The S word – “Social”

Trying to be social and form relationships with others is a particularly common source of frustration and anxiety for us Aspies. Many of us earnestly wish that we could mingle with our peers far more effortlessly, so that it would be much easier not to be so isolated.

For me, the story is absolutely no different. To this day I still have trouble fully grasping what is expected of me to socialize with the world around me. I get this sense that there’s a whole complex set of rules and customs that most people follow, regardless of social identity, yet seem to escape my intelligence. So I keep asking myself: what is it that I’m not doing that others are doing, and what exactly am I doing wrong that everyone else is getting right? Despite how much I’ve grown and gotten slightly better at hanging out with others, I have yet to encounter a complete answer to this question.

Firstly, I cannot positively determine when or how often I should contact someone I consider a friend or a close acquaintance. I mean, I want to make sure they know that I’m still interested in them and that I haven’t forgotten about them. After all, a crucial part of being friends involves “staying in touch.” But, at the same time, I obviously have a large set of other matters I want to attend to, including academic work, exercise, various meetings and appointments, household chores, yoga, and commitments to other friends. Plus, I know I should always give this person some personal space so as not to make them uncomfortable. The problem is that I am not sure how to find the right balance so that I work relationships into my life without causing myself or others any stress or unease. It becomes far more difficult when I’m trying to hold onto a whole circle of friends, which can sometimes feel like a huge responsibility rather than a blessing, as it truly is.

Meanwhile, how much of my independence and alone time must I sacrifice in order to be more social with my friends? Like a great deal of people with Asperger’s Syndrome, I’m fairly accustomed to having a certain amount of privacy and space to “do my own thing.” As much as I want to be less isolated and more connected with other people, I still want to maintain a certain degree of freedom in my daily schedule and do all the things I wish to get done. Because I’m so bad at managing my time, it can be a real challenge to create space in my schedule to hang out with people, whether they be close pals or new acquaintances.

In many cases, it’s difficult for me to solidify a relationship after first meeting someone, so that we actually do become friends. Even though I have been able to make numerous friends since childhood, I am still unfamiliar with the proper course of action to stay connected with people that I want to be friends with.

For instance, let’s say I encounter and mingle with someone at a social gathering or party. So how do we become friends from there? I may add them on Facebook, or I might get their phone number. Alright, now what? When should I get in touch with them? When should I try chatting with them? How long should I chat with them? What should we talk about? When should I try to get together with them? What should we do if we decide to get together? When should I contact them the next time? What should we do the next time we hang out? Also, what if they never contact me? What should I do if I don’t hear from them for a while? Should I just keep reaching out to them, or wait until they try contacting me?

Now this brings me to another issue I wish to get off my chest. The way I notice it, I’m usually the one who has to stay in touch with my friends. Not that often am I reached out to or invited to do anything, at least not as often as I’d like. For some reason, it’s mostly MY responsibility to make sure that I’m still connected to these people. To be frank, this feels a little unfair, and it makes having friends much more stressful than it should. When I have to do almost all the work, then I become slightly disillusioned with my friendships and feel somewhat discouraged from making new connections.

On top of all this, there’s always this deep, unavoidable uneasiness or nervousness associated with the idea of going out and socializing with other people. Even if I know that I will greatly enjoy it, there often will be a subconscious desire to simply stay at home to play video games, watch YouTube videos, and keep to myself. After all, when I’m alone and doing what I feel like, I’m completely “safe” and no one can judge me, criticize me, or watch over me. I can keep doing whatever I please and just be happy being me.

Yet again, when I’m alone then I have no one to chat with, no one to idle with, no one to have fun with, and no one confide in when I’m feeling distressed. That’s when I realize just how much I depend on the support and company of friends and acquaintances; that I am usually happiest when I have other people to simply be with. If I didn’t try to reach out to people and chose to continue isolating myself, then I wouldn’t be doing myself any favors in the long run. Therefore, in recent years, I have made countless efforts to be more “out there” with my peers and colleagues, having mixed results so far.

I always try my hardest to stay connected with my current friends and socialize with them as much as possible, given the various challenges I face. In addition, whenever I sense the opportunity, I do try meeting other people and forming friendships with them as well. I am infinitely grateful to have such awesome friends in my life right now, and I’m also very glad to have enjoyed many supportive, enjoyable companions in the past. Unfortunately, this doesn’t change the fact that most of my time continues to be spent by myself – both because I’m still pretty used to it, and because I’m not sure how to successfully extend my social life.

Hopefully, I will eventually be able to move past this kind of isolation, and find workable strategies of staying more in touch with my pals and having a larger social network. I’ll probably never reach a point where I’m just as socially active as most neurotypical persons, but I can at least hope to be far less solitary sometime in the future. I wish the same for all people across the autism spectrum who experience similar problems with this topic.

LOOOOUUUUUUUD NOISES!!!

