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.
The traits I want to illustrate today are twofold: the way we give what people say a more literal interpretation than what others do, and two? The fact that we do not naturally learn correct social behaviour from observing others.
My parents knew they had a problem child in me. Their solutions for me were rote. Whenever I’d set on a course they deemed foolish, like when I wanted to shave my legs or tint my hair, because the other girls were doing it, my parents had a standard response:
I suppose if all the other girls jumped off a cliff, you would, too?
Of course I wouldn’t, I’d reply, stung by the stupidity of the suggestion.
I took this saying quite literally to mean that I was not supposed to copy the behaviour of my peers.
I took it to mean that individuality was an important factor in people’s assessment of each other.
Which made sense when you thought about because it also ensured the preservation of the species. I mean, who knows what would happen to the population if herds of stupid teenage girls were always plunging off cliffs.
Not that I thought they were, but sadly I never paused to reflect that actually herds of teenagers, male or female, running lemming-like toward the ultimate plunge was an idiomatic warning meant to be directed at particularly dangerous behaviours. I think partly what confused me was that what I wanted to do was more normal than dangerous.
I didn’t realize back then, as I do now, that the only real danger in tinting my hair or shaving my legs was the fact that it would cost the parents money which they couldn’t afford.
Not to mention the fear that no-one knew what colour Margaret Jean’s hair would end up. In an era when strawberry blonde was a shocker, this was a real concern.
It wasn’t until I was very much older that I learned to watch how others responded to each other and the community at large. And copy their behaviours. Not their words, necessarily, but their timing and attentiveness. And so far? I haven’t found myself heading toward any cliffs.
Ever feel like you’re drowning in a social situation? Like if you don’t get to be alone in five minutes or less you won’t be able to breathe?
I’d spent a wonderful day with a friend. We’d done the shops and lunch and it was all good. When she dropped me off at home, I invited her in to see our apartment thinking, of course, that she would then leave. That’s an Aspie for you.
Instead, she and my husband, Cash, struck up a conversation. They had no idea that I was done.
To my dismay, Cash did what I, as hostess, should have done–offered her coffee. I quickly put the coffee on, even thought it meant she would stay longer than I felt I could manage. I worked hard at not showing my disappointment as I brought in the steaming mugs.
Then my husband said the kids wanted to get together the next day for Father’s Day. “Oh, what did they have in mind?” I asked,visions of them taking him off somewhere for the day dancing in my head.
“They’re coming here,” he said.
I’m an Aspie, so caught off guard, no filters, right? I blurted out, “Oh no!” It was already 5 p.m. and we were having people for dinner tomorrow? The bathrooms needed cleaning. Dinner for six planned and prepared.
“Just coffee and dessert is fine,” he said, his face falling at my attitude. My guest was shocked at my ungracious response.
To change the subject, Cash talked about the trip we were planning to the southern US to visit relatives. My friend had an inspiration: “A road trip with George and I!” she exclaimed. “Wouldn’t that be fun! We could take two or three weeks…” She and my husband elaborated enthusiastically about the vacation.
In my present state, I was now forced to imagine three weeks in a compact car with three other people. In a very warm climate.
Mind and body immediately responded with all the symptoms of intense claustrophobia.
However, I managed to breathe more or less normally while smiling and nodding in some of the right places. I did not want to hurt my friend’s feelings. She is a lovely person.
My friend left at 6:20 p.m.
At 3 a.m. I woke thinking about the day. I had enjoyed being out with my friend. But, I realized I needed to make my expectations clear when we set out—tell her that when we came back I’d be bringing her in to see the suite, but then I had things to do. And I should have reinforced that just before leaving the restaurant.
As for the kids coming over—I always enjoy them, but I like to have lots of good food ready, and I didn’t know if I’d have time to do that, and so I reacted badly.
Cash was up by then, too, and after talking things over, we decided to take a chicken out of the freezer. He roasts a great chicken, and he’d be happy to do so. I would go to the store and buy his favorite lemon cake and strawberries for dessert after making the apartment presentable.
We hugged after finding our happy solution, and went back to bed.
We had a great afternoon. Not a speck of chicken was left.
As for the trip? Well, that has four months to die a natural death.
80% of grown-ups with Aspergers do not have full-time jobs.
This alarming statistic comes from the webpage, “My Asperger’s Child”. In a recent article, the authors maintain the reason behind this statistic is not the lack of education or intelligence, but the lack of social skills which would allow employees with Asperger’s to perform their tasks in a “socially acceptable” manner.
“Countless studies show individuals would rather have pleasant and personable co-workers than a co-worker who is always right,” the authors point out.
They conclude that people with Aspergers must compensate for their lack of social competence by “making themselves so good in a specialized field that individuals will be willing to “buy” their skill even though social skills are poor”.
They go on to state that Aspies “need to learn a few social survival skills,” but situating themselves in work groups that are highly specialized is what these authors see as the real solution. In their minds, Aspies would have more access to social relationships involving work colleagues because of very specific work-related interests.
While I do consider this good advice, I also maintain that working hard at learning social skills is equally important. There are so many books, videos and online lectures on the subject…Let us do our best in both arenas.
