Hi everyone! Today's reader reply is from "K." She asks a question that many people with Asperger's have - how do you make friends when you have Asperger's?
Reading through your story was incredible for me. I have just now realized that I probably have aspergers, and I want to make friends and meet new people. Where did you start? How did you overcome it slowly?
Thanks for writing! There's three suggestions that I have for you.
1) Consider Professional Help
There are many great professionals who focus on helping people with Asperger's, and there might be one in your area who could really be a good support to you. So I encourage you to think about talking to a counselor who specializes with Asperger's and asking them about their services. They might be able to provide you with a professional diagnosis (or help you realize that instead of Asperger's, you have a different condition), connect you to other people with Asperger's in your community, or provide you with coaching on building social skills and making friends.
The best way to find someone is just hop on google and search for "aspergers counselor" plus your city name. If you don't find anyone that says they specialize in treating Asperger's (or those people don't seem like a good fit), consider any therapist who has a focus on helping people improve their relationships - they could probably help you too!
2) Practice New Social Skills A Little At A Time
If you wanted to learn to cook, you wouldn't start by trying to make a five-course meal. Instead, you might do something like frying an egg. And you wouldn't fry an egg just once - you would do it over and over, and each time get a little better. Only after you felt confident in frying an egg would you move on to the next part of cooking.
Social skills improvement is the same way. If you decide you're going to get better at social skills by going to a party and talking to everyone there, you're jumping straight in the deep end and it's hard to make meaningful progress.
Instead, choose one specific thing to focus on, and then practice that over and over. For instance, I remember reading a social skills book that had some suggestions on avoiding interruptions (which was a social mistake I would often mistake.) So I decided to memorize those tips and spend a week just focusing on not interrupting when I was in social situations. There were plenty of other social mistakes that I was still making, but that's okay - I was only focused on reducing my interruptions. And it worked! After a few days, not interrupting started to become more automatic, and I gained a permanent increase in my skill. I could then choose another skill to work on to continue my progress.
The easiest way to start with this are my quick social skills guides. Pick one guide, like making better eye contact or learning names quickly, and then practice that for a week. Then choose another one to focus on next week. Over time, you'll notice a big difference!
3) Find The Right Place To Make New Friends
Making new friends is an incredibly powerful way to boost your social skills. While going to a social event full of strangers can provoke a lot of anxiety which makes social progress harder, hanging out with your friends gives you the chance to practice social skills in a safer, more accepting environment. Plus, having friends is enjoyable and meaningful - many of my happiest moments came with my friends!
Of course, there's a chicken and the egg problem. How do you make new friends to improve your social skills if your social skills are pretty bad to begin with?
There's a few ideas that could help.
The first is to realize that your social skills are probably not as bad as you think. Sure, if you have Asperger's you're going to be more awkward than the average person. But you have other strengths that make up for your awkwardness. When I was a kid, many of my friends first started hanging out with me because I was really funny - even though I was awkward, I was still fun to be with because of my sense of humor. Maybe you have a great sense of humor too, or you're very caring and generous, or you're a great dance partner, or whatever - whatever it is, you probably have some strengths that make you a great friend. So remember those when you go to social situations, and use that to give you confidence as you make new friends.
The second is to realize that certain groups are going to be much better for making friends than others. Generally, groups that are organized around your common interests (for instance, a book club or a dungeons and dragons group) will make it much easier to start up conversations and begin connections because you have a common interest to talk about. So I'd start by writing down a list of all of your interests and hobbies, and then searching for groups and activities in your area that relate to those interests. In addition, groups that attract kind, compassionate people are more likely to be accepting of you. The easiest way to find kind people is volunteer organizations, so see if there are any volunteer opportunities in your area where you would have the chance to give back while also meeting new people.
Finally, recognize that many other people are also looking for new friends, and they might really appreciate if you take the initiative. So if you notice that you are always waiting for the other person to make the first move, think about how you might help make the friendship happen. Could you plan a social outing (like a trip to see a new movie?) and then invite some acquaintances? Could you strike up a conversation with the person sitting by themselves? Of course, other people might say no to your invitations, but that's okay - as long as you are not pushy about it, they shouldn't mind being invited.
I hope this helps! I think you have a great perspective - being willing to make progress slowly - and if you commit to just doing a little bit every day, it will really add up over time. Maybe today you could pick one skill you want to work on over the next week, and do some research to find one social event or volunteer opportunity where you might meet someone new?
Well, that's it for this installment of reader replies. Do you have advice or encouragement for K, too? Leave it in the comments!
And if you have a question of your own, send me an email and you might be the next reader reply 🙂 Until next time!