Sunday, July 14, 2013

How to help an Introverted #Autistic Person Feel More Comfortable in Social Activities

On my Inner Aspie FB page an interesting discussion took place the other day, and a question was posed that I said I'd further think about, and extrapolate here after doing so.

Basically, it was a discussion about introverted vs extroverted aspies, and how would one go about making an introverted autistic feel more comfortable in a group, or even social setting. I would like to first point out that an extroverted autistic person may or may not be auspicious. Sometimes, they are the most noticeable, due to how on display they are naturally. They  loudly violate social rules that make me sit back, and cringe as they do it. Sometimes, I am too hyper-aware of the rules, and am over thinking everything, instead of being in the moment, which is somewhat needed for a fluid social exchange that is positive, and rewarding for all sides. The thing is, most of my social skills are not intuitive. They are intellectual, so it is hard for me to be go on autopilot around people. Mostly because I just don't have much to say to most people
, but I will get to that later. Before I break down some ways to help the introverted autistic (and probably the introverted person of any neurology) I'd like to share a story that will illustrate my points probably more than any block of rules ever could.

A few years ago, when I was not even officially diagnosed yet, My family, and I attended a local Asperger's support group. About half of the very small group was NT, and the rest AS.  The NTs were mostly the ones chatting, with the exception of one AS lady that was typically off topic, by miles.  The other AS person there was quiet, and never spoke. He sat there scrolling through his phone, and what would probably look to others like shutting the group out, but I knew he paying attention. He was just nervous, and probably could not look up at everyone, because it would be too overwhelming, so he was looking at his favorite stuff online that has a sense of familiarity to it. At least, that would be my guess, because logic dictates he would not take the time to come to meetings if he didn't want to join in, even if it was just by being an active listener. At one point the discussion turned to specific computer programs, and he did have quite a bit to say about that, but with the exception of those 5 minutes, he did not speak. I did not either, except for a few words. One topic was to correct that godawful misinformation a counselor had given one parent. I about fell out of my chair, and had to correct her, as well as ask the other people in the room who were on the spectrum if they felt the same, but short of that, I didn't speak much at all. That was my one, and only experience with an AS group in person.

Moving on a year or two later, my husband and I join a skeptics group. When we arrive at one of the events the guy from the AS meeting happens to also be there. Small world. You'd think we'd say something to each other like that, but we do not. I see him, and he sees me. It's amazing that I recognized him. We sit by each other as we eat, and we are together in every picture of that, and other events we attend after that. We never speak a word to each other, or make eye contact. I know who he is, and he knows who I am. I'm okay with sitting in silence, and he is, too. Everyone around us tries to make small talk with us, but ends in awkwardness. I have nothing to say to broad subject matter, and he doesn't, either.

That was pretty much a breakdown of what makes us comfortable. My husband does not understand this, and it drives him crazy. Why do we not speak to each other, he asks. I am sure, if we spent enough time around each other, and a subject came up we would discuss it, but just to chat out of the clear blue for the reason of filling silence? No.

What makes me comfortable in groups/social situations are:

 The ability to be quiet, or talk without any preconceived notions about what either if those actions mean,

A topic matter that I know something about, or people that I have something in common with.

People around me not being obnoxious. Loud people really send me into sensory overload.

People including me, but backing of if I don't tend to have much to say.  I don't mind being asked what I think, for example, of the topic they're discussing, but if I don't tend to have much to say about it, then please take that as I cue I don't want to keep talking about it.

Let me have enough time to process, and speak. This one is hard, because as I said above, I may not have anything to add to the conversation, and will bail if I feel pressure, but on the other hand, I may actually have a lot I want to say, but can't due to my mind getting too overexcited. Loud people will often take my pause to steal the discussion away, and with that my turn to speak. If this happens more than twice I likely will leave, and not return to the group, because I will feel defeated, and left out, as well as frustrated.

