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Last night I had some good news at my first ever parents’ evening. I heard that, since starting school a few months ago, my daughter’s social skills and confidence have really picked up and accelerated. Her teacher explained that she’d been able to help Eve by showing her how to approach children and interact with them to initiate playing and build friendship.

For anyone on the autism spectrum with children, I’m sure you can imagine my pride and elation! Given the right encouragement and support, my daughter is now learning to socialise with competence. Something I’m still working on! And if my daughter can do it, that’s enough to make me happy. I don’t care if I never really get the hang of it myself. If she’s OK, I’m OK.

But I’m not giving up, either. This week I’ve had a few social challenges, and I have another big one coming up this afternoon. On Tuesday I met up with some mums from my antenatal group. A few years ago this type of meeting would have had me running for the toilet and cancelling. Now, I still felt nervous, and I still struggled when the group exceeded 4 adults, but I got through it and they’re all still talking to me on WhatsApp. More meetings have been planned!

This afternoon, we have a playdate. My daughter’s first ever best friend is coming over with her mum (who I don’t really know), and possibly her baby sister. The mum seems nice, and I’m beyond thrilled that my little one has a best friend, but it’s still a scary prospect. This woman has seen me in the playground – that place where I feel like a rabbit in the headlights twice every week day. Now I must convince her that I’m a nice, friendly person who would be good to spend time with.

I’m fully expecting to get hot and sweaty despite the cold weather. My mouth will probably go dry and I’ll be sipping water a lot just to give myself extra thinking time or to fill pauses in the conversation. Maybe I should make a list of topics like I used to before I called friends?

My antenatal group experience is telling me to be confident. History is telling me I should be feeling sick in a few hours.

Can practice really make perfect, even for people like me?

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I can’t remember what made me think of it, but something reminded me yesterday of my university experience. Technically, I should say “experiences” because there were two; two universities and two very different experiences. My best analogy for that part of my life is that uni no.1 was like being in a chrysalis and uni no. 2 was the fun part where I got to be a sort of butterfly.

Of course, it wasn’t quite that simple.

My three years as an undergraduate had taught me that I needed to change. I couldn’t spend every day of my life hiding from the world. I felt the need to do something drastic, to force a change in me. So, I went abroad to teach for a few weeks. When I returned, I knew I could do better than I had as an undergraduate. Buoyed up, I went to uni no. 2.

I didn’t really have a strategy. I just knew I’d have to do some very uncomfortable things to make my life better. At uni no. 1 I’d avoided the communal kitchen. I ate cold food in my room most days. I bought any dairy goods I wanted fresh each day so that I wouldn’t bump into anybody by going to the fridge. I feared the kitchen because anyone could come in and then I’d have to try and talk to them, or, more likely, ignore them and wish the earth would swallow me whole. When I got to uni no. 2, with the advantage of a smaller shared flat, I decided I’d have to stake out the kitchen.

Staying in the kitchen that day was one of the most painful and difficult things I’ve ever had to do. I was there for most of the afternoon, and many hours in the evening, attempting to get to know my new flatmates. I was at civil war with my brain, wanting to leave, forcing myself to stay. If I had not stayed that first day, I would have lost my nerve. I would have made a bad first impression, and that would have made every other day so much harder. Sometimes you really do have to force a change.

Thanks to that risk I made friends that year, found love, and laid the foundations for a life that was so much better than I’d ever imagined possible. It did not make my life perfect, or easy, but it was the best thing I could have done for myself.

Since that time I’ve taken many social risks. I’ve done internet dating, ran a social media café (way too much socialising and stress!), been to house parties and work events, arranged dinner parties, attended job interviews, stayed with my husband’s uni friends and their children (millions of people in one house – aagh!), made all sorts of phone calls that I was scared about, attended and hosted playdates and children’s birthday parties (double aagh!)…

Have you ever needed to force a change? How did you get on?

Did play dates exist when I was a child in the 80s? If so, my mum was blissfully unaware of them. I however, filled with awareness of my condition and keen to instil good social skills in my own offspring, have arranged a play date.

The worst thing about it is that if it goes well, I will have to arrange more to help my daughter maintain the friendship. At least until she’s old enough to go to school and make friends there. Then I’ll probably end up inviting them to my house as well.

What could go wrong? It’s just an hour or two of watching two children play while making awkward conversation with the other child’s mother. I have a plan for what to do if the weather is good or bad. Hopefully the children won’t hate each other. That would be weird. And improbable since they’re only 2 and 3.

So for about two hours I just have to try and look relaxed, as if I’m enjoying myself, and try not to say anything that makes me sound like an idiot. Then, when it’s all over and they’re getting back in the car, we can just arrange to do it all over again.

If it works, at least I can say I’ve achieved something good for my daughter. If it doesn’t, I guess I’ll try another mother and toddler. If I didn’t try at all, I’d feel so bad when there are no friends to invite to her third birthday party.

I wonder if she would care if there were no children at her birthday party?