The Challenge of Social Anxiety for a Person on the Autism Spectrum


When I was being evaluated for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) at the age of 20, my doctor asked questions to make sure my diagnosis was ASD and not social anxiety disorder. But both social anxiety and ASD seemed to resonate so strongly with what I had experienced in my life.

Now I am seven months out from receiving my diagnosis. I am more self-aware than I ever thought I would be. I think I understand why I identify with both ASD and social anxiety. There are two ideas I have that differentiate ASD and social anxiety: for me, ASD can be too little social awareness, while social anxiety can be too much social awareness.

As a child, I never understood the social rules some others seem to take for granted, like why I was expected to hang out with the kids at parties and not the parents. This fits my ASD diagnosis, but as a child, I didn’t feel the anxiety that comes now. I was oblivious that I was breaking “rules.”

Now I am older and understand more of these rules and can fit in to my surroundings very well. I learned through being left out of groups. I learned through seeing people who were once great friends of mine maturing in these “weird” ways I could not seem to grasp and leaving me behind.

As an adult, I place that feeling I had with those kids growing up in the middle of all my social attempts. I am constantly worried I might lose one of the real friendships I am finally learning to manage successfully. This leads to anxiety, almost to a major effect at times.

The good news is this: I am learning how to manage both. Every day is like an adventure — I learn a new social rule and push through some social-related anxiety. It has definitely been a challenge, but I am learning how to accept myself… slowly, but surely.

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Thinkstock image by Everste

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