This will be the first post of the series “Autism and me”. The aim of this series is to give you all an insight into my experiences with autism and to try and raise more awareness of the topic of autism. I will post 7 blog posts in this series, and I hope all of them will be an interesting read. In this blog post, I will talk about the challenges with socialising that I faced due to my autism. Socialising and communicating with others has something that I have always found difficult and still do to an extent. However, I have and still am continuing to get a lot better at it, and I will also talk about things that have helped me overcome these challenges.
Struggling with socialising is one of the most common challenges faced by people on the autistic spectrum. In my specific case, I often found social interactions quite overwhelming, both one-on one and with larger groups. When in primary school and even high school, although I didn’t try to avoid speaking to people, I often struggled to have sustained and genuine conversations with others. In many cases, this was because I became nervous when it came speaking to others, in particular people I hadn’t met before or knew well. As a result, building and maintaining friendships was a massive challenge, and probably the biggest challenge I faced for a good few years.
One of the main reasons why I struggled with socialising was because I struggled to embrace the fact that I was different due to my autism in lots ways. Looking back, there was a lot of good qualities that I had, such as strong organisation and time management skills as well as being helpful and kind to others. However, I didn’t embrace my good qualities, and instead I used to feel that my differences were a bad thing, and that it would get looked down by others. Therefore, when it came to socialising with others, especially people that I didn’t know, I usually had a feeling in the back of my mind that I would get judged. Indeed, the first step for me in becoming more confident when socialising with others was to consider my differences as a positive thing. I told myself that my differences made me unique, and being unique is a great thing which other people love! Although this took time, I was then able to be less worried about being judged and therefore I was able to socialise more confidently with others.
Furthermore, in order to become even more confident with socialising with others, I had to get myself out of my comfort zone and put myself in uncomfortable situations when it came to interacting with others. The first stage for me was to make sure that I took the initiative when it came to starting conversations with other people, which was a big challenge for me at the time. Although this was done with people that I already knew well the majority of the time, this still was a good starting point and meant that I felt more confident when starting conversations with people I didn’t know well. I was then able to set myself bigger challenges and targets when it came to socialising with others, such as building and maintaining genuine friendships with others, starting conversations on unique topics and arranging separate catch ups outside of school/university.
Whilst socialising with others isn’t something that comes naturally to me at the moment, it is something that I now consider a strength rather than a weakness. The thing I am most proud about is being able to maintain friendships with some wonderful people, and I know that my improved socialising skills has helped massively with this. What I learnt from my experiences which I believe is important to mention is that you should be proactive when it comes to working on your weaknesses, and not be afraid of making silly mistakes. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, I had to put myself in situations outside of my comfort zone which required me to be proactive, as I knew that it would help me in the long run. I made many mistakes and sometimes made a fool out of myself, but that enabled me to learn things that would help me overcome the challenge of socialising with others.