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Aspie Barriers to Social Interaction

Social interaction is very difficult for people with aspergers for a number of reasons including;

  • Difficulty Achieving and Maintaining Eye Contact

  • Difficulty reading body-language and tone

  • Problems using non-verbal gestures and tone

  • Intrusions from the Special Interest (Disinterest in other topics)

  • Difficulty keeping away from Detail

  • Short Term Memory Issues

  • Language Issues

I've already covered eye contact in earlier posts, so I won't cover it again here.

Body Language and Tone
I don't think that the aspie has any trouble determining when someone is annoyed. That sort of body language and tone is usually strong enough. Most of the time, the problematic body language seems to come from humor or generalizations.

For example; I have terrible problems when someone insults me with a smile on their face. I'm never sure if it's a genuine insult or "just mucking around". If I assume it's a genuine insult and retaliate, I could start a fight. If I assume that it's not an insult (when it is) I could be badly hurt physically or emotionally. Usually I assume it's a joke and just smile weakly back.

Another time when this can be a problem is when you're engaged in a conversation and someone says "too much information" or "no more". Is the person telling you to stop or is this just an expression? It's little wonder that Aspies get confused and don't know when someone isn't interested or wants them to stop.

The key to all of this is body language and tone. People with Asperger's generally haven't mastered either of these in themselves, so they're hardly likely to be able to interpret them in others.

The Special Interests
It's hard for the aspie to talk too far away from their special interests and especially not in a level of detail. We're just not terribly interested in other topics. Sure, we can discuss other things for a while but we're usually only pretending to be interested.

Attention to Detail
Aspies generally like to examine things in detail. Too much detail. This is especially true of anything that touches the special interest.

At work, I find that whenever I write a report, I end up providing way too much information. This is also true for when I explain things verbally.

Short Term Memory Issues
There's no conversation killer quite like forgetting someone's name within a few minutes of being introduced. The same goes for forgetting everything you've just heard about an "uninteresting" topic.

Language Issues
The language issue I'm referring to is the tendency to use archaic language. People either get the wrong idea and think that you're being snooty/snobbish or they have to keep interrupting you to get you to explain words.

I guess the point of this post is simply to lay a foundation for non-aspies to understand why conversation is so difficult for us. In later posts, I'll see what I can do to provide strategies for overcoming these problems.


Anonymous said…
This is a very interesting article. I related well to the body language, short term memory, and special interest. I fixed my language issues myself, with a little help from physical abusing bullies =/.

Nothing better than peer pressure w/ fist!{/sarcasm}

But anyway.

Over the last two years of my life I have been studying human social cues. I know when I am dragging something on with too much detail when people start to do other things, when they were first intrigued. This isn't always the case (because some people were probably pretending to be interested in the first place).

I have a big problem with short term memory. I even, after reading the entry and going to the comment page, had to go back to the blog entry several times to be able to post this comment. I have a hard time remembering what people are talking about. But if I am really listening, I do remember key points.

For example. If I meet someone new, I always ask who they are first, then ask what they do (it's common to ask them what they do for a hobby or a past time or whatever). When they give me their name, I repeat it (and I possibly compliment it if its a unique name)(this helps to remember their name). Then, when they tell me what they do (lets say they do construction), I usually say something that will trigger them to talk more and more about their job.

So probably something along the lines of "Construction working huh? what do you construct?". I then listen closely for key points such as what part of construction the person does, what things he constructs, etc.

After the person is done talking, they might ask what I do. I tell them what I do, and all that stuff. So then there is short small talk, and when the small talk dies down (quickly, since I am no good at small talk), I ask them what their name is again (even if I remember, lol). They aught to forgive you for not remembering a name if its been a while since they told you.

I hope that wasn't too long of a read for people.

Andrew M.
Damo said…
What more can I add? I take pretty much eveerything literally. But this borders on social naiivity.

memory is selective. I remember what I really need to, but names elude me. I can talk to someone for years and not know/use their name in conversation. even to their face. I'm paying too much attention to the gravy stain on your shirt, brand of shoes, watch knockoff, who's sitting where, the alignment of the planets as it were and you then want me to remember your name as well? c'mon.

As for social conversation ebb and flow? I'm out of sync. or if I don't know anything about it, I can't fake it but the nod and smile usually lets them finish their story so I can find a topic I can partake in.

Body language is a whole new world and once yu start understanding the psychological processes under bodylanguage you can learn alot about how the person thinks and sees the world. But the problem is we must first be tought or educate ourselves to what seems to come so naturally for others.

This then comes back to rules of engagement. define the parameters, what works, what doesn't and how it all fits together and then we'll establish our own boundary conditions and be able to reciprocate in an elegant and meaningfull manner without becoming a bore.
Anonymous said…
As someone dating an undiagnosed Aspie I can relate to the archaic language comment. At first I thought it was a charming affectation. Being in a literary field (and with high level degrees myself), it wasn't a deterrent but an attractor, like...finally someone who uses impressive vocab words...but I did at first think it was a bit postured and maybe pretentious.
Anonymous said…
Wow-so glad I'm reading your blog. I can't tell you how many times I've just flat out told someone "I'm sorry-I didn't hear a word you said." You quickly find out "who your friends are." I was thinking of something else. I'm sure it makes the person feel boring, and people relate to you by how you make them feel about themselves. Ugh. I used to work in a bank. I could remember them by their account number, voice, appearance and never know their name.
kas said…
My aspie husband seems to have difficulty putting the body language together with what people are saying. He has studied human body language and social interaction a little to help himself get by. He gets really frustrated when people are saying something contrary to the body language, ie if they are lieing, or trying to get something from him, or say they aren't mad when they obviously are. It feels like everyone is dihonest to him. This is probably his most frustrating part of his aspergers for him.
Dan said…
I have studied body language from texts and similar resources, just to try and get a handle on something NT people just seem to be able to do intuitively.

I find that unstructured social interaction can be managed reasonably successfully, but it takes enormous amounts of focus and I find it exhausting to maintain for long periods.A couple of hours at a party, mingling and doing small talk, and I'm completely tuckered out.

I find it difficult to remember people's names too - even straight after they've been given to me. I have people I've known for years, or work with, whose name I don't know, or can't remember when I need to. It is especially embarrassing when you want to refer to them in conversation, or perhaps get their attention, and the name is a complete blank.

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