Autistic Social Skills
While there may be some difficulties communicating when autistic and non autistic people get together, bear in mind that autists do have social skills – it’s just that autistic social skills are different. Social events and work spaces populated entirely by autistic people often go very differently, and our way of socialising and communicating is valid.
Some key points about autistic socialising are:
- Autistic people share personal stories to empathise. If your cat is poorly and your autistic friend starts talking about their poorly pet, they are likely not trying to steal your thunder. Chances are they are showing that they know what you are going through. This may sometimes come across as rude, but the intent is to let you know that you are not alone. They are probably trying to be kind and empathise.
- Autistic people sometimes interrupt others to empathise too. Very often when one autistic person is halfway through a sentence, another will jump in to attempt finish it off, and sometimes the sentence gets finished off by another. Again, this is often used to say, “I am following your train of thought and I agree with you” rather than, “What I have to say is more important than you”.
- Autistic people may not use lots of social niceties. Your autistic friend or family member may not ask how you are after you have asked them. For some autists, they may not see the point. There is a script for meeting up that everyone is expected to adhere to – “Hi, how are you?” “I’m fine thanks, you?” “Yeah, I’m good”. But if we all follow the same unchanging script, we are not sharing any real information. And sharing real information is something many autistic people are far more likely to be interested in. Why waste time asking how you are when I know how you are likely to respond, and I can share with you something I think is more worthwhile?
Many autistic people will socialise for hours together without asking after the other’s family. It’s not that we do not care about our friend’s children – if it is not the basis of the friendship, it may not be worth our while talking about. Whereas two non autistic people may make a point of asking how their respective families are getting on as a way of showing care and respect. The autistic friends will still care about and respect each other, but they may demonstrate that by asking about a special interest instead.
"When I meet up with my autistic friends, we are likely to launch straight into talking about the things we have in common - TV shows we are both watching games we are both playing, news stories we are both following. It's not that we don't care about each other's kids or partners or jobs - we do - but if our friendship is based on shared interests, that's what we want to discuss. I'm sure if there was a problem or some exciting news with their family or their jobs they'd tell me"
Both autistic and non autistic ways of socialising are valid. They work for different people. It is important for autistic people to understand how non autistic people socialise, but it is also important for their non autistic peers, colleagues, friends, and family to gain an understanding of how autistic socialising works. Together you can work out what is and is not important. It is ok to say that you think it is rude when they interrupt you – but it is also valid to consider why they are doing it in the first place, and discuss how to handle it together.