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When you have Asperger’s, one of the biggest challenges you face is creating, and maintaining, close relationships. Sometimes, even ‘neuro-typicals’ struggle with this, so it’s no surprise that socially impaired Aspies feel like they’re scaling a sheer cliff-face making friends!

Even now, well into my 30s, I find so many of my interactions are marred by uncertainty and constant questioning. My brain isn’t sure if it’s doing the right thing. My brain doesn’t know if it read the situation right. My brain doesn’t know if this person actually likes me or if they’re just being polite. My brain doesn’t know what’s normal. My brain doesn’t know if I’m saying too much, or too little.

This chasm of understanding has always been there. But it’s only as I matured that I have come to realise it’s there. Before I knew about this chasm, I was just making errors and not knowing why. I was responding to people who I didn’t understand in a way that I didn’t understand. So we had two unknown variables. What are they thinking and what am I thinking?

Now that I know more about myself, I have this awareness of the chasm. The constant understanding that I may be reading a situation wrongly and I may be responding in a way that people don’t get. I prefer this ‘knowing about not knowing’ to what I had before. That was just overwhelmingly confusing and upsetting. I feel sorry for any child struggling in the playground now. And I feel sorry for myself when I see young girls or women who look like they’re enjoying close friendships and making it look easy.

Now I am older I have some close friends and I have managed to sustain these relationships for over a decade. This is undoubtedly my personal best and will likely never be beaten. I still struggle with ‘new’ people and I am very aware of how much I suck at showing my daughter how to make friends.

Does it ever become easy for someone like me?

The friends I have now are people I met at work a long time ago. It was hard work getting to know them and trust them. And I think there was a lot of luck involved too! How often does someone with Asperger’s find someone they have a lot in common with? I think it’s even more rare for someone with Asperger’s to find people who are comfortable with their level of social skills and not put off by the awkwardness, or shyness, or just plain weirdness.

I was also very lucky when I met my husband through an internet dating site. He says I’ve put up with a lot to be with him, but he has put up with a lot to be with me, too!

So, I had to be lucky as well as working hard.

I’ve always worked hard to make friends but it hasn’t always paid off. I can remember as far back as infant school, when I was about 4 or 5, working my butt off trying to please people and keep my friendships going. What actually happened was a series of minor successes quickly superseded by bigger failures which spanned the next 20 years. And with the failures came loneliness, self-doubt, anxiety, and self-loathing, adversely affecting my mental health for those two decades.

So, when I say that close relationships are a big deal, that’s no hyperbole.

Now that I am in a position of relative strength, I see it as my duty to pass on encouragement and advice to anyone out there who is struggling the way I did. I am also watching my daughter’s progress, looking for ways to help her navigate her own social life.

When I remember my optimistic bloom from last week, I am confident. When I remember how large my own chasm of understanding seemed to be, I am full of fear.

Have you struggled to develop or maintain close relationships? I’d love to hear your stories or top tips!

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Hello. Since my last post (which made me feel very brave and modern) I’ve gone through a few changes.

  • I’ve bought some new clothes in an attempt to look less like I’m always wearing my ‘mum uniform’.
  • I’ve taken on a new freelance editing job.
  • I’ve been practicing using my social skills.

This last point is probably the most significant change for me. Today I went to the hairdresser. I would normally take a book or a newspaper and I was running around trying to decide what to bring when I suddenly thought, ‘why not treat this as a chance to practice making small talk?’

I’d already had a good conversation with my masseuse when I went for my sports massage this morning. It’s surprisingly easy to make small talk when your spine is being cracked and you’re trying not to swear. When I got to the hairdressers, in the back of my mind was the memory of my last job interview and the feedback I’d got about not speaking enough. Yes, talking to strangers and people I don’t know well is tough, but I can do it. I proved this again a few weeks ago on a training course.

Sitting in a room full of parents, next to my husband, ready to learn all about first aid for babies and toddlers, and the first activity is:

Introduce yourself to someone you’ve never met and talk to them about why you’re here.

