Social situations and the Autistic.
“ It’ll be fine! You know me you know Joan it’s not like you don’t know anyone! We’ll have a couple of drinks, chill out kid free it’ll be great!” Explains a work mate encouragingly.
“ It’s lunch! C’mon gosh everyones gotta eat right?” Chuckles the man across the hall after confiding he’s running out for a sandwich and a quick coffee.
Sounds easy right? pleasurable even? Not for most autistics, no.
We need details! Ok you’ve explained who might be there but what about unexpected guests? What will the others be wearing and what if you wear the wrong thing? Even worse what if you look great and people think you’re a show off! Will the venue change at the last minute and what if you can’t find the toilets? Lastly what if you get ill?
These are all completely valid and logical reasons for someone autistic to be anxious about an upcoming social gathering or worse, an impromptu one.
Then there’s this to consider: hyper focus.
Imagine walking into a room and noticing every detail. Every fleck in the carpet, brush strokes in the paint work and glint of light on every surface.
Someone didn’t brush their teeth and there’s a lovely perfume in the air, you wonder what is that? Where do you buy that? You wonder if it’s in stock and how much it is.
You hope you don’t have to go into a flashy shop with fluorescent lighting blinking at 60 beats a second while crowds of snooty women mill around you.
You try to figure out who’s wearing it and realise that people, people! Have turned to look at you.
You hadn’t even realised that they were there so busy were you concentrating on smells and textures. You are becoming aware they are staring at you as you stand there seemingly awkwardly. You should say hello and sell yourself, gleaming with confidence and wit.
But your still preoccupied with the fragrance.
It’s now been ten seconds since you first entered the room.
Then you have to pull yourself back, reach into your folder of appropriate greetings and recall names and departments, you move forward confident you will succeed and blurt to your boss, “ Someone smells in here and I’m not resting till I find out who!”
It may be yourself or a loved one who wonder why the difficulty lies in seemingly effortless interaction, but hopefully you will now begin to see its anything but.
It’s motor planning: move forward, shake hands while nodding and breathe all simultaneously.
It’s also preemption: what may the reaction be and how to react to it?
It’s mental recall and communicative skills: greet by name and smile in the appropriate places while formulating responses.
It’s not easy and it’s no wonder we find it hard, exhausting even and sometimes we get it wrong.
Some of us need to sleep after pro longed social interaction or may shutdown completely for a day or so. We can find trying to make eye contact uncomfortable to some even painful, which is why we should not be forced to do so. Simply murmuring or an inclination of the head can confirm we are paying attention.
Yet we can talk or communicate in alternative ways at extensive length about a passionate interest with barely a care at your reaction, even more pleasurable if the interest in said passion is reciprocated!
This is where you can help yourself. If your interest lies in reading join a book club and visit the library, if it’s gaming look into online forums where you can meet like minded friends and if it’s music you love or art visit theatre groups and galleries on event days.
In the right situations we can and will flourish and with encouragement and help with communication we can have social lives be it online or out in the community.
There’s no right way to be social and people that look down on you because you like to role play online or enjoy talking about films or pottery extensively simply do not belong in your headspace.
What makes you happy as long as it’s not harmful to you or others is what Important. There’s so much judgement
As long as your eating, keeping yourself clean, getting out at least to get your shopping and have some exercise then your coping .