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Conversation Skills 101: Tips For Aspergers Adults

Individuals with Aspergers (high functioning autism) often find social situations very difficult. There are so many social rules that "neurotypicals" (i.e., people not on the autism spectrum) learn instinctively. "Aspies" often have to work at learning these rules. It can often be confusing and cause anxiety as many social rules are unwritten and not spoken about.

Unfortunately it would be impossible to fit every helpful idea into this article, but it does offer some basic suggestions that you could begin to think about. Discussing these with someone you feel safe with may help you to think of some other ideas.

Starting a conversation:

1. If the individual you would like to talk to is already talking to someone else, especially if it is someone you do not know, it may be better to speak to them later when they are free.

2. Approach the individual, but stop when you are about an arm’s length away and face them.

3. Saying 'Hello' is normally a good way to start a conversation. Try to think of some other good greetings as well (e.g., 'Hi' to a friend or 'Excuse me' if you wish to attract someone's attention). It is important to remember that the appropriate type of greeting changes depending on the situation and individual you are speaking to (e.g., you may say 'Hey' to a friend but 'Hello' to your boss).

4. Using the individual's name before or after your greeting will help them to know you are talking to them. In some families, individuals do not address elder relatives by their name, but call them Aunt, Uncle, Grandma as appropriate. Think about the names that you use when you speak to the individuals in your family.

5. If the individual you speak to answers 'Hello' (or something similar) it usually means that they want to talk.

6. It is a good idea to ask some general questions at the beginning of the conversation rather than starting on a certain topic. Some ideas of things to say here are:
  • Did you enjoy the film/concert/TV program?
  • How are you?
  • It's nice to see you.

Try writing down some other general questions and topics that you can use when you are talking to other individuals.

What to say during a conversation:

1. Remember to take it in turns when talking to someone. Let them answer your questions and give them a chance to ask you one in return if they want to.

2. Talk about things that you know the other individual likes as well as the things that you like. If you both like the same things, then you could talk about these. However, it is not appropriate to talk to some individuals about certain topics. It is probably a good idea to avoid talking about them if you do not know the individual well. Try to make a list of things that are - and are not - appropriate to talk about.

3. If you find it hard to understand that someone else may feel differently to you, you may not realize that not everyone is as interested in a certain topic or hobby as you are. You may want to talk about it a lot, but the other individual may not be as interested or knowledgeable about the topic as you are. If you are talking to someone about a topic and they begin to look like they want to end the conversation, you could say 'Would you like me to tell you more?' or 'Would you like to talk about something else?' However, sometimes the individual will want to end the conversation altogether for another reason. For example, they may need to get to work.

4. You may also find it difficult to tell how someone else is feeling because they are not actually saying how they feel and you find it difficult to read body language and facial expressions. What is appropriate to say to them will sometimes be different depending on how they are feeling about the topic. If you are not sure how someone is feeling, you can ask them.

How to end a conversation:

Watch out for signals that someone wants to end a conversation with you. These may include:
  • looking around the room
  • not asking questions back
  • saying they have something else to do
  • yawning

Do not get upset if the individual does this. Sometimes it is better to end a conversation before you run out of things to say. If you want to end the conversation, say something like, "Well I'd better be going now" before saying "Goodbye" because it is more polite than just saying "Goodbye" and walking away. Try to think of some other ways to end a conversation.

Making friends:

Making friends can be difficult for Aspies, but once you have established them, they can be enjoyable. You will have someone to go out with, talk about things you enjoy, and discuss your problems with.

It can be difficult to tell if someone is not a real friend. This can be especially difficult for Aspies. This is because the signs that someone is pretending to be your friend are often very difficult to detect, because they include body language and tone of voice. You may not find it easy to notice these. A true friend will always make you feel welcome and talk to you if they have the time. A true friend will treat you the same way that they treat all of their friends. Someone pretending to be a friend will sometimes make you feel welcome, but show signs that they do not want to talk almost immediately. Someone pretending to be a friend may treat you differently to their other friends.

Telling others that you have Aspergers:

Sometimes people find others who behave differently to themselves hard to understand. Neurotypicals may find it hard to understand why you may prefer not to look them in the eye while you speak or why you like to talk a lot about a special interest. A way of helping others to understand your differences and communicate well with you is to tell them that you have Aspergers. Obviously, it is your choice whether or not to tell others, but it can often be a positive decision.

