The Social Life or Lack Thereof With Autism
In the summer of 2003, I had finished high school and was getting ready to start college. My best friend of more than two years was about to leave for the Marines. After I hung out with him one last time before he left, his parents dropped me off at my house.
I said goodbye and went inside. I knew that I was going to miss him. But I didn’t know that I would cry. In the fall of 2006, I was in college, and I met a woman who I was happy to call my girlfriend. After she broke up with me, I cried then as well.
People with autism can come across as hermits who want no social interaction. In elementary school, sometimes I played tetherball by myself during recess. When I was a teenager, if I saw a classmate at the local grocery store, I didn’t know what to do. I certainly didn’t say hi. After college, I moved to a town two hours away, and it took me a year to meet people who I could call friends.
A person with autism has a brain that works like a computer. We can store vast amounts of data in our impressive hard drives, and we need to be programmed on how to interact with others. But even though we’re introverts, we still want to have social interaction, whether or not we know how. Also, we are not all the same. Some of us, such as myself, can hide the fact that we are different, while other people with autism show that they’re different within seconds of meeting someone.
The path for someone with autism towards a healthy social life is filled with a lot of trial and error. There were far too many times in middle school when I came up to another boy and started a conversation by showing him a MAD magazine. Hey, there are some funny jokes in this, I thought to myself, so I thought that I could make friends this way.
It would have been much better and easier if instead I’d said something like “Hey Matt, I watched the NFL game last night. It was awesome!” I would also ask my friends way too many questions, one after another. But when they let me know that I was being annoying, I got the message. I also brought up a topic of conversation that nobody else cared about many times. Your autistic child needs to develop an interest that he or she shares with others.
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Joining an extracurricular group such as band, chess club, or even a sport is a good start. All boys love to play video games, so if you have an autistic son, that might be a great way for him to make friends. A sibling can teach your autistic child how to socialize in school and at home. Another issue is poor eye contact.
We were not born to be comfortable looking in someone’s eye while talking or listening. One solution that I’ve heard is to look at the person’s forehead instead of the eyes. There are many ways that people with autism struggle to connect with others, and it takes time to develop these habits.
This, of course, makes having a romantic partner more difficult. I was too socially awkward growing up, I was shy, and if that’s not enough, I didn’t read the signs that a girl liked me. Long ago, I used several dating websites, and I met some very nice women through them. But after relying on them for many years, I lost my ability to approach women in person, and the idea of asking someone I knew out on a date became nerve-wracking.
This is a struggle that everybody endures, but no matter how abnormal your autistic child may be, your hope of seeing him or her getting married someday is still very realistic.
I sold appliances for more than two years. I was able to interact with others well enough to be recognized for great sales records for our company. And for more than a year now, I have been in a relationship with a woman who means the world to me. We both love each other very much, and I think that some day we will be exchanging wedding vows.
Your autistic child can have that. Your autistic child wants that. And by teaching your autistic child good people skills over and over again, he or she can some day give you the grandchild that you want.
This article was featured in Issue 92 – Developing Social Skills for Life