Trying to fit in with the wrong crowd

I want to share with you a conversation I had recently with someone that isn’t even on the Autism Spectrum, but as you read, I want you to think about how it relates… because this was advice that I had given her as if she was on the spectrum.

Her story

She is a young woman, mother of two and very loving. She’s never understood other parents who are eager to get their children on the bus to school or off to daycare in order to have a break because she’s always valued her time with her children so much that being apart from them never felt like a break.

She was always great at school, always had a good job and always took her responsibilities very highly. Even so, she still loved to get out into the great outdoors, do hiking, camping and even had her hand in a bunch of sports.

Since having children though, she’s given most of that up for the sake of her children, not that they need her that much, just that she’d rather spend time with them than to be out doing other things.

The crowd

The friends and family she has are quite a bit more carefree than she is. That is to say, they enjoy getting their breaks from their children. It’s not that they don’t love their children, and all children too, as much, it’s just that they also value their freedom.

As such, the crowd tends to go out, drink a lot, party it up and endure the hangover the next day. They are more inclined to find ways to get their children out of the house to make sure that they can be as loud and obnoxious as they can be without affecting the children. Again, they love the kids and they’re really not obnoxious but they have the freedom to be if they so choose without children being there.

The problem

One night, the woman found herself quite down on herself as she pondered her own short comings. She was boring. She was no fun. She was a square.

She began to realize that she didn’t like partying, she didn’t like drinking and she certainly didn’t like being obnoxious. She tried her best to go out dancing with the crowd and she did her best to have fun with them. However, most of the time, she didn’t drink, she didn’t try to have conversations over the very loud music and she didn’t want to stay out too late because her children would be up early the next morning.

She felt like a loser.

Meanwhile, the crowd felt weighed down by her. They depended on her to do the driving, they depended on her to be a part of the high spirits of the evening. And no matter how much she danced or sang or got obnoxious… she was never really one of them. She never quite fit in.

She knew it, they knew it.

You can’t fit a square peg into a round hole

Square Peg in a Round HoleThe reality of the situation is that she doesn’t fit in with the crowd. They like it loud, they like to come home late and they like to be carefree. That isn’t her.

That’s not to say she isn’t fun. As I said, she has her hobbies and activities and she actually does drink. She just likes to drink in a quieter setting where she can talk to the people she’s with…. at a time where she can still get some sleep before her children wake up.

They value their freedom, their drinks, their late nights and their loud music. That’s fun to them. It’s not fun to her… yet she tries. She tries so hard.

Yet no matter how hard she tries, she feels like a loser. She feels like she can’t have fun, she feels like she’s boring.

Is she who she thinks she is?

Think about this. What happens if she finds another crowd that actually enjoys doing what she enjoys doing? Will she still see herself as boring?

See, what’s happening is that she’s trying to have fun doing what she thinks is not fun, in order to fit into a crowd that doesn’t fit her.

She’s altering who she is to fit who they are and rather than becoming what she wants to become, she’s depressing herself because she’s not that person. In the process, she loses who she is. She’s not them, she’s not herself… she doesn’t feel like she fits in anymore. That’s a lonely and dark place to be.

When you try to fit in with the wrong crowd, no matter how hard you try, you become someone you’re not. Either you succeed and you’re doing things you don’t enjoy or you fail and you’re unable to do the things you don’t enjoy… either way, you are left feeling like a shell of a person.

How does this relate to Autism?

More and more, we try to “integrate” Autistics into “normal” classes and “normal” society… we teach our children the mannerisms, what certain expressions mean, how to behave in certain situations and so on and so forth but for the most part, we have to remember that what we’re doing is helping them to fit into the wrong crowd.

That’s not to say that I know what is or isn’t the “right” crowd, but I do know that those people with Autism that are unable to tell what others are thinking or feeling are very rarely going to feel like they fit into which ever crowd they may find themselves in.

When they say that depression is common among those with Autism, you have to realize what it is that we’re not only asking of them, but trying to force on them.

The woman that I talked to was simply doing her best to fit in with people that weren’t the right people for her… she may be unaware of why she’s becoming depressed but she’s still doing it willingly.

With Autism, we’ve given most of them no choice. It’s fit in or you don’t belong.

Can you imagine how hard that is??

