Hi, I’m Craig Kendall, the author of The Asperger’s Syndrome Survival Guide. In today’s issue we will discuss…
Asperger’s Syndrome –
Tips to Adapt to Social Settings
It can be really hard for someone with Asperger’s Syndrome to know how to deal with the finer points of social interaction. One of these points that deserves attention is including others in activities. Or more specifically, not having to be the boss of every activity.
How can you help yourself or your loved one to integrate themselves more seamlessly into social activities?
Asperger’s Syndrome – So What is the Issue?
Someone with Asperger’s Syndrome or high functioning autism will usually have a lot of sensory issues, anxiety and adherence to routine to consider.
They want to be with friends, the only problem is, there is likely to be a multitude of settings the person with Asperger’s might not do well in. Some are too noisy, some too smelly, some just overwhelming for one reason or another. So, nightclubs may be out, concerts or other crowded venues out, and so on.
So what happens?
They try to control every aspect of the situation.
They tell people what to do, where to go, and when. They dictate how long you can stay somewhere, or where you can sit, or other things that come off as overly picky and controlling by the people they are with.
This doesn’t usually bode well, unless you’ve got exceptionally tolerant and understanding friends.
So how do you teach your loved one with Asperger’s to try to be able to relax a little more when they are doing activities with others?
Asperger’s Syndrome – The Key to Change Lies in Self Awareness
First, the person with Asperger’s Syndrome has to realize that they are being overly controlling.
They may be embarrassed about this, of course. They may be defensive, and refuse to acknowledge it.
They may be so deeply mired in their own needs that they don’t even know they’re doing it, or don’t care. In their mind it is what they need to do, and they will keep on doing it. They might not even be able to consider any other options.
You want to gently point out to the person:
“I know that having social activities to do is important to you. And I know you are putting forth a lot of effort to trying to do things that might be uncomfortable for you.
But is there any way you can give your friends a little bit more choice in choosing the activity, and how you do it? If you don’t, they may not want to hang out with you anymore.”
Now, this message may or may not work, and it may take several tries over time before the person is willing to acknowledge it. But it’s where you have to start.
Asperger’s Syndrome – Deciding what you Can and Can’t Live Without
When the person realizes that they may be a too bossy or controlling in their social interactions, they are now faced with the question of what to do about it. “I know I do this, but I can’t help it. I need all these parameters and these rules to feel comfortable,” they may say.
To that, you want to gently (but with understanding, because dismissing their concerns will just make them go back into a hard, embarrassed shell and refuse to come out) examine with them how they could be comfortable and still be more flexible.
You might say some things like:
“Yes, I know you like to always go to the same restaurant for lunch. But could you try sitting at a different table? Could you be okay if the lunch goes a little longer than you’re used to?”
“I know you like playing this specific game with your friends when they come over, but could you try playing this other game once in a while? See, it’s not so bad.” (Show them the other game, demonstrate how it works.)
“I know we always go to the ice cream shop after we go here, but I bet you could try going to the pizza shop once in a while. Is there anything I can do to make you feel more comfortable at the pizza shop?”
Start with baby steps in getting them to be less controlling of the situation. Accept that they need to have some control, but work with them to find ways where they can be a little more flexible.
Try to anticipate things that might be bothersome in the new places and find solutions:
Tell your loved one you will go to the new place for only an hour, so they know when they can leave (This provides a sense of security).
Tell them they can leave early if they really need to.
Bring earplugs if necessary.
Give them options, anything to try to get them to try the new thing.
Asperger’s Syndrome – Important Points
- Show understanding to your loved one about the needs that are causing the bossy or controlling behavior. It is stemming from feeling unsafe if they are not the one in charge.
- Gently work with them to identify ways that they could do things differently. Start slow.
- Gently introduce the idea that people do not like being bossed around. Demonstrate if necessary – act bossy to your child or loved one and tell them, “See, how did you like that?”
- Discuss why people sometimes act bossy. Examine how this make the bossy person feel and the other people involved feel.
Asperger’s Syndrome – An Example Story
Some friends are going for a hike at a hiking area they often go to.
One of the friends (Jen) has Asperger’s Syndrome, and has a need for routine and sameness. She has a lot of anxiety if she doesn’t know what is going to happen. As a result, her friends that know her well usually let her pick the activities.
On this occasion though they get to the hiking area and one of the friends (Lucy) asks Jen, “How about we hike this other trail this time?”
Jen then bursts into tears.
“The world is so hard for me, I just want to be able to relax! I don’t know what this trail has on it. Does it have a lot of uphills? What it’s like?”
Lucy says, “I just want to try something different for once, is all. We always do the other way. Can’t we try this just once?
“If you tell me what it’s going to be like! I need to know. I can’t relax if I don’t know what it’s going to be like.” Jen replies.
Lucy says, “I think it’s just like the other way, along the ocean, and pretty flat. It’s just a different way.”
The person with Asperger’s Syndrome really wants to make the experience enjoyable for her friends. She knows she has a lot of needs and that her friends try very hard to make things work for her.
She knows if she doesn’t bend a little bit every now and then that her friends may not want to spend as much time with her.
Jen, although she has her doubts, convinces herself to try it anyway. “OK, let’s do it!”
There turns out to be a hill on the trail but the rest of trail ends up being flat, and everyone has a good time, Jen included.
Asperger’s Syndrome -The Moral of the Story
It’s a two way street.
A person with Asperger’s Syndrome or high functioning autism needs to take risks in trying new things. They should try to not dictate every aspect of their interactions.
Friends need to be supportive and help their friend with Asperger’s work through his or her anxieties.
Parents, relatives, teachers or other people in this person with Asperger Syndrome’s life can also help to create the environment that nurtures the possibility of change.
If you work at it with them, and approach it from the right angle, your loved with Asperger’s Syndrome will slowly become more flexible and less bossy with the people in their lives.
And for more awesome tips for Asperger’s Syndrome read the Craig Kendal book, Asperger’s Syndrome Guide for Teens and Young Adults.