Social skills for Aspies

Aspies can find social relationships difficult. A gathering of people can sometimes be overwhelming and even in a smaller group we can find it more comfortable to stay quiet and avoid eye-contact. Nevertheless this can feel awkward but we don’t always know what else to do. Social skills that many can do intuitively, we as Aspies, need to learn and perform consciously. 

Observe and copy

We can do this by watching how other people interact and then aiming to copy that behaviour. For example:

  • We can observe the distance that people stand from each when engaged in conversation and copying it so that when you begin to join in you are not too close to people or too distant.
  • Similarly, we may notice how people nod and make noises when listening to us and copy that so that we are seen to be attentive to what others are saying. Even better, is to make a brief comment or ask a question that shows you have been listening carefully.   
  • We may need to learn patterns of behaviour such as when to make small talk and what it is appropriate to talk about, to put people at their ease. For example, we can learn that chatting about the journey helps someone settle before talking about more serious questions.
  • The details of non-verbal communication such as body language, facial expressions and tone of voice are codes that are difficult for us to crack. However, getting these right can enable us to pick up quickly how someone we are talking to is feeling.  

Practice, practice, practice 

The best way to learn these social skills in by mixing with people, observe, copy, make your mistakes and learn from them. Some people have also found drama lessons a useful way of learning these skills.  Practicing social skills may not be easy if we lack confidence from previous mistakes. But in a sympathetic group we can learn not to be too embarrassed about our mistakes and turn them into learning experiences. By holding yourself straight and speaking slowly and clearly you can gain confidence. 

In practicing conversation, finding a gap where we can contribute might be a challenge for us. Similarly we have difficulty knowing when to give way to someone else who is trying to speak. But we can improve as we gain experience by taking part in social chitchat and more formal group discussions.

To improve we need to continually practice and refine these skills. Feedback and ideas can be really useful too. Reflecting on how a social encounter went and talking about it with your coach can help you improve each time. As Aspies, social skills may never be as intuitive for us as they are for someone who is not on the autistic spectrum, but eventually as we persevere these skills will take less conscious effort.  

Further information 

How to Join a Social Circle and Make Friends in a Group. This video from Wrong Planet’s Autism Talk TV gives some practical tips on how to join an informal group conversation.