The High School Survival Guide for Aspies, Part One
In order to survive in high school, appearing non-threatening is the most important quality to possess. It is more important than being smart or being funny (which are respectively the second and third most important qualities). If you manage to possess all three, you’ll probably have an exceptionally easy high school career. But in order to go to high school without being harassed, bullied, afraid, or feared, learning how to appear non-threatening is vital. Most of the following sections deal explicitly with how to appear non-threatening. Some sections deviate from this goal in order to focus on other survival issues.
-Don’t initiate conversation. Wait until people approach you. When someone greets you, say hello, smile and let them guide the interaction. If they ask you any question, give them as little information as possible while still answering their question. Outside of group assignments, neurotypicals do not socialize to exchange information. They socialize because they enjoy interacting with other people. Keep this in mind.
-In a new group social situation, keep quiet and watch and listen to see what behaviour is appropriate in that situation. People won’t hold it against you if you don’t say much. But people will hold it against you if you say the wrong thing.
-If someone challenges you based on a social misstep you have made, shake your head, smile, and say, “I’m sorry, I’m really out of it today.” If they aren’t satisfied with that, you’ve probably really screwed up. Talk with a trustworthy adult about things you can say in the event of a major social misstep. Neurotypicals make social missteps, too. It’s part of being human. Don’t be too hard on yourself.
-If a peer wants to have an actual conversation with you, let them do the bulk of the talking. If they’re talking about something serious, make sure your facial expression is serious. If they’re talking about something not serious, then smile. Practise facial expressions in the mirror at home. Ask for feedback from a family member whose input you trust. Look up “active listening” on Wikipedia, and follow the guidelines laid out in the article. Practise active listening with a family member whose input you trust. If you do not have a family member you can practise with, ask someone in the special education department at your school for input. If you have an E.A. and a positive relationship with your E.A., ask them for input.
-Do not offer opinions on social issues. If someone asks for your opinion on a social issue, say, “I don’t know a lot about that. What do you think?” When they explain their opinion, put on a serious face and actively listen to them.
-If possible, obtain a copy of the book “Culture Shock! Canada: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette”. Discuss the book with someone whose input you trust.
-Do not touch people who are not family members. When you are standing next to someone and talking to them, quickly measure the distance between you and them with your eyes and ensure it is approximately arm’s length.
-Many of the more important tips about body language are included in the section on conversation, because that’s when body language should be most carefully considered.
-Physical appearance shouldn’t matter. In a perfect world, everyone would be accepted for who they are on the inside. This is not a perfect world. You have to maintain your appearance if you don’t want to be rejected or ridiculed.
-Make sure your clothes are in good condition, looking approximately how they looked in the store.
-Hygiene is extremely important. Make sure your hair and body are clean. Shower once a day. Apply deodorant every morning. If you are female you will have to shave your armpits and legs, because we live in a society which makes arbitrary rules about these things.
-I do not recommend wearing scents of any kind- no perfume or cologne. It adds an unnecessary dynamic to an already complicated situation, and is simply one more thing to worry about. So don’t worry about it, and avoid scents completely.
-Unless you have a member of your immediate family who is willing to show you how to properly apply makeup, I would not recommend wearing makeup.
-Ask a member of your immediate family for advice regarding clothes. Ideally, they should be younger than forty but older than you, and the closer to your age, the better. If you have a close friend who appears to know how to dress well, ask them for advice. Pay attention to how your classmates are dressed (without staring at them) and try to find clothes that are in a similar style.
-Once you find a pair of pants you like, buy more pairs- if you can afford it- ideally in different colours.
-The above advice won’t lead you to make any friends. It will only help you survive. If you decide that making friendships is a priority, then you will need a slightly different set of guidelines. You’ll have to put yourself out there and risk rejection, but that’s life.
-When it comes right down to it, you don’t need friends in the plural. It’s valuable to have even one person to hang out with and talk to. The question is, how should you go about finding someone who is non-judgemental and interested in being around you?
-The following is a list of certain kinds of people who are more likely to be non-judgemental. I do not guarantee that all the people you encounter who belong on this list are non-judgemental, but I believe there is a higher chance that they are less likely to be petty and cruel. That’s the best I can offer.
When approaching these people, do not mention the distinguishing characteristics that led you to approach them. It will offend them, and as a result they may not want to be friends with you.
-People who have Asperger’s Syndrome, or people who have symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome.
-People who seem socially awkward.
-Males who date males, or females who date females.
-Males who dress in clothes/colours that are usually worn by females.
-Females who dress in clothes that are usually worn by males.
-People who are visibly disabled.
-People with learning disabilities.
-People who wear clothes that most people don’t wear.
-People who seem to be alone most of the time.
-Punks. Goths. Metalheads. Stoners (if anyone offers you drugs, say no thanks. Most stoners don’t have a problem with people who don’t do drugs. If they do have a problem with it, then forget about them)
-People with serious acne.
-People with visible, permanent medical problems.
-People who are obese.
-People who are new at your school.
-There are two ways to approach people:
1. If they’re in your class, you can start a conversation about some aspect of class. Ask them about an assignment, or a test, or what they think about the class, or the teacher. Make sure the other person is contributing equally (or more) to the conversation. If they’re not, allow the conversation to end.
2. If they’re not in your class, find them in the cafeteria during lunch and ask if you can sit at their table. Ask them one question about themselves that isn’t too personal: for instance, you could ask what grade they’re in, or what classes they’re taking, or what they’re doing/have done during an upcoming (or just passed) holiday. After they respond, answer the same question yourself. Make sure your reply is approximately the same length and in the same detail as theirs. Make sure the other person is contributing equally (or more) to the conversation. If they’re not, allow the conversation to end.
-If the exchange seems to have gone well, approach them in the same way one or two days later. Remember that people love talking about themselves. At the same time, don’t ask too many personal questions, and make sure that the personal questions you do ask won’t lead to uncomfortable places. For instance, asking about their involvement in extra-curricular activities is appropriate, because it is a subject matter they will find fun and interesting. Asking about their families is not, because their family life might be conflicted or painful.