Published on January 29th, 2013 | by matt0
Practice makes perfect: Social exhaustion and autism
For people with ASD, socialising can be a stressful and tiring experience. Knowing the unspoken rules, figuring out what to talk about and when, and dealing with loud and crowded places are all things that can be a strain on the system. While socialising and being a part of a social circle can have many benefits, it can also be a very hard to balance these against the negatives. Often people with ASD may choose not to socialise at all in order to avoid the stress. This is a real problem for many with ASD – but there is hope!
Many with ASD struggled earlier in life, but through practice and patience have picked up on the skills that are more instinctive for a neurotypical brain. Socialising is a skill. Though you may not have been born with the best starting stats; there is no reason that you can’t acquire the knowledge and tools to gain a few levels. If you are having problems with socialising and things are getting you down try asking around in the community for tips and stories on how people have improved themselves, and remember that though it may time – it will be worth it.
Socialising is a skill. Though you may not have been born with the best starting stats; there is no reason that you can’t acquire the knowledge and tools to gain a few levels.
When talking about the problem of social exhaustion with others on autistic spectrum, we find there are a huge amount of ways that individuals have learnt to cope. The following are a few tried and tested ways of how best to manage your social anxiety levels and learn to enjoy yourself around others more easily.
Plan in Advance
Knowing in advance when social events are to occur is important. While many neurotypical people are quite happy to spontaneously go to the cinema or head to the pub, very often an impromptu social visit can throw those with ASD off balance and become a stressful event. If someone mentions an event in the future or invites you to an occasion, don’t instantly reject it for fear of what might happen. Try and get a bit more information, say you’d be really interested and then let the idea settle into your mind. Pre-knowledge of when things are going to happen and where means you have less to think about on the day.
A good way of dealing with pre-emptive stress can be planning an event yourself. While for many autistic people the idea of initiating a social event can be foreign, it is a great tool in becoming more social, contributing to a group and strengthening friendships whilst making your life easier. Think of a common activity that you and your friends can enjoy, and let people know via call, text or social media. Don’t be upset if people cannot attend or would prefer a different location or activity – this is not a slight against you, rather that everyone’s tastes and availability varies.
Be Prepared and Relaxed
Before the event make sure that you have plenty of time to groom, eat, dress e.t.c. This may sound ridiculous to some but letting the smallest thing slip before having to head out can lead to panic! With the basics out of the way you have more “operating room” to get on with enjoying yourself. Going through calming routines is a great suggestion. If you know playing 20 minutes of a game, reading a book, or just sitting and meditating are a help – go for it! Just make sure you have enough time to go through these activities before leaving, and don’t let them run on.
Be Aware When Stress Levels are Rising
Sometimes things might get too much. Understanding the feeling of stress and being concious of physical traits of anxiety – such as snapping at people or tapping – are very important. Managing and understanding emotions can be a minefield for those with autistic spectrum disorder, and paying attention to the symptoms of stress is almost as important as the cause. If you feel stressed, don’t panic about being stressed. It’s hard to read that without being annoyed by it – but it makes sense. Instead of worrying about people noticing or getting yourself into a bad train of thought, combat the thoughts.
Use Relaxation Methods
If there is something that can be done to stop your stress, try changing the situation. Often a bright light, loud noise or even smell can be a cause of irritation. If you can move away from this, or move a group by simply asking them to politely then feel free to.
Outward signs of stress such as heavy breathing, fidgeting, hunched shoulders and clenched muscles can actually cause you to feel worse
If you are unable to change the situation, it is worth delving into relaxation methods you can actively use. We hope to write more on this, but for now try looking up meditation, mindfulness, and other concious relaxation methods. The idea behind these techniques is that while you may not be able to change what is happening, you can manage how you perceive what is occurring. Outward signs of stress such as heavy breathing, fidgeting, hunched shoulders and clenched muscles can actually cause you to feel worse without any need. In other words, if you can focus on the outward signs of stress, you can tackle the way you are actually feeling.
If you use any specific techniques, please let us know in the comments section or send us a tweet!
Take a break
Sometimes you have to know when you have hit your personal limits. This isn’t often a nice thing to encounter, but you should always have a backup plan. If you need a timeout, politely excuse excuse yourself and take a break. Go a quiet area, pop outside for a breather or sit in a toilet stall and listen to a favourite song. Having a short prepared chill-out drill can help for longer periods of socialising and is something we recommend to everyone with ASD.
Know When Enough is Enough
Unfortunately there may be times when you just need to call it a day, and you shouldn’t ashamed of that. Personally I’ve had times when I’ve just needed to bail, and if you let people know you are tired or need a break, letting them know it’s not them at all and you just feel a bit run down or tired you’ll normally always be understood. Knowing that you’ve done your best and that this is all good experience is a good thing.
Communicate to others
Letting people know if you are uncomfortable or need a bit of space helps. If your friends know who you are and your limits, this will help you and them in the future.Don’t be afraid to talk about your issues with others, and never be ashamed of who you are. If people can’t appreciate it after you have explained then it’s their loss. A good friend is someone who will listen and understand – and remember this around people you value too.
Practice makes perfect
When it all winds down, think back on your experience and what you have learned – even if you don’t think you’ve come far, you’ve probably done better than you realised. While learning to deal with your problems with socialising you will go through ups and downs along the way. Don’t get down about making mistakes, social faux pas happen to the most popular of people.
Look at the things you know and the things that you’ve learnt. Everyone starts somewhere, don’t give up