A socially awkward (Philip) Stewart! – Autism West Midlands – July 2014

As a new guest blogger for Autism West Midlands’ Connect, a social media community where people with autism and loved ones of people with autism can come together to share real experiences and beliefs, A socially awkward (Philip) Stewart! gave me a chance to share a little bit of myself with likeminded people. You can read the original version of the blog piece on the Autism West Midlands website or read it below.

Communication and social skills have always been a problem area for me. As a child and as a teenager, I spent a lot of time on my own at home and at school.

On the subject of communicating for people with autism, like myself, it is believed “individuals with autism often lack an understanding of what communication is for” and that “not realising they can have an impact on their world and the people in it, they may fail to develop the essential communication skills the rest of us take for granted”.Caricature of Phil Evans activating his social awkwardness alarm - Phil EvansLooking back at my childhood and adolescent years, I think there is truth in those statements. I didn’t mind spending time alone but I was shy and I didn’t know how to communicate. Now, as an adult, I am full of confidence and self-esteem. I am a freelance public speaker and writer, and I work on projects that will hopefully help people with autism like myself to achieve in the future.

There is desire and determination in me but at the same time, there is a lot of social awkwardness! I act oddly in social situations! Whether I awkwardly linger in a room like a bad smell, whether I eat copious amounts of doughnuts or whether I force myself to feel uncomfortable through online dating, I’ve turned into an odd but quirky adult from a shy child!

As a brand new Connect blogger, I want to introduce myself by showing a bizarre side in the hope I’m not alone in being a socially awkward Stewart (my middle name, but it works better than my first name, Philip, in alliteration)! I want to show you a few examples of my social awkwardness.

Do I sit or do I go?

I’m starting to face situations where I cannot pick up on body language. I’m struggling to understand, during occasions when I speak to employers about positive qualities people with autism can bring into a workplace for example, when I should stay in a busy office or leave.

Before delivering a presentation on care provisions for adults with autism to care providers from the West Midlands, an opportunity organised to commemorate World Autism Awareness Day 2014, I had a chance to say hello to employees from the training company who had arranged the talk. I’d met them in the past so I didn’t think this would be a problem.

However, their busy nature wasn’t apparent to me as I stood in their office. I knew it would have been a better idea to prepare for my presentation but as I was asked to go to the office and visit, that happened. I stayed until an employee told me they were busy. Being told about a situation directly was the only way of removing me from it!

Doughnuts

Eating is one of my favourite things to do. Along with going to the gym, a function that fits with my first love, and watching The Eurovision Song Contest, a love I do not declare for fear of ridicule, it’s something that makes me happy.

Chain-eating doughnuts, however, really isn’t healthy for anybody.

Sensory issues have started to affect me recently. The smallest sound can be like fireworks going off in my mind when I’m trying to concentrate. Having to be social with a large audience and having to mingle, a word that makes me edgy, is something I don’t enjoy. I’ll happily do anything to take me away from these situations.

The jam doughnut was the answer.

I ate three of them! Consecutively! Without licking my lips! Okay, I licked my lips. I need to make this awkward example seem feasible in some way, don’t I?

The online dater

For the last of my examples, I’ve decided to move from personal contact to virtual contact. Online dating is something I’ve taken an interest in on two occasions. It’s an experiment as I look for love.

Social awkwardness may not lend itself too well to the idea of trying to strike up a conversation with another singleton when the hopeful outcome is obvious! Perhaps it could be the perfect way to find a partner though, as any small talk could be based on just trying to get to know the person on the other end of messages sent?

Awkward silences may be few and far between?

Trying to find a partner through online dating is a chance I want to take but it’s a nervous one. Taking risks is something I’ve always done though with success and failure coming in equal measure.

Online dating is a project in progress. Maybe the awkward shyness right now will become life-changing happiness? Who knows?

In conclusion

Is social awkwardness a unique autism trait? Or, if you have autism, can you think of similar situations yourself? Would you have handled them differently?

This introductory blog piece has been designed to show while I’m aware of my differences, I know how to embrace them. I think that’s an important thing to do for anybody with autism. Be happy in being you!