The socially awkward aspie
Okay, why not just say that most aspies are shy? And that the ones who aren't are the exception/ Would it be truer than saying aspies are socially awkward?
I'm not convinced. I am shy, I always have been, but plenty of people are shy without being on the spectrum. My son, when he was young, was the opposite of shy. Sometimes, I would have preferred him to be a bit shy and less likely to burst into groups of people, ready to make friends, no matter what.
Is it truer then, to say aspies are socially awkward rather than simply shy? NO, it isn't. Let me be firm about this: being socially awkward is totally different from being shy or from being too extroverted. I can prove it.
Let's see. If you're shy, you don't feel comfortable making new friends as you worry how they will behave and you don't know what to say. But once you've made friends, you're not shy anymore because you feel comfortable now and don't need to worry as much.
If you're socially awkward, you can still make friends but that won't stop you behaving inappropriately or oddly the next time you see them. You may be friends, but you'll still ask them why they had such a bad hair cut or you'll get distracted and peel the stickers off their brand new bag.
As aspies, we often hit the jackpot in social relationships because we're usually socially awkward to begin with, then shy on top of that. Imagine it, readers, not only do we have the talent to offend without trying, we can also do it at the same time as dying a thousand deaths because we have to speak in public! How extraordinarily interesting we are!
As for the extroverted aspie, it seems that being socially awkward is even more exciting for them than the shy aspie. At least the shy aspie has some chance of not showing themselves up as mostly they daren't speak or interact anyway, so they don't have the opportunity. The extrovert, though, has ample opportunity and makes great use of it.
As I've said, when my son was small, he loved to make friends. If he was going somewhere for the first time, he had a habit of entering the room, his top half hunkered down, arms swinging and gorilla noises coming out of him. It was an easy way for everyone in the room to see him at the same time. He would then straighten up, laugh and run into the group, usually tickling people on their faces as he passed.
I have to admit, this unconventional method made him plenty of friends. Little boys love this kind of thing and it was a shortcut to helping him find out quickly which children would be friends with him. Also, it made it easier for me, his ultra-shy mother, to enter the room with him as all eyes were on him instead of me.
As an adult extrovert, most aspies don't subscribe to the animal impressions or face tickling. Perhaps this is a mistake as it would probably still work as a way to quickly sort friend from foe. Extroverts have their outgoing personalities on show and, logically, they also show their awkwardness too. If someone doesn't mind who they speak to and isn't always worrying about what they say, then it soon becomes apparent if they start to do or say things outside the norm.
There is a man who works as a salesman in a shop near here. He's extremely sociable and it would never occur to him not to speak or make conversation with customers. They probably have to lock him in the back room when it comes time for his break. He's a very good salesman, if you don't mind the wall of friendliness that descends on you when he approaches.
I'm not too happy with personal-space invaders, but I must admit I knew of him at school and his personality has always burst into a room ahead of him. I was in the shop one day when he wanted to help a very cultured looking middle-aged lady. He bellowed across the shop at her, to ask if he could help. She flinched and told him she wanted to make a payment for something.
He rushed to the other end of the counter, where the card machine was and patted it hard, saying to her, 'Come on! Come over here then!', for all the world like she was the family dog at tea-time. She blinked at him, her eyes bright with shock and her face rigid. Then, because he has the sort of personality you don't ignore, she went and she paid.
It would never have occurred to him that she might be offended by his approach. He had no intention of upsetting her and only wanted to help, but on the surface he appeared loud and brash. She probably came away wondering why she hadn't spoken up to him.
I use this man as an example of how an extroverted personality can still be socially awkward - as well as unaware of the fact. It's a happier state than the perennially fretful shy aspie, who always wants to do things right but is hampered from doing anything at all.
The trouble with aspies, shy or extrovert, is that they have the full potential to do the wrong thing, in word or deed, but only some ability to recognise when they have done it. It's no wonder that worry becomes so familiar! Imagine not knowing when you've done or said the wrong thing, even when someone has pointed it out to you? It's like learning new rules, except the rules are always changing so you can never keep up.
And that's what it's like: constantly changing rules. To a non-aspie, the rules of social behaviour are learned and then become obvious, so that if they do end up making a mistake, they know what it was. To an aspie, each occasion is different and can only be viewed from what we have learned so far. We can hope that the situation is similar enough to a past one so that we know what to do and say, but then if things change or we get confused, the past situation no longer seems relevant and we're on our own again.
Rules learned once are stored, as much as possible. It's just tricky fitting the rules in our heads to the life being lived in front of us. It's like playing snap with a lightning-quick ten year old - you know you're never, ever going to win but you have to play.
It's impossible to match up the rules with the situation quickly enough to make them work. Half the time, it's guess-work. If the situation is simple or very familiar, then it should be fine. If it's an unfamiliar situation or it seems stressful, then we can't always remember the right rules, at least not in time for them to be useful.
This goes some way to explaining why quite a few aspies are very well-mannered. It's been said that aspies can seem old-fashioned in their manners. That's because manners can be learned, the rules are pretty simple. When someone does something for you, you thank them. When they thank you for something, you say 'you're welcome'. When you want something, you say please.
If you appreciate how aspies can learn these rules, then you see why we stick to them so closely. We know we can do these ones, we have these down. It falls apart slightly if we have to thank you for something we didn't want, as a thwarted alligator would be more genuine, but we still say it.
I use the same approach to help me through social situations that are more demanding. Always have manners, you see, as they help enormously. So, at the checkout or when meeting new people (yikes!), I can make small talk because it's polite to do that. I sometimes struggle for a subject, as my brain likes to slot in inappropriate conversation-starters, but if I can keep an eye on that tendency, then it's pretty easy to chat.
I've seen people look surprised when I talk to them. I think it's because, before I opened my mouth, I probably looked quite severe and serious - intimidating, even. They didn't know that the reason for my expression was the concentration it took for me to have a run at speaking to them and also, the thought involved in everyday living.
What I do like is that people respond when you chat. These days, it's not that common for strangers to have little conversations and people usually enjoy it if it happens. I also come away with a new sense of accomplishment because I've spoken to someone I didn't know and made them smile. It helps the day go well and it also helps to remember these times when the day goes down the drain, along with the house key.
There's no solution to being socially awkward, except for learning rules that help, rather than trying to learn rules for every situation. We have to accept that we're never going to fit perfectly into general society - there's always going to be a slight squeezing sound as we struggle to slip through the gaps in the fence while everybody else uses the gate.
Now, years after realising I didn't quite fit, I take heart from the fact that there are many other people who don't fit either, and some of them are my brightest and best friends. It doesn't matter if we get it wrong, we just have to move on and try not to dwell on the temporary mortification of the moment.
We can be different and also social, even the shyest of us. All it takes is practice and a belief that there will always be people who are willing to open themselves up to us and be our friends, even if we never meet them again.
To corner-hiders and face-ticklers everywhere, thank you for reading my blog and please visit again!
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