Making and keeping friends if I’m on the Autism Spectrum or have Social Anxiety

Making and keeping friends if I’m on the Autism Spectrum or have Social Anxiety

Making and keeping friends if I’m on the Autism Spectrum or have Social Anxiety 1707 2560 Dr. Menon

Myth: I have Asperger’s/Autism/Social Anxiety. That means I don’t care about making friends and social connections.

Fact: For many people, regardless of diagnosis, social relationships are tricky and mysterious.

Many clients have told me they weren’t born with the “social gene” or that they don’t know where to start, how to keep a conversation going, or how to share information in a way that’s not overwhelming to the listener. They also tell me they rehash social experiences on a loop and usually crush themselves with criticism. Why do they keep trying? Because the alternative can be social isolation and feeling lonely.

In order to go from problem to solution we must figure out the “why” behind your experiences. That’s some of the work we would do in therapy sessions. For now, here are a few suggestions and tools that may help, based  on what I’ve heard in session over the years…

“I have trouble guessing what people are thinking.”

In other words, there are cues and clues around you that you are not noticing. Or, you do notice but don’t know what to do with that information. These clues come in the form of body language, tone of voice, and gestures. This can make it difficult to understand what someone is thinking or feeling unless they tell you directly, instead of “hinting” or being subtle.

“I have trouble showing that I care (pretending) when I don’t agree or have not had the same experience.”

This skill helps you keep going in a 2-way conversation. When you’re talking about your favorite subjects, it’s easy to keep talking and forget to notice the people you are speaking to. In other words, you show more interest in the subject rather than the person. That can make the listener feel like they don’t matter and the conversation becomes one-sided.

If you find people with shared interests, you can practice showing interest in both the person and the topic. Think of the sentences in a conversation as being a tennis ball, moving from one side of the court to the other. Each person takes a turn to keep the ball moving.

“Where do I practice these conversation skills?”

Practice on your family or a dependable friend

Try joining community or school clubs, sports, and music groups.

Find public speaking/social skills groups (e.g., Toastmasters; these groups help people practice talking, listening, and building other friendship skills)

Search for events at meetup.com or on similar sites. Try to find a recurring event that will give you the chance to get to know new people slowly over time.

Practice ordering and making a few minutes of conversation at a local coffee shop or store

“What other social skills should I practice?”

Practice small talk and monitoring your body language

Practice smiling, making eye contact, using names, and casual conversation with someone you’ll interact with briefly (e.g., barista, cashier, server)

Set realistic social goals. Examples: I will reach out to one contact a week by text or phone call. I will ask one follow-up question in a conversation.

“How does a conversation end?”

Look for clues that the other person wants to stop talking to you. You may notice that they are looking around the room, moving their body away from you, or saying they have to do something else/ be somewhere else. This doesn’t automatically mean that they don’t like you or the time they’ve spent with you. It just means that the connection is over for now.

“This sounds exhausting.”

Learning and practicing new skills is hard work!  If you agree to a social commitment, adjust some time in your week to reset and recover from it.

Try an app like Fabriq to keep track of your social network and get reminders to connect with other people. It’s one tool to help build social habits.

 

Do these points resonate with you or someone in your life? Dr. Menon is experienced in the nuances of social anxiety and autism across the lifespan and is ready to support you with a comprehensive evaluation and/or therapy. Schedule a free consultation call with her: https://mythrivecollective.com/contact/ or learn more about her: https://mythrivecollective.com/meet-dr-vinita-menon/