IamA social skills expert who overcame the social struggles of Asperger's! My newest book "Level Up Your Social Life" is free on Kindle today, so AMA!
Hi everyone! My name is Daniel Wendler, and I'm the author of ImproveYourSocialSkills.com, a comprehensive online guide to social skills. My newest book "Level Up Your Social Life: The Gamer's Guide To Social Success" is free on Kindle today, so I thought I would do an AMA to celebrate!
A few things you might be interested to know about me:
- This is my second time on /r/IAMA. My first AMA got a great response, so I decided to come back and hang out with your wonderful people!
- I wrote my social skills guides out of my own experiences of overcoming social challenges. Growing up, I was the most awkward kid you could ever hope to meet. My social skills were limited to 1) Talking about Star Wars 2) Talking about video games 3) Talking about Star Wars video games. As a result, I was bullied, rejected -- all the stuff you'd expect. But things turned around in high school when I received a diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome. I learned that my social struggles were because of my lack of social skills, so I started working really hard to build my social skills. Over time, I got a lot better at social skills, and I started writing my social skills guides to share what I've learned with other people.
- Level Up Your Social Life is actually my second social skills guide. My first guide is called Improve Your Social Skills and you can read it on Amazon too.
- If you're curious to learn more about my story of Asperger's, you can check out the TEDx talk I did on "My life with Asperger's"
- I'm the moderator of /r/socialskills, which is an awesome community that you should join.
- Cat tax.
Thanks for reading! I'll be available for the next few hours, so feel free to ask me anything about social skills, Asperger's, writing a book, Star Wars video games, or my favorite gifs
EDIT: The AMA is officially over and my book is no longer free, but I'll be on Reddit periodically throughout the day. If you have any more questions, feel free to ask them!
That's a good question. There's a lot of fly-by-night social skills experts out there with zero credentials and dubious advice. There's a few things that I think qualify me as an expert.
- First, my own personal story. Malcolm Gladwell talks about the 10,000 hour rule to become an expert. I've put in 10,000+ hours studying social skills since I received my diagnosis in high school -- it's not like I read "How To Win Friends and Influence People" a month ago and declared myself an expert :).
- Second, my work with others. I've given 1 on 1 social skills coaching to hundreds of people through Skype, and led group classes and workshops to hundreds more. Not only have I applied my ideas to my own life, but I've helped a lot of people apply it to theirs.
- Third, anecdotal evidence about the effectiveness of my advice. I've seen coaching clients get a lot better, I've gotten tons of emails from readers who have benefited from my content, and I think my rating on Amazon speaks for itself too.
- Fourth, I've had over a million people come to ImproveYourSocialSkills.com, which I think qualifies it as a "leading" resource :)
- Finally, I'm working on getting formal credentials as well. I'm currently in a doctoral program for clinical psychology, with the goal of taking everything I can learn about the psychology of social success and using it to improve my content.
Of course, expert is a subjective term, and if someone doesn't think I qualify then I suppose that's their choice. But I think there's good evidence to suggest that the advice that I offer is helpful and that I know what I'm talking about :)
Thanks for answering. Sounds reasonable.
I'll buy #5, and to some degree #2, since 2 and 3 are the same thing. How many people visit a Web site has nothing to do with expertise. #1, no. When you know one Aspie, you know one Aspie.
That's true -- there are a lot of folks with popular website and bad advice. The traffic to my website is more about the title "leading" than the title "expert" :)
You know the 10k hour thing says it takes at least 10k hours to reach mastery. That doesn't mean that if you spend 10k hours doing something that you will master it. I mean I've spent 10k hours driving cars and staring at the road but I'm neither an expert on driving nor a expert on interstates.
If I spent 10k hours practicing basketball I'd probably get pretty good at it, but I'd never get into the NBA because the people there both practice and have innate talent.
As for "anecdotal evidence about the effectiveness of my advice. I've seen coaching clients get a lot better", unless your advice was actively horrible than anyone who works for self improvement should see some improvement. Most people fail at this kind of thing because they never really try to in the first place. So I think that's heavily tainted by confirmation bias.
Of course -- like I said, being an expert is a subjective term, and it is possible to practice something for a very long time without becoming an expert. But there's no objective measure of whether or not someone is a social skills expert, so the time that I've practiced and the positive feedback that I've received will have to do as evidence.
If that evidence isn't satisfying to you, then that's okay -- I don't mind if someone doesn't consider me an expert. But I'd encourage you to look through my website (perhaps start with my guide to conversation) and see if there's any advice there that you find helpful. I'm less concerned about what people call me, and more concerned about whether or not they find my advice helpful :)
If your interest is social, then when apply to clinical psychology rather than social psychology...The school that actually studies and has already done what you're wanting to do?
Social psychology programs are generally research and academic based, and I wanted something that would equip me to do therapy and work with people directly :)
Hi Daniel, what social skill do you feel most people lack and should improve upon?
Also, could you tell us your most awkward story in a social setting??
The most common social skill that people lack is taking a moment to put themselves in the other person's shoes. It only takes a second to think "How would I feel if I was the other person?" but most people don't do this. If they did, I think a lot of conflicts would be avoided, and people would be a lot more kind to each other.
Ok, my most awkward story....
This one is actually not my fault! I was in a Spanish class and raised my hand and made a joke about the topic we were discussing. And everyone just stared at me, so I repeated myself. And then everyone COMPLETELY LOST IT and I was like, okay, my joke was funny but it wasn't that funny.
And my Spanish teacher asked me, "Daniel, do you know what [a word I'd used in my joke] means?" And I said, "Apparently not?"
And it turns out that I had accidentally learned the wrong meaning for a really offensive Spanish curse word, and thought that it meant something totally innocent. So I had basically cursed out my teacher without realizing it -- and then cursed him out again. I was super embarrassed, but I survived :)
Daniel, as a 45-year-old man with aspergers/ASD, I find your entire schtick somewhat hard to believe. You act as if all people with aspergers have is an issue with social skills and seem to reflect little to nothing of the monumentally different mindset that comes from having naturally lower empathy and less of a desire for the security of group association.
