Exploring Social Interactions and Connections from an Autistic Perspective
A Not So Experts Take on It
Imagine that you have been assigned the task of cooking dinner for a crowd, but when you look in the kitchen for the recipe and ingredients are surprised to find that you’ve only been given a few to complete the task. You also haven’t been given the recipe on how to use these ingredients correctly into a proper meal, one that everyone is expecting to enjoy and knows well. So you are left with the very challenging task of cooking without a recipe, one that would guide you on how to prepare the ingredients, put them together and make it into an edible meal. If you fail on this task it could be embarrassing, your guests could get sick, you might feel guilty and uncertain of how to move forward from there. If you are brave enough to take it on with the hopes that along the way you might be able to figure it out or find substitutions for the missing ingredients then it might work out in the end. The choice is up to you and how eager you are to figure it all out.
As an individual on the Autism Spectrum this is how I feel about using social skills to navigate the world. One where each opportunity to interact with others could be a fun lesson on cooking without a recipe- spontaneous, creative, rewarding yet challenging or a total disaster that’s terribly embarrassing and keeps me from continuing to learn how to navigate the world. Sometimes, this works and I’m able to piece together the missing skill or ingredient enough to understand it in making a complete recipe, while other times I’ve struggled badly to make sense of something that is right in front of me, something that could have made sense easily if only I had the awareness to see it sooner or that one extra skill on hand when I needed it.
From a young age (recipe or not) I’ve been desperate to figure this out just to have social connections and interactions with others. I saw this as a way to learn these things and grow from them, doing my best to follow along, adjusting to each ingredient needed, whether that be communication, reading social cues, body language, understanding another’s perspective or conversation. It’s often takes a good conscious effort to pull off this, while working very hard at not letting my challenges in navigating social situations show through and risk those I am still getting to know see behind warm smile, friendliness and shyness often portrayed out in public. So, I try to piece together what I know often asking myself if I am missing anything, and if so what? Or how to improve on a particular skill? or how others can do so more naturally (believing that somehow they’ve received the secret cookbook and I haven’t)? Wondering how did they learn to do it, but what it all comes down to is wondering “how can I learn to interact in this world easier?”
A good place to start is in being more compassionate on myself in navigating these situations and remembering that a part of being Autistic is that these skills don’t come naturally to me. In fact I’ve had to work diligently on maintaining them so to avoid future faux pas and find ways to follow along without a cookbook or recipe to follow. Which for some might be a doable or enjoyable practice, they might enjoy the creativity and freedom that comes from improvising along the way, but for me this improvising comes with risk and yes even possible rejection. It’s why I’d prefer (if given the chance) to know how to use these skills, ones that have been ongoing challenges for me to figure out, that’s tested my resilience, tenacity and ability to make sense of world that doesn’t always cater to my social strengths or lack thereof.
Until next time friends, stay compassionate, understanding but most importantly Stay You-nique,