) my shortcomings stemming from it. From a young age, I’ve been immensely self-conscious about asking for Autism-related help from people in my life.

I’ve always had a burning desire⁠ to be as independent as possible. I’ve wanted to prove to everyone that I could do everything on my own despite being Autistic. I’ve worked hard to avoid asking for assistance that I presumed adults⁠ in my life expected I would need. These were desires born partially out⁠ of hubris, and partially out of self-consciousness. I felt like asking for help would call attention to my Autism and all my struggles connected to it. At school, I already felt like all eyes were on me as the lone Autistic kid in the class: I preferred to keep my head down rather than calling any more attention to myself.

As I’ve gotten older, the circumstances of struggling to ask for help with Autism-related matters has changed, but it still persists.

I’ve managed to better understand the necessity of asking for help, and I've gotten a little better at doing it. Unfortunately, my desire to keep my head down instead of asking for help that I need hasn’t changed much. An ADHD diagnosis just before my first year of college left me feeling like there were now even more personal foibles that I had to learn to ask people for help with.

I have a bad tendency of looking at situations where I’m out of my element as an opportunity to prove my independence rather than ask for assistance so that I can do the situation possible. I obviously also feel like asking for help is bad.

Perhaps you can relate.

I’m taking the chance today, and making a stretch, to write something I try to tell myself every time I struggle to ask for help so I can get better at this: people aren’t doing us any sort of “favor” by merely recognizing that we’re out of our element or anxious, by recognizing that we simply have a need for help, and making room for us in that way. And yes, this very much extends to making our personal needs known to dating or sexual⁠ partners.

It’s easy to write that down. It’s hard to actually go out and live, and ask for help, with that firmly in mind.

Part of my own anxiety over a prospective romantic⁠ interaction with another person is that they’ll do the most basic of interactions with me simply out of pity. This makes the idea of going much further and asking that person to be cognizant of certain needs I have as a person on the Autism spectrum utterly petrifying, even as someone who can write a piece like this.

But though it’s often difficult to actually make our needs known, it’s vital to know it’s valuable to do that with people we care about (or want to) and who care about us. Valuable to us, valuable to them, valuable to everyone.

Any basically healthy, equitable relationship⁠ involves people being made aware of and then honoring each other’s basic needs, whether that relationship includes a person on the Autism spectrum or not.

For instance, one person in a romantic relationship letting the other person know they have an allergy to shellfish can be integral to figuring out places they can go out to eat without risking a severe allergic reaction. A person telling their partner⁠ about their intense fear of heights helps them both avoid doing anything that would make both suffer needlessly, and lets that partner know they should ask how to be supportive if and when heights just can’t be avoided. Someone who has just suffered a loss who talks to their partner about it and asks for support is, in doing that, giving their partner an opportunity to actually be a partner.

There are always individual needs in any relationship, including those where everyone involved is both neurotypical and able. Are neurotypical or able people who respond with the most basic kindness and consideration to their partners needs doing their partners a “favor?” Of course not. They’re just making the adjustments they need to in order to be in a healthy, caring relationship to their partner as the person they are, their needs included.

Needs that stem from being on the Autism spectrum, similar disorders, or disabilities, are just like that.

Asking people you're in intimate relationships with to be conscious of those needs and to help you with them to the best of their abilities — and within healthy boundaries, of course — is totally reasonable and is not asking a for a “favor.”  In intimate relationships, we’re supposed to support each other in basic ways. Helping each other with our needs is a great way of doing just that.

This dynamic can extend to any sort of relationship or interaction, not just romantic ones. The dynamics you share with your co-workers. Dynamics between you and your friends. On and on it goes. All those personal relationships and interactions you share with people should involve your specific needs being known, seen and honored. Even if people in your life know something about you — like that you have Autism, ADD or anxiety — they know a lot about, they still can’t know your specific needs because of those things unless you tell them.

Initiating these conversations is important, particularly for people with differences or disabilities, especially in one major way: they give you agency. They let you be the one to say what specific needs you have and what you need when it comes to those needs.

Like I said earlier, that’s not easy to do. It’s daunting. So far, I can’t even say for myself that it ever becomes that much easier: the anxiety associated with being this open with other people always persists for me and still makes me want to just keep my head down and not speak up.

Just keeping our heads down may seem better in the moment, but it’s not the way we can grow as people, really connect with others, or get what we need with our specific disabilities. Plus, each time you ask for help, you do get better at it, even if it doesn't always feel that way. Asking over time helps you to learn how to best convey your needs so people get it, and also makes it feel a little less daunting each time you ask.

If you’re looking for specific ways to make your asking for help as effective as possible, I’ve got a few basic tips.

For one, try and keep things concise and specific. I personally have an issue of overtalking: my sentences can be packed with useless words. I’ve been learning to keep my asks streamlined and direct.

Frame requests for help as a question rather than a demand. That’s just good manners and something I had to learn myself. Too, make sure to express gratitude once you’ve been given assistance.

Even with these tips in mind, it still can be easier said than done when it comes to asking for assistance. To do so is to be vulnerable, to recognize our own shortcomings and that’s always an awkward process. But here’s the thing: all of us are vulnerable. None of us are perfect. Nobody has all the answers. To quote Ethan Hawke’s Dad from Boyhood, “We’re all just winging it, you know?” Knowing that doesn’t automatically erase the awkwardness you feel asking for help but just know, when you do ask for assistance, that you’re not the only one.

We all need to be open and vulnerable if we’re going to get the help we need. Through others recognizing your own needs, this isn’t a form of people “doing favors” for you. It's just basic human kindness and you’re deserving of that. We all are.

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  • Haley Moss

Disability may feel scary if you’re new to it - there is a lot of language involved to learn, maybe more medical information than you feel capable of handling, or you might have a fear about possibly being cast in a caregiver role more so than a partner. All of these fears can be dispelled or addressed through ongoing, healthy communication. In my experience, disclosure is an ongoing conversation and there is no single “correct” way to do it, but there are ways that our partners can be stronger allies.