This isn't stuff that can just be 'learned' away. I was a reasonably successful journalist for twenty-five years but always had to 'fake' it to make it through social interaction, as little-to-none of it beyond the exceptionally intellectual or broadly-based was of any interest; it typically isn't for aspies.
That's your "most awkward" story? Who, as an aspie, has this kind of life? I've had grocery trips that took twenty minutes that were worse than that. Where are the fights, the beatings, the pained disassociationm, the broken friendships and relationships the... you know, the trying to fit in part?
I don't buy it. I'm not saying you're being wilfuly dishonest, but you may well have been misdiagnosed.(I also hold out considerable suspicion that neurotypicals' definitions for who and what people like me are will change every five years for the next few decades or so.)
EDIT: In fact, I'll go further after reading some of your response and say some of your advice is just harmful; telling someone with aspergers that anxiety will disappear if they just keep doing something until they're not afraid is woefully bad advice. Anxiety isn't just a product of lack of experience, it's also a product of past experience, of neural network pathways, of genetics; for most people with autism spectrum disorders overcoming it requires a combination of lifestyle adjustment, therapy and pharmaceutical care. Even then, it will be an ongoing issue of care.
I appreciate you sharing your concerns. It sounds like you have had a lot of struggles with Asperger's, and I can see that you're wanting to look out for the other Aspies who might be reading this AMA. I have had some people suggest that I could have been misdiagnosed, and I suppose that's possible. But if you'd known me when I was a kid, I don't think you would doubt the diagnosis :) (And for what it's worth, the psychologist who diagnosed me specialized in autism spectrum disorders.)
You're right that the story of my Spanish class is not that awkward of a story. But it's not my most awkward experience ever -- but I'm not comfortable sharing those other experiences on an internet forum in front of thousands of strangers. I've been the victim of physical violence. I've been suicidal. I've lost a relationship with a woman I might have married. I have overcome many of the challenges of my diagnosis, but many challenges remain.
And I think there's variety in levels of empathy between Aspies, just as there is in the regular population. I've certainly meet Aspies who had very little empathy, but I've met others who care deeply about other people. My experience with other Aspies is that they usually care about other people's emotions -- they just aren't very adept at picking them up. Your experience might be different, but I think that's the point -- Aspies are diverse, and so while my experiences might not resonate with yours, it doesn't mean that one of us doesn't have Asperger's.
For what it's worth, I also tend to think that empathy is something that grows when it's fed -- if you teach yourself how to interact compassionately with others, and then you go out and practice kindness, I suspect even Aspies will naturally find themselves feeling more empathy over time.
I agree with you that anxiety can have complex causes and many people will need more support than just "Go out and do the scary thing until it's not scary any more." But other people truly do just need that push. After all, the bulk of therapy for social anxiety is exposure therapy, which is essentially just "Go out and do the scary thing."
Of course, a good therapist will also teach cognitive restructuring, relaxation techniques, etc -- but the bread and butter of social anxiety treatment (as far as I've learned so far) is exposure therapy. The therapist facilitates the exposure, but the exposure is the change agent. So my understanding is that if someone is able to go and successfully push themselves to stay in the anxiety-producing experience until the anxiety goes down, they will see good results, even without a therapist present.
In a perfect world, everyone who asked a question about anxiety at my AMA would seek therapy from a professional. And I hope many of them do go and see a therapist -- but for those that don't, I wanted to give something that might work.
How is that an awkward story? That's the kind of story that would make you laugh with someone if they retold it in front of you, not want to hide from them.
Well in fairness, I don't really want to share my most crushingly embarrassing stories in front of thousands of internet strangers :) But it if helps, that story was super embarrassing when it happened (although you're right, it's pretty funny now.)
In the latest revision of the DSM, Aspergers was merged into the general diagnosis of Autism. Do you believe this was a good idea or not and why?
I don't think it was a good idea. There's two reasons.
First, the word "Asperger's" is important for identity and self-advocacy. I identify as someone with Asperger's, and that's an important piece of who I am. Having the DSM authors tell me that I can't define myself that way is troubling.
Second, and more importantly, I think there is a massive difference between a high-functioning person with Asperger's and a low functioning non-verbal autistic person. Both people might technically be on the autistic spectrum, but their challenges and their needs are profoundly different. If you put them all in the same bucket, then it makes it harder for people to get the right support, and it also makes it hard to have a conversation about the diagnosis. If "Autism" refers both to Bill Gates and someone who can't speak or dress themselves, then how do you determine what kind of help people with Autism need to succeed?
What do you mean you 'identify' as someone with Asperger's.
I mean that being someone with Asperger's is an important part of how I understand myself. It's kind of like how I identify as an American -- being American is important for me, and I couldn't not be American without changing who I am.
Huh, never really considered it an identity thing, thought it was just something someone was born with.
Well, it is something that people are born with. But it's also an identity thing. It's like, my gender is something that I was born with, but it's also something that I consider part of who I am.
True but people also identify with things they weren't born with. It would be a bit strange if someone said they identified as someone with Asperger's if they weren't born with it.
Yes, I agree :) Although I do find some people that say "I don't have an Asperger's diagnosis, but I feel like it describes me well." Identity is a complicated thing!
First, the word "Asperger's" is important for identity and self-advocacy. I identify as someone with Asperger's, and that's an important piece of who I am. Having the DSM authors tell me that I can't define myself that way is troubling.
It's very strange that you choose to identify with a name for a condition about which we are continuously learning and understanding more about. Even Hans Asperger himself described it as "Autistic psychopathy' in childhood."
Renaming things is quite common in medicine but to base your identity on a name published in medical journals at one time and getting upset when it is later renamed is rather silly.
shrug I mean, if suddenly the powers that be decided that instead of "man" or "woman", the genders would be referred to as "blorts" and "blats", you would probably feel a bit upset to be referred to as a blort or a blat instead of the identity that you grew up with. But for what it's worth, I don't lose sleep about the classification changes from DSM-IV to DSM-V. I just think it would have been nice if they had kept the name.
