When I talk with autistic young adults about their goals and challenges, I notice one common theme: How can I feel more comfortable and less stressed when talking and meeting people?
The question or specific concern may vary, but the core challenge these young adults are asking pointing to is the same. How can I learn more about my personal social communication challenges and what can I do to work around them?
Let me start by defining social communication. According to the American Speech Language Hearing Association, social communication “allows individuals to communicate or interact with others within a societal framework. Social communication encompasses social interaction, social cognition, pragmatics, and language processing. … Analysis of social communication considers the norms that are relevant to an individual in their communication environment(s)…”.
Social communication challenges are a hallmark of autism. We all have the need to communicate with others. And it makes complete sense that autistic individuals would be frustrated and stressed by the difficulties they have. To make matters worse for autistics, they may receive negative feedback from others for their communication styles.
For example, one young man I spoke with recently complained that people often tell him he seems angry in conversation. He knows he isn’t feeling angry, and it bothers him that others get that from him. He also worries about previous times when his supposed anger might have cost him a job or a relationship he really wanted. This disconnect between his actual emotions and how they are perceived is a significant source of stress.
These social communication challenges can make forming deep and lasting friendships more difficult. Research out of UVA shows that friendships in childhood and teen years can have an impact on long-term outcomes into adulthood, including academic and work performance.
So what does all of this mean?
Understanding how social communication works and improving social communication skills might be the MOST important goal an autistic young adult can have!
This is why I include work on social communication in my one-on-one coaching. Once my clients begin to crack the social communication code, they are often eager to increase their social interactions. Sometimes finding groups and peers with whom to practice can be a challenge in and of itself. And sometimes, a client’s social communication skills goals are best met by a practitioner who works exclusively in that area.
That’s why I was so pleased to connect with Jeremy Hamburgh of My Best Social Life. Jeremy and his partner, Ilana Frank, work exclusively on social communication skills with their clients. They’ve also developed an online community where their clients can meet each other and interact to make friends and hone their skills.
I love My Best Social Life’s work so much that I invited Jeremy to present a free webinar on The Five Steps to Friendship and Dating with Autism on August 18th at 7pm ET. We’ll be exploring a simple framework that you can use to make friends, find love and have a fulfilling social life. We hope to see you there!