Read more at: http://www.myaspergerschild.com/2010/10/best-and-worst-jobs-for-aspergers.html
My Daughter, Bev, shared some of her work experiences.
Recently I was asked to speak to the Ladner Rotary Club about Asperger’s Syndrome. I gratefully agreed. Any opportunity to spread knowledge about Asperger’s is to be seized and capitalized upon!
The first person I turned to was my daughter, Bev, who is a Special Education Assistant in a large highschool. She also has Asperger’s herself, as does her older son. Between him and me, she sometimes found herself with her hands full!
Ever practical, Bev immediately sized up the situation and decided we should talk about Asperger’s in the workplace.
Here is a brief bit of Bev’s part of the talk:
Bev talked about how anxiety over minor problems can seem overwhelming to someone with Asperger’s. About the difficulty people on the spectrum can have with the inability to remember and recognize co-workers, even after working with them for a considerable time, something Dr. Jim Tanaka of UVic refers to as “face blindness”.
She also talked about how rules and structure are the spectrum person’s comfort zone, how her son said of his job, “They have routine, Mom. Rules, Yes!” And how it was his love of structure and routine that earned him a full time job almost immediately after he started in a temporary position with the company.
People in the spectrum need training and guidance. “Tell us what to do and how to do it,” Bev said, “and we will gladly get the job done.”
Margaret Jean, Irene Good and Beverly at the Ladner Rotary Luncheon.
Recently, I was asked to give a talk to the Ladner Rotary Club on Asperger’s. The date they had in mind was only four days away. Probably their scheduled speaker bailed, but I’m just happy to have a chance to increase awareness. It’s all good, right? Four days? I could do this.
I phoned my daughter, Bev right away.
“A room full of business people?” Bev asked. “Great. We’ll talk about Asperger’s in the workplace.” See why I called her? Bev always knows what to do.
“Okay, I’ll talk about the origins of Asperger’s just to be sure they know what it is, and you do the workplace part,” I said. She agreed.
Here’s a bit of my part of the speech.
Thanks for inviting us to speak today. Free lunch is always good. But imagine if someone, say a co-worker, asks a person to lunch, and right away that person becomes anxious? Clearly apprehensive. Wouldn’t that be amazing? But for some people with Asperger’s, it wouldn’t be unusual.
So what is Asperger’s, anyway? And why is it called that?
Asperger’s came to be known as such this way: In 1944, in Austria, a paediatrician detected some odd behaviour in four of his young patients. They did not socialize well with the other children. Their non-verbal communication skills were virtually non-existent. When they talked? Their language was stilted or formal. And they seemed to each have a favorite topic which was of intense interest to them, and therefore dominant in their conversations. And finally, they seemed to have little or no empathy with the other children.
These findings were published, but only in Germany. The doctor’s name was Dr. Hans Asperger.
It wasn’t until 1981 when a British physician and psychiatrist, a Dr. Lorna Wing, published several case studies of her own, that Asperger’s was introduced to the world. Dr. Wing’s case studies exhibited similar symptoms as the children the Austrian doctor had observed, and she referred to them as having “Asperger’s Syndrome”.
Her studies were widely read and published, and her 1996 study is considered by some to be the definitive work on Asperger’s.
In 1992 the World Health Organization added Asperger’s to its list of diseases and disorders. In 1994, The American Psychiatric Association added it to their manual of Mental Disorders.
But today, researchers such as Simon Baron-Cohen of Cambridge University and Dr. Jim Tanaka of UVic emphasize that Asperger’s is not so much a disorder, disability or disease; It is more a difference in how the brain processes information.
In one large survey, one fourth of U.S. adults reported that they had felt extremely lonely at least once within the previous two weeks.
This quote’s from the Dalai Lama’s book The Art of Happiness (p.70). Talking about causes of loneliness, co-author Howard C. Cutler cites studies that show that loneliness can arise from several sources, one of which is the inability to pick up conversational cues: knowing when to nod, to respond appropriately, or to remain silent.
Cutler says this research suggests improving social skills should therefore be a good strategy for overcoming loneliness. However, the Dalai Lama suggests a different approach.
Develop Compassion, is the simple message of this sage. Recognize your interconnectedness with the world and you will be grateful for all that you have and do and are.
Cutler states he had always felt pride in his independence, in not needing anyone’s help to sustain him. But when he thought about how many people were involved in providing an article as simple as his shirt, he began to see a new world vision.
He thought of the farmer who grew the cotton. The person who sold the farmer his tractor. The many people involved in the manufacture of the tractor, the repair and maintenance of it, even the people who mined the ore that made the metal parts on the tractor, and the designers of the tractor. He thought about the weavers of the cloth, the people who cut and sewed the fabric, who colored it. The cargo workers and truck drivers who got the shirt to the store. The many clerks and administrators in the store.
Cutler realized then that “virtually every aspect of my life came about as the results of others’ efforts. My precious self-reliance was a complete illusion.”
Something I’m sure, for every Aspie to think deeply about. Would this be a good exercise? When you are feeling isolated? Just take a simple object and spend a few minutes considering how many people it took to put it in your hand.
Karl Marx said that one of the tragedies of modern society was the distancing of the producer from the product. How isolated it made both the producer and the consumer feel. It seems the Dalai Lama would agree.