Sometimes I don't feel like trying to be social, but later I regret not being connected. What motivates you to connect with people?
Honestly, I think it's okay to not want to be social sometimes. I've certainly turned down social invitations because I wanted to have a night to myself.
But I think you want to look at your life as a whole. In an average week or an average month, how often are you social? And are you happy with that amount of social time?
If not, I recommend making a commitment to a certain number of social events per week. 1 or 2 is probably fine to start with. That way, you don't need to feel bad about turning down social invitations, as long as you are accepting enough invitations to meet your goal. If later on you decide to be more (or less) social, just change your goal!
What do you consider a social event? Is university one? You are around people, but you are "forced" to be there. Is going to the gym a social event? Again, you are around people and sometimes you even talk a bit. Or is It only considered a social event if it is a party or something similar. It is hard for me to draw the line, I consider a social day a day where I went to classes or work. But I believe that the average person thinks those two don't count.
I think a social event is any event where there's a decent chance of you making a social connection with someone else. So going by yourself to a movie in the theater is not a social event because, even though there are other people in the seats next to you, you're not very likely to talk with them. (Going to a movie with a group of people is a different story, since you're likely to have good conversations before and after the movie.)
In your case, I would ask the question of "Is there a decent chance I might make a friend from this event -- or at least, take the first step towards a friendship?" If the answer is no, then it probably doesn't count :)
thank you for hosting this AMA. I am affected by Asperger's as well, and currently at a point in life where my lack of social skills becomes painfully apparent.
Unlike you, my diagnosis brought me far more pain than gain. I grew up in a time where the concept of inclusion was basically unknown, and received severe discrimination from education institutions and peers alike, to the point of being treated like human debris in special education school. These experiences eventually caused me to fall into a deep depression for most of my teenage. And while the condition fades, the trauma remains. The effects still inhibit me when it comes to apply social skills.
During the hardship i have endured in my earlier years, i began to visualize any form of social interaction as being war-like. I was brought up under the impression that am something that should not exist. That led me to develop a deep-rooted resentment against other people which was the driving force behind my depression. To slay or die. Humiliation is a fate worse than death, being left with the pain without the salvation.
I am well aware that this mentality is typical for people who have experienced an insufficient amount of emotional care and warmth, but it still is a big problem to me to shift my scope of thinking.
On the other hand, the people i've met over the years describe me as polite and pleasant to be around. I also discovered that i do possess a sufficient degree of social intelligence with skills to match, but fail or outright refuse to apply them, due to them being left unused for many years. The result is that my face is basically expressionless, my eyes are fixed on what i am looking at and i am not utilizing body language to a healthy extent. People describe me as intimidating, cold and arrogant. I also cannot relax.
The main issue i am facing with people is to be constantly reminded of my insecurities due to their mere presence. I am not where i should (or could) be in life, and indeed lost some years due to the discrimination i've faced during childhood. This subconciously invokes anger and resentment in me over their conformity and educational privilege, which results in my intimidating stance. My envy is limiting my empathic comprehension, as i simply don't know what success feels like. In the end, it boils down to two questions.
How do i re-frame my perception of human interaction?
How do i convince myself that despite my past, change is possible?
This may not be your specialty as it is more of a psychological issue, but as someone who probably can empathically relate to me, i would value your opinion.
Thank you very much for your time,
Hey, I appreciate you writing. It sounds like you've been through some really hard experiences, but you also have a lot of insight and you are looking to get better, and so I think there is a lot of hope for you.
To answer your questions:
- How do you reframe your perception of human interaction?
I think that you need positive social experiences that can help you move past the negative social experiences of your past. Specifically, if you could have relationships where you could be your real self and be accepted and welcomed, that would go a long way towards helping you heal. It's kind of like, if you were bitten by a dog as a kid, one way to make you less afraid of dogs is to take you to a shelter and let you play with loving puppies.
The easiest option for this is therapy. Therapists know how to create the welcoming, accepting relationship that you need. Of course, it would be beneficial to have a therapist that you can talk about these things with -- but honestly, I think the thing that will be most helpful for you is just having someone you can go to every week and be your real self and have them not freak out or reject you.
Unfortunately, not all therapists are created equal. If you've done therapy in the past and it wasn't helpful, I recommend you try it again. It might take a few tries to find the right therapist, but eventually you should find someone who can really help you out.
The second way to find these relationships is to look for social settings where intimacy and vulnerability is encouraged. Support groups are good for this, as are (sometimes) church groups. You might also see if there is an authentic relating group in your area -- or try to start something. Maybe invite some friends to hang out and share on a more intimate level -- perhaps structure it like a storytelling night where everyone shares one personal story, or something.
Basically, there are people out there that will treat you with love and kindness and acceptance. If you can find those people and let yourself open up to them, your relationships with them will be very healing, and will help you re-frame how you understand human interaction.
- How do you convince yourself that change is possible?
This is again something where therapy is helpful, as are good friends that can encourage you.
But if you want something practical you can do right now, I recommend you find something that is not social to challenge yourself with. Find a skill that you haven't learned -- and then go learn it.
I was afraid of cooking for years. For some reason I just felt anxiety whenever I thought about cooking, and so my meals were mostly microwave dinners. But last summer I decided to cook a meal a day, and after a few weeks I felt very comfortable in the kitchen. Not only has that allowed me to eat better, but it has created a memory of change being possible, and of things getting better. When I'm worried about a new challenge, I remember the progress I made in the kitchen, and it encourages me.
So take on a challenge. Teach yourself to weight lift. Pick up the guitar. Learn a bit of Spanish. Prove that change is possible in something that's not social, and you might find it easier to believe that change is possible in your social life.
Hope that helps. I believe you'll find what you're looking for -- don't give up.
Awesome! Therapy is definitely the right first step. You might also be interested in doing some reading on CBT principles for social anxiety -- in the sidebar of /r/socialskills is a CBT social anxiety workbook that could be helpful preparation for your therapy sessions.
