Autism and social exhaustion

Autism and social exhaustion;

Being autistic makes social contact exhausting. Conversations are like puzzles, requiring a lot of concentration and energy. A social situation contains many elements, each of which require thought and effort in order to experience a successful encounter.

Firstly I need to consider context. Am I talking to a professional, acquaintance, family member, friend or close friend. It’s difficult for me to differentiate my approach. Since getting an autism diagnosis I’ve realised that it’s important for me to do so. My instinctive approach is to not censor myself at all, in fact it doesn’t even occur to me to change the way I behave in different situations. I don’t modify my behaviour to suit and this can lead to discomfort, embarrassment and rejection.

Now I realise that social context can be understood more easily by thinking of myself  as an onion, every situation requires the exposure of a different layer. It’s only my close friends and immediate family who should be allowed to peel back enough layers to find my core.

In professional situations, or with those who I am not close with it’s best to keep things simple, small talk (no matter how dull I find it) serves a purpose. I should choose polite, respectful topics which will not make anyone feel uncomfortable. This will help me to develop friendships slowly, deal with acquaintances thougtfully and handle professional situations appropriately.

I have to decode what is being said to me, alongside facial expression and body language. I’m useless at reading people, unless they’re displaying an obvious emotion. I can figure out that if someone is laughing and smiling it’s going well. When someone is extremely distressed, with tears, I know what’s happening but everything in between is pretty much a mystery to me. So I make assumptions, and often I’m wrong.

Plus there’s the fact that often people don’t say what they really mean and expect you to read between the lines. Honestly I think this is pretty daft but it’s the way these things work so I need to accept that.

So I’m figuring out context, trying to read the other person and work out what they’re actually saying, and that’s before I’ve even started on me. Not making jokes unless I’m confident they’ll be appreciated, not being too personal, not saying anything innapropriate and not saying too much. I need to focus on listening well, even if the topic isn’t one that interests me, not interrupting and knowing when to end the conversation and leave.

You can see that for me this stuff is a lot of work. Each encounter takes a lot of effort and can feel pretty exhausting.

Prior to diagnosis I knew I found this stuff hard, but I didn’t know why. I often ended my days feeling drained and anxious but had no idea what was causing this.

Now I understand why I’m struggling things are better. I’m learning that I need to minimise social contact. That for me less is more when it comes to socialising. Don’t misunderstand, I enjoy being social I just need less of it that I realised before my diagnosis.

I’m hoping that with this new knowledge about myself I will be able to learn the social rules, and learn to understand other people better. In turn I hope that by being open about my autism other people will be more understanding and aware of the difficulties I am experiencing.