Celebrating Friendship this Valentine’s Day
It’s no secret that we work every day on social skills at Segue, but we don’t want to lose sight of WHY we prioritize them. Anyone who knows someone on the autism spectrum knows that society’s assumptions about them are often way off-base. Every member at Segue Center, whether they are on the autism spectrum or not, desires to have healthy relationships in all areas of their lives. Sometimes they just need the tools to help them do so in a way that is effective or “socially acceptable.”
We had already decided at Segue Center to focus on ALL of our relationships this Valentine’s Day, not just romantic ones. Various conversations we had in social/emotional learning and in other classes this week brought home another factor for many of our members: one of the biggest stumbling blocks to maintaining or making friendships for them is the struggle to Initiate everything from conversations to activities. We don’t want to only be “reactors” in our own lives; we need to be “proactive” in all areas, including our social lives. So I thought it would be a good time to reinforce some of our past lessons with some actionable tips that I have found useful in my own life. Covid might make it difficult, but there are creative ways to adapt these tools whether you are comfortable meeting up with people safely in person, or if you prefer to keep things virtual for now.
Some personal notes on my experiences in these regards:
1. I can easily get swamped with other obligations or interests if I’m not careful. So I set random dates on the calendar to remind myself to check in on various friends or groups periodically. I let myself be more emotionally available and just send a random text or GIF, pick up the phone if I’m up for it, and only occasionally set up the video call or in-person meetup that might involve more of my physical energy as well.
2. In the past I’ve done Meetups for hiking, gaming, or other interests. I’m not a big social media person personally, but it’s okay to focus on the positive power of the internet to connect people IRL. It took me more than a few months of joining some Meetup groups before I finally RSVP’d for an event. It’s okay if it takes you some time to work up your own courage to follow through. What worked for me to finally commit? I put it on the calendar, blocked off the time for no excuses, and told someone else I knew so I could hold myself accountable. Sometimes the event wasn’t my particular off-kilter cup of tea, and I realized that the worst thing that can happen is that you are a little bored for an hour or two of your life. Not so bad when you really think about it, especially when the upside may be at least one or two new contacts that may turn into friends.
3. We talk a lot about empathy and perspective-taking at Segue. One great way to develop that is to get outside of yourself and volunteer for others. There are so many organizations in which you can get involved, and it’s a great way to meet other people as well who share your same values. Even when I’m feeling burned out and don’t feel like I can give up one more hour of my time, volunteering nearly always fills me back up with more energy than I came in with. The old cliché of “who rescued whom?” (grammar snob, sorry!) applies to more than just shelter pets, from my experience.
4. I don’t want to minimize the anxiety that can hold us back – the struggle truly is real for so many. Yet, if we let our anxiety win, we’re not living our most productive lives. At Segue, we can help give tools to work through this anxiety. When you are ready for that step, we also will support you as you push yourself out of your comfort zone, and be there if it turned out as scary as you thought it would (although usually that fear inside your head is the biggest hurdle).
5. While it’s no one’s job to help hold you accountable, it’s okay to ask for a little help getting started with something new. I’m much more likely to follow through with plans if I tell someone else I’m making them, too. It helps me hold myself accountable, and it gives me something to share with my friend or family member after the fact as I let them know how it went – the good, the bad, and the ugly.
6. Not all events are the same. A video call from home may be easier for you than an in-person event, or vice versa. New platforms like Clubhouse that are audio-based take away the pressure of video calls, online trolls, and other anxiety-inducing aspects of the internet (Shout out to my friend who introduced me, knowing that it might be more of my thing than starting a Twitter feed or sharing on the Gram. She knows me so well).