I'm sorry to hear that you've never had any friends. I don't know you, but based on the questions that you are asking I think you are someone who is thoughtful and brave (if you weren't brave you would have given up long before now). I think a lot of people would want to be friends with someone like you, and I hope you find those people soon.
If you are afraid of taking on a challenge because you are worried about failure, you might be interested in rejection therapy. The basic idea is that you need to be rejected by another person once per day for thirty days. So for instance, you might ask a cashier if you can get a discount, or you might ask a coworker if they want to get lunch. The goal is to desensitize you to rejection; after 30 days of hearing "no", you are less afraid of hearing "no" in the future.
You might also be interested in improv theater. Improv theater classes usually start by addressing the fear of failure, and they are very good at helping you feel more comfortable with failure. I credit a lot of my social success to improv theater, and so if I could make you do just one thing (other than therapy which you are already doing), it would be to take an improv 101 class :)
And yes, both of my books are available in paperback!
thank you again for the detailed reply. Improv theater is something i have considered previously as well, and i will give it a try this time around. The CBT workbook and the community resources also sound really nice, so let's just say you've sold another washing machine and gained a new member.
Again, have my gratitude for responding to me personally.
Have a nice day,
I'm glad I could help! I think you're on the right track, and I'm hopeful that you'll make a lot of progress going forward with the improv, CBT, etc. Best of luck!
Hi Daniel. I just watched your Ted talk and it brought tears to my eyes. Your descriptions of your childhood and adolescence and the pain and discomfort you described resonated clearly with me and it brought up a lot of past pain I've experienced. However your added insights and interpretation somehow helped explain some of what was happening and has somehow helped with my acceptance of that time. Thank you for that well presented, thoughtful, eloquent and humerous speech. I'm going to share it with those close to me in the hope that I can share another part of me and help them to understand and accept another part of who I am.
I received my diagnosis at 30 and have made some great progress in acceptance and understanding of myself. What would you recommend as a next step based on your knowledge and experience? I plan to read your book. Any suggestions on what to look at first?
I'm very glad you found it helpful :) Thank you for taking the time to watch it.
I think your best next step is to try to find a community. I think a great deal of my social success was due to the people around me. A community not only allows you to build your social skills, but it also teaches you how to be intimate with others, how to depend on others, and how to move past some of the painful experiences of your past.
So if I was in your shoes, I would start being deliberate to do social things where I can meet people. I've really enjoyed improv theater, for instance, because it's really fun and because theater people tend to be great folks to connect with. You might find some similar hobbies that you can explore to connect with people.
If you already have a community around you, I would practice going deeper with them. See what happens when you open up more than you're used to. See what happens if you ask them deeper questions than normal. Go slow at first -- but if they want connection too, then keep going.
Finally, I'd try to deliberately discover things about yourself that relate to your diagnosis but that you like. For instance, I love my sense of humor, but it's definitely quirky and not very neurotypical. But by celebrating my humor, it helps me celebrate who I am. Maybe your brain wiring makes you quirky too, or well-organized, or cool in a crisis. Find the things about you that are strengths, and remember them. They will help you accept yourself :) (Better yet, find people who will affirm those things in you, and this will help even more.)
Hope that helps! Let me know if you have any more questions.
How to act naturally in social settings? I always find myself pretending to know to social while thinking and calculating how to act while socializing with friends or coworker. E.g. keep looking for enter in a conversation, but quickly run out of things to say and then say something stupid.
To a degree, this comes with practice. The more that you practice your social skills, the more that you can use them effortlessly, so you won't need to think and calculate.
However, chances are you are better at social skills than you think, and it's not necessary for you to constantly be calculating and figuring out how to act. Here's something to try -- go to one social event and plan to not calculate at all. Whenever you catch yourself calculating, just try to get back in the moment. My guess is that you'll find that your social performance is just fine, and you act more naturally too :)
Thanks for doing this AMA!
How van I feel more comfortable on parties where I barely know people? The music is always so loud that I can't hear people, that stops me from starting a conversation.
Also, how can you enter a 2-people conversation? Should I just avoid trying that?
Thanks a lot!
Thanks for asking a question!
Honestly, those kind of super loud parties are not the best places to meet people in general. I prefer events where conversation is encouraged -- like game nights or partner dancing.
But if you want to try, the easiest option is to just be bold. Chances are you can hear people enough to have a brief conversation -- and then if there's some connection, you can invite them to a quieter room to continue the conversation. It won't always work, of course, but if you just say "Heck with it, I'm going to start this conversation!" and keep doing that throughout the evening, there's a decent chance that you will make some connections before the party is done.
And as far as entering a two-person conversation, look at their body language. If they are facing each other directly (like <>), then their conversation is probably private and it's best not to intrude (unless you know them well.) If they are facing each other at an angle (like ), then you can try to approach.
Hope that helps!
I have another question. I was at a party yesterday, and since I've been practising my social skills for a while I thought it was going to be great. But for some reason I was a closed person again. I went home very early, because I wasn't having fun at all. I was very disappointed because I thought I changed.
Do you have any tips to avoid this situation in de future?
Two things that I do that might help you.
First, if the party is really not going well, hit the reset button. Give yourself 10-15 minutes to not be social. Go for a walk outside, camp out by the snack bar, sit in your car and look at your phone, sit in the bathroom for a few minutes -- whatever helps you relax. Then go back in and try again. Often times I find that this break helps me feel much more relaxed and more willing to have a good time when I return to the party.
Second, give yourself a challenge. I will sometimes say, "Okay, I'm not having fun now. If I'm still not having fun in 30 minutes, then I can go home. But for the next 30 minutes, I'm going to try as hard as I can to have fun." That way, if you're still not having fun after 30 minutes, then maybe it's just not a fun party, and it's okay to leave. But if you try hard to have fun for 30 minutes, then quite possibly you will end up having fun. It's a little mental trick that helps me, at least :)
Waw! Thank you so much for the advice!
Glad I could help! Feel free to ask other questions if you have them -- the AMA is going for another hour or so.
