I recently went to an aikido instructor’s class, where over 40 people were in attendence, most I knew for years, yet I still felt like an outsider. At lunch I sat in a corner alone at a table. While we waited for the afternoon session to start, I stood alone while everyone else chatted.
Mind you this is with people I know. I sat in the front seat on a recent car tripwith someone I’ve known for years, and we barely exchanged words. However, on the way back another person sat up front and the two chatted away. So does she prefer the other person’s company or I am a poor conversationalist? It’s hard for me to tell.
I try to improve my social skills but it’s a struggle. I fret awkwardly, trying to go beyond small talk--which I'm terrible at and wonder how dull or boring I sound. Every social encounter is scrutinized, analyed and graded as a success or failure. Did I monologue? Did I stay on topic subject or dominate with one of my fixations? How well did I reciprocate ? Did I show interest in them or just wait impatiently until I could babble on.The stress is considerable.
I’m reminded of what John Elder Robison commented in his memoir “Look Me in the Eye.”
“ Many descriptions of autism and Asperger’s describe people like me as “not wanting contact with others” or “preferring to play alone.” I can’t speak for other kids, but I’d like to be very clear about my own feelings: I did not ever want to to be alone . And all those child psychologists who said ”John prefers to play by himself” were dead wrong. I played by myself because I was a failure at playing with with others. I was alone as a result of my own limitations, and being alone was one of the bitterest disappointments of my young life.”
I understand that all too well. Just because I’m not good at interacting doesn’t mean I don’t want to and the pain of loneliness is as powerful for me as it is for anyone. So should you see me --or someone you know with ASD at a gathering, please come over and talk, I crave conversation too and will appreciate the kindness of your company.