My palms instantly got a lot sweatier. My mouth felt dry. My heart was booming. I turned to my right and said “Hi, my name’s…” It wasn’t the best conversation I’ve ever had, but it certainly wasn’t the worst either. If only I could do that in yoga class! Ah well, baby steps right?

So, is it the sunshine and blooming flowers that give me this extra boost? I definitely feel that spring is in the air and that always makes me feel a little better about life. I have been imagining all sorts of new beginnings, and I feel optimistic.

Is everyone else enjoying the spring bloom? I hope so.

What’s changing for you?

One of my overriding memories of school, is being surrounded by a kind of white noise. This is the noise of other people’s conversations. Difficult to distinguish or make sense of, it’s easier to tune it out. I thought I’d left this behind until…

Tumble Tots.

When my daughter was younger, a lot of the mums in the waiting room wouldn’t have conversations with each other. It was the norm to sit quietly, speaking only to your own toddler, waiting for the moment you all had to get up and go in to class. Now, my daughter is in a group for bigger kids, and the mums get to wait in the waiting room while the children jump, balance, spin, sing, dance, run, throw things, roly poly, swing, and perform triple pike turns or whatever.

So, every week, I am sitting on a plastic chair, uncomfortably close to other mothers for an hour and I am almost always the only one not talking. I take a kindle. I try to ignore the buzz. Occasionally I look around and feel sorry for myself, or wonder if I’m doing something wrong.

No. I am still not part of the buzz. But I can’t help it. To do things differently would be like trying to move a boulder with a feather.

If I can accept my limitations, and live happily that way, I can show my daughter a good example. I don’t want her to think she has to torture herself to fit in, so why should I put myself under that pressure?

At the last class, I wandered into the hallway to check on my daughter’s progress. It was really just to be somewhere a bit quieter. By chance, another mum came out and spoke to me really nicely. She asked how my daughter was getting on and I asked after hers. Our children have been in the same class for ages.

It felt good to have that small interaction. That is enough for me. Just enough to prove I am a worthy human being, with just a slightly different brain.

This week, I have a serious problem with recruitment agents. I will soon be job hunting in earnest and, while I prefer to apply to employers directly, I know that many will use recruitment agents as a go-between. Why is this a problem? Well, there are actually lots, but today I’m focusing on their narrow view of humanity in general.

The title of today’s post is a phrase that has appeared in every recruitment agent’s job advert I’ve looked at so far. To give you a context, I’d estimate that I’ve looked at 30-40 adverts over the last week.

And you know me – you know I’m not looking at sales or PR positions. I’m looking at roles related to accounting, which is a large part of what I do now and is what I’m training to become qualified in.

When I was fresh out of uni and and looking to broaden my skill set (and greatly lacking in experience) I accepted several low-paid jobs, customer-facing, requiring me to be “outgoing” and “confident”. I muddled through. I felt uncomfortable every day. Now, working with numbers, I really don’t see the need to be outgoing or socially confident. Yes, I can work well within a small team. Yes, I know how to talk with and email people in a way that is not offensive or too sharp. Yes, I can use the telephone effectively, even though it often still gives me stomach ache. But outgoing? Me? NEVER!!!

And why should I have to be? Why is this word appearing in every sodding advert? Are there no jobs for people like me? Should I just curl up in a corner and wait for death? Should I retire from stress and rely on benefits for the rest of my sad, unproductive days? What a load of crap!

Aspies – do not listen to recruitment agents telling you you need to be different to get ANY job. We CAN do all sorts of jobs. We CAN contribute to society, and to paying our own bills. We CAN function in the workplace.

If you’re using recruitment agents and you’re worried they don’t see you as a complete person, don’t trust them to find you a good job. Apply direct. Think about what skills you really have and how valuable those can be to employers. Don’t feel you have to try to conform to someone else’s narrow perspective. We are real people and we have a role in society.