Hi ! Do you have any advice of how to do when you want a conversation to keep going but you've nothing to add ? ( I'm French, sorry if there's any mistake )
I have a free guide to conversation on my site which will go into more detail. But here's a quick tip:
Avoid the "interviewer" trap, where you just ask question after question without sharing any information of your own. Not only does this make for boring conversation, but eventually you run out of questions to ask and the conversation falls flat.
Instead, when you ask a question and the other person responds, try to share a thought of your own before asking another question. For instance, if you ask "What are you going to do this weekend?" and the other person says "I'm going to the beach.", don't immediately ask, "What are you going to do at the beach?" Instead, say something like, "Oh, the beach? I've never been there, but I'd love to visit. What are you going to do there?" That way, you've given the other person some information about you, and if the conversation falters they have something they can ask you about.
Also realize that you have more to add than you think. Most people get frozen in conversation because they think they have to have the perfect thing to say. But if you just open your mouth and say whatever comes to mind, it will probably be okay -- or at least, it will be better than if you just say nothing!
Hope that helps!
Nice coincidence I began to read your site this afternoon ! Thank you for the example, concrete situations like this one truly helps to understand :)
Happy to help :) Let me know if you have any more questions -- I'll be here for awhile!
If one of the main criteria of Aspergers is having trouble learning social skills, and you've now learned them, do you still consider yourself to have it?
It's an interesting question. I probably would not qualify for a diagnosis if I went in and talked to a psychologist today. But Asperger's is a neurological condition -- there are differences in how my brain is wired compared to other people's, and those differences are permanent.
Besides, I still experience a lot of the symptoms of Asperger's. I still stim in private, for instance. I still experience certain sensory sensitivities. I can still be unreasonably frustrated by sudden changes or breaks in my routine. I've gotten really good at coping with the symptoms of Asperger's, but that doesn't mean they've gone away :)
Hello! I have a job coming up this summer that involves talking to people on the phone a lot. When the phone rings I get a little bit freaked out and if I muster the courage to pick it up I'm super nervous and have trouble communicating clearly and confidently. Do you have any tips for interacting with people on the phone? Thanks!!
My guess is that your communication skills are fine -- it's anxiety that's causing you the problem. So you need to work on the anxiety.
The good news is that there's a simple cure for anxiety -- do the thing that you are afraid of over and over until you're not afraid of it any more. So I would recommend setting aside some time to practice talking on the phone. Just like, sit down and call up 10 local businesses and ask them what their hours are, or ask your friends to call you at random times throughout the day so you can practice answering the phone and staying calm. If you start to get too anxious during a phone call, just take some deep breaths (deep and slow), and that should calm you down.
Hope that helps! You might also consider talking to a therapist, because therapists are really good at helping with this kind of anxiety. But I think you should try just spending 30-60 minutes a day calling strangers. After a few days of that, you should feel a lot more comfortable.
Hi there! My dad is in the field of learning support and I have an idea about it myself. Do you think that there is better way for schools to help kids, not only with Asperger's and autism but a wide range of disorders, be able to function in the world?
I've always found that the system at the moment is very polarizing and stigmatizes the kids and in a lot of ways bubble wraps everything for these kids and actually harms their development. Now I understand some need that help. But I feel like there is a large number of kids in those systems where they shouldn't be stigmatized as much and put into separate classrooms and given a label.
I would love to here your opinion and thanks for doing an AMA!
I think it's a really tough dilemma. On the one hand, you want kids to be able to develop as "normally" as possible. On the other hand, a lot of kids have issues that make the typical classroom a poor choice for them. So you have to strike a balance.
I don't have a lot of training in education and so I don't know what the answer is. My one hope though, is that regardless of whether a kid ends up in the normal classroom or put in a special classroom, that kid would have a strong community of others around him that would support him and show him what it's like to have positive social interactions. I remember reading about a theater program where kids on the autistic spectrum were paired with neurotypical kids, and I think that sort of thing is really helpful -- give kids "buddies" who can help show them what positive relationships are like and who can be a genuine friend to them.
Of course, I'm sure that some programs like these already exist. But I'm just offering my two cents :)
My GF of 2 years has a brother with asperges that I want to get closer to, he lives alone and I think he is lonely. How should I proceed?
Maybe ask your girlfriend what kind of things he enjoys doing, and then ask him if he'd like to do those things together? For instance, if he enjoys video games, you might invite him over to do some coop together.
How do you know if someone is uncomfortable with you?
There's this girl that I've been wanting to be friends with since last September. I'm going to have the opportunity to hang out with her next Friday. I overcame my anxiety that I had which is why I couldn't hang out with her sooner. I think I was also dealing and still in a way am dealing with low self-esteem because I tell myself, "Well she's really cool/outgoing so why would she want to hang out with someone like me?" I was at a very dark place and I started having this well screw everyone, I don't need friends. But, I'm starting to realize that no one is better than me and I am not better than anyone and I am worthy of connecting with others. Do you have any advice of how to deal with low self-esteem? I'm noticing that I'm still bringing myself down and poking fun at it with other people like "oh you don't want to hang out with me, I'm a loser," like yeah I'm joking, but at the same time maybe it's not a joke because maybe I'm just using my humor to deflect how I really feel. I don't know.
Also......how do you get someone to want to hang out with you again? What can I do to make someone feel comfortable with being themselves and opening up to me?
1) First, look at their body language. Uncomfortable body language in general will mean that they look tense and they start turning away from you (you can read a few more signals here). Next, listen to what they're saying. Are they giving you short answers without going into detail, and without asking you many questions? That's a sign of discomfort. If they are giving you long detailed answers and asking you insightful questions, that's a sign of comfort.
2) That's the sort of thing that therapy is really helpful for :) I hope that answer doesn't come across as flippant -- that's my genuine best advice for you. Therapy is really good at teaching you to control those negative thoughts and building your self esteem. There's self help books, etc that can help too (check out the /r/socialskills sidebar), but therapy is the gold standard so you should definitely check that out.
3) Well, you can't MAKE someone feel comfortable with you. It's their choice if they want to hang out with you or not :) But the easiest thing you can do to help other people feel comfortable opening up with you is to go first. Open up to them -- share some personal stuff. You obviously don't want to share your deepest darkest secrets right off the bat. But try going 10% more intimate than you normally do and see what happens. If you get a good response, try 10% more. I think if you do that, people will start opening up to you in return.