You do not have to go into great detail about what Aspergers is. Perhaps you could tell them about the triad of impairments and the difficulties that you have because of this. Things to think about include:
  • Social interaction - Do you prefer to be alone? Do you find it difficult to make friends? Do you find it difficult to keep a conversation going?
  • Imagination - Do you find it difficult to imagine how someone else feels? Do you find it distressing when things change? Do you have a special interest?
  • Communication - Do you find body language difficult to understand? Do you find it hard to tell what emotion others are feeling? Do you find it difficult to say what you mean?

Not all of these difficulties will apply to you. You could ask someone who knows you well how you behave differently in social situations in comparison to a neurotypical. Knowing this can be very useful as you will then be able to tell others about these difficulties and also work on improving them.

Social skills:

Here are some additional ideas and things to remember to help you when dealing with social situations. This does not cover every possible situation you may find yourself in, but it does provide advice for some of the most common circumstances:

1. Even if you do not want to socialize with others and prefer to be on your own, it is a good idea to develop your social skills.

2. If you make a mistake and upset someone, it does NOT mean they don’t like you. Usually, saying sorry helps. If you are not sure what you have done to upset someone, ask.

3. Rules change depending on the situation and individual you are speaking to. For example, it would be appropriate to say ‘Hey’ to a friend but 'Hello' to your boss. A good example of this is the story of a man who was told that it was polite to go up to people and smile and shake their hand when he met them. This was appropriate most of the time. However, when he attended a family member's funeral, people thought he was being insensitive because he was walking around with a big smile when they were feeling sad.

4. Saying 'please' and 'thank you' is appropriate in all situations. This shows other individuals that you are polite.

5. Sometimes it is ok not to tell the truth to make someone else happy (e.g., saying they do not look fat, even if they do). Some call these 'little white lies'. Try thinking of situations where this may be the case with a family member or co-worker.

How to develop and practice social skills:

Social skills groups are run in most countries. They usually focus on the main areas that Aspies find difficult (e.g., making friends, having a conversation, identifying and expressing emotions, problem solving, body language and tone of voice, etc.).

You could also ask a family member or friend to help you practice social skills. You could do this using role play. Things that you could practice include approaching others, starting a conversation, taking turns and ending a conversation. You could ask the individuals who know you well which skills they think it would be a good idea for you to practice.

Watching soaps on TV might give you some ideas of how to act in different social situations. You could also record an episode and ask someone to press pause during the program and talk about what you would do next in that situation.

Joining a social group:

Social groups provide the opportunity to meet others and socialize in a safe environment. They do not offer structured social skills training but are a good place to practice those that you have learned. All groups operate differently. Most groups meet on a regular basis (e.g., weekly or monthly), and at an agreed place (e.g., a pub or community hall). The activities will vary depending on the interests of the members. Some may focus on one hobby, such as drama, while others may offer a wider range of activities, such as cinema one week and bowling the next.

How to meet and socialize with neurotypicals:

There are lots of different types of social groups. Many of these meet because members have similar interests (e.g. sports, reading, art or religion). For someone with Aspergers, joining a social group where the members have similar interests to your own would be beneficial. This is because you would have something to talk about and to use to start conversations. Individuals at these groups will probably be keen to talk about your special interest if they enjoy it too.

Do keep in mind that some social groups require you to become a member to attend, and for this, you sometimes have to pay. It may be a good idea to call the organizer to find out about this to avoid disappointment.

==> Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples

How to Read Your Date’s Body Language: Tips for Aspergers Men

Neurotypicals have a million ways of showing whether they’re interested in someone, only a few of which involve speech. But it’s these nonverbal cues that pose the biggest challenge for the dating Aspergian – especially males.

Here are some dating tips for the Aspergers man who has difficulty reading body language:

1. Be aware of your date’s nervous gestures:
  • Lowered eyebrows and squinted eyes illustrate an attempt at understanding what is being said or going on. It's usually skeptical. This is presuming she is not trying to observe something that's far away.
  • If your date brushes her hair back with her fingers, this may be “preening” (a common gesture if your date likes you) or her thoughts about something conflict with yours. She may not voice this. If you see raised eyebrows during the date, you can be pretty sure that she disagrees with you. If your date wears glasses, and is constantly pushing them up onto her nose again, with a slight frown, that may also indicate she disagrees with what you are saying.

