Asperger's: Navigating a Social Event
"I don't wanna go!"
Nothing seems more stressful than a social event for a person on the autism scale.
Though there are many degrees of functionality, fear* is generally a root cause for the dismay.
For anyone on the autism scale social gatherings are loud, obnoxious, and a complete waste of time! There are too many people, too much noise, too many smells, too many lights... whatever it is, the whole idea of a social gathering is TOO MUCH EVERYTHING.
Fear that isn't fear
* Let's visit this "fear" idea.
It does not imply a scaredy-cat, cowardly fear. It does not have to be a phobia - even though it can develop into one. The best way to describe it is: There is such a disinterest in the event it becomes physically and mentally revolting from which outward appearances may exude fear.
It is bad enough that a social event pulls them from their normal routine. Now add unfamiliar social graces and behavioral expectations to benefit people they do not know nor care about. Throw in a complete waste of time in the manner of idle chit-chat or gossip. How much time does it take to get there and back home? (More time wasted). What to wear when you hate your "good" clothes and shoes? Will they know or like anyone? How much time must they absolutely spend before they can leave?
All of these stress factors build exponentially creating a orb of anxiety in the middle of one's being until they want to explode (and sometimes do).
The Aspie brain is brilliant and beautiful but they tend to be so rigid and regimented. Are you at all familiar with Spock from Star Trek? If he was a real person he most certainly would have Asperger's.
"I realize that command does have its fascination, even under circumstances such as these, but I neither enjoy the idea of command nor am I frightened of it. It simply exists, and I will do whatever logically needs to be done." - Spock, Star Trek: The Original Series, " The Galileo Seven"
Read that last part of the quote and you will find the key to getting your Aspie to a social event. "I will do whatever logically needs to be done."
There needs to be a very good reason to deviate from the normal routine and there needs to be plenty of notice to give the brain a chance to process the impending drama. I have digressed a little. This hub is how to Navigate a Social Event! So let us assume we are dressed, our fake faces on and at the event. Now what?
Be the host's helper
It may not be your party but you can be the unofficial host's helper. You read it right! Volunteer.
For an intimate party at someone's home (generally 8 or less guests) the kitchen is the place to be!
This is not to say spend the entire time in the kitchen. Volunteering yourself for odd jobs not only keeps you busy, it is generally helpful to the host, who is worried about pleasing their guests and making everything perfect.
Unless you're someone's blind date (highly unlikely), the host knows you are a little quirky and like to stay busy. Your help setting the table, putting snacks out, or carrying something from the kitchen is welcome and appreciated by everyone - including yourself.
Near the end of the party you can volunteer your help.
"Let me help with the dishes."
The host almost always says, "No, that's not necessary," so assure them you do not mind, let them know it helps you to have a quiet moment; you can even joke that it keeps your hands busy so you stay out of trouble.
- It keeps your flapping hands or twirling fingers busy.
- It rescues you from some of the idle chit-chat
- You remove yourself from a lot of the action preventing sensory overload (washing someone else's dishes is definitely less odd than hiding in the bathroom for extended periods of time).
How functional are you?
Work the room
You are at a social event like a Coffee Hour or some kind of informal reception that uses paper plates and cups. You've fixed yourself a plate of goodies. Now what?
Spy the garbage bin and work your way toward the furthest part of the room from it.
This does not mean stand in a corner and try to disappear into the wall (no matter how much you want to.) Usually gatherings such as these have many mini groups of people. You do not have to fully immerse yourself into the group but remember: it IS a social event.
If there is an empty seat ask simply and politely, "Is this seat taken?" If the seat is offered - Sit. Snack. Listen. You don't have to engage them but pretend to be engaged*. If they are talking about a subject of interest this shouldn't be difficult.
If you are kind of working your way around the room and happen to hear conversation on an interesting subject you can insert yourself into the mini group by quietly standing next to one of the listeners - OR - if there was a pause in the conversation you can insert yourself by saying, "I couldn't help but listen in," then ask a question about what they were talking about.
HINT: Most NTs (neurotypicals) LOVE to talk. Most love to talk about themselves, their hobbies, their family, their health... You name it, generally they love to spill the beans about everything. You don't really have to care but they THINK you do because you cared to ask.
Where's the Garbage?
If you find that you are terribly bored with the conversation you have two options here:
- Politely say, "Excuse me. I have to say hello to someone," and leave the table. Of course this may be an outright lie but it isn't hurtful to anyone and they will not miss you.
- You've finished your plate of snacks. Look around the table and see if anyone else is finished as well. Offer to take their empty plate or cup. Being polite they will probably say, "Oh, you don't have to do that!" To which you reply, "It's all right. I'm taking care of my plate anyway."
See? Stress-free escape.
So why be far away from the garbage bin? On your way with the empty plate you can plaster on a smile and offer to take someone else's plate as well. Why in the world would you take someone else's garbage you wonder?
- Because it's a social event.
- You have engaged a stranger but you did not really TALK to them.
- You left a good impression.
- You are keeping yourself busy.
- You are being helpful and polite.
* Pretend to be Engaged
I do not mean to imply you don't care about anything. Remember - this is a social event and you may not be comfortable with idle chit-chat. Some of these exercises will help you navigate the event. You might still feel like an alien on the inside but you do not have to act or appear like one on the outside.
No one wants to know how miserable you may be. Heck, you might even surprise yourself and realize you are having fun! Okay - that might be pushing it - but you are surviving the event.
Remember what I mentioned earlier? Most people like to talk about themselves. Ask questions! Prompt them. Compliment them. If they keep talking it takes the pressure off you. An incessant talker LOVES a good listener.
You can DO it!
Navigating a social event does not have to feel like the end of the world.
With practice the hardest part will be getting motivated to leave the house but you can do it.