One notable aspect of autism is some degree of difficulty in the area of social interaction. But, just as with communication and behavior issues, a person’s social skills are not predictable. For example, we might assume that a non-verbal person might be less eager to interact with other people than an individual with autism who has excellent conversational skills. But, that is not necessarily true. Let us look at some social issues that can prove challenging.
PERSONAL INTERACTION. The public perception of autism is a person who is disconnected from others, but, in reality, some individuals with autism are very friendly and enjoy spending time with people. One person with autism might just barely tolerate the presence of other people, while another may be overly-friendly or obsessive in their interest in others. Some individuals with autism are withdrawn and non-responsive in social situations, while others get too excited in groups or in the presence of certain individuals, sometimes to the point of being aggressive or explosive.
PROXIMITY. Sometimes individuals with autism try to avoid any contact with other people by hiding in the room, turning away, or covering their face. Others tend to sit or stand much too close to people, even strangers, without realizing they are making the other person uncomfortable.
EYE CONTACT. As a society, we tend to gauge social connections by eye contact. Many individuals with autism simply do not connect with their eyes. One friend – a high school student who has many friends – describes her lack of eye contact this way: “If I look right at a person when I’m talking to them, I can’t think about what they are saying, and I can’t think of what I want to say.”
MANNERS. People with autism do not always follow the lead of others in social situations, and may appear to be rude or socially inappropriate. For example, they may eat food off another person’s plate or belch loudly in a movie. Even a person who is otherwise rather typical may talk too much and too loudly, or may ignore a person standing right in front of them. They might cough in someone’s face or they may take another person’s chair. Social graces are typically not a strong suit for individuals with autism.
TIP FOR THE DAY. The range of social skills in autism is very broad and a mixed bag. For example, a person who enjoys visiting with family may not be able to even sit in the same room with a person they do not know. I have some acquaintances who actually enjoy spending time with people even if unable to maintain eye contact or sit near others. Individuals with autism don’t usually pick up on social cues, but, with patient guidance, many can gradually learn more appropriate social skills and learn to tolerate or even enjoy hanging around with other people.