2. Check your date’s arms:
  • If her arms are crossed while her feet are shoulder width or wider apart, this is a position of toughness or authority (e.g., she may not want you to get too close).
  • If her hands are closed or clenched, she may be irritated, angry, or nervous.
  • If she rests her arms behind her neck or head, she is open to what is being discussed or just laid back in general.
  • Individuals with crossed arms are closing themselves to social influence. Though some adults just cross their arms as a habit, it may indicate that your date is (slightly) reserved, uncomfortable with her appearance, or just trying to hide something on her shirt.

3. Do not judge your date solely by her body language.

4. Do not spend too much time looking at and analyzing her body language. Try to look at her face while you are talking.

5. Don't isolate yourself by constantly examining body language when interacting with the opposite sex. There is no reason to gain a social “upper hand” anyway. This is paralysis by analysis.

6. If she looks up at the sky or to the sides, she is probably thinking about you.

7. If she talks at a fast rate and mumbles or isn't clear on what she is saying, she could be nervous or might be lying, trying to stall for time, or not telling the full truth (i.e., being vague).

8. It's easy to spot a confident lady: she will make prolonged eye contact and have a strong posture.

9. Keep in mind that each woman has her own unique body language (called baseline behaviors).

10. Look into her eyes:
  • Dilated pupils mean that your date is interested. Keep in mind, however, that many drugs cause pupils to dilate, including alcohol, cocaine, amphetamines, MDMA, LSD and others. Don't mistake having a few drinks for attraction.
  • If her eyes seem far away, that usually indicates that she is in deep thought or not listening.
  • If she looks down at the floor a lot, she is probably shy or timid.
  • Individuals who look to the sides a lot are nervous, lying, or distracted. However, if the individual looks away from the speaker, it very well could be a comfort display or indicate submissiveness.
  • Looking askance generally means your date is distrustful or unconvinced.

11. Observing in context is crucial to understanding body language.

12. Pay attention to how close your date is to you:
  • The closer she is, the warmer she is thinking of you. The farther away that she is, the less she actually cares about you or the date. If you move slightly closer to her, does she move slightly further away? That means she doesn't want your interaction to be any more personal than it already is. If she doesn't move further away, then she is receptive – and if she responds by getting even closer to you, she probably really likes you or is very comfortable around/by you.

13. Pay special attention to “changes” in body language rather than the body language itself.

14. See if she is mirroring you:
  • Mirroring is another common gesture. If she mirrors, or mimics your appearance, this is a very genuine sign that she is interested in you and trying to establish rapport with you. Try changing your body position here and there. If you find that she changes her position similarly, she is mirroring.

15. Some women touch their face and/or play with their hair when they are flirting.

16. Watch her face. It will usually give off a quick involuntary and sometimes subconscious twitch when something happens that irritates, excites, or amuses her.

17. Watch her feet:
  • A fast tapping, shifting of weight, laughing, or movement of the foot will most often mean that your date is impatient, excited, nervous, scared, or intimidated.
  • If your date is sitting, feet crossed at the ankles, this means she is generally at ease.
  • If while standing, your date seems to always keep her feet very close together, it probably means she is trying to be "proper" in some way.
  • If while seated, she purposely touches her feet to yours, she is flirting!
  • Some women may point their feet to the direction of their interest. So if they are pointing at you, she may be interested in you.

18. Watch her head position:
  • A cocked head means that she is confused or challenging you, depending on eye, eyebrow, and mouth gestures. Think of how a dog slightly cocks its head when you make a funny noise. When coupled with a smile, a tilted head will mean she genuinely likes you and is engaged in playful conversation.
  • An overly tilted head is either a potential sign of sympathy, or if she smiles while tilting her head, she is being playful and maybe even flirting.
  • Lowered heads indicate a reason to hide something. Take note if she lowers her head. If it is when she is complimented, she may be shy, ashamed, timid, keeping distance from you, in disbelief, or thinking herself. If it is after she offers an explanation, then she may be unsure if what he said was correct.

19. When your date closes her eyes longer than the time it takes to blink, that usually means that she is feeling stress, alarm, or despair (although it could mean that their contacts are dry, this will sometimes be accompanied by rubbing of the eye).

20. When observing your date, be subtle about it.

Note: Aspergian men who are dating often need to be told point-blank to dial back on their obsessions in order to better interact with a love interest. Also, reminding an Aspergian that most people have more than one relationship in their lives — and therefore, statistically, the majority of a person’s relationships will end at some point — can help to put some perspective on endings for someone who may have an ‘all or nothing’ approach and expect that first relationship to last forever.

Good Luck!

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