Why is Making Connections Hard for Individuals on the Spectrum?
What I Want Others to Understand about Being Autistic and Connecting
Let me first say that if there was a club for people on the spectrum to gather and talk about how bad we want to be a part of things and connect with others, I would be the first to put my hand up and volunteer as club president. Ever since I was little I wanted to make connections and form friendships, it’s been this need in me that I’ve always had, but couldn’t quite figure out how to attain it. My earlier approaches had me observing the other social beings (aka my peers) to see what I could learn from them… of course they never quite took it that way, and so my observations came at a price. Later I realized that you have to be subtle while observing others and that there are more appropriate ways of learning about things like social interaction… but those earlier days in the sandbox taught me a lot.
For one, here was where I first started figuring out that I was different than my peers, and that difference somehow excluded me from being a part of their interactions, and circles. That “something different” has always been being Autistic (or as my diagnosis was known at the time Aspergers Syndrome). I just wasn’t at an age able to understand that Autism affected my ability to connect with others, yet I had the desire to, but couldn’t grasp how to go about doing it. The best way I can describe this experience is that it’s been like trying to reach a jar on the top shelf in the grocery store, seeing it there within eye shot, but not able to fully grasp it, knowing that if only you were a little taller or in my case knew a little more about how it all worked, would be able to get it within your reach.
It’s All in the “How”:
I share this because while others on the spectrum might be happy existing in their own worlds I was never that way. I wanted to be a part of what was going on, to be included and to have connections, and therefore all of these things were important to me. I just didn’t know how to get them. It’s an important insight that I think anyone looking to help individuals on the Autistic spectrum, seeking those connections, needs to understand, these skills are not enquired intuitively, they need to be taught. For without support, we may never create connections and learn how to build them into friendships, or in going back to the jar analogy like having a jar in our hands, but not quite sure how to open it. Do you twist left? Twist right? Hold it with both hands? Smack it against the table? Who knows… I sure didn’t.
It’s why I believe it’s important for us to find opportunities to learn when we are young how to connect with others, whether that’s through a social club, shared interest, or maybe it’s simply finding the right sort of guidance to help us make sense of the complicated and confusing experience that being a friend can be, so that later in life when we’re navigating these things on our own, we know how to open that jar with a firm grip and twist left to successfully get what’s inside.
So I encourage you to have compassion towards those struggling to figure this out and with yourself (if you are on the spectrum). It can be a confusing and challenging journey, but when you find the right friends that get you, it’s totally worth it.