Building Relationships with More and Less Polished Individuals

Individuals with and without autism and social quirks may find it challenging at first to socialize with other people whose social skills they perceive to be more or less refined than their own. However, the potential for developing professional or personal bonds over common interests may bring together people with highly sophisticated social skills and those who are less socially polished when they might not otherwise interact with each other.

Individuals with autism may frequently find it daunting to initiate conversations with those without autism whose social skills are well polished. To people with autism and also many neurotypicals, these socially suave individuals have the skills to naturally command people around them. They are members of the “in crowds” in their schools, businesses, and communities: the popular boys and girls in school who date the most attractive people, and the CEOs and development directors whose wheelings and dealings bring game-changing levels of money and numbers of clients to their organizations. The natural command that socially adept individuals possess, in addition to the power and persuasion they hold within their communities and institutions, can be intimidating for those whose social skills are less refined. Individuals with autism, who are often both less socially polished and less confident in their people skills, may be particularly intimidated by others’ displays of social power.

On the flip side, numerous individuals with the most advanced social skills and the highest levels of confidence in these skills might find it challenging to start conversations with individuals on the autism spectrum. It seems that people with the most sophisticated social skills frequently surround themselves mostly with others who are equally as socially adept. This may lead socially suave individuals to become accustomed to conversations developing in particular ways. They may become used to people being relatively slick and smooth with their tone of voice and body language and coming up with exactly the right words to say at the right times in conversations. Socially adept individuals may come to perceive those who are not suave in this manner as strange and make a habit of avoiding these people at social gatherings. Individuals with autism frequently have quirks that would keep them from presenting themselves as smooth and slick to those who are more polished.

However, people with autism can succeed at conversing and developing a rapport with individuals who are socially polished. Those on the autism spectrum frequently have topics and hobbies that interest them so extensively that they compulsively collect information about these interests from any available source. When other people possess the information they seek and share their interests, individuals on the spectrum often take the hard step of initiating discussions in order to connect with these other people. If individuals with autism share common hobbies and topics with people who have sophisticated social skills, they may be able to overcome the intimidation they feel that the socially polished people project towards them and build relationships over their mutual interests.

In addition, people with highly developed social skills can use their talents to build relationships with those on the autism spectrum. Socially polished individuals are often very adept at using their command of their tone of voice, body language, and other social nuances to form a strong rapport with people they interact with and to make them feel cool and comfortable. Moreover, socially adept people often need to gather information about certain topics for their businesses and personal pursuits. This information includes assistance with selecting, operating, and repairing technologies such as computers, phones, and televisions. When socially polished individuals seek information about topics and technological know-how, they often have to obtain this information and know-how from people with quirky habits when it comes to social interactions. However, the more polished individuals will generally tolerate feelings of awkwardness and discomfort and interact with people who are less slick and smooth in order to gather their information and technological expertise.

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The Social Rubbing-In

There are numerous cases in which individuals with autism and Asperger’s syndrome feel as if the manifestations of the challenges they experience in social situations are “rubbed in”. To begin with, people across the autism spectrum, whether they are high- or low-functioning, often encounter challenges in processing the demands of social environments and contexts. Individuals with autism frequently struggle to effectively interpret body language and other nonverbal communication, to respond to conversation and other social cues in appropriate ways, and to follow norms of different social contexts. The responses of those with autism or Asperger’s to social cues often come off as unconventional, awkward, and clumsy to those who are neurologically typical and do not have these conditions.

In turn, neurologically typical individuals often limit their interactions with those on the autism spectrum. As a result, people with autism generally make far fewer friends than those without the condition and often feel lonely and isolated. Here are two hypothetical situations told from the perspective of individuals with autism or Asperger’s in which these people might feel that their social challenges are being rubbed in for them.

  • While watching a major league baseball game on TV, the TV camera catches a shot of several of my friends at the game. These friends know that I am just as much of a baseball fan as they are. On the one hand, it is possible that my friends got tickets at the last minute and that there were only a limited number of tickets available. Nevertheless, other friends receive one of the limited number of tickets before me. This reminds me that I am not one of the top choices for my friends to include for social events when the number of people that can be included is limited. This also makes me wonder if my friends organize some outings where they do not have to accommodate my social quirks.
  • My friends and I attend a basketball game at our college together. Like many fans at sporting events, we relentlessly heckle the players on the opposing team, trying to outdo each other with clever one-liners to get inside the heads of the opposing players. Our group of friends is surrounded by numerous other peers at the game. While my peers laugh hysterically at most of the heckling comments that my friends make, they remain silent during my comments. I notice no difference between my comments and those of my friends. I am reminded that I either missed cues from my social environment, as I often do, or that I am perceived as less cool and given fewer social reinforcements than my friends.