But I won’t kid you: it will take more than one evening to accept, practice, and internalize these social enhancement strategies.
Social Awkwardness Example: My Daughter and I
True confession. I’m not very ‘cool’, in my 10 year old daughter’s opinion.
I found out my level of ‘coolness’ when I took my daughter and her 10 year old best friend out for ice cream one day. She asked me to sit at a separate table so she and her friend would not be seen with me! (Well, I guess she and her friend were trying to be ‘cool’ as well
It’s not always that bad. But I have found out that there are certain things I can do to annoy my daughter even more, and jeopordize my relationship with her.
These ‘annoying behaviors’ include:
- silly rhymes I make about her name, which I sing over and over
- singing in general, especially when she first gets up in the morning
- and making jokes around her friends
I was oblivious to these behaviors at first. In fact, I kind of enjoyed them: I like to sing, rhyme, and make jokes.
But in time, I came to realize that I’d have to change those behaviors if I wanted to preserve my relationship with my daughter.
Decreasing Social Awkwardness: A Three Step Model For Change
So what in the world does this have to do with social awkwardness?
As you may be well aware, navigating the social world can be challenging for individuals with Aspergers.
Over time, children, teenagers, and adults on the autism spectrum come to accept the fact that they’re socially awkward.
And they get tired of other NT’s trying to make them ‘fit in.’
Or, they may not see the point of ‘playing the game’ of trying to fit in.
Sometimes, though, the difficulty with social awkwardness comes from a lack of knowing “How” to get along socially.
Michelle Garcia Winner has created a number of worksheets for teaching social thinking and related skills.
I’m going to share 3 steps to behavior change that can help you decrease social awkwardness in your life. Or, to prhase this differently, I’m going to share 3 ways increase your social abilities.
I’m going to share one specific social skill strategy I learned from Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Adult Asperger’s Syndrome: listening with punctuation in order to look people in the eyes at the right time.
Looking people in the eyes is a way to show them that you care what they are saying. It also helps you track what they are saying. It’s key to building and maintaining friendships.
In order to learn this skill, you can ask someone to read a paragraph from a book. With your eyes closed, listen to the paragraph being read, and imagine where the periods would go. Then, open your eyes, and practice looking your friend in the eye at the times when a period would be appropriate in the conversation. Practice it a few times with a trusted friend. You’ll be amazed to find that it works!
That’s the ‘expected behavior’ that NT’s look for in any social interaction.
You’re not used to this. Like driving a car or riding a bike for the first time, you’re going to feel foolish, nervous, and socially awkward.
So what is the 3 step change that you can learn tonight (or this morning–depends what part of the world you’re reading this from ?
The first social skill you can practice is keeping track of this new behavior, called Looking People In the Eye. You may need a trusted friend to help keep track of this behavior for you. That’s great, at first. But, in order for you to develop social skill, you will have to ‘track’ your behavior for yourself. You’ll need to learn to take some extra time to think about looking people in the eye. In essence, you’re THINKING about yourself.
Self-Monitoring combines ‘Thinking’ and ‘Doing.’ When you self-monitor, you think about the unexpected behavior (looking down or away from people when they’re talking) you are doing. When you think about it clearly, and understand that it leads to social awkwardness, then you will want to control it. Each time you choose to catch yourself looking down/away, and change that behavior by learning to look the person in the eye at the appropriate times during a conversation, you are self-monitoring.
As an extra suggestion, you may want to choose a public place in a cafeteria, or even just watch a movie, to study how people look each other in the eye during the course of a conversation. Think about the punctuation method, imagine it, practice it with a friend, and then watch a movie again. As you do this over time, you’ll find that you’re developing this social skill.
At this point, you’ll notice that the new skill of looking people in the eye becomes more natural to you than at first. For example, when you drive a car after several years, you aren’t thinking that “I have to look in the rear view mirror, AND I need to check my side mirrors, AND I need to pay attention to all the signs around me, AND I need to make sure no one is backing out of their driveway.” In time, the skills you learned become second nature.
Learning new skills and habits isn’t easy. I get lazy, and I sing and rhyme and joke with my daughter at the wrong times still. But I’m getting better! I don’t do it as much. I’m self-monitoring my own behaviors. I’m paying attention to all the times that I do annoy her. And my annoying behavior is reducing over time. That means a better relationship with my daughter. In fact, she may even let me walk her down the aisle someday!
If you’ll identify one social skill you want to work on, and decide it’s worth it to add that new behavior to your life, you’ll need to A) Develop Self Awareness; B) Self-Monitor, and C) Learn Self-Control.
I’m sorry, you’ll have learned a key to decreasing social awkwardness in one evening. But it will take more than one evening of practice to put this skill in place. Take courage, though! If there’s anything I’ve known Aspies to be, it’s tenacious. So as you apply your new skill/behavior with tenacity, you’ll find that your social ease will increase.
What are your thoughts? I’m looking forward to your input.