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Social Skills 101: Tips for Asperger's Adults

Most adults with Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) will probably discover that they have to learn social skills “manually” rather than developing them “naturally.” Thus, here are some tips for people on the autism spectrum that can assist in developing a few important social skills:

1. Asking questions can help AS and HFA adults to survive in this world. Knowing how to find the information you need, and how to weed out the things you don't, is likely to be one of your best survival skills. However, never ask a question that you aren't prepared for an honest answer to. And if you aren't prepared for the answer you get, don’t over-react.

2. Be sure to pay attention to the issues your peers raise. Their comments may have something to do with the current environment or situation, or perhaps they are trying to verify things about the impression they have of you. If different individuals keep raising the same issue, it may be due to your image or appearance.

3. Conversation starters are called “icebreakers.” The best icebreakers are "open-ended questions." An open-ended question provides space for a long, varied answer (e.g., "So, what did you think about today’s meeting?). A close-ended question restricts answers to "yes" or "no" (e.g., "Did you like today’s meeting?).

4. If you have difficulty starting a worthwhile conversation, it’s a good idea to think about the way other people introduce themselves to YOU in order to get a feel for how it’s done before trying it yourself. Also, it's best to have practiced your “conversation-starting” skills first with people who introduce themselves to you.

5. It’s especially important to be in a joyful, comfortable mood when meeting others for the first time. If you are going somewhere to meet new people, prepare yourself beforehand by thinking about things that make you happy and confident.

6. Know that if someone asks, “How are you doing?” … they probably don’t want to know the literal answer. This question is a way of judging another person's general attitude in the moment. A short answer is always best. If you want to make a good impression, an answer that indicates a positive and confident attitude is always a good response (e.g., "Doing great …how about you?”).

7. Learn to appreciate the fact that, during a conversation, people will often take turns to trade personal information in the hopes of learning more about each other and developing some rapport. The person you’re conversing with may elicit information from you either by asking direct questions or by disclosing personal information in the hopes of getting you to disclose similar information.

8. Realize that there are very good reasons to be careful about how deep you go into any given relationship. In fact, an ability to know when to stop going deeper may be one of your best survival skills. Most people will have expectations about how far they want to take any relationship that develops – and also how quickly. These expectations will change as the conversation develops, and it’s a bad idea to try to push this process further than the other individual wants to take it.

9. Understand that at any time during a conversation, the person you’re talking to may switch to another topic, switch back to small talk, or use a distraction to pull out of the conversation. This is normal. So, don’t take it personally!

10. While in a conversation, it’s important to try to develop an understanding of what the other person is thinking and feeling. This is “rapport,” which is a feeling of mutual understanding or trust and agreement between two individuals. Rapport is when both parties "get" each other or share a sense of "connection."

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