I think the main point is, just because I am quiet, and never speak during  group activity that does not mean I had a bad time, or am uncomfortable,  Sometimes, I feel just fine being a quiet observer of a group/social activity, and enjoy myself just fine doing so. Don't assume to know what makes me happy. I'm not you, and never, ever, ever ask me out loud in front of a group why I am so quiet. This is humiliating, and is the equivalent of being socially outed by a group. I will not return to that group, and likely won't be your friend after that, because friends don't treat each other like that. I can't tell you how many times I have come home from an activity, and cried and cried, because I was so embarrassed, and felt like there a huge flaw had been pointed out in front of everyone, because someone said that to me. The same goes for asking me to smile. Don't do it. It feels like I am being socially ostracized for not behaving like everyone else, and if you ask something like that I feel bullied. Don't be a bully.

I think that covers the main points that I have about making an introverted autistic, like myself feel comfortable in social situations.  I'm sure that I didn't cover everything, so if you're an introverted person and have some more tips, please leave them in the comment section.







21 comments:

  1. Oh yes, it is very very rude to ask a person out loud in front of a group why he or she is so quiet. How do you expect the person to respond?? Jeez.. It has happened to me before and it really did embarrass me and made me resent the person. And when it happened to another person, I will try to deflect attention away by blurting out something if I'm comfortable enough with the group.

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    1. It is very embarrassing. I think that is my issue. There really isn't any way to respond. It's hard for me to explain, but it's basically bullying to me. It's a way of telling someone else their behavior isn't welcome, and as part of the social unit in a very public way.

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  2. These are the exact words I ve always wanted to tell the community I find myself in but I've never known how. I get asked out loud all the time why I'm so quiet, why I don't contribute to conversations , why I play with my phone. My community knows very little about Autism and you are required to be loud and exuberant to fit in.

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  3. It gives me a dep sense of shame and devastation when I'm asked that question out loud in a public gathering. I end up resenting that person for life.

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    1. I don't resent the person, unless they do other things that I might consider rude, or bullying, but I also won't necessarily like them, either. It feels very intimidating.

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  4. Remember that person may also just be feeling socially awkward...or may be trying to include you but not knowing good tact. They thought you were feeling left out and tried to show they were aware of you and wanted you in. They probably went home just as mortified as you. Read their minds, "Oh no, I feel so bad. I embarrassed a lady at PTA tonight. Why can't I just mind my own business?"

    Why not simply answer, "I like listening." Or just shrug. Or if you feel smart-alecky, you could say "Why do you talk so much?" Or just casually joke "If my mouth is closed, my foot stays out of it." Have some planned answers and the moment will pass by and likely be forgotten by everyone else.

    Remember the old saying: Stop worrying about what people think of you. They probably aren't. They are thinking of themselves.

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    1. I like your line of thought Lynn...

      Yes it is really rude to tell someone to smile, or ask them why they are so quiet. But maybe it is simply a social blunder that the one who ask simply either is not aware of due to poor social sensitivity (and would not make again f explained), or the person may ask out of trying to overcome extreme nervousness and regret bitterly afterwards. It is good idea with a handful of standard self defence scripts designed to brush off specific problem conversations.

      Good post by the way. I think my worst nightmare is an extrovert aspie. I don't like to be in the company of extroverts in general. They tend to be intimidating, dominate conversations, cause sensory overload and be socially insensitive, and if you then add extra insensitivity with aspergers... That is a recipe for a very stressful 5 minutes (that is as long I may put up with feeling intimidated and overloaded before deciding to leave).

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    2. I think that at times the other person in trying to let the introvert know they are thinking of them, and wanting to include them. I take that into consideration before attaching too much emotion to my reaction.

      However, I think your last sentence about people not thinking of me is exactly where the confusion lies. I don't not talk, because of anxiety. I don't talk because I have nothing to say to most conversation. It's not anxiety. It's just Asperger's. I don't think I have social anxiety. When others assume that I am not talking due to something being wrong, it does upset me, because there is nothing wrong. My natural state is quiet when I have nothing to add to the current conversation. Not wanting to join in on small talk is not wrong, and neither is my personality. That is my point in writing this. I shouldn't have to defend myself, or try to figure out how to be more outgoing. I want others to understand that there all types of people out there in the world, and one doesn't have to me a laugh a minute extrovert to be 'okay'.

