Social struggles are one of the hallmarks of autism
One of the most important diagnostic elements in obtaining an autism diagnosis is social struggles.
Difficulty with human relationships and struggles with communication are both things that need to be present in any person for diagnosis of autism.
DSM 5, description of autism, the diagnosis manual guidelines used in the USA, defines several different ways a person may struggle with relationships and communications.
To receive a diagnosis of autism, a number of specific struggles must be present.
Use your search feature to look up specific DSM V descriptions of all the ways an autistic person can struggle with social issues and communication.
In other words if one does not have social difficulties, one will not be diagnosed with autism.
This being so, I continually see threads of discussion on autism forums I attend, asking how to make friends, how to find a partner to love and share life with?
I have struggled with these too, when I was younger. It breaks my heart that so many of us feel this so deeply, and it is completely understandable. To want companionship and shared affection is human nature.
Being autistic myself, I have had a lifetime of social pains, disappointments, misunderstandings, crushed hopes, trampled dreams, and horrible memories of failed relationships. I suspect this is human and all people can probably relate to this in one way or another, not just those who are autistic.
On the other hand, I also have had a few lifetime friendships and have now been married for almost 40 years. Because I see so many people sharing their pain and struggles in relationships and friendships, wishing to do better and not knowing where to start, I have been giving a lot of thought to the few successful relationships I have had over time.
Maybe there are things within these successful experiences that could be used or adapted in other people’s situations to find friends or attract a mate.
What do all of my successful friendships over the years have in common? First and foremost, we have shared interests.
We share information, enjoyment, and activities surrounding a common passion ( special interests!).
We are peers from the same economic status, similar educations, and have somewhat similar outlooks on life, or we are willing to tolerate, support and respect each other’s differences.
We were local to each other at the times our relationships formed, so we had easy access to each other for interaction.
I met each of my good and true friends while following a common( shared by the other person) special interest.
That gave us something in common to talk about and to interact with , also gave us the opportunities for other activity planning around the common interest. This seems particularly significant to me.
I retired 7 years ago to a new community where I did not know anybody.
I tried to join a couple of interest groups but found that in both cases, the members and I had little in common. Both were groups whose basic life outlook differed from mine and whose socio-economic standing was far different from my own.
In spite of that common interest, no wonder I could not find anybody to relate to!
I joined a couple of facebook groups online which exchange discussion and information about one of my favorite activities.
A few local people from the facebook groups suggested getting together to do that activity together.
Some of the people I met were not very compatible, and i did not see them again, but a handful of them were. We found so many things we shared in common, not just the special interest, but our lives, our outlooks, even similar disabilities. Amazing!
I now have a small group of local people who share my passionate interest and who I can meet with when I choose, and with the person or people I choose… whether a large group or a smaller more personal group.
It has taken 5 years, but now I almost always have an activity to share and people I feel comfortable to share it with.
Having that common interest and basic social background seem to be the key. I can be as active as I want, they know me and accept me for who I am.
I have never experienced having a group of friends to do things with before. It worked for me. Maybe it will work for you too.
Because autistic people like lots of detail, I will talk about a few things that I have learned ( the hard way!) which don’t work.
I looked for others on the fringe of the group, the outsiders or the “odd ducks”. I get along best with others like me.
I did not attempt to chase a friendship in a family group or to follow the group leaders and social high status people of the group. I learned not to try to be a part of the “in” crowd , in other words.
I have seen some males do odd things in search of romance. They will inevitably pick the “hottest babe” in the group, set sights aggressively focusing interest on her alone, and be disappointed if she is not interested in return.
If they had looked around them they would have seen lots of average, woman on the street , sometimes chunky, funky, interestingly dressed , bold or timid women watching from the sidelines. Get real. Most of us are not fashion models, women or men! ( and I don’t mean to be exclusive of any group/groups/gender or non gendered people seeking companionship or love, I am just using as examples of experiences from my own long ago past) .
Don’t look twice at the #1 pick from the fantasy movies or books, but real life people of your own social status and physical type.
Find somebody who is real. Hormones are funny. Think with your head. Women do this too, and will sometimes chase a high social status man not at all compatible with her own status or physical type in the same way…. wondering all the time what they might be doing wrong.
Take a realistic look and try to discern fantasy from reality.
Funny, me the social failure giving relationship advice. I have to see the irony in all of this. If there ever was a social failure for most of her life, its me.
I did finally get some of it right, the results speak for themselves. I’ll never be a social butterfly, a politician or a diplomat. But I am not so lonely nor do I feel as defective and as much of a failure socially. The best news is that things can change. We can change the ways we go about things, learn new ways to react, interact, new ways to do things. This goes for social struggles too.
I learned about the acceptability of being squeaky clean and showing signs of good old soap and water. No need to mask and use makeup, fancy clothes you don’t feel good about, no extra adornment if you don’t like it. Just be good and clean… that is attractive! I learned the same about wearing clean clothing, and about basic manners, and am getting better at conversation now I am aware enough to practice good manners in conversations, learning social cues about when somebody is bored, when I am talking too much, not listening enough, etc.
I am sure it all takes conscious practice for something that might be instinctive to some. Harder work for us but maybe worth it. You will have to decide for yourself how far you want to go with socialization and “how to do it”.
I somehow missed a lot of the basics, having nobody to explain them to me all those years ago.
I wish somebody had sat down with me even as an adult and talked to me, talked to me about all my social weaknesses so that I would have been aware enough of them to have done something about practicing social skills and learning about them… but until I learned about my own autism at 65/66 and had discussions with so many others with similar struggles, social interactions were just one more thing I did not know that I did not understand!
I am trainable! ( that is one of my standby mottoes which has stood me in good stead).
I keep going back to this point in my blog, I recognize it.
” If you are raising an autistic child, please explain simply everything!”
Explain what to do in social situations, how and why we do it. Explain what can happen in every situation you can think of and talk about unexpected outcomes, handling awkwardness, apologies, explanations, manners, what to wear, what is appropriate, what is not in any situation. and WHY.
The more you explain, the more understanding cooperation you are likely to receive, and the better your young one will be prepared for the realities of being an autistic adult in a social world.