When I look at Temple Grandin’s life, I feel ashamed of how little I have accomplished.
Mostly all I’ve done is love someone and raise three children with a whole lot of cooking, washing, ironing and housecleaning in between. I went to university late, earned a degree. Wrote some books. Started a Quilter’s guild. It seems a minimal contribution at best. But then I look at my three children and suddenly my life seems to have some significance.
Not that I take any credit for how wonderfully they turned out. I know I was an inadequate parent. I didn’t know about Asperger’s least of all that I had it, and so did my daughter and possibly my son. Maybe we all did. One daughter and two grandchildren diagnosed. I am so proud of who they are today. Fine people. They have become my friends as well as my children. We mentored each other along the way. I was very young when I had them, you see, just eighteen when I had my first and when she was three, the youngest was born. I was fertile if nothing else.
And because of my autism, my Asperger’s, I was socially very immature. So we grew up together. I helped them where I could. And when they saw me stuck they’d step in and give me a nudge in the right direction. I wasn’t mature for most of my first two marriages. But in the third one I think I finally mastered at least some of the art of maturity. Not that I’m anywhere near finished yet.
My children are independent, organized, kind, and intelligent. I don’t know what more I could ask of them.
But of myself I have to ask this: what have I done to better the world I live in?
Offhand? I don’t know the answer. And that seems a sad thing.
In a Psychology Today April 2013 article titled Father and Son, Aspies Alike author John Elder Robison describes the pitfalls of two generations under one roof having Aspergers.
His son, Jack, was fascinated by ‘energetic reactions’ in chemistry. This meant that he liked building experimental things that depended on explosive reactions. Things like rockets. Other chemical formulations that he set to explode in the field behind their house.
John Robison knew that his son Jack was uploading instructional videos of his experiments to You Tube. But it never occurred to him, as it might to some non-Aspie parents, that this might attract some undue attention.
In Jack’s case, it was the FBI FTA branch.
Jack was not charged with any offence and his brush with the law proved innocent enough.
But maybe it’s better when you’re seeking an outside opinion? To ask someone who isn’t an Aspie.
John Robison’s books include Raising Cubby, Be Different and Look Me In the Eye. His son, Jack, along with Jack’s friends Alex Plank, founder of You Tube’s Wrong Planet, have created a series of videos about Autism issues.
I’m alone in a roomful of people–people I don’t know!
And I want to make a good impression. What do I do now?
In Unforgiving, Memoir of an Asperger Teen, I talk about the gaffs I made at a dinner especially arranged to introduce me to some theater people. I really wish I ‘d had Dr. Carducci’s book and Jeffrey’s videos back then! These two experts on small talk really know how to ace a social situation.
You’ve just listened to Jeffrey’s video. He’s a guy who’s given more than 3,000 presentations and met many people. His comfort level with strangers is very high. But even he says it takes practice.
Dr. Bernardo Carducci is head of The Shyness Institute at Indiana University South East, so he has a lot of research behind his book,The Pocket Guide to Making Successful Small Talk; How to Talk to Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere about Anything.
Like Dr. Bernardo Carducci, Jeffrey Benjamin says step up and introduce yourself to someone standing near you.
Don’t interrupt a conversation to do that. Just find someone who is standing alone and go for it.
This is called breaking the ice and while to an Aspie it can feel just as dangerous as falling into freezing water on the skating pond, practising this manoeuvre will make it less stressful each time.
Both experts say listen. Listening in this sense, means being able to repeat back key phrases of what the other person has just said.
Repeating back a brief summary or phrase tells the other person you truly are listening, not just waiting for a pause in the conversation so you can jump in with your favourite topic. Listening like this also keeps you on topic mentally.
Benjamin actually says Listen more, talk less. This is the best advice anyone can give, and probably the hardest for an Aspie to follow. Discipline yourself.
Benjamin’s last item? Be positive. Dragging negativity around is not only pointless? It’s also terribly boring. Bring a positive attitude to the party. After all, you got invited didn’t you?
Why perfect the art of small talk? The ability to to communicate socially on what may seem to Aspies to be the art of meaningless chit chat?
First, for your physical health. That’s right! Dr. Dean Ornish cardiologist and author of Reversing Heart Disease says this:
“being able to initiate and maintain relationships is integral to heart health.”
He goes on to explain: “being able to interact meaningfully in a reciprocal relationship with another human being relieves stress and the feelings of loneliness and isolation.”
Isolated? In my book, Unforgiving, Memoir of an Asperger Teen, I show how I felt that way a lot, and how damaging it was to me socially to be unable to connect with my peer group as well as my parents and elders. As Aspies, I’m sure we all know what those feelings are like.
And the second reason to learn small talk? Because it’s the key that opens the door to successful social relationships. It seems meaningless, but on the contrary: it’s important!
Small talk is the way people conversationally explore their comfort zone with the other person.
It’s where you and the other person communicate briefly about the world you both live in before deciding if it’s desirable or even safe to go into further fields of conversation.
Initially? Keep it small, keep it light, and get connected. Ultimately, small talk is good for the heart and good for your mental and emotional health.