We can’t stop helping our children and loved ones with Autism to “fit in.” They do need to be able to navigate the world on their own but we have to remember what it is that we’re asking them to do.

The woman in the story can learn where she’s going wrong and adjust her own search parameters to find the crowd that better suits her.

My son can’t.

The only alternative to help the woman, and my son (all those with Autism) is to help them be comfortable with who they are. To help them to fit in still, but to understand why they don’t quite fit the mold as well or as easily as others do and to be content with themselves despite that.

Recognize why the crowd looks at them differently and why they look at the crowd differently and be happy with themselves despite that. Accept the crowd and the crowds differences as the crowd accepts theirs.

Square pegs don’t fit into round holes. Don’t stress yourself or depress yourself in trying. Be happy with who you are.

When you do understand it and accept it, you’ll feel better about yourself, the crowd will feel better about you and even though it still won’t quite feel right, it’ll be a whole lot better.

About Stuart Duncan

My name is Stuart Duncan, creator of http://www.stuartduncan.name. My oldest son (Cameron) has Autism while my younger son (Tyler) does not. I am a work from home web developer with a background in radio. I do my very best to stay educated and do what ever is necessary to ensure my children have the tools they need to thrive. I share my stories and experiences in an effort to further grow and strengthen the online Autism community and to promote Autism Understanding and Acceptance.

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6 Responses to Trying to fit in with the wrong crowd

  1. C. S. Wyatt May 17, 2011 at 4:10 pm #

    Well stated.

    We have elevated extroversion to the “norm” even though it isn’t — probably because the extroverts are so dominant in any discussions about what is “healthy” and “normal” socially. The notion that introversion might not be abnormal, might not be a sign of depression or isolation, is something extroverts do not naturally grasp.

    Introverts and extroverts are different. Too often, we don’t want to accept even that basic truth of human nature. Autism need not be a part of the discussion: my wife is an introvert, and brilliant, but in the 1970s the school system determined she needed to be held back to “grow socially” when she was academically far ahead. Apparently, social skills matter more than intellect in our society.

    Of course, I’d describe most K6 teachers as extroverts. They don’t seem to “get” introverted children.

  2. Mary May 17, 2011 at 4:19 pm #

    Thank you for writing this! I love and accept my son for who he is, but always feel some subtle pressure to coach him how to fit in better socially. Yet we have the most fun when my son and his friend, who also has autistm, go off and ride bikes and play at the playground and have a picnic and just be who we really are. So good to know that this is OK!

    It ties back to that other question.. if there was an autism ‘cure’ would I want my son to take it? It would be largely his decision.. but for me the answer would be no. He’s unique and wonderful just as he is.

    Self-awareness comes into this as well. Do we sit down with our children and explain to them that they have autism, and that’s why they sometimes feel different than other children? Or do we let them figure this out on their own? And if we do have a talk, at what age is it best to do that? Interested to know other’s opinions on this.

  3. Bridget May 17, 2011 at 5:26 pm #

    With my son, I’ve only worked on the land mines of social interaction. He’s had therapy for physical issues, but no social classes, etc. My own experience says you can’t fake that stuff and feel good about yourself at the same time. The result is a clearly autistic 11yo with a circle of four or five good friends and no concern for if he’s poplar or normal. I think that’s about what we all want for our kids.

  4. Sharon May 17, 2011 at 6:20 pm #

    This is very much how I feel about my son. He is only two so we have a long way to go but I only see his therapy as a means to give him the skills necessary to thrive, not to change who he is, and not to make him ‘act normal’. This is going to bring me into conflict with our therapists from time to time. I have already had to sit one of them down to explain I am not aiming for ‘normal’ beuause he isnt, and I am OK with that. I want to honour that. I want my son growing up feeling happy in his skin, not struggling to fit in all the time.

  5. Brian May 17, 2011 at 8:12 pm #

    As a parent of an autistic boy and an EC teacher, this makes a lot of sense. The students with autism that are not mainstreamed often seem happier than the ones who are. This analogy helps put it into words. I think the goal is to prepare for after school is done, more than school.

  6. Angel G May 18, 2011 at 10:22 am #

    I think it’s high time that we, meaning society as a whole, accepted the fact that people are who they are. Introvert, extrovert – it doesn’t matter. One is no worse nor no better than the other. The world needs both.

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