Posted by: E (The Third Glance) | February 28, 2014

A Social Skills Dilemma… going to new places

This post isn’t particularly insightful, but since my goal in writing this blog is to show how my brain works on a daily basis and in response to things, I thought I would share something that I’ve been stuck on for a while.

One of my biggest challenges is going somewhere new. This could be a new restaurant, a new theater, a new parking lot, anything really. It doesn’t matter that I’ve been to hundreds of restaurants before. If it is a chain, it doesn’t matter if I’ve been to others in the chain. I will still be supremely nervous about going to and entering a new place. This stems from my poor social skills, and the fact that I have to learn the “acceptable” patterns and interactions. Lets continue with the restaurant theme. First off, some restaurants have multiple doors. Which one do I use? Once I’ve figured out how to get into the building, is it a “seat yourself” or is there a person waiting to seat you? Does this change depending on what time of day it is? Sometimes there are signs or a person standing there to help answer that question, but other times it is ambiguous. Once I’ve been seated, and have a menu – is there food I can eat? If not, how can I modify an existing menu item? And past that, how can I communicate this to the people who will bring me food? And finally, at the end of the meal, do I pay the waiter/waitress, or do I have to take my check up to the counter or register? I have worked very hard to be able to generalize my model of “eat a meal at a restaurant”, but it isn’t easy, and I mess up quite often.

As you can see, there are numerous challenges associated with going to a new place. I’ve been to a restaurant/bar several times now (for various friends goodbye parties), and I’ve never figured out how to order a drink at the bar besides water, which is free. I can’t figure out how it works. I don’t drink, but I really like virgin strawberry daiquiris – it’s basically a strawberry smoothie after all, and I’d love to figure out how to order one. But I digress.

I solve this problem in several ways. When I’m nervous about going to a new place, I try to go with a friend. This way, I can follow their lead. If I’m with someone else, and we mess up the social stuff, that friend usually is able to smooth things over, where I would just melt down on my own. But usually the friend is able to adapt to the new environment very quickly, and I’m a good mimic – I can just follow their lead. I try to challenge myself by occasionally visiting new places on my own, but I find the stress of it is too much most of the time, and I’d rather just stay home. The other way I solve this, is if I know I will be going alone on the day of (for example, many doctors appointments), I do a “practice run” – I’ll drive to the place, find the right doors, etc. a few days before, then I’ll practice the steps in my head until the official run. This isn’t always practical, but it is a way to work around this issue.

This brings me to my newest dilemma… I’ve been wanting to get back into swimming. I did it as a kid during the summers on swim team, and while I was tiny and skinny and would literally turn blue during our dawn practices, I really enjoyed what I was able to do. I’ve been wanting to do some more serious exercise that I can control on my own, and I thought swimming would be a great way to do that. This should be easy. My university has an indoor heated pool that I can use. But the thing is, I don’t know any of the steps to “swimming”, beyond getting in a (hopefully empty) lane and swimming back and forth. And sharing when there are too many people. So things like how to use the locker room. How to get into the locker room is step 1. I think this is easy, I just show my ID. I’ve watched people do this, but some of them don’t, and some do, but only sometimes. Once I’m in the locker room, I assume I can use a locker if I bring my own lock. I’ve read my university’s policy, and it seems that if I use my own lock, I can keep stuff there while I’m swimming, but not overnight. When I walk to the pool, I keep myself wrapped in my towel, right? Or do I put clothes on over my suit?  But then, when I’m done swimming, can I shower? I assume yes. I hope so. Do I wear shower shoes? Again, I assume yes. What do I do with wet bathing suit and towel? I assume I put them in a plastic bag then as soon as I get somewhere that I can, I hang them up to dry so they’re not sitting in a gross bag all day.

I’ve been thinking about swimming early in the mornings for months now. I just need to actually do it. I know that if I had a friend go with me once, I would be able to do it on my own later. But right now there are so many obstacles in my way that I’m too nervous to actually do it. Hopefully I’ll be able to get myself into the locker room at some point and from there, I think I’ll be able to figure things out.

A lot of people assume that autistic people and others with social phobias just don’t want to do new things or interact with other people. While that is true some of the time, quite a lot of the time, it is just the opposite – I want to do something new, I just can’t figure out the steps to do it on my own. It is too daunting to try a brand new social situation completely cold, so I just don’t. I’ve been challenging myself on this whole swimming thing. Maybe now that I’ve written this post, I’ll just do it. It’ll have to wait a few