Struggling with Social Skills
Todays get guest post comes Paddy Joe-Moran a 19 year old Autistic Author of two books. He recently responded to the sites request for additional guest bloggers. Here is article on Social Skills.
Struggling with social skills is one of the main features of having autism; it is virtually a guarantee that if you are autistic you will struggle with your social skills in one way or another. You might have no confidence, and be extremely apprehensive and anxious about having to go out and talk to people. You might have no clue how to respond when somebody is talking to you, and be unable to show any interest in what they are saying. You might think your social skills are fine, but in reality you are just talking for half an hour at somebody about something they have no interest in without being able to pick up on the fact that they want you to shut up. Or maybe you are very good with your social skills, but the effort this takes puts a strain on your everyday life.
Having issues with your social skills to one degree or another is nothing to be ashamed of; it is simply a natural part of having autism. If you prefer your own company, that`s fine, and there is no need to be out-going and friendly to everyone if you don’t want to be, as long as you can do enough to get you through the basics that you need to do in life. Often, getting a diagnosis will be a big help with these issues anyway; just knowing why you behave in a certain way, or why you find certain things hard can be as big a help as anything. I am not saying that it would solve all the problems that come with having autism, because it wouldn’t, but it does give you a new understanding of them, and a new way to approach them – it is very hard to solve a problem if you can`t identify the root cause of it. Once you know you have autism it is much easier to look at things such as your social skills, and to do research in to them; find out what other people may have done to help themselves, and look at the advice other autistic people are giving.
Of course it really depends what aspects of your social skills you want to be able to improve, and to what level, as to what you might try and do. If you are struggling to go out with your friends, but you do want to be more sociable, my advice would be to talk to them and explain the situation; let them know that you are not being rude if you don’t want to go out with them one night, and let them know that you would prefer to meet up just with them, rather than have them bring a bunch of other people along. The majority of people will probably be understanding of this, and be accepting of it. It will mean that your plans are made at much less short notice, and if they want to meet up with you they will probably be willing to meet up in places where you feel more comfortable. But equally you may have to force yourself to go out even when you are not feeling up to it, because of course it is not fair to make the people around you compromise if you are not willing to. If you want to socialise more, but are not sure how, perhaps you could join some sort of club or group? This will help because of the routine; there will be set times of the week when you go, and you will know what you are going there to do. If you like the people there then you may meet up with them outside of that situation, but you don’t have to – you can have friends that you meet at a certain time of the week, at a certain place and time. You could also try socialising with other autistic people as they will have a greater understanding, and sympathy towards your problems.
If you do find yourself in a social situation, and you don’t know how to respond when people talk to you, or how to show an interest in what they are saying to you, the best thing you can do is talk to somebody you trust – such as a family member – and ask them to help you with things such as what to say in certain situations, and then practise, and try to remember those things. You should also try to make a conscious effort when somebody is talking to remember to ask questions, or at least nod at certain points so that they are aware that you are interested, or at least think that you are interested. If they don’t think you are interested, then they probably will not talk to you again. This is fine if you don’t particularly want social contact, but if you ever want to hold down a job, or maintain a relationship, you need to learn how to show, or at least fake, interest in what somebody is telling you. Learning to recognise emotions is a big part of this; you can do this in all kinds of ways – you can get somebody you know to practise different emotional reactions and tell you what they are, you can have cards that you look at with different facial expressions that tell you what the emotion is, or you can simply learn it as a science; learning the movements people`s bodies make when they are experiencing certain emotions., and looking out for them – that way, even if you don’t have the emotional understanding you can learn to read somebody`s body language in the same way that you might learn a foreign language.
One of the most difficult aspects of social skills is being able to judge how good – or not – your own are. Sometimes you will get people who clearly believe their social skills are fine, and yet they will stand very close to somebody and talk at them for a very long time, about something the person has absolutely no interest in – even if it is apparent to everybody else in the room that the person doesn’t want to be spoken to. This is difficult because the person talking is obviously trying to be nice and friendly, but they just haven’t got the hang of it. Again, learning to read body language is very important in this. If you can pick up on the fact that somebody is bored then you can stop talking, or at least change the subject. Also, think to yourself before you talk, how much have you said to the person about that particular subject in the past, and how much have they said back to you? If you have said a lot, and they have said virtually nothing, then they are clearly not interested. Change tactics, and ask them questions; let them dictate the flow of conversation for a while, and just go with it. Respect the fact that they might not feel the same way about something you care about, as you do. For example, if you are really into computers, don’t try to talk to somebody about your processor if they have said to you at the start of the conversation `I`m not interested in computers. ` In situations like that you`d be better off just standing in front of a mirror and talking to yourself, because all you are doing is getting a reputation as somebody that no one wants to talk to.
It might be that your social skills are actually ok. You might have figured out ways of dealing with the problems you have, and be much better able to communicate, and get by in the outside world. But often the effort that this takes can have a profound effect on autistic people; they put so much time and energy in to dealing with social situations, and acting in a way that isn’t natural to them, that by the time they get home they are so wound-up, and overly- stressed that they may have frequent outbursts and meltdowns, and can even develop anxiety and depression later on in life because of this. The only real way to deal with this is for autistic people to step back a bit from their social interactions – try to balance out the time they spend alone with the time they spend with others for, their own good. The other thing to say is to be yourself a bit more. You might not be able to do that all the time, but spending your life living as somebody you`re not will only have a detrimental effect on you, and your health and well-being.
Overall, social skills will probably always be difficult for people with autism – it is simply a fact of life. But just because something is difficult doesn’t make it impossible. There are many ways to deal with social issues, depending on what you are finding difficult, and to what level. This might not always be easy, and could even take years to begin to work. But chances are, if you try hard enough you will be able to find something that works for you.
My name is Paddy-Joe Moran. I am a 19 year old autistic author of two books, and co-founder of autism advice service ASK-PERGERS?If you need any more help or advice about Asperger`s, or simply want to talk about it check out my free help and advice service ASK-PERGERS? On Twitter https://twitter.com/ASKPERGERS Facebook https://www.facebook.com/ASKPERGERS?ref=hl
Also to read more from me go to my blog http://askpergers.wordpress.com/
And have a look at my books (at the time published under pseudonyms, but I did co-write them trust me on that!) http://www.jkp.com/catalogue/book/9781843106227