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  • Writer's pictureCory Morrison

Autism: Dealing With Social Mistakes

Updated: Sep 15, 2023

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Social mistakes due to a lack of understanding on both sides can lead to difficulties. This can, over time, lead to embarrassment and shame from past social mistakes, which can scar many people on the spectrum, including me. Emotions are not always easy for me to talk about, but I want to explain how social errors can occur and my coping strategies for dealing with such feelings when I realize I have made such mistakes.


Common Social Difficulties


According to Sonny Jane, an educator and consultant, with common social differences between autistics and non-autistics; such as the ability to make small talk, how one interprets sarcasm, levels of awareness with socially acceptable behaviour, and how people use verbal and non-verbal cues; understanding that people may experience the world differently from one another is often difficult. This lack of understanding, therefore, explains why people on the spectrum often have difficulty forming relationships with neurotypical people and vice versa. Dr. Damian Milton, a consultant, author and lecturer, refers to this as the double empathy problem.


Here's the thing: Neurodiverse people, including autistics, don't lack empathy. Normally developing people don't lack empathy. The issue is because our brains are wired so differently and we experience the world differently; we have a hard time understanding each other. Therefore, it is not uncommon for people to be resentful over time if people don't meet their social expectations. Both sides are doing their best. Very few people are deliberately mean.


If you apply this to making social mistakes, a person on the spectrum might monopolize a conversation and not understand that the other person is bored because they miss their facial expression indicating, "Can we move to something else?". Neurotypicals often pick up on these signs instantly when conversing with each other, but autistic people have more difficulty.


On the other hand, the other person may not realize that the autistic person isn't deliberately ignoring their non-verbal requests to stop the conversation. They may miss that the autistic person is simply oblivious to their requests because subtle non-verbal communication does not come naturally to them. This is why direct verbal communication is key for both sides to bond well.


The Aftermath of Social Mistakes


Unfortunately, in my case, and with many others on the spectrum I've come across, the barriers mentioned above can lead to many complications such as rejection, losing friends, difficulty making friends, social isolation, bullying, feeling embarrassment, anxiety and depression. It's been a story for much of my life. If social interactions aren't done a certain way, people may eventually distance from each other. It's again, how everyone is wired.


Being in the "triangle" during "pick a partner" activities at school, only being invited to a handful of birthday parties growing up, not spending Friday or Saturday nights partying, fewer outside-of-school or work moments with friends, getting unfriended on social media by people who have hundreds of friends on there, and you get the idea. I've experienced it all. When one is different from the general crowd, they become vulnerable to such circumstances.


Because there's a natural desire to fit in, be loved, and be similar to others, all of these results can lead to feeling left out, frustrated, isolated, increasingly socially anxious, and depressed for the autistic individual.


My Coping Strategies


I've gone through a lot of guilt over past social mistakes and wish I had better understood others and their perspectives. Here is what I do to cope:


  • Distract myself with non-related things such as weather, music, games, nostalgia, the outdoors and even the media if it's not too toxic.

  • Speak to professionals if things get especially bad.

  • Realize that many people can improve their understanding and acceptance of autism over time.

  • Know that many neurotypical people want to help and understand different types of people as much as one wants to do so for them.

  • Focus on people who love and understand me and only deal with the rest when mandatory.

  • Follow basic health advice such as at least adequate nutrition, at least several hours of sleep a night, and engage in lots of exercise. I know this advice is repetitive, but I find my feelings of dealing with past mistakes haunting me especially hit me hard when I'm not doing those things. With many people not doing these things, it's no wonder this advice flies around a lot.

  • Whatever the mistakes were, the people involved likely think very little of them now.

  • Remind myself that there are people who have done similar or worse things.

  • Engage with people online to gain a sense of social belonging if face-to-face interactions are more difficult (I won't underestimate the importance of face-to-face interactions, though).

  • Observe behaviours from peers and see which ones come across as more open-minded and understanding. Example: At work, school or get-togethers, which ones especially tend to initiate conversation or speak to one in a genuine, friendly tone? Those are the people they should associate with.

  • Practice social skills and deepen understanding of social situations.

  • Remember that no matter who someone is or what they do, they will be disliked by some people. Everyone should be themselves, anyway, and the right people will like them.

  • Reflect on all the things I have accomplished, not in an arrogant way, but in a confident way.

  • Practice meditation techniques.


Conclusion


Understanding can go a long way in helping people feel loved and accepted, whether they are neurodiverse or not. If neurodiverse people and typically developing people meet each other halfway to their best abilities, then there will be little stress on either side with relationships. If people become vulnerable to mental health problems, they can find effective ways to treat them.







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