When I first met my friend Parker, he seemed a bit different than most people, but I couldn’t put my finger on why. At times, I noticed he was exceedingly passionate about certain topics, a bit self-absorbed (his words), and super literal. Oh, and let’s not forget his love and obsession for shoes.

During one of our many adventures and nights on the town, Parker told me that he had a syndrome called Asperger’s. At that point, I’d only heard of the condition, and I didn’t know much about it. He explained how Asperger’s affected his social life and the methods he has to use to “adjust” to society’s standards.

After our sushi dinner, while he was taking me home, he talked passionately about some topic I no longer remember. After about five minutes, I interjected, “You talk a lot.” I said it in a joking tone and giggled. But I saw the expression on his face change. He became quiet and kind of withdrew. So I apologized for my outburst, but I could tell that I’d hurt his feelings.

When I got home, I thought about what happened. Not only about what I’d said, but also what reasons might make him so passionate and verbose at times. That’s when I decided to look up the characteristics of Asperger’s. I was curious to see if some of his actions aligned with people who have the condition. The goal of my research was to help me be a better friend to him, and I knew the only way I could do that was by understanding more about Asperger’s. So I started my research that very night. Later, I also learned more about the condition from Parker.

It affects more men than woman

“It’s a mild form of autism, which mostly affects men,” Parker told me. He’s right. The advocacy and support group Autism Speaks says boys are nearly five times more likely than girls to have any condition that falls under the autism umbrella.

There’s no medical “test” for diagnosing Asperger’s

Although there’s no official test to determine if someone has the condition, there is an assessment you can take that shows if your habits align with those habits and traits commonly associated with people who have Asperger’s. Parker, for example, was socially withdrawn when he was younger unless someone was discussing a topic he was interested in. He was also exceptionally good at math and science. These traits can be common in people with Asperger’s.

Lead poisoning might be responsible for some cases of Asperger’s

Some reports have suggested that lead poisoning could be responsible for certain cases of Asperger’s in children, but the studies aren’t clear. As a child, Parker accidently ingested a type of paint commonly used for walls in a house. “I was tested for Asperger’s in my late teens, and I had lead poisoning in my early childhood. So the doctors contributed my social skills to lead poisoning. But they noticed I also demonstrated other abnormalities of people with autism,” he says.

It can be hard to make friends

Limited social interactions can make it hard for someone with Asperger’s to find friends. Parker recalls that some people misinterpreted his lack of social skills. They mistakenly thought he was “slow” even though he excelled at his school work. “If you aren’t communicating really well, some people will consider you mentally off,” Parker says. With the help of his guardians and extensive counseling, Parker’s been able to gain social skills, which he continues to apply in his adult life.

Bottom line: Here’s how to be a great friend to someone with Asperger’s

At times, Parker can be a tad bit too loud and even come off as self-centered. So I have to remember he’s not being vindictive or doing those things on purpose. It’s simply his personality. It doesn’t make him a bad friend. I will say that being friends with him has truly taught me the art of being patient with someone you love (keep in mind, this is coming from someone who’s easily annoyed.) If something becomes overwhelming for me, I address it, but I try to do that in a loving way. “It helps if you tell your friend with Asperger’s how you feel, because it allows that person to rationalize and talk it out,” Parker says. If you have a friend with Asperger’s, he also suggests being conscious of your tone and body language when you address an issue.

To those with Asperger’s, Parker advises: “You have to understand if someone’s telling you something, they’re trying to help you, and they are your friend.”

Author’s note: This is only one account of someone living with Asperger’s. People with Asperger’s all have different experiences. “Parker” is not my friend’s name. I used it so he could remain anonymous.