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.

Struggling with social skills and Aspergers

 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 

http://www.jkp.com/catalogue/book/9781849052757

  • Ian says:

    Hello.
    I am an Aspie. I am veeery high up on the Aspie scale. I am 55 years old and only relatively recently been diagnosed (three months-ish).
    When I first told my elder sister, her reply was, ‘that explains a lot’!
    I wasnt sure how to take that comment. Was it an insult? Or an understanding?
    She then asked if that was the reason I didn’t cry when our mum and a few years later, our dad, died.
    And you know what, I don’t know. Yes I loved both my parents but they are dead. The both died from ‘the big C’.
    After suffering for months with the pain, eventually the pain stopped, And I was pleased they weren’t suffering any more.
    True, I wish the whole thing hadn’t happened but it did.
    Apparently,after my dad’s funeral, a cousin of mine said to my sister that I’m a cold callous bastard simply because of the not crying or showing emotion side of things at the funeral.
    I’m not. I never have been. But the realist Aspergic side of me was saying thats it. they’re gone. Accept it.
    I went through the grieving process as everyone does (?!) I felt all the pain and the loss but didn’t/couldn’t show it.
    Cold? callous? NO. Emotionaly dysfunctional? Maybe. Aspergic? YES.

    After reading this back it hasn’t appeared in print quite the way I intended it to (nothing unusual there) but hopefully you get the gist.
    The fact is us Aspie’s are wired a little differently. We may act or talk somewhat strangely (to others at least) but we are human.
    We DO feel but we can’t always express it.

    Thankyou for taking the time to read this. It was something I had to get out.

    • Peter Vickers says:

      Thanks for that Ian , I am even older ,62 and got the same family result , younger sister simply said ‘has it taken you that long to realise?’
      I am a health professional and so have learned sympathy , empathy etc . As the Late , great George Burns said ‘ Sincerity is everything , when you can fake that you can fake anything’

      I feel I have grown greatly as a result of realising I have Aspergers , Oddly it has given me much more confidence to realise that not many people are like me – I am “Special”
      Regards
      Peter

  • terry says:

    I respect everything you have written, Paddy-Joe and would encourage all you are doing to improve your social skills, but as someone who has been struggling with this for most of my life I would say to you: keep up all your efforts but don’t lose touch with the obviously interesting and creative person you are underneath.

    Aspergers didn’t exist as a condition when I was young. The pressure to conform to a standard pattern of social behaviour was enormous. It was just about acceptable to be an introvert, which in itself doesn’t really describe this condition, but that too was mainly a derogatory description. I spent so much of my life in situations where I didn’t really know how to feel, or respond to what was happening in front of me that I found myself just copying other people’s reactions. It’s sounds like cliché to say that I had lost the person I was, but in many ways it was worst than that – I didn’t feel like a person at all.

    I was sixty-five when I realised that I had been living all my life with Aspergers, albeit fairly low on the “spectrum”. It was a complete liberation for me. I no longer care if I can’t read facial expressions very well or if I get frustrated when my various routines are disturbed. If people around me don’t like the fact that I don’t like too much physical contact that’s their problem not mine. If I seem odd in the eyes of other people, I no longer feel odd myself, and that’s what really matters. Most of my friends have been loyal friends all my life, so although I have never discussed any of this, one way or another they must have accepted me as I am. I have never been happier or more content with life than I am now.

  • Helen says:

    On the whole this is a very well written piece of advice by someone who clearly knows what they are talking about. The advice is good, but my core issue here, is knowing when or even why I would need to ask for help. Not being able to ask for help is one of the things that sets great distance between others and myself – on all levels.
    I think I take issue a little with the throwaway comment ‘just be yourself’. Who else could or would I be? Not sure I even know how! One’s own ‘true’ self is difficult to get to know, even a relative state isn’t it? And very easy to lose, if you are going through an emotionally turbulent time?
    I don’t mean to sound negative. It is actually an interesting article, and gives me a lot to think about, for which I am grateful.

  • Scott Deutsch says:

    Can the fact that one “might” have Asperger’s be an effective defense for a “Legal” ruling against oneself?; I wish to restore a friendship with a woman, but she is apparently “scared” of me if I get near her. I was not allowed to give all of my testimony in a hearing, and it caused a heart attach, and corresponding Stage 3 kidney failure (I am now on Indiana Medicaid and medication (apparently) for the rest of my life, because the “judge” never allowed me to talk. If anybody wises to contact me, that’s fine; let me know…

    • admin says:

      Im sorry to hear about your story Scott. Its possible it could be used, but I would recommend speaking with your lawyer and then getting an official diagnosis to support your case

  • M.H. says:

