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4 Myths About Autistic Adults and Socializing

At a Glance

In this post, we will go over a handful of common myths about the social lives of autistic adults, and offer a more detailed take on the reality of the situation.

We walk through commonly held (and misunderstood) beliefs about autistic people and on their social skills.

We discuss a myth and then debunk it, focused on how neurotypicals being the majority have shaped how we think about autistic social experiences.

One common challenge faced by many autistic adults that is both self-reported and documented in larger studies is social isolation. 


Some autistic people face challenges with social isolation regardless of setting, but one added reality of adulthood is the lack of institutional supports that naturally provide more social opportunities such as schools or activity groups directed at children/teenagers.


Unfortunately, the attitude of many neurotypicals toward this challenge is that this isolation is the inevitable consequence of autistic people having poor social skills. While it is true that autistics sometimes report struggling with certain social skills, this attitude is a gross oversimplification of the way that the social deck is stacked against autistics, often in a way that neurotypicals fail to recognize is even occurring.


The challenge is many neurotypicals are so accustomed to having their social norms treated as the default that they sometimes see people who operate under different social norms as inherently the wrong ones, to the point that some will even see it as offensive. 


Think about that one person in your life who talks at length about the importance of eye contact or a firm handshake. In that sense, many autistic adults spend their lives being told that it’s not that hard to adjust one’s social skills while simultaneously being ostracized by people who refuse to make any adjustments of their own.


Even in better-informed professional circles, discussions over communication being a two-way street sometimes grossly discount the lengths to which many autistic adults already go in social settings.


Social isolation is a real problem, and one contributing factor is the mythology that exists around how and to what extent autistic people socialize. 


In this post, we will go over a handful of common myths about the social lives of autistic adults, and offer a more detailed take on the reality of the situation.


If you are an autistic adult and want to share your experiences regarding social isolation, or myths that people believe that simply aren’t true then we would love to hear from you! 


Just drop us a line at hello@autismgrownup.com. Otherwise let’s dive right into our myths and some healthier approaches to the challenge at hand.


Myth 1: Autistic people are antisocial.

Let’s be clear from the start: some autistic people might feel less comfortable in social settings or prefer to be alone and those preferences should not be discounted for the individuals who have them. But there is a more pervasive, often tacit belief among neurotypicals that autistic people are averse to socializing.


The Reality

Neurotypicals often perceive small social cues like lack of eye contact or fidgeting as signs of disinterest, which unfairly punishes autistic people who have difficulty checking those specific boxes.

Myth 2: Autistic people are not interested in friendships and/or don’t have friends

As with our previous myth, it’s important to take a moment to clarify that this can be the case for some individuals and not in others, and that the reason we are focusing on it as a myth is that the perception in part arises from how neurotypicals perceive autistic approaches to friendship and personal connection.


The Reality

Autistic people are interested in friendships and making friends but may show it a little differently. When autistic adults find people who do understand them for their own communication style, their experience can be much more satisfying. When others understand and support an autistic person’s need to connect, that can be a strong foundation for friendship.

Myth 3: Autistic social isolation is primarily a problem because of loneliness

Let’s be very clear at the beginning of this section: we are not here to downplay the significance of loneliness. 


While some autistic adults may feel fine with being relatively isolated and should be taken at their word, many do feel a degree of distress related to loneliness and that is not a problem to be discounted!


The Reality

While loneliness is 100% a real and important problem, it is not the only problem that can considerably impact the well-being of autistic adults. 


Our social networks and ability to navigate public social settings can have significant life impacts, from finding jobs to starting relationships to someone getting the support they need when they are in a difficult situation. Autistic adults who find themselves isolated can face real material harms.

Myth 4: Autistic people are socially isolated because they have social communication deficits

When neurotypical people make statements like this, there is an implied assumption (intended or not) that autistics have a responsibility to “make up the deficit” in order to communicate the “correct” way. 


It can be a hard line of thinking to argue against - not necessarily because it is correct but because neurotypicals primarily experience social settings that are catered to their style of thinking. 


Whereas interacting with an autistic person and having some communication issues might be an unusual event in a neurotypical person’s life, it is something that autistics are forced to deal with, often every day, and often to access the resources they need to survive.


The Reality

It’s not an uncommon refrain to hear neurotypicals say that communication is a two-way street, and some may even be surprised to get a negative reaction. In that hypothetical lies the core of the problem. 


The neurotypical person now has the power to dismiss the autistic person as unreasonable for reacting a certain way to a “perfectly reasonable statement.” 


But autistic people almost always have to go halfway and then some, because autistic people rarely have the luxury of just ignoring all the neurotypical people who struggle to communicate with autistic people effectively. 


The problem is compounded because so few neurotypical people do actively think about how to better communicate with autistics.


At this stage, we think it’s a good time to take another step back for a quick moment to talk about what we mean when we discuss differences versus deficits. 


The contrast is meant to show that when there is a gap in communication between an autistic and an allistic person, it is often the autistic person’s default responsibility to fill that gap regardless of how the gap got there. 


It’s not meant to suggest that autistic people never face personal challenges with communication. Many autistic people can identify personal social challenges and may share them with you. Some may even feel comfortable enough to ask for help.


It all comes back to the perception from many neurotypicals that differences in autistic communications styles are inherently deficits that need to be fixed. Whether or not a neurotypical person intends to have this mindset, most of their social settings will reinforce that neurotypical social norms are the social norms and will not penalize an unwillingness to learn how to better communicate with autistics. 


In other words, the problem is not that autistic people inherently have deficits or can’t meet neurotypical people halfway. It’s that neurotypicals need to do more to recognize when they’re putting unfair social expectations on autistic people. 

Conclusion

With the extent to which our uncovering of autism myths overlaps with pointing out ways neurotypicals can actively perpetuate the situations that lead to the myth in the first place, we feel it’s important to offer one more point of clarification.


When we talk about neurotypical assumptions in this post, we are not suggesting every neurotypical person has that attitude or that the attitude in question is intentionally malicious. 


It is a product of an environment where neurotypicals are accepted as a default and those who do not fit the mold are left with an expectation to be the ones to adjust. 


By working together with autistics to fill these gaps with mutual effort, we can finally ensure social communication is really a two-way street.

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