When you say you put in 10000 hours of practice, how did you do that? Who did you practice with and in what context?
It was a variety of different things.
But my basic strategy was to: * Start by studying a skill that I wanted to learn. I read lots and lots of social skills books (I recommend some on my site here.) I usually didn't read a book all the way through right at first. Instead, I'd start by finding a few good concepts and then I'd take them and practice them. * Next, try to practice with someone who was willing to coach me. So I might ask my parents or my sister for help. When I was trying to learn social cues, I would watch movies with my parents and pause it whenever there was something confusing that I didn't understand -- then ask them for clarification ("Wait, I thought they were friends but now they're fighting. What happened?") * Next, I'd go out and try to practice the technique in the real world, whether that was just in my normal day at class, etc, or by going to a social event. If I was able to use it successfully, then great! Otherwise, I'd go back to the book or go back to my family for help.
What are your thoughts on emotional intelligence (EI)? I've read about it and it makes me feel excluded.
I think emotional intelligence is a good idea in that it highlights the need for better interpersonal skills, but I think calling it "intelligence" makes it seem like something you have or you don't. I think it's better to consider social interaction as a skill -- something that, with study and practice, anyone can get better at. Of course, talent plays a part (as in any skill), but I think it's helpful to think of social skills as something that we can influence instead of something that we have or we don't.
I happened to come here literally a minute before midnight and looks like the book is already up to price again :/ is there any chance I could get a copy of that? I would be more than happy to support on Amazon this Friday with the next paycheck comes in but right now no can do. Awesome AMA by the way :)
PM me your email address and I'll buy you a copy :)
Just because you actually responded and was nice enough to offer that, I will get some money today and pick up your book :) Thank you so much for this AMA and being an awesome person!
Aw, thank you :)
Hello, I also have Aspegers, as well as ADHD and OCD. I'd like to ask you a question, but perhaps due to my Aspergers, I can't really whittle it down a general level of detail to where I feel it's appropriate to ask here.
Do you mind if I PM you the question(s)?
It's not that they contain personal info, it's just that I don't think anybody else wants to read a poorly worded 5 paragraph long behemoth. If not, I can try to just ask a super simplified version here.
Yes, feel free to PM me!
Alright. I suppose there is one part of my question that should be posted here since it could help people:
I need to give it some context: In elementary, middle school, and high school, I just didn't bother with social interaction that much. I could handle it well enough to get by, but beyond the bare minimum to hold conversations without creating a scene, I didn't bother with it, because I get no enjoyment out of socialization unless it's something super specific I enjoy with a passion. Which worked pretty well: after all, in school, as long as you could pass tests and do homework and just not make a scene in classes, you were good to go.
But then, 2 things happened:
1: Is that I graduated from high school, and it turns out: Uh-oh, I actually DO need to know how to interact with people well in order to succeed at life, and I do need to know basic life and independence skills and..
2: I finally found a group of people I actually cared about interacting with (a group of people making a game), and while I was able to join that group fine and have offered a lot to it, I also know i'm a huge pain in the ass to work with for them.
So, the question i'm asking here and not by PM is:
For people who myself who sadly realized this too late and are now sort of stuck in life because while they have the grades to go to college or the know how to get and succeed at an entry level job; if not for the fact that they can't take good care of themselves or interact with others well enough to do well long term at either, what can they to do escape that position? Ideally, there would be services for this situation, like how the deaf or the blind or people with "severe" physical or mental impediments do, but there seems to be a huge hole in this regard for people with Aspergers and high functioning autism.
I appreciate you sharing. I have a few thoughts:
1) First, it's not too late. I've worked with folks who were 60+ that were able to make significant improvements in their social and professional life. Don't sell yourself short.
2a) Second, if you were smart enough to get college-level grades, you're probably able to learn the life skills that you need to succeed in college. Just break them down and learn them piece by piece. Do you need to learn how to organize your time? Take a week or a month and master using a to-do list and calendar. Do you need to learn better study skills? Take a free online class and find a local library that offers free tutoring. It might take months, but if you keep working at it you'll find that you are able to get a lot better at the life skills you need to succeed in college.
2b) Community college might be a great place for you to learn these skills, by the way :)
3) There's also the social piece of it, where you are worried that you won't be successful in college or professional life without social skills. And there's certainly truth to that -- you need some social skills to succeed in most areas of life. But I wonder what would happen if you enrolled in college and decided to take your freshman year to learn to be as social as possible? You'd probably have a lot of awkward moments, but every freshman has lots of awkward moments. And it might give you more opportunities to connect with others than your current life does. Just something to consider.
4) Finally -- the services that you're looking for are probably going to be found by talking with a professional therapist. While there's no standardized program for your situation, the challenges you have (how to connect better with others, how to prepare yourself for the next stage of life) are common problems and many therapists are equipped to help you with them. If you haven't done therapy yet, give it a try -- you might be pleasantly surprised.
Hello! I hope this isn't too late. I watched your TEDx talk and felt really inspired. I'm currently taking an Interpersonal Communication at my college and found your talk to be related to the content I am currently learning.
Do you have any tips into being a better listener? Being someone who has always struggled at maintaining my focus when someone is speaking about something I'm not interested in, I want to learn to pay attention more and show that I am paying attention. Do you have any advice for being a better listener and staying interacted in a conversation?
I think the key is to work to discover something interesting in what they're saying. For instance, let's say someone is talking to you about stamp collecting. Maybe you think stamp collecting is the most boring thing in the world. But you're probably kind of curious why someone would enjoy a hobby that you find so boring.
So make that the focus of your questions! Ask them what it is about stamp collecting that they enjoy, or why they choose to take that up as a hobby. By sprinkling in some questions about the parts of stamp collecting that you find more interesting (namely, why someone would want to do it), you can increase your interest in the conversation, and make it easier to stay focused.
