For many people, a relaxing day or evening might be one that is spent with a group of friends – chatting, sharing stories, and generally enjoying the company of other people in a social environment. We see images of these types of settings everywhere around us – in our communities, in movies and in our media. In fact, the whole concept of ‘social media’ is based around being with and connecting with other people.
If you’re someone who loves being around others and who loves nothing more than a fun social event, you would sense and feel the enjoyment that these environments bring.
But there is also something very important that you need to consider…
What if socialising wasn’t that easy?
Or what if the very thought of socialising was enough to send your anxiety or stress levels sky high?
Or what if socialising was so taxing on your body and mind that it was something that could only be accomplished if your energy levels were in peak condition and you knew that the environment was going to be a safe place to be?
For people on the autism spectrum or with other social or emotional needs, socialising can simply be a hard task to endure.
Socialising usually brings with it a whole set of skills that don’t come naturally to people on the autism spectrum. Social skills that involve engaging in conversation, knowing what to talk about, knowing when to ask a question or when to provide your own thoughts or comments. It can also require following a conversation that involves a number of people, and with this comes working out who is thinking and saying what, and the task of knowing where you fit in to the conversation becomes even more challenging.
Social environments can also be sensory processing nightmares, with never ending noise, visual stimulation, smells (food, perfumes and fragrances) and a physical closeness to people that can be overpowering.
A question that often comes up in our workshops is this; “should the person I support be socialising more”?
And our answer is always based on the following:
* Does the person want to socialise?
* If the person is interested in socialising – do they have the skill set and support to be able to socialise?
As a society, we need to acknowledge and respect individual choices around socialising – particularly for those on the autism spectrum or with social anxieties. We need to understand that it’s okay to choose to spend time alone, and that it’s okay to decline a social event for a reason as simple as “no thanks”.
The recovery that comes from enduring an overwhelming or failed social experience can be long and sometimes traumatic.
And for those people who ARE interested in socialising or who DO want to be able to socialise, we need to ask the question – “how can we better support social experiences so that there are opportunities for success”?
Sometimes in the day to day experiences of life it’s easy to overlook these things. But it’s important to remember that socialising might not be what you think.