Social interaction

Social interactions among autistic people
IN BRIEF

For an autistic person, social contexts and interactions with others can be difficult. They already face communication challenges, and because it's complicated for them to identify other people's emotions and even their own, to meet new people, to adapt to contexts and changes and to choose appropriate topics, it therefore becomes a very complex task to experience enjoyable social interactions. Many autistic people prefer being alone, others would like to have friends but are unable to do so, but as each autistic person is different, some do have good friendships. However, they usually have fewer friendships, and they will prefer concrete exchanges of information to simply sharing a moment with someone.

Social interactions

Each autistic person is unique. The symptoms and impact of autism vary from person to person. Some people may experience severe difficulties in social interactions, while others may be able to manage them relatively effectively. With the right support and help, many autistic people can learn to improve their social skills and better interact with others.

Autism changes the way a person connects and interacts. The person already has communication challenges that are an additional obstacle to social interaction, but they also have an additional set of peculiarities to manage.

Autistic people may have difficulty understanding and responding to a variety of factors.

They often struggle with important parts of social interaction.

This can make it difficult for them to understand and connect with others, and social interactions can become difficult and frustrating for autistic people and for those who interact with them.

Special interests

Autistic people may have very intense interests or obsessions that are difficult for others to find interesting. Autistic people often find it difficult to take an interest in and discuss the interests and hobbies of others.

Developing and maintaining relationships

Maintaining relationships can be a major challenge for people with autism.

Friendship

Generally speaking, autistic people have fewer friends and spend less time with them. Their friendships are often with people who are older or more mature than they are. Some aspects of relationships don’t come naturally, are easy for them to misunderstand, or require too much effort to adapt, making autistic people socially awkward.

Change and routine

The fact that autistic people have difficulty adapting to changes in routine and to new social situations can make social activities difficult, even more so if they are unplanned. This can be a major obstacle to long-term relationships.

Participation in discussions

Autistic people generally prefer discussions that revolve around facts, or their specific interest. Conversations around themes of friendship, personal development or social aspects can be uncomfortable or uninteresting for them, so this adds a further barrier to social reciprocity.

In group discussions, autistic people sometimes fail to recognize when they are being addressed and when a response is expected of them. People may interpret this as a sign of disinterest, but this is not necessarily the case.

It’s often difficult for them to identify which information has priority in a conversation. As a result, they tend to develop a topic too little, or too much.

Meeting expectations

Social interaction involves guessing the expectations of others. Since some of these expectations are not communicated clearly in words that leave little room for interpretation, autistic people are often deprived of this information. Faced with the autistic person’s lack of response to their expectations, many feel frustrated and stop trying to develop the relationship.

Important

You have to be clear when communicating with an autistic person. It's normal for a non-autistic person not to have the reflex or ability to be very precise at all times. In cases where they feel they are not being understood, it's time to increase the level of clarity.

Scenario

Jules is tired and afraid of falling asleep on the road. He'd like to sleep at Carl's to avoid putting himself in danger.

Jules objects that doing that would keep him up all night even after he gets home. Carl replies that his life and the lives of others are more important than the quality of his night's sleep. Jules is disappointed and feels that his friend is letting him down. But Carl never received the real information about the request. If Jules had been specific, and told Carl that he wanted to sleep at his place, Carl would have understood.

On the other hand, since it was an unforeseen event, Carl's reaction might still have been inadequate. In this case, Carl should have been given time to absorb the information, without putting pressure on him.

Games

Spontaneously, an autistic child is more likely to classify, line up and put away toys than to use them to imitate scenes from everyday life. Faced with their playmate’s lack of flexibility, most children will avoid playing with them.

An autistic person who has mastered the rules of a game, such as a board game or team sport, may be very rigid about them. In a playful context, the autistic person may then be perceived as spoiling the fun of the group by being too precise about how to participate. This can even lead to conflict. But autistic people often suffer when there is uncertainty about how to act or function. The breaking of clear rules is therefore highly destabilizing or upsetting to them.

Valérie Jessica Laporte

WRITER SPECIALIZING IN AUTISM (FRENCH)