Becoming an accepted member of a group is an important goal for the adolescent or young adult with high functioning autism or Asperger’s. In social situations and workplace settings, your young adult needs to be in synch with others, so that their appearance, behaviors, and speech do not set them apart from others in any negative way. To be a part of any group, your adolescent or young adult needs to develop the awareness and skills for “blending in”. They have to be independent in this ultimately, because you won’t be there to cue them, but you can certainly teach this skill and help them to practice and perfect it wherever you go.
How do you talk about “blending in” with your child? Try approaching it this way:
Do you know that other people are always noticing how other people act and talk, and that this is actually normal? These are the kind of things they might notice: do you seem kind, careful, hard working, quiet, fun to be with? Do you seem to be like them? It is fine to “do your own thing” when you are alone or at home. But to be part of any group, whether it is a social group (for example at a party), a learning group (such as at school), or a working group (at your workplace), you must “blend in” by looking and behaving pretty much like the other people in your group. This gives you something in common with everyone else and is good for your reputation. When you blend in, you join the group! It’s a great way to make friends and to have a good reputation. “Blending in” is something positive that you can actually practice with the help of someone else who can help you see yourself the way others might see you and give you feedback. It might be a weaker area for you because of autism (or Asperger’s). Can we work on this together?
If you can get “buy in” from your young person so that they will allow you (or another close person in their life) to help them in this way, you can begin to tactfully and gently increase awareness of how their behaviors, speech, and appearance match those around them. As you go into group situations in your lives together, at church, at the store, at family functions or parties, notice and talk about what others look like and how they are behaving. Try to pick out one thing that your child can change to blend in better--that makes it more manageable. For example, if everyone is smiling at a party but your child is not, point it out kindly and privately, and have them go check in a mirror to see if they can come up with a smile that could match better with the group, and then come back and use it to blend in! If someone ahead of you looks the cashier in the eye when they say thank you, remark on it when you are alone and ask them to practice it every time they shop. Point out tactfully when they are “doing their own thing” apart from others where they should be “blending in”, and help them get back on track to be part of the group with a positive blending suggestion that they can do. It can even be a game where you and others in the family practice “matching” each other and see who does it best. Notice their awareness, cooperation, and successes however small, and celebrate their efforts at “blending in” with others as a significant positive step toward their independent future.