It’s true. Some autistic people do sometimes struggle with social situations. That isn’t to say we don’t enjoy or don’t want to be social. Most autistic people really do enjoy company and want to be sociable. Sometimes autistic people just don’t know how to do it. Autists can sometimes appear uninterested in other people, or appear not to be listening, but that is not necessarily the case. Socialising can be an exhausting minefield.
So why is socialising more tiring for autistic people? Consider what most people do when they are getting ready to socialise. Make sure they are dressed appropriately? Ensure they are on time? Got money, phone, and keys? An autistic person will do that too, but before socialising they may also be writing a list of relevant conversation topics in their head. Or on paper. Trying to remember details about their friends which may be relevant. Have any big events happened since last they saw their friend that they should ask about? Thinking about anything they said or did last time. Worrying about how to get there.
During the social event, many autistic people are constantly checking what they are saying to ensure it is appropriate and won’t offend. They may rephrase something several times in their head before it comes out their mouths and by then they may have missed the appropriate moment to say it. Many autists will be worried they aren’t asking enough questions, or asking too many, or are they info dumping about something they love that their friend doesn’t care about? We are also likely processing more sensory information and concentrating hard on everything going on.
With socialising on video calls, there is far less information to gauge how well engaged the other person is. Are they sitting comfortably? Are they wringing their hands at something I have said? Have I made sure that everything behind me is ok for them to see? And since it is letting people into their homes, that adds an extra level of vulnerability – some autistic people do not routinely have visitors, so having someone seeing the inside of their homes may add anxiety too. Not all autistic people are incredibly well organised and tidy regardless of what stereotypes may lead you to believe.
Following the social event, work meeting or whatever else has been done to engage with others, many autistic people are likely to be analysing the whole conversation to ensure they were not too inappropriate. If they have concerns that they were inappropriate, do they text and apologise? Would that be appropriate or be seen as odd? Most autistic people use a huge amount of energy to socialise but that does not mean we don’t want to do it.