Do you think with a condition like Asperger's getting officially diagnosed by a professional serves a necessary purpose? Or is there value in not wanting to know for sure?
It seems like a no brainer: go, get it confirmed, carry on. But I also think of people who may have a hereditary disease, like Huntington's, that may not want to be burdened with the knowledge of a diagnosis. In your opinion, is this a valid stance to take, or does it just put an obstacle between a person and acceptance of their condition?
I think it's a personal decision, but in most cases I would recommend that people get diagnosed. There's a few different reasons for that.
First, there are a lot of services that are available to people with an official diagnosis (especially if you are a kid.) Having access to free therapy, IEPs, support groups, etc, can be super helpful. But if you don't have an official diagnosis, you can't get access to these things.
Second, I think it's important to have a professional rule out other things that it might be. For instance, what if someone thinks they have Asperger's, but they really just have a social anxiety disorder? Social anxiety is very treatable, and so if they go in for a diagnosis, then they can get signed up for some treatment that will significantly help them.
And finally, it's helpful to have language to explain yourself to other people. If you have a diagnosis, then you will probably have an easier time explaining your social quirks to others.
Hey. This will probably get swallowed up but I wanted to comment anyway. I'm interested in your story because I think I might have a similar one.
I've never been formally diagnosed with Aspergers or Autism, but I'm pretty sure I'm on the spectrum. I had very few social skills when I was a kid; I had no friends other than my siblings until I was in high school. I had a hard time understanding voice tones and I still tend to be a very monotone speaker. I also couldn't really understand how most people thought, mostly relating to why people seemed to care so much about little things. Like why people would be upset about being woken up by gardeners or why people wanted me to be interested in their hobbies when they seemed like a waste of time. I also showed a lot of other symptoms that suggested Aspergers, but I'm too high functioning now to get proof. When I was in middle school I decided that I needed to grow and change so that I wouldn't die alone so I've worked really hard to understand people and change the way I think, and now, while the undercurrent behaviors are still there, I've changed so much that I just come across as sociopathic when I talk to psychologists.
I guess I just wanted to let you know that I'm glad that you're growing. I've met a number of people with Aspergers who are struggling to change so that they can connect with people and have meaningful relationships, so I was starting to feel very lonely. It's weird to have worked so hard at something for over a decade and have people not notice or understand what you've put into it. Even my fiance is surprised sometimes by things she learns are coping mechanisms.
It can be very lonely, but you're not alone. And I guess I'm proud of you for it, in a way. It takes a huge amount of strength as a person to decide you want to change and then really put the work into it, and it can feel like you're the only one really trying, but there are people who share your philosophy.
Good luck and Godspeed.
I appreciate this. It sounds like both of us have put a lot of work into learning how to connect with others, and while it has paid off in a lot of ways (congrats on your engagement!) there are still times when it's lonely.
I sometimes feel like I'm interacting with others through a TV screen -- like there's six inches of glass between me and the intimacy that I want. And that's tough, especially after how hard I've worked.
But I remember that I have moments of my life when I feel totally connected to others, and I remember that everyone gets lonely sometimes, and I keep going. I'm glad to meet someone else on the same journey :)
It's a nice comfort to know that others experience similar things :)
I know what you mean about the glass. I feel like so much of my mind these days is occupied with "how should I move my face to properly respond to this comment? Are my eyebrows oriented correctly? Hopefully my response sounded heartfelt enough." I've actually gotten clumsier. I used to have very fast reflexes and could catch things before I dropped them, but now I'm so preoccupied with paying attention to other people's feelings I let things slip. I have to think intently about things that others do automatically so much that it gets to be exhausting.
But there are people out there who communicate the same way you do and will make your life easier. Nobody requires zero effort, but there are a few that will require very little by comparison, and those you should try to hold on to, because they are like a breath of fresh air.
Also: did you know you can remap your emotions? I learned when I was younger from watching Memento that the brain can build connections through repetition, and it can work on emotional connections within the brain. So if there are times when you wish you felt a certain emotion in response to a certain impetus, if you conjure the emotion you're seeking every time you receive the stimuli, you will eventually start responding with the emotion naturally! It can make your life a lot easier in the long term, although it can take a long time to see big results (and I mean like years).
The key for me is finding people who truly will not care if my eyebrows are oriented incorrectly -- the people that just want to be with me for me. Those are the people who can break through the glass and let me feel really connected. You are exactly right that nobody requires zero effort, but you can find people that feel almost effortless.
And that's interesting about the emotional remapping. I think that's similar to what is done in therapy sometimes -- instead of responding with anger or fear or whatever to a certain topic, therapy teaches you to respond with acceptance or peace or whatever is more healthy. But I hadn't heard it described as remapping. Interesting concept!
My social issues all seem to stem from my (rather severe even for autistic people) sensory processing issues. I cant handle sensory input very well at all, so you can imagine how well social things go. (Which reinforces my social anxiety yay) I also have too much empathy rather than a lack of it, which often leaves me makes me shut down completely because I get overwelmed.
Does your book adress this issue? Do you experience this the same way and if so, any tips?
Unfortunately, my book doesn't address sensory processing issues. While many of my readers on the autistic spectrum, I write my books for a general audience so I don't address autistic-specific issues like sensory processing.
My main thought is to see if you can choose social settings that are less likely to set off your sensory issues. I generally don't spend my time going to loud parties or other venues that are likely to overload my senses. Instead, I try to do social things that agree with my senses more. There's a reason why my typical friday night is dungeons and dragons with a few friends instead of drinks at a crowded bar :)
Of course, it's possible that even a social setting with a handful of people and not much noise can set you off. In that case, I recommend having a contingency plan in place for how you can rest for a bit. When I get overwhelmed I'll sometimes just go to the bathroom and sit on the toilet for a few minutes. But this is the important thing -- I plan to re-engage in the social setting after I rest for a bit. If you just leave a social setting and don't return, then it does reinforce your anxiety (as you mentioned.) But if you take a break and then go back, then it tells your mind that anxiety is something you can conquer.
Hope that helps! I recommend you take this with a grain of salt -- the stuff that works for me in handling sensory issues may not work for everybody. But you asked a good question and I wanted to offer the advice I could.
