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What Helps Me With Social Interactions as Someone on the Autism Spectrum

I am often considering different ways I could improve myself in order to make life easier. I thought that for a change it could be interesting to think about different ways other people could help me as well. I have to be quite honest and say that there are a number of things people do that I struggle to understand. For the most part, these things are to do with communication and clarity.

Part of this issue does come from me; this is because I typically guess that people are not that interested in talking to me. Unless someone definitively says they are interested in talking to me, I will guess that they are not, and then I do not put too much effort in. Eventually I can figure out if people are interested in talking to me. If I have known them for six months or a year and they have consistently shown some interest, then it becomes clear they are interested in talking to me.

Clarity is most important in the first few weeks of knowing someone. If an individual manages to make things clear that they are interested in talking to me, all is well. If they do not manage to do this, chances are I will end up going back to the default of thinking they are not interested. When thinking back, and after some discussion with others, I am sure there have been times where I have prematurely shown little interest in people. It feels like everyone else understands this behavior and I do not.

This may seem quite ridiculous, but it would be a lot easier if people greeted each other by saying “Hello, I would like to talk to you for a short while,” or “Hello, I am not interested, leave me alone.” That way I would not have to make the decision myself. When meeting new people I have always found it a lot easier when people are more open and talkative. It both provides me with questions, which can get the conversation going, and also someone to listen to.

I have always found it very easy to listen to people, and have found that people tend to notice my listening skills if they speak to me for more than five minutes. This is where things can get frustrating. When provided with the right person to talk to, I find I can do quite well. It also helps if there is a purpose; it can be easier to meet work colleagues for the first time because they are people that you have to get on with, at least in a working environment, and you are usually introduced in a structured way.

When meeting people in a friendly, leisurely way, you are talking for no reason, just discussing various pointless things until you have decided whether or not the person is worth talking to. This is usually where things go wrong for me. I find it difficult to talk for no reason. Without having a purpose to focus on, things seem a lot more difficult.

It may be that in reality, not much can be done about this. Perhaps this is just how I am, and I will have to simply go on relying on good luck. As I have said, I can get on with some people if they behave in the right way. Perhaps the answer to this is simply more understanding. It is very rare for me to tell people openly about the kinds of difficulties I have. I tend to worry about what people may think, and it is simply easier to not have to explain over and over.

In some ways, it might be useful if people were more aware. If people knew how to spot when someone was having difficulty in a social situation, it would surely help that person to get on, because others would try to adjust their behavior automatically in order to make it easier for the person(s) experiencing difficulty. I feel that the growing importance of different events for raising awareness is helping. But there are other things that can be done as well. On a broad level, the diversity of how people operate and communicate could be discussed a lot more. Then a greater understanding among most people can be possible.

It does not have to be that difficult. It does not even require extra efforts for schools and other places of education. It could simply be done within the home. Parents should be encouraged to teach their children about the different ways people can communicate and also the difficulties some people can have with the world. I have been discussing how I find it difficult to understand how other people work sometimes, and this happens the other way around as well. Promoting acceptance is a broad way can lead to more complex conversations later on.

There used to be a time when I had nearly given up on discussing my  communication issues. I have since realized this is not a very effective way to bring about change, and also that it is not just for my benefit, but for the benefit of other people as well. So even if I sometimes feel like I am not worth helping, other people are, and if I can be part of it, that would feel like a considerable achievement.

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Thinkstock image by Antonio Guillem.

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