I spoke recently at a dental conference, and had a mom approach me with one of the most priceless insights I’ve ever heard regarding people with autism. She said that her son, who is in his 20’s and has Asperger Syndrome, “Couldn’t do the story problems of life!”
What she was saying is true for most of the people I’ve met who have a diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome and other forms of autism (as well as some other people who do not have a diagnosis). They often can be taught the necessary skills for effective social interactions. They can learn to make greetings, use eye contact, answer questions, take turns, show empathy, etc., but struggle to use the skills “in the moment” during a social interaction..
How do we navigate this reality?
1. Be understanding. For many of these individuals, it isn’t that they don’t want to interact successfully with other people, or that they are unable to learn. Instead, being empathetic helps to ensure that we approach them with an open mind and the patience that’s needed to move forward successfully.
2. Provide strategies to help them succeed. Verbal cues, visuals, role-play, and lots of practice can help the skills to become more “automatic,” so that they can be used successfully when needed.
Remember, we all have our strengths, as well as our challenges. When a person has difficulty “doing the story problems of life,” others of us can provide the necessary assistance and support to ensure that everyone in a social interaction can be successful!