It's been a while since a post was done; we have been working on writing a book about dating with Autism (more information to follow in the future) and enjoying the summer. This post was conceived by several of the gentlemen (all diagnosed with ASD) I work with who have shared a number of negative social experiences when returning to school at the end of summer vacation. They figured, that combined with the isolation brought on by the COVID pandemic, this year may be especially tough for kids, in general, but especially for kids with ASD who are returning to school. In an effort to experience some healing and gain something positive from their negative experiences, the guys decided to come up with some suggestions for returning students to try and ease their social transition back to school. Please note when reading, that these are simply suggestions based on personal experiences and may not be applicable to your child's situation or necessarily feasible. As always, the guys and myself are grateful for your feedback and we hope you and your child experiences a smooth transition back to school. Thank you!
1. Eye contact does not mean staring. Eye contact is when you look at someone's eyes to show you are paying attention. Staring means you are looking at something or someone without looking away, with wide eyes.
2. Staring makes people uncomfortable. When we stare we are often not aware we are doing it; we may simply be trying to observe and gather information. However other people find staring makes them uncomfortable because the intensity of staring makes them feel self-conscious.
3. You don't have to make constant eye contact. If eye contact makes you uncomfortable you can always take a look at something else for a moment (practice making eye contact in the mirror with yourself, or with trusted people, and then looking away for a count of -2 seconds before making eye contact again). Doing this is also a great way to avoid staring.
4. If you do not understand a joke or comment DO NOT pretend you understand it. If you get caught by your peers when they make a follow-up comment to you, you run the risk of coming off as insincere or inattentive. You can ask instead for an explanation; it's better to ask.
5. DO NOT MAKE JOKES OR COMMENTS ABOUT OTHER PEOPLE! Even if what you're saying may be true or get laughs and attention from others, doing this is a great way to establish yourself as rude or mean. You can also earn bullies and negative attention if the joke/comment backfires or is heard by the wrong person.
6. DO BE POLITE TO YOUR PEERS! Making efforts to be polite, even some of the time, can be a great way to not only make friends, but also establish yourself as someone with a positive reputation.
7. Reputation DOES matter. Unfortunately, especially in middle and high school, reputation i.e. what others think or believe about someone to be true, matters. People with positive reputations often are more likely to avoid bullying and have more friends, while negative reputations often result in the opposite. You can still be you and have friends even by just making the effort to be pleasant and yourself.
8. Social anxiety and taking a break. If you are in a social situation at school, it's always ok to take a break and excuse yourself for a moment to regulate yourself. You can excuse yourself to go to the bathroom, take a quick mental break, use a fidget for a sensory break, etc. If the situation is overwhelming and you need an exit you can always excuse yourself with something like "I am going to class" or "I have some work to do" or come up with your own ideas.
9. Be aware of your enthusiasm and excitement. Some of you may actually be looking forward to social situations and to making new friends. Sometimes we may become excited and really into making efforts, however we may come across as pushy or overwhelming; believe it or not, people without autism can also be overwhelmed by intense displays of emotions. Practice regulating these emotions with trusted individuals before school starts; they are great emotions yet they can override our impulse control and lead to us acting in ways we might not when we are calmer.
10. Interpret peer social cues as best you can. You may not always get it right, however if a peer you are talking to (or want to talk to) says they have to go or they can't talk right now DON'T PUSH IT! Give them their space and do not follow them or try to stop them in order to keep the conversation going. If a peer responds to you with short answers or sounds like they are tired or they look tired (usually a sign of dis-interest) limit the social interaction and leave them alone.
11. It's ok to be nervous and scared. When you own your feelings and are honest with yourself you can be more effective at coming up with solutions. For example, you might carry a fidget or camouflage your stimm with different behavior.
12. It's ALWAYS OK to ask for advice. You have cheerleaders in your corner and they, especially siblings and existing friends, can give you some great advice about being in social situations. They want you to succeed!