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    3. Yes I agree with you Lynn that most times the person is well-meaning and trying to include you but they have no idea that doing that makes you feel even smaller. What I normally do is just smile and give a shrug and hope the moment will pass which it normally does but I like your planned answers :D

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    4. Yes, if we were all "laugh-a-minute" extroverts, we'd all just talk over each other anyway. And then we'd be a mess. We all have a place in this world. Where I have more issue is when I do want to say something; how do I break into the conversation?

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    5. Like, as an introvert wanting to join in? That's a hard one, because conversation tends to flow on a nonverbal wave that really can't be described. I don't really always know this, either.

      If you mean as an extrovert wanting to include the quieter person, I would say wait until you're alone with the other person, and ask them if they're having an okay time, or if there's something making them uncomfortable. If you can think of a question to ask that person it sometimes is enough to include them without looking like a bright white spotlight. Like, asking them what they think of ____ (what ever topic you're discussing) or asking them something about themselves.

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    6. More the first, introvert wanting to join in. Conversation goes flowing along merrily like a stream, and then I toss in my pebble and it either makes no ripple or it causes a big, unintended, embarrassing splash...but usually I don't even get the pebble picked up before the stream has gone around the bend into some other topic. And there I am, stuck in the mud on the shore, wondering why it is so seemingly easy for others to go with the flow.

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    7. I feel the same way often. When I feel like I have something to add I often don't know when to add it. There's never this obvious opening to say it, or if I do get to say something my timing is off, and I'm not acknowledged.

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  5. Hi there, did you use to live inside my head? You have the magic touch to put into words how I feel, or at least how I used to feel all the time before I started to learn about autism when my daughter got diagnosed. Oh how I do love your blog. I know sometimes you have to suffer some negative comments but keep in mind you help a lot of people out there (who don't take the time enough to tell you and thank you). Thank you for being this important link between NT and AS worlds!

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    1. Thank you for reading, and for commenting! I appreciate hearing from you!

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  6. I can't tell you how much I appreciate you sharing this. My husband, daughter and I are all introverts (very different types of introverts, but very pronounced in our own ways). Our 13-year-old daughter has Asperger's and begs and begs for people to just "let her watch" at events. She loves to go - but she HATES being put on the spot or called out for "not participating." In her mind, she is very much participating, even if it doesn't look like it to someone else.

    Like the guy at your events - she is often on her phone, or looking down, or doing some kind of repetitive soothing behavior like picking at her cuticles, but she's not unhappy! In fact, she is probably taking in more of what's going on than half the people there. But it seems like it's hard for people to get that, and they (in a well-meaning but really painful way) keep trying to "make" her join in.

    Ugh.

    THANK YOU. Thank you for being a voice that can explain this. Thank you for putting this out there so we can share it with people who just don't "get" us.

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    1. Thank you for reading! Otherwise, I'd just be talking to myself!

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  7. Wow, I could have written this myself! I'm not AS, at least I don't think I am, but I am extremely introverted, and I can't tell you how many times I've felt exactly that way. Thanks for writing this, and I'll be sharing. :)

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    1. Thanks for commenting and sharing! I appreciate it. Nice to hear from other introverts NT or AS. :)

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  8. Hi there! I found you through Twitter. Someone tweeted about this post today. So glad I found it. My 18 year old son is AS...and introverted. And your post just very much described him. I have learned that he is ALWAYS listening. When he was little and first diagnosed, people kept saying to me, "you need to make him make eye contact when you are talking to him to make sure he is listening." Personally, I don't agree. That just stressed him even more. He does make eye contact, on his terms. And he does interact, when he has something to say. Also, the whole noise sensory overload...oh yeah.

    I am just so incredibly grateful to hear the personal experiences of those with AS. It makes me feel like I may have been inside my son's head for a minute. I read a lot from the parents' perspectives and I also write at my blog from my perspective, but it is so valuable to hear from you.

    Thanks for sharing. Glad to have found you.

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    1. I'm so glad to have you here! I saw, and liked your page on FB! I look forward to reading your posts!

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