I get a lot of searches on this blog on ways to teach an autistic person how to socialize. I’ve decided to share three rather unorthodox ways I learned how to interact with people as an adult, with the caveat that you should really not take my writing about these as an endorsement to try any of these, even if they are more effective than toastmasters or speech therapy.
1.) Taking up smoking. Nobody in my life has been quite as social and accepting of my idiosyncrasies as my smoking friends. There’s no awkwardness, no cocked eyebrows at my mannerisms, and no probing questions. It’s all just relaxed good times, interesting conversation, and a certain sexy enjoyability to it all. It’s also caused me to develop fine lines around my eyes and lips, and made my voice slightly more hoarse. So, in the interest of continuing to have that outlet for socializing without it being detrimental to my health, I’m switching to a non-nicotine electronic cigarette. It gives me the mannerisms and hand/mouth motions associated with smoking, allows me to join in when a group goes outside to smoke, and gives me the pleasure of having “smoking conversation” without the harm to my looks or health. Compromise is beautiful.
2.) Spending way too much time and money at the beauty salon. You want to learn how to socialize and talk with people? Go to a hairdresser or a manicurist. I learned the art of small-talk from my beloved hairdresser auntie. Nowadays, whenever I am feeling social anxiety or creeping insecurity about my ability to interact with others, I will book an appointment at the hair salon for a cut and colour, a manicure/pedicure, or an eyebrow wax. After spending an hour chit-chatting with someone who has perfected small talk to an art form, I walk out feeling (and looking) really good and wanting to show off just how well I can spring off a variety of subjects. The downside? $40-$80 is about on par with a therapy session, and that’s not even covering the tip.
3.) Becoming an aspiring artist. I’ve taken up sketching lately, and I’ve been learning the basics of beadwork, sewing, finger-weaving, and sculpting clay, and I’m planning on taking classes in improv acting and stand-up comedy this summer. People like artisans, and it’s a major conversation starter to be able to talk about something you are passionate about which also has a tangible result that people can observe. Just be prepared to be bombarded with several requests a day to re-create somebody’s likeness, especially if you’re into drawing.
Once again, I must stress- these are very heterodox ways of going about learning socializing, and if you do take them up, be prepared for the baggage that comes with them.