On Tuesday 27th November, we held our Café Autistique discussion group on an often talked-about topic in the autistic community: socialising. It’s something that quite a few autistic people find hard, whether with their fellow autistics or when talking to non-autistic people. Luke Aylward, our Information Officer, writes about what the group discussed.

In this discussion, we had five questions around what it means to us, how autistic people do it differently and what worked for everyone present. After asking the first question, one participant spoke about how they and other Hub visitors went to a pub in Leeds afterwards. Doing this every week led to a set routine, which helped to normalise the whole process.

Another participant then added that both autistic and non-autistic people meet friends at pubs. The pub is seen as an ideal venue for socialising, as you don’t have to organise too much to meet at one. However, it was observed that organising prior to socialising with friends made the process more difficult. How difficult it gets depends on the venue you plan on visiting.

If going out to stay out i.e. for a whole evening, pubs that serve food or restaurants were viewed by the group as the best option. In going out to such a venue, it makes it easier for you to open up and speak, especially towards the end when pubs and some eateries tend to become less busy.

Drawn to interests

We moved onto what everyone in the discussion felt comfortable with when socialising. One person said that a lot of autistic people are drawn to hobbies and interests that stand out. Examples of these including role playing games (RPGs) such as Dungeons and Dragons, which involve talking to others whilst focusing on the game itself.

This can be easier to do when with other autistic people, as evidenced by our monthly Gaming Group! When it comes to socialising with non-autistic people, the challenges faced become a little bigger.

Trying not to upset people is common, as is a sense of caution when speaking to non-autistic friends – one participant spoke about going through the process of treading carefully when speaking to theirs. Another challenge is worrying about whether or not they are understood – one person even mentioned acting more outwardly autistic when speaking to non-autistics, such as when out shopping.

Not picking up on hints e.g. body language, asking for help and knowing how much socialising is needed are other issues faced by people who came to Café Autistique. Fortunately, they shared what works for them.

Coping strategies

When socialising, one tactic when approaching groups is to speak to other quiet ones; it was seen as helpful. Another was dragging out a drink after a meal in order to socialise when it gets quieter at a pub, restaurant or café. It was said that it’s better to socialise in a restaurant if it’s dead or nearly dead.

Going to meetup groups was useful for one person, as the socialising there was managed and around a specific topic. Disclosing the fact that they are autistic was also suggested, thereby pre-empting any potential problems such as explaining why they feel exhausted or aren’t talking too much. Working out how much socialising is involved in different scenarios was useful too.

Finally, asking for reasonable adjustments is a must. It doesn’t have to be too forceful, but asking people to speak up or to go somewhere quiet to socialise can make the whole process more enjoyable and less of a chore.

Party etiquette

The “Irish goodbye” was one solution suggested for getting out of parties – slipping out a venue before anyone notices! Not feeling guilty about leaving early was stressed as very important. By explaining or leaving early, it enables you to enjoy yourself without succumbing to social exhaustion.

Speaking of which, social exhaustion is where you feel drained after speaking to people or being in a space with other people for too long. As an autistic person, I experience this quite often. Knowing when you feel socially exhausted is a good thing, as it gives you a sign that it’s time to leave and recuperate.

When recovering from social exhaustion, there are many ways to do so. One participant said that having a long hot bath then watching a film helped. Another suggested that lying down in a darkened room can help to take the edge off.

The next Café Autistique session is on Tuesday 26th March and is about relationships and feelings. Click on this link to read more: Cafe Autistique session rescheduled for next month