Saturday, September 27, 2008

Growth Through Experience.

Hello again everyone! It's been a while since I've written, so I think I'll begin this new entry with a bit of an anecdote:

A few days ago I was spending time with a few friends, and a guy who has an unwanted crush on one of my friends comes in and starts chatting it up with her - he sits next to her and earnestly starts telling her about his favorite television show... she's not interested at all. My other friend and I are able to recognize that he is making her uncomfortable - her body is caved in a little bit and her facial expression seems polite, but unresponsive: certainly uncomfortable.

At that moment, my friend and I are figuring out how to spare our friend who is mercilessly being hit on, so I decide to distract this guy: he's good with computers, so I ask him to help me with a diagram in Microsoft Excel that I had been making for one of my classes, but unfortunately, I was having trouble with turning the statistics into a chart. Excited, he immediately comes over, grabs my laptop, and shows me how it works. My other two friends leave the room, and after he helps me, I end the conversation gracefully: "I think I left my flash drive in my room; I'd better go save this..." He went back to his room, and it ended fine.

When I got back upstairs my friend hugged me and thanked me for sparing her of such an awkward moment. At this time, I was in shock: how could I have smoothed over something so well? I'm usually the awkward one!

The only thing I can attribute this experience to is years and years of mess-ups. Because of my Asperger's, I've had to pay close attention to what is and isn't awkward: not to mention anything about unwanted subjects in casual conversation, appropriate body language, etc. It's quite grueling to have to think about everything that you're going to say in order to avoid making a fool out of yourself! Fortunately, it will all pay off in the long run.

It's about time, too. Middle school and high school were brutal (I recieved an unusually high amount of bullying, and that victimized, condescending reputation sort of stuck), but that's where I gained enough experience to appear approachable. College really provided the most amount of growth, for my approachability allowed me to socialize more, and learn more than I ever had before. I'm still nowhere near appearing normal, but with enough hard work I think I'll be able to survive.

What I'm trying to say is (and I'm no professional or anything), it's important for people with Asperger's, HFA or any similar conditions to put themselves out there socially, no matter how uncomfortable they may feel. Pay attention to how other people do things: saying hi, small talk, and seeing how people relate to others using pop culture or past experiences are just a few examples. It even may help if you disclose your condition to a close friend, and encourage him/her to let you know of any strange tendencies you have, or if you say anything disconcerting - this will serve as as extra observation, so you can work on things you wouldn't typically be aware of.

Through the years, I've come across a stunning realization that with experience and intense concentration, social skills can be learned. It's definitely possible: don't give up! We may never be perfectly normal, but being aware of our social tendencies will certainly help us build self-esteem and relationships in the long run. Certainly worth the wait.

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