How to Be Socially Awkward or What I Learned In Social Skills Class

NOTE: This piece was originally published by the blog “Extemporary Sanity” and was subsequently published by “The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism” blog. 

Over the years many people have “explained” the autism spectrum to me for which I owe them a debt of gratitude.  Without their thoughtful help I would never have guessed that I was cognitively impaired and lacked empathy.  Who knew that I would never grasp the subtleties of language or concepts, like irony, sarcasm or satire?

More than anything, though, I deeply appreciate how their expertise helped to blend in flawlessly in social situations. Rather than just staying at home and doing things that make me happy, like reading or writing about subjects I like, (being socially isolated and fixated on obsessive interests), I can instead engage in meaningless conversation with people who I don’t know well or like very much (socialize appropriately).   I have a whole list of conversation starters in my pocket and I’m ready to mingle baby!

There’s only one snag that I have run into so far, the fact that apart from other Autistic people, nobody else has had social skills training. Time and again I seem to encounter people who have not learned that when I approach them, (with a smile and good eye contact, making sure that my body is facing them and I am standing at an appropriate distance), that they are supposed to turn toward me and pause their conversation so that I can use one of the “openings” that I diligently practiced.  They also don’t know that they are supposed to warmly welcome me when I toss out, (in a carefully slowed down and not overly-loud voice),  my “Hey guys” or “What are you guys doing?”  Amazingly enough, some of them even seem to find this type of thing a little awkward, or even creepy, coming from a complete stranger.

I’m sure that it has nothing at all to do with anything like the realistic quality of the scripted conversations that I memorized.  After all, they were created by  experts who clearly must have known a great deal about the dynamics of social interaction – especially back when I was a teen attempting to interact with other teens and those experts were so much older and wiser.  I suppose I’ll just have to chalk it up to coincidence.  It’s not that I have been systematically taught to be even more socially awkward than I already was, it’s simply that everyone who I have ever approached and been rejected by has been an undiagnosed autistic person in need of appropriate social skills training.

The Importance of Finding Out Useless Crap About Autism

Note: This piece was originally published by the blog “Extemporary Sanity.” 

As you may have heard, many Autistic people like routine. Well, I’m one of them. Every morning I get up, shake off the three hours of refreshing melatonin-induced sleep that I got, and head downstairs. Sitting down with a steamin’ cup o’ joe I fire up the computer and find out why I’m Autistic today. Were my parents old, fat, Republican? Was my mom, dad, anyone, exposed to a viral infection in the first trimester? Perhaps I was raised in a toxic waste dump or born on a Tuesday. The possibilities are endless. What matters is that the routine never changes. Ever.

In these turbulent and uncertain times it is good to know that we can rely on something. Leaders may come and go, empires may rise and fall, but there will always be some researcher somewhere spending money that could be used to keep Autistic adults out of institutions on finding out useless crap about autism.  And thank God. What would society do without the knowledge that Autistic people lack empathy because we don’t assign the same personality traits to anthropomorphic triangles on a computer screen as “normal” people? How would people form stereotypes about us without modern studies based on outdated, discredited, ambiguous and arbitrary data from 1947? This research is absolutely essential.

What frightens me is that someday some irresponsible (sentient) person may decide that this money should be spent in other ways, like helping Autistic adults overcome decades of discrimination to thrive in the workforce.  Who needs that? What we really need is more studies on why Autistics are so … not normal … and how we can fix them, or better yet, prevent them all together. Hey, nobody needs another Albert Einstein on their hands.

I’m not really worried though. Luckily, we have plenty of big groups that will keep raising money for the “right” autism causes.   Remember, the best way to make sure that nothing ever changes, is to keep listening to those groups instead of actual Autistic people.   We wouldn’t want to mess up our routine.