Who’s Socially Awkward?

One of the main features of being autistic is that you’re socially awkward. I’ve always been told I was socially awkward, and Daniel has been accused of being socially awkward. And yet, when I watched Daniel interact with someone recently, I wondered who it was who was being socially awkward: Daniel or the other person.

Recently at a birthday party for one of my wife’s friends’ daughters, Daniel went up to someone and offered them a cup of water. The person looked at him, wondering why he was offering them water, creating an awkward situation.

But it was that person who make the situation awkward. Daniel didn’t feel awkward. He thought it perfectly normal and sensible to offer someone water to drink.

Daniel has also been known to go up to people he doesn’t know and give them a hug. Again, this results in an awkward situation, though the awkwardness is felt not by Daniel, but by the other person. Again, Daniel didn’t feel awkward. Rather, the other person felt awkward.

It seems, then, that the accusation of social awkwardness is really that the non-autistic person feels awkward in the situation. But let’s think about that. Would you accuse someone from another culture with different ways of doing things from yours of being socially awkward? In many ways it’s the same thing with an autistic person. Our ways are not necessarily your ways, and we don’t feel awkward when we do them.

The fact of the matter is that there are many social in which I don’t really know “what this is,” so I am sympathetic with those who have to interact with someone like Daniel or me and are wondering what kind of social situation they are in. We have to deal with it every day, and even when we know what social situation we are in or are trying to create, we are daily faced with others treating our interactions as awkward.

There probably isn’t a solution to this. When faced with a “strange” social situation created by another’s behavior, we are bound to feel the situation is awkward, and we are bound to wear that awkwardness on our faces. But the next time you’re in social situation where you’re wondering “what on earth is going on here,” just keep in mind that the person may in fact be somewhere on the autism spectrum. If we all just learn to go with it, a lot off awkward situations would simply disappear.

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