Likes and Dislikes

I like people. Believe me.

One of the characteristics defining autism is difficulty in social situations. Talking to people, making friends, and working with others proves a challenge. So how is this any different from just being unlikable?

Being difficult to work with is not unique to those diagnosed with a behavioral disorder. All people have hang ups. You can’t expect the average human being to automatically get along with everyone they meet. It’s like in cooking. Some ingredients go well together and others don’t. You can’t force it to work.

I was never liked growing up. Nobody really hated me or anything like that. They just didn’t think I was worth the time. I’d watch everyone else pair up and form their own little groups. Not me. I’m still waiting for an invitation to be part of a group.

People treat you different when they don’t like you. Bullies targeted me at school because they knew no one would defend me. Would you defend the well being of someone you didn’t like? Rumors would spread about me because no one cared about getting the facts right concerning an unlikable person. If you’re not liked, then you don’t get to see the best parts in people.

I’m perfectly fine with this. Not everyone can receive the same amount of respect as another. Take my necktie collection, for instance. I have one of every color in there. The reds, blues, and greens see the light of day more often than the orange and brown ones. I can’t help it if I don’t like the way I look wearing orange. I don’t owe the color orange anything. But I still won’t throw the orange tie away. I save that one for special occasions.

We all should pursue the things we like. We should also open our minds to things we may learn to like. I have a few special friends who take an interest in me. I know they like me because they make time for me. They ask me questions, try to get to know me, and care about what I think. And I like them. Not because of any one thing about them. I like them because they are mine.

Gingerbread Men

When the going gets tough, the soft get running.

I recognize each of us has different levels of ability, but it is not wrong to expect a minimum amount of courage when facing life’s trials. Everyone needs enough bravery to at least get out of bed in the morning. And people certainly shouldn’t be afraid to talk to other people. We can’t function in society when we are governed by irrational fears.

On the other hand, knowing when to run from dangerous situations is part of survival. We take a risk when getting close to people. They could learn our weaknesses and exploit them. And becoming attached means it hurts when they part from us. Honestly, I don’t know how much optimism or pessimism I am supposed to have. Either choice presents risk.

Hope keeps me going. It’s more than just being positive. Not every positive person looks forward with hope. And a negative person can still be filled with hope. Hope means you can keep your eye on the prize on the good days as well as the bad days. It keeps me treating people with respect no matter what I am feeling.

I’ve met many good men and women who don’t possess hope. They give up on people at the slightest provocation. They would come to me, tell me I’m a friend, and then leave without saying goodbye. I’ve endured so much heartache because of people who run. I’m not their enemy, yet they run. I still love them, but they are gone.

Still I hope. So many people to meet along my journey. How can I give up on any one of them while I’m on my way to meet many more? I hope to one day encounter those who are running in my direction hoping to stay next to me.

Solitary Confinement

John Donne wrote that no man is an island. If so, why can’t I see the mainland?

A group of people exists that are defined by their lack of a group; the lonely. I’m not talking about being alone or feeling lonely. Everyone can be in those groups for a time without it affecting them adversely. I’m talking about the lonely people who are socially isolated to the point where they can’t function in a group properly.

The person no one wants to play sports with won’t learn the skills necessary to play the game. The man no one wants to talk to won’t learn how to have normal conversations. The child everyone neglects to uplift won’t learn how to accept support from others. We all learn from being around other people. What hope do the lonely have?

Singled Out

Being separated from all social groups can be by choice or by circumstance. I choose to separate myself from groups that are mean-spirited, immature, or would in any way affect me negatively. And many groups exist I can’t choose for myself because I have no commonality with them. I can’t just go to a foreign country and expect them to welcome me in when I can’t speak their language and have no understanding of their culture.

Another cause for separation from social groups is due to exclusion. Some groups can consciously decide who to let in and who to block out. Not having any of the predetermined desirable traits automatically makes a person an outsider to the group. An individual can also be ousted from a group due to random occurrences. Sometimes a person is excluded simply because no one in the group remembers to treat them like a member of the group.

Fixing the Unbroken

Lonely people, like any other group, receive prejudice from the outside world. The world looks down on anything considered to be weak or undesirable. I’ve told people I am lonely before and they either respond by avoiding me or by trying to fix me. I don’t need fixing. Lonely people are not a lesser form of life. They can be just as smart, attractive, fun, funny, and nice as anyone else. The lonely simply need what anyone else needs; someone to talk to and someone to be with.

Take time to understand what the lonely man goes through. Your kind words to him may be the only nice thing he hears all week. He becomes a target for bullies because no one else will defend him. A lonely man who loses a friend often does not have other friends to turn to for comfort. Also, the lonely are often better at recognizing when someone is in need and are more sensitive to other people’s feelings.

Don’t avoid the lonely. Just because someone struggles to make friends doesn’t mean they can’t be a good friend to you.

Power Play

My roommate once said the person who cares the most in a relationship has the least power. I hope that’s not true.