Thanks for the well thought out answer, I really appreciate it!
You make good points, I hadn't considered simply taking a breather for a short while! I will have to try this out. :)
Thanks again and good luck with your future endeavors. I hope you can continue to help a lot of people
Happy to help! And good luck to you as well with your social journey :)
I suspect my sister has high functioning autism, and we are trying to arrange an assessment for her. I guess this is a weird question to ask, but do you have any advice for the best way i can advocate for her? She has trouble with social skills ( Very muted expressions, difficulty describing feelings, hates eye contact/touch) but i want to help her get across her difficulties so we can get her the best support. Do you have any advice for me?
Try to find social events that you can include her in. The more that she has the opportunity to be a part of positive social experiences, the more that her social skills are going to develop -- and the more that she'll have a positive sense of self-esteem too. So if your friends are doing some kind of event, see if she can come along. Obviously you don't want to make it weird or uncomfortable for your friends, but there are probably some events that she can participate in just find.
Beyond that, I'd sit down and ask her how you can help (or maybe send her an email, or connect in another way that she's most comfortable with.) Advocacy for someone should always start by putting the person you're advocating for in the driver's seat, so see what she thinks would be helpful, and do that!
Hello and thank you for doing this. I teach theatre to youth and while many of my students are special needs to some capacity, there are many kids who are just introverted. Them being so introverted is probably what makes their parents put them into theatre but it's hard for them to get into the team atmosphere and play some of the games we do. I feel my fellow instructors and I are able to connect and give each student what they need however I feel we can always being doing more to give each student the best experience possible. Do you have any advice in general for getting an introvert to willingly and happily participate in group exercises? And while I'm asking, any advice for an instructor, with no special needs training, for giving kids with Aspergers or autism a socially rewarding experience?
Hey, good to hear from you! My dissertation research is actually going to be about if improv theater is helpful to folks on the autistic spectrum, so it's super cool to find someone who is doing something similar to my dissertation work.
A few thoughts on your question, off the top of my head:
First, when I took my improv theater class they started by teaching us the "failure bow" and having us do a lot of exercises where failure was encouraged and made safe. I'm not sure if you guys do the same thing, but if not, you might want to start with that.
Second, introverts might feel uncomfortable doing an exercise with the full group, but they might feel comfortable doing an exercise with just one other person. Perhaps you could split people into pairs and have them practice just within their pair? And then potentially do an exercise where pairs join up so they practice being in a group of four, and then the group of four presents their scene in front of everyone? That might be a gradual buildup that could work for introverts.
And I think creating an accepting space where they can be affirmed and appreciated for who they are is the biggest thing you can give any kind of kid, Asperger's or not :)
Thank you so much! That's great to hear and I agree so much. Theatre can really offer an amazing set of tools for all walks of life. I'm extremely interested to hear more about improv being used in this context. I've seen very introverted kids go full out and really learn about themselves and their limits. Which is a totally magical thing to watch, but I have also had some kids shut duown completely at which point we implement out take the spotlight off them and release the tension tactics but it can very challenging. All in all most students really take something away from it and it's very rewarding work. I would love to read more on this subject of you have any research or literature you could point me in the direction of. I'm constantly trying to improve and give the kids the absolute best, so anything is helpful. Thank you!
It sounds like you're doing awesome work :) Thanks for your question and for sharing your story!
Im not quite familiar with kindle. How does one get this for free? Do I have to sign up for kindle unlimited?
Unfortunately, the free deal was for the day of the AMA only (ie, yesterday.) If you sign up for Kindle Unlimited then yes, you can read it for free -- otherwise, my books are both $5 on Kindle. Sorry about that!
Has there ever been any research done into Neurotypical's love of non-sequiturs?
Not to my knowledge -- but what are your thoughts on it?
In casual conversation I find that neurotypical individuals are much more likely to respond to something I say with a non-sequitur than people with Asperger's Syndrome.
Hmm, interesting. I wonder if that's because folks with Asperger's are more focused on what is logical and rational, and folks without Asperger's are more comfortable making emotional appeals. Could be an interesting thing to research!
Question: Are you Masking?
A lot of Autistics find themselves in a similar position to yours where they become essentially an 'expert' at reading people. It's not terribly uncommon- especially in those that may have experienced trauma- and in fact it can become invasive and cause meltdowns. So-called hyper-empathy or a hyper-awareness of body language, vocal inflection, societal rules etc. tends to manifest in a lot of Autistics, women especially. Many Autistics (and I don't use functioning labels because even the supposed high-functioning autistic can be so-called low functioning and then high-functioning again depending on the circumstances, and vice versa) mask their Autism and will even take on the characteristics of those around them in order to fit in.
How is what you're doing any different than this? This is a manifestation of Autism.
I think the distinction between what I've one and the hyper-awareness that comes from trauma is that trauma hyperawareness is not something that can be consciously switched off (as far as I am aware), whereas if I choose to not focus on the social signals I'm receiving I can ignore them to a certain degree.
But I think if you want to call what I do masking, then that's okay. I think that everything I do is a manifestation of autism because I'm on the autistic spectrum -- I haven't "cured" myself or anything like that, I just learned a very helpful set of coping skills :)
What is love?
I'm not sure I understand the question, sorry? Can you clarify what you mean by recognition? :)
What makes you an expert?
I answered that question over here :)
I feel like your Cat Tax video and the headline of this AMA show, fairly conclusively, that you aren't remotely a 'social skills expert'. Being an expert would imply a deep understanding and an ability to thrive, but you are just weird on the Internet where weird people can congregate and a few hundred people can politely agree. What do you feel makes you a social skills expert? Do women throw themselves at you? Do you sell yachts successfully? Or is it all circlejerking on the Internet?
Well your username's not wrong.
As the internet is full of dubiously-qualified people who self-declare that they're experts for marketing purposes and/or because they're suffering from the Dunning-Kruger effect, what do you use to support the claim that you're an "expert" and a "leading expert"* on social skills?
*from your new book's Kindle description?
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