Straight From the Source - Amy Kleinman
Posted on 07/27/18 in Social and Recreation by Milestones
While reading the article “How to Meet Autistic People Halfway” from the New York Times, I was impressed by how accurate its portrayal of the social issues autistic people have was, as I have faced many of them myself. I have found it hard to make friends, and though I’m happy with my small circle of friends now, it is harder for others to accept that I only have a few really good friends. My mother reminded me recently that I used to take a book out on the playground and read. It bothered her more than it bothered me. I was teased, and my theory at the time was I’m better off alone, then I won’t get upset.
One of the things that really struck me about the article is that they discuss eye contact, and how hard it is for many autistic people.
"Take eye contact. Some autistic people say they find sustained eye contact uncomfortable or even painful. Others report that it’s hard to concentrate on what someone is saying while simultaneously looking at them. In other words, not looking someone in the eye may indicate that an autistic person is trying very hard to participate in the conversation at hand. Unfortunately, this attempt to engage often gets interpreted as a lack of interest."
This is something I’ve really struggled with, and have worked hard on. It still is difficult for me at times, especially when I'm upset or angry. I'm lucky that most times when I have issues regarding eye contact, I manage to explain it, and am dealing with people who understand me.
Another thing that I found interesting was the authors suggestion that training autistic people to act the way neurotypical people expect is not always the best answer. I found that very interesting, and extremely insightful. I've been to social skills groups, and while it has helped me, I will admit that not many people can tell I'm autistic unless I say something. I don’t know if that’s because the social skills training is working, or if my symptoms are not as severe, or both. I do think that if an autistic person wants to work, they might need to focus more on these skills, but otherwise it may not be appropriate.
The best way to be welcoming to autistic people is to accept them for who they are. Judging them on their behaviors may make their skills worse, and you would be missing out on knowing a really wonderful person. If you have a family member or close friend with autism, try to understand what helps them. Recently, I was in Washington DC with my mom to visit my sister, and we discovered that when I get antsy, my fidget cube helps me calm down. Realizing strategies to help, and ways to suggest them that will not hurt the autistic person, is another good thing. A lot of times, it’s not what is said, but HOW it is said that affects me. If something is said to try to help, but in a judgmental way, I'm likely to still get upset.
If you have autism and want to be more social, I would suggest looking for opportunities that play to your interests. If you like art, try to find a group that focuses on that, or take a class. If you like drama, try out for a community theatre production. Play to your strengths, and realize that if someone doesn’t accept you, they’re not worth your time anyway.