The one time I babysat another person’s kids was an example of this. Babysitting is like being in a hostage situation. You try not to meet the demands of the captors too fast while constantly trying to calm them down. The whole day was spent entertaining these kids in the hopes they didn’t realize they could walk all over me. I had the least amount of power in that situation.

I would hate to think the only relationships I can have are ones where I maintain leverage over others. It’s not my personality to make people do what I want them to. I’d rather be with those who genuinely want to be with me. A relationship where the majority of your time is spent trying to not lose the other person is not a great relationship to be in. I call these socially abusive relationships.

A socially abusive relationship is when another person threatens to change the nature of your personal relationship with them because of failing to meet their expectations. Physical abuse attacks the body and verbal abuse attacks self-esteem, but social abuse attacks the relationship. I’ve met many people who would call me friend as long as I did what was expected. It took some time for me to realize these weren’t truly friends at all.

Take a good look at yourself to see if you are in a socially abusive relationship. Do you have to hold back your opinions and feelings for fear of offending your loved ones? Do your friends dispense punishment by spending less time with you when they get upset? Do people simply allow you to be around them instead of eagerly seeking you out? Be honest with yourself. The truth will set you free.

Each of us is guilty of being socially abusive when we give up on someone we have a personal relationship with. Are you refusing to talk to family because you are upset with them? Do you gossip about friends who are no longer in your favor? Do you tell people they are your friends and then convince yourself they aren’t really that close to you? You were never friends with someone if all you brought to the relationship was an end to it. Threatening to run out on friends is being nothing more than a social bully.

Instead of having leverage over friends I would rather be equal with them. They stay because they want to. They leave because they have to. I would never threaten my friends with thinking less of them just to make them stay by my side. No one has ever had to fear losing me because I have always been the one to care the most. This may give me no power over the relationship, but it makes me a powerful friend.

The Healthy Life

“For bodily exercise profiteth little.” – 1 Timothy 4:8

Healthy living requires balance. Being complete in one aspect of living doesn’t make up for the damage sustained in other areas. What good is a healthy body with a sick mind calling the shots? What good is a clear mind with a twisted heart guiding it toward self-destruction?

Three things are necessary in all aspects of living before a person can be considered healthy: consistent exercise, proper diet, and sufficient rest.

Physical

Exercise: Muscles need to be used. The only way to get stronger is to work hard. Completing small tasks only makes you strong enough to complete other small tasks. Think about what you wish to accomplish so you can know how strong you need to be.

Diet: We are what we eat. Everyone has their own idea as to what counts as consumable. Think of the overall value of what you put into your body. Be the gatekeeper for your stomach and don’t take bribes.

Rest: Bodies are not meant to work nonstop. Neglecting good rest will negate all the work your exercise and diet has accomplished. A relaxed body can do much more than a stressed body can. Make your sleep count and also learn to relax during the day.

Mental

Exercise: Brains need challenge. They become weak when they have no problems to solve. People often neglect their brain exercises because they would rather know stuff than figure things out. A strong brain enjoys learning and not just knowing.

Diet: Information feeds the brain. However, information doesn’t last forever in the human mind. Memories fade away without reminders. Make sure the information you consume is high quality and not common garbage.

Rest: Sometimes the brain needs to wind down. It needs to take in something easy to process that nurtures meaningful thought without it being work. Watching a good movie can accomplish this or maybe doing some study into a subject just for fun. All work and no play makes your brain inefficient.

Emotional

Exercise: Not much emotional strength comes from handling only the simple situations. Complex feelings become manageable when we are honest about our reactions concerning tough matters. Denial makes us emotionally weak.

Diet: Emotional maturity means you constructively use many different emotions. Focusing on just the pleasant and sweet emotions starves the heart. A variety of feelings are needed. Let the sorrow flow once in a while. Rage in euphoric bliss when the mood strikes. Handle these feelings well and they won’t control you so easily.

Rest: Focusing on just one feeling isn’t healthy. Sadness for too long becomes despair. Happiness in excess obscures judgment. Let emotions run their course for an appropriate amount of time so you can return to them refreshed.

Social

Exercise: Being casual all the time keeps you from forming meaningful relationships with people. More complex relationships require hard work and offer more reward. Relationships are developed by spending quality time with people. A little time spent makes acquaintances. Spending a lot of time makes friends. Devote all your time and you’ve made yourself a family.

Diet: Accepting only one type of people makes for a bland social life. Associate with as many different personality types as you can. Form relationships with both men and women. Don’t limit yourself to any one age group or race. The varied backgrounds and cultures from multiple people will spice up your life.

Rest: Spending some time alone is necessary for your health. You have to get away from people now and then to maintain your individuality. Living for others all the time leaves you with no life of your own. Don’t forget you also need to form a positive relationship with yourself.

Spiritual

Exercise: Think of your spirit as a character in a story. Every good character has an adventure to go on. Find an adventure worthy of your spirit. Your story gets better if you go on the best adventures.

Diet: A spirit thrives on inspiration. Inspiration comes when a connection is made between you and another soul. You can find inspiration anywhere something is made with love. It can be through art, literature, music, or performance. You may even find inspiration in the seemingly mundane.