    This is an interesting article which leaves me with a question. Does Paddy-Joe Moran encourage or discourage those on the spectrum to reveal, if they know it, their condition to others with whom they have frequent associations? I’m an NT myself with a middle-aged widowed next door neighbor who was alternately very friendly or very distant over 12 years. She had very puzzling behaviors such as being obsessed with me to the point of cyberstalking me and then asking me if what she’d dredged up on the Internet really was about me. Quite creepy. When I put all the pieces of her behaviors together, I ascertained that she was on the spectrum, perhaps with Asperger’s. When I told her family of my belief, she went mute and then had a public meltdown. Now, if in the beginning I’d have know of her condition, I’d certainly have acted differently such as not inviting her to events which I thought she might enjoy but which she always declined. The writer at 19 probably has a different view than this 56 year old woman who I understand is moving because my presence is unbearable to her. Frankly, disclosure is superior to concealment because any concerned, interested, and puzzled person as I was will eventually put the pieces together. But then each person is responsible for her/his fate. You can try but you cannot run from yourself.

    • Mark says:

      thanks for sharing, you can also contact him at https://twitter.com/ASKPERGERS if you have questions

    • Deidre says:

      She may not have realised herself why she feels so awkward – as you will see from others’ posts, people can go a lifetime without having a label for why they feel so different.

      Poor woman, moving house and the change that goes with it is the last thing she needs… so sad

      But ultimately, yes you are right, you can’t run from yourself, and she will realise that in time 🙁

  • Lin says:

    Paddy-Joe, you are wise beyond your years. Thanks!

  • Marcel Alveen says:

    We seem to have found similar methods then.
    I have always known I was different, preferring sitting at home with some music and a good book rather than go play with my classmates. And yet it wasn’t until about a year ago I was made aware Asperger’s might be in play, which lead me to become much more aware of myself and started a process of me constantly challenging my borders to expand them.
    Possibly the most defining moment in my life was when I started University in Sept. Didn’t quite fit in there, but luckily our faculty runs a bar on the premises. I became a bartender and found that being intoxicated and always having a function (a job to do) at social gatherings helped me immensely.
    When I am not behind the bar, I retort to chameleon-like behaviour. I’m usually “just present” without talking much, and people have learned not to address me directly too often. This enables me to be present at pretty much every social gathering without straining myself too much. I still very much feel like a part of the community, but in my own way that I can handle.

  • Adrian Greenhalgh says:

    I was diagnosed as being on the Autistic spectrum having Aspergers at the age of 60, nearly a year ago. My social life can essentially be summed up in two states.

    Chameleon – I just mimic others – assume nothing, say little and listen a lot. This behaviour has been greeted with comments such as “You fit like a glove”. Use humour very carefully but do use it. Laughing is good it can be very infectious. Even if it is at your own jokes.

    Drunk – This works only if you are with friends and alcohol happens to makes you go quiet. It does give you a rest from trying to assimilate and copy the behaviour of others which is very difficult for groups larger than 3 or 4.

    My advice is never trust your intuition. Observe and listen always remembering that mimicking others behaviour as much as you can is usually successful.

    The best thing I ever did to help me cope with my condition was to take my wife to my assessment it it is truly wonderful to be honest about yourself and know it will be believed and understood.

  • I took the self diagnosis test that has been published in a peer reviewed journal, and found I had borderline Aspergers, which explains why lots of people in jobs misread me; mistake interest and desire to learn more with carping criticism, or think I have no interest in something that I am actually extremely interested in, just because I don’t whoop like a game show contestent.

    In some ways I have very good social skills. I am a reasonably accomplished actor, with good reviews from the local papers, and I am a very good teacher; I seem to know exactly what the prevailing mood is in a class, when to be witty and when to be serious, and students find me easy to approach.

    On the other hand I find it difficult to pretend interest over things that bore me, or to flatter and butter up bosses and others in power with fragile egos, which has made it hard for me in jobs. I can certainly related to Pat’s difficulties getting work; job interviews are not hell for me, because I don’t particularly care about embarrassment, but nor are they particularly pleasant experiences – more to the point they are not very productive. Whatever it is I am supposed to say is wrong, and whatever attitude I am supposed to have is the wrong one. It is rather like acting in a play, except that I don’t have a script, and have no idea what the play is even about.

  • Jeremy says:

    This website that offer’s a test to diagnosis, is that test legit enough to be able to offer an “effective” answer for those wanting to know?

  • Joanne Hudson says:

    My friends invite me by saying “we’re getting together X to do Y. I know its not your “thing”, but you’re more than welcome to come if you want to.

    One friend told me that she didn’t know what Asperger’s is, doesn’t care. Just enjoys me as my own weird self. I think we need more like her.

  • Pat Valente says:

    I have some nice friends and get along fine with them. I have the high functioning autism, or Asperger’s syndrome. The problem I face now is having been unemployed for over 2 years and only 58 years old. CA Dept. of Rehabilitation is helping me with my interviewing skills (employable social problems).

    • Helen says:

      Pat, don’t blame yourself for how you perform in the interview process. If you don’t mind me saying, you are at an age which people do struggle to find work. Don’t feel disheartened.

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