Having a life means facing our fears and going out
There comes a time in every Aspie’s life, that having a life means facing our fears and going out into the world. I love to sing, do stand up comedy, go to restaurants and sometimes (although very rarely) I even want to go to a party. Does this mean I don’t have Aspergers? Of course not! People with Aspergers want to socialize, but years of getting it wrong may knock the desire to try right out of us. It is never going to be easy.
Performance, on the other hand, may be quite comfortable for many aspies, because people stimulate the amygdala in our brain causing a rush of adrenalin, perfect for belting songs on stage, or short bouts of witty banter. But authentic communication in a crowd—and by a crowd I mean more than one—very difficult. We get overloaded, awkward, bombarded, confused. Rocket science may be simple, but social conversation is an unfathomable mystery for many of us. Here are a few basics to help you in social situations:
- Keep in good mental and physical shape, through healthy diet and exercise
- Have interests and activities that raise your self-esteem. If you like and value yourself, others may follow suit.
- Manners are the oil which make situations run smoothly. Please, thank you, hi, how are you, nice to meet you, goodbye, have a nice day, may all seem trite and meaningless but they are cues, transitions so that things can flow. Consider them signposts or turns in the road.
- Always ask how the other person is, and it helps to throw in a “how is your family?” (or pet, or girlfriend, etc.)
- Don’t go on and on about yourself or your interests unless asked, and not for more than a minute.
- No matter how great other people think you are, it’s not okay to admit you think you’re great too. We are not known for modesty, so do curb any tendency towards arrogance.
- Have scripts for specific situations, e.g. if someone compliments you, say “thank you, that is very kind” or something to that effect. If someone else has had something nice happen to them, say “congratulations” even if you think its not important or exciting. If someone’s pet/relative/friend has died, you say, “I’m sorry for your loss” even though you don’t feel sorry because you never knew them and they were old anyway. These kinds of scripts take the pressure off, as we tend to over-think things in social situations.
- Try to go places with a trusted friend or relative, someone you can bounce things off of. Ask them to be your social interpreter: “What did he mean by that? Is it okay if I do this? What does that look mean? Have I met that person before?” These are daily questions I ask my neurotypical boyfriend when we are out.
- Don’t assume the worst in others’ actions and speech. In short, we can be a little paranoid, but we don’t know we are. It’s best not to assume, but if you have to, err on the side of caution or optimism. If there are people who consistently give you a bad feeling or confuse you, be polite but don’t try to be their buddy.
- When in doubt, leave it out. If you aren’t sure if something is appropriate to say, you probably shouldn’t say it. I’m a comic, and on stage I can get away with some incredibly rude or outrageous things, because of the context. But in everyday conversation, stay away from controversial comments about someone’s looks, gender, race, etc. Although neurotypicals often like sarcasm, unless you are quite certain it won’t backfire, don’t say it.
- Don’t join in gossip because you think it’ll make you one of the crowd. Those who gossip can still be gossiped about. You aren’t adept enough to read the political wind of things, so just be polite to everyone and you should be okay. I’m talking here about grown up social situations. High school is a whole other ball of wax, and the only way kids with AS can be protected from gossip and bullies is if the school makes Aspergers and Autism a special course of study for all of its students, through films, documentaries and talks by experts; especially those who are themselves on the spectrum.
- Before you go out, have a checklist of things you need to have or do. I have a mental checklist of all my sensory and cognition tools that help me through my day or night, including earplugs, hats, sunglasses, maps or diagrams if I’m going somewhere new, phone, scarf, gloves (I get cold and have touch issues), etc. I use to have a written one but I’ve committed it to memory. I also have to check myself before I leave a bathroom when I’m out, for I usually forget to zip my pants and buckle my belt. I know aspies that have left bathrooms with their pants down around their ankles and never noticed!
- Get to know what you look and sound like to others. I find cameras and videos very helpful for letting me know what I look like to others when I’m stimming, talking, singing etc. You probably look better than you think.
- Modify your stims. By all means rock or hum, but practice doing it to music and not quite so wildly, only because drawing attention to yourself might make you more uncomfortable. I had a friend who used to wet his hair every five minutes, to cool down. Crowds made him break out in a sweat, but the water dripping down his face in a restaurant was very noticeable and embarrassing.
- Explain in a matter-of-fact manner that you are on the spectrum and have a different idea about socializing. I tell people that I “socialize with purpose” and am not comfortable just “hanging out”. In other words, I’m comfortable doing things and not talking about things, unless I can monologue on my interests. They may be taken aback at first, but a decent person will admire your candor and self-awareness.
- Explain that you have a threshold, a time limit for socializing and that when it’s up, it’s up. Know the signs of overload and impending meltdown: crankiness, fatigue, strong desire to run away, discomfort, selective mutism, etc. Go home, rest, rejuvenate and replenish!
For those of you who are not on the spectrum but know someone who is, here are a few rules for you too:
- Don’t say “You don’t seem like you have Aspergers” to a person who is diagnosed as being on the spectrum. It is invalidating and insulting to say that to someone.
- Don’t criticize the way someone looks, or their facial expression. It makes us very self-conscious. Give constructive advice if asked.
- Don’t tell someone they are acting weird. Steer the conversation towards safer ground, someplace you know they’ll be more comfortable. If that isn’t possible, my boyfriend gives my arm a gentle squeeze if I’m starting down a path I shouldn’t.
- Don’t take his/her quirks personally but do take them seriously.
- Be patient.
- Prepare them for social situations—make sure they understand who you’re meeting and how they relate to you. Warn or explain in advance those people’s traits, e.g. loud, aggressive, domineering, outspoken, etc..
- Prepare your other NT friends for your aspie friend.
- Don’t criticize us for not recognizing people, or think it is because we are self-centered. We just don’t recognize faces very well.
- Don’t mock us for forgetting to zip our pants or tie our shoes. Young or old, we are like absent-minded professors.
- Don’t try to tell us our special interests are a waste of time. We will think you are stupid. Take at least a minor interest in them.
- We get sensory overload which makes us seem demanding, irrational and cranky! Want to know what it’s like? Nails on a chalkboard, except we get that feeling from a million different things.
- When we say we have to go, don’t try to make us stay longer. The end result could be meltdown.
- Ask before hugging. Handshakes are usually preferred, or just nod and say hello.
Wondering if you are on the spectrum? A good place to start is my List of Asperger Traits which I compiled from various sources when I was researching my first book 22 Things a Woman Must Know If She Loves a Man with Asperger Syndrome. I’m told it is a good list, perhaps one of the most comprehensive on the internet.
by: Rudy Simone , Psychology Today
January 23, 2011
Lastly, here is a Table of Female AS Traits that was born of my own research, when I was writing Aspergirls: Empowering Females with Asperger Syndrome.
More from Rudy Simone:
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