Socializing Autistic-Style

:
Meeting, Making, and Keeping Friends and Connections

About Me
I am the Portland, Oregon Chapter Lead for Autistic Self-Advocacy Network. I was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome five years ago, at age 44. I am originally from Brooklyn, New York, and have a Bachelor in Fine Arts in Dramatic Writing from New York University. I have a domestic partner, two cats, and no human children.

Summary of Contents
• The conflict between wanting to make personal connections with others and feeling unable to do so • Making connections with other autistic people • Making connections with nonautistic people • Whether and when to disclose your autism to new people • Using art and performance as social tools

Some people believe that autistic people aren’t interested in making connections with others.
Spoiler: It’s not true.

There is a percentage of people in the autistic population who are introverted and/or 'antisocial'. It's important for people to remember that there are plenty of non-autistic people who are also introverted and/or antisocial.

Many of us do want to connect, however, many of us have expressed that trying to follow 'unsaid rules' that are standard for non-autistic people is problematic. Following the general social etiquette and rules can be easy for some people on the spectrum and much more difficult for others.

Before I was diagnosed in my forties, every single social encounter I had was fraught with terror. My brain was filled with so many distractions!

The Angst of Anxiety
For me, it goes with the territory of being me and always will. But being anxious about being anxious will always compound whatever problems exist between me and another person. Reminding myself that this is just how my brain works is a huge help!

Autistic-to-Autistic Body Language
Many autistic folks say they have an easier time interpreting the body language of autistic people than non-autistic people.

But I’m not every autistic person.

Can You Spot a Fellow Autistic on Sight? (Or, How’s Your A-dar Working?)

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Rocking back and forth or side to side Bobbing head even when there’s no music Flapping hands or feet (when sitting) Sitting unusually still, even when everyone else is moving Moving around a lot even when everyone else is sitting still Staring into space or at the floor or at a random object (especially when the room has a focus like a speaker or musician) Averting eyes when talking to people Having either a monotonous or unusually animated (as if imitating non-autistic people) vocal delivery, or putting emphasis on words like “a” and “the”

• • • • •


• •

Toying fairly obviously with clothing or jewelry Biting hands or fingers or lips Twisting or wriggling fingers around repetitively Not being able to mask physical discomfort like a stomachache or headache (clutching head or stomach) Staring intently around the room like they’re trying really hard to read what’s going on Staring intently at the people they’re talking to, like they’re trying really hard to read those people Being visibly startled by sudden loud or high-pitched noises Looking like they’re “holding something in” Laughing a few seconds after everyone else gets a joke

So What Do I Say?

Some things that might work when trying to connect with someone:
• Joel Smith, on the now-defunct blog NTs are Weird, once said that when his own A-dar goes off, he flaps where the other person can see it. Not all autistics flap, but if indeed you have similar mannerisms to that person, it couldn’t hurt to mirror them silently in that person’s presence and smile at them. (I wouldn’t, however, mimic a mannerism that doesn’t come naturally to you.) • Crack a joke in their presence, if you have the natural ability to do so (I do this often). Or, you could repeat a joke someone else has told at that gathering, or a line from a song or movie related to the event, that you found amusing. Some autistics are humor-challenged, but many are not, and simply have a different sense of humor from most people they know. Maybe they’ll find the same thing funny that you do!

• If the person is wearing a button or article of clothing or has a bumper sticker on their vehicle that resonates with you, compliment them on it, ask where they got it, or start talking about the subject of the button or t-shirt or bumper sticker if you know something about it. (If you can, try to pause a few seconds after you’ve said one or two sentences, so they can have a chance to respond. It might take them an extra moment to figure out what they want to say.) • Slip them a note. Be careful about this, because you don’t want to overwhelm them. But sometimes it can be easier to tell someone in writing that you’d like to meet them than tell them face to face. Make it brief, something like, “Hi, I saw you kind of grooving to those J-pop songs. I love J-pop too. We might be the only ones here who do! If you want to come over and talk to me, please do.”

How to Exit a Conversation

THERE IS NO “NORMAL.”

Some kinds of people accept eccentricity and difference more than others.

Be Yourself

Self-Disclosure

How to Tell Them (If You Want to Tell Them)
Try this: • Show up in a neurodiversity-related T-shirt. I have one that says “Cognitive Dissident.” Someone will ask you about it, and that’s your opening. • Wait until someone mentions autism in some other context, and then let them know that you are on the autism spectrum. • If you see someone looking at you a little funny because of your behaviors, you can say, “Don’t mind me, my wiring is a little different,” and if they say they want to know more, you can be more specific.

• If people ask what you “do,” you can tell them, “I’m a disability self-advocate.” If you belong to a group like ASAN (Autistic Self-Advocacy Network), or some other disability rights group or disabilityrelated social group, you can mention that. • You can do a presentation or performance that mentions your autism, if it’s the right venue for it. • If people mention their diagnoses (e.g. ADHD, depression, anxiety), that’s a great opening for you to mention your own.

Using Art and Performance as a Social Tool

Sometimes it’s easier to write it, play it, paint it, or sing it than say it.

Attracting people through creative work can also include:
• Creating wearable art, and wearing it everywhere you go. • Playing and singing songs or doing spoken word performance or standup comedy at open mic nights or jam sessions. • Blogging, or writing interesting comments on other people’s blogs. (They might ask you to write for them; this happened to me, when I was asked to join a blog related to the shows Mad Men and Breaking Bad, which I have autistic obsessions with. I also got to post a 7000 word article about my autism as a guest post on another blog.)

• If you go to school, taking out a guitar or other portable instrument at school and playing while not in class. • Creating murals. • Being involved in some form of dance. • Writing plays or scripts (theatre and film are collaborative media).

Remember: While connections are sometimes instantaneous, usually they aren’t. Let things unfold in their own time.

Letting new people in your life can be scary and stressful. But it can also be enriching, profound, and even profitable! And autistic people deserve friends and colleagues as much as anyone else does, if you want them.

Questions?
Andee Joyce andeejr@gmail.com

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