Rest: The soul longs for peace. Both inner and outer conflict destroys any rest the soul hopes to enjoy. Peace is found when our conflicts are resolved. Be sure to resolve conflicts with love and not hate. Hatred can never bring peace. Being able to love freely is the sign of a healthy soul.

Taking the Stage

If sociality was a machine, then confidence is the grease that gets the gears going. Someone who works well with people worked hard to get to that point. It isn’t easy to be among a new group of people and know exactly what to say and do to avoid committing social suicide. Most people are only interested in first impressions so you have to make those initial opportunities count. No one gives chances to those who don’t take chances.

I prefer to be around people instead of being lonesome. I’m not always comfortable around people, but that isn’t due to lack of desire. It’s not that I’m an introvert. I’m just lousy at being an extrovert. It’s easier to be confident in something you’re good at.

Confidence can be ranked in stages. Check below to see where you rank.

Stage 0

Actively avoiding people is a sad state to be in. Wanting to do everything alone is not too unusual, but going out of our way to be alone seems crazy. Indefinite “me” time doesn’t help anyone. This stage can be referred to as the antisocial level. It is pure opposition to human interaction.

Stage 1

Woody Allen said eighty percent of success is showing up. The first step in putting ourselves out there is being there. Think of this stage as simply attendance. It takes the smallest amount of confidence to stand among a group of people and just listen. Being comfortable enough to be around people is a good start.

Stage 2

Just because you’re part of a group doesn’t mean you’re a participant. This stage involves action. The minimum amount of interaction one can offer is talking. We are truly comfortable when we can express ourselves freely to others. Human society wouldn’t function if there weren’t enough people with this level of confidence.

Stage 3

Leaders are found on this stage. Every human interaction would be awkward if everyone expected everyone else to be the one to start the ball rolling. Someone has to make the first move. Unfortunately, not everyone possesses the confidence to take the spotlight. Leaders provide necessary structure for human interaction. They initiate conversations, follow up on future interactions, and move relationships forward to new levels. In short, they get stuff done.

Final Curtain

Think about where you are on the confidence meter. Do you take risks or play it safe? Do you stay in familiar environments or do you explore new locations? Confidence is about being comfortable with ourselves in various settings. It is also about being willing to redefine ourselves. I became the boy who talks to pretty girls at parties. I chose to be the guy who takes the microphone to speak to the crowd. I’m now the man who writes about being diagnosed with autism. Who are you?

Social Health Class

“Doctor, doctor! I think I’ve got a social disease! Can you help me?”

A common response I get from people is, “I would never have guessed you have autism.” I assume this is because people expect those with autism to barely be able to function in public.

I don’t have anything wrong with me mentally. It’s the social part I admittedly have trouble with. You wouldn’t notice this about me unless you took the time.

A social life is considered healthy when you have a good number of meaningful connections with real people. According to that definition, I am socially dead. Most of my days are spent not talking to anyone. And the number of people I consider myself close to can be counted on one hand with fingers to spare.

I would like to focus on two components to having a healthy social life:

  1. Communication

Those who are able to express their ideas in a clear and interesting way are easy to interact with. More work is created when one person in a group does not know how to effectively share their thoughts and feelings. The goal of communication in our social lives is to get across to others what makes us an individual. If we are not an individual, then what do we really have to say at all?

Being socially awkward isn’t limited to those with behavioral disorders. Place anyone into an unfamiliar social setting and you will definitely see room for improvement. Some people are better at one-on-one conversation while some excel at talking in group settings. Wherever you can talk like yourself is where you communicate best.

  1. Relationships

Social skills are useless unless you have someone to use them on. The skills we can use in a given situation depend on who we are currently with. A different approach is necessary when in public compared to personal moments or even online interactions. You could say we become different people with different people.

Simply interacting with another person doesn’t mean you have formed a meaningful bond with them. Relationships are formed by people’s mutual needs. We find playmates when we need someone to play with. We become coworkers when we need each other’s work ethic and abilities. The most meaningful relationships are forged when we find people who need us to be ourselves.

The Prognosis

You can’t say your social life is healthy if you are not doing anything with it. It’s kind of like exercise in how your work is never done. We need to improve the quality of our communication with people and be constantly forming new relationships to consider ourselves socially fit.

I’ve had people suggest to me I should make friends with some of the other Asperger people I know. How can that be good? I can understand a common background provides for conversational topics, but putting two people with social issues together and expecting magic to happen is ridiculous. Do people think combining Asperger’s with Asperger’s will cancel it out? I don’t have any desire to “be with my own kind.” Try using that reasoning with anthropophobia. Do you think people with social anxiety should get together and form a club?

I’ve worked hard to find friends I can depend on. I try to be polite and cordial with everyone I meet, but the bonds that matter most are the ones that give back. The best people you can find for a healthy social life are the ones who consciously care about your social health. No point in curing Asperger syndrome if no social life is waiting for you afterwards.