Among the many pet peeves I had as a young kid, one of the most problematic had to be loud noises. To put it frankly, I simply could NOT endure loud noises. As in, if something made too much noise for me, I would instantly cover up my ears, sometimes running out of the room while crying or yelling. Also, if I knew that something was about to make a loud noise, you can bet that I would try to get as far away from it as possible.

Unfortunately, I am unable to recall much of my childhood experiences with this particular issue, so I cannot post too much about it. For now I only have a couple of stories here and there that exist in my memory.

One instance from childhood I can vaguely recall is how I once used to hate the loudspeaker at elementary school. When I was in Kindergarten and possibly pre-st grade, I would often leave the room as soon as the Pledge of Allegiance recitation announcements and morning announcements started. I think that the fact it was called a loudspeaker made me feel uncomfortable towards it to begin with. It took a while before I got accustomed to the thing, and I would be greatly pleased in middle and high school when they did announcements on a television screen instead.

Something that I can remember a bit more clearly is this little traffic light gadget that one of my elementary school teachers used to keep her students quiet. This is how it worked: the color that the device highlighted would depend on the level of noise in the room. If the students were relatively silent, the light would stay green; if they started talking and shouting a bit too much, it would change to yellow; if there was way too much noise and the kids were going crazy, then it would turn red and a loud buzzing sound would go off. The noise it would make when the light went red was what utterly terrified me about it. Even though it actually never did go red, I still dreaded the device and was constantly worried that the other students might talk too much and possibly activate the alarm. When the teacher first brought it into the classroom and had us test it by shouting out loud, I convinced her to let me be excused from the room. Whenever I thought the traffic light was on the verge of turning red, I would cover my ears or try to escape the room. I’m surprised that I didn’t have nightmares about that thing!

In addition, I strongly resented the fire alarm in elementary school, middle school, and high school. What they used in the elementary school at first was a standard ringing bell, the kind that would traditionally be used to start the school day as well as end it. At the time I found it to be pretty damn loud and I hated whenever it went off, but eventually I grew to tolerate it to a certain extent. Then, almost as if the school wanted to spite me, they replaced this alarm with a very high-pitched, ear-splitting buzzer that scared the hell out of me whenever it went off. When they installed that alarm, I missed the old one sooooo much. Unfortunately, it was exactly the kind of fire alarm I would be forced to hear all throughout the rest of my academic life, all the way up to college. Even though I didn’t make that big of a fuss about it to anyone, I don’t think I ever got quite used to it. I would feel pretty uptight whenever a fire drill occurred and I always covered my ears while walking down the hall.

What frightened me more than anything in the world was loud sudden noises! There simply aren’t any sufficient words to describe how much I’ve always despised being startled by an abrupt noise; whether it be the popping of a balloon or a deafening crash of thunder. I would go completely berserk whenever it happened to me, instantly running away or hiding if I feared that a loud sudden noise might come up. In other words, it served as a major phobia for me, hardly any different from a phobia of spiders or heights. I always took every precaution I could to make sure that I would not have to deal with it, removing myself from any situation that might make sudden loud noises. It made learning at school somewhat difficult at times, and it would sometimes frustrate my parents as well as friends.

I still do hate it, by the way. To this day, I am easily provoked by loud sudden noises, and I try to avoid them as often as possible. I just don’t react to it as frantically as I used to or make that much of a fuss whenever I think it’s about to happen. Trust me, though, if you want to really get on my nerves, honk your car horn as you pass me by while I’m running or walking. Also, please don’t crank up the volume on your computer or large media device if the sound isn’t working; I can’t stand that loud blast of noise that comes out when the system does start working!

On the other hand, I have been able to essentially recover from my sensitivity to loud noises in general. This has been made possible by participating in what is called “Therapeutic Listening,” which involves regularly listening to sounds and music that are specifically designed and recorded to help children with auditory sensitivities. For several years I did this almost daily while playing video games in the evening. At first I didn’t know what this was for, until I later realized how I was gradually becoming more comfortable with louder noises. Eventually I was able to hear loud noises without reacting so fearfully or agitatedly, although it couldn’t cure my strong dislike of sudden loud noises.

From what I have heard, sensitive hearing is particularly common among people who are on the Autism Spectrum. Many children with Aspergers, or any form of autism, tend to become very restless around noisy situations because their brains are unable to handle a certain amount of stimulus to their ears all at once. In fact, they can be easily distressed by over-stimulation to any of their senses, though their hearing is usually affected the most.

I would like to take the opportunity to recommend the sort of listening therapy I used as a child to others who are similarly disturbed by loud noises. It has made a profound positive difference in my overall auditory perception, and I’ve discovered that it really helps a lot of children and adults that have this kind of problem. I have posted two links to online resources below for anyone who might be interested:

http://www.vitallinks.net/

http://www.listening-ears.com/samonas.html