Most people think that I am shy when we first meet. In fact, if you talk to anyone that has known me for many years, they will probably classify me as a shy person. In studying autism and myself in the process, I have learned that I am actually not shy. This was interesting to figure out because even I thought I was shy for many years.
What was seen as shyness in me was actually a simple lack of the social skills required to start a conversation. I am not afraid of talking to people and when introduced to someone I can usually start up a good conversation with them without any problems. The problem that I have is that I do not know how to find people to talk to when the situation calls for it. This even applies to people that I already know and am friends with.
If I am at a party and see people I recognize but that are in a group of people, I will tend to gravitate toward that area but not talk to anyone until they talk to me. This isn’t because I’m nervous around people but rather because I don’t know how to initiate a conversation with someone who has not first acknowledged me.
I also have a particularly difficult time saying hi to people. If someone says hi to me, I will say hi back. However, if the person does not see me right away, I have no idea how to get their attention and how to say hi to them. Although I have practiced in my mind all sorts of ways of doing this, I still haven’t been able to effectively say hi to someone I recognize.
One thing that I am particularly skilled at is breaking the ice in an awkward situation. When I am put in a position where other people are uncomfortable and don’t know what to do, I will take the initiative to start up a conversation. It is easy for me to do this because there is no introduction needed. There is no need to say hello or make your presence known. Everyone is already together and someone just needs to acknowledge the situation so that everyone can move on.
For example, my friend told me this story about the first time she saw me initiate a conversation. We were on a raft ride at an amusement park with some people we had never met before. She said that I started talking to the strangers as though it was a perfectly natural thing to do and she was stunned at how easily I handled the situation. I didn’t remember this happening because it was nothing particularly remarkable to me. I saw a need and an opening for a conversation and I filled it.
Although I’m sure there are some people with autism that are shy, I bet that there are also a lot of people that would be seen completely differently if they had the social skills to communicate the way they really want to. I know I would be seen as a completely different person if I could communicate the way I want to. Who knows, maybe it’s a blessing in disguise.