Joining a New Group

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Not everyone finds it easy to meet new people. Many neurotypical adults have the realization after college that they don’t really know how to make friends. For people with autism, social challenges and differences in thinking style can make meeting people even more difficult.

I’ve found it helpful to discuss the concept of meeting people in a new group using a handy analogy: finding a balance.

Finding a Balance Between
Revealing Information and Holding Back

Whether your first day at a new school, a new job, or a new club, we join new groups relatively frequently. Each group has its own dynamic—it’s own way that the people involved tend to interact. And it can be extremely complex to figure out every group’s expectations of what to say, how to act, whether to be funny or serious, relaxed or focused.

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One of the concepts I’ve worked on with students with ASD when joining a new group is the balance of revealing information about yourself and holding back information. Like with all balance challenges, either extreme can cause predictable problems.

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The Balance Challenge

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I’ve worked with folks with autism for many years and in a few different capacities—as a teacher, a tutor, a social group facilitator, a staff developer, and as a colleague. I’ve come to see the neurodiversity movement as a crucial perspective to understand and appreciate the differences in autistic and neurotypical thinking. There’s been a lot written on this topic, and I’ll leave the bulk of that discussion to terrific self-advocates like Karla Fisher and Nick Walter among others.

One concept has emerged as central in conceptualizing autism and supporting autistic individuals: finding a balance.

For example:

  • There is much discussion in the “field” about finding a balance between viewing autism as a difference and a disability (Judy Endow has a great post about this)
  • In educating students with autism, teachers need to find a balance between providing structure and encouraging flexibility.
  • And regarding support for autistic folk with social challenges, there’s the issue of finding a balance between understanding neurotypical thinking and embracing autistic thinking.

I’ll share more on each of these ideas soon, but I’d like to start with a concrete example.

Finding a Balance Between My Wants and Other People’s Wants

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One of the most fundamental balance challenges in any social interaction is to figure out how much to jump in / share / contribute / participate, and when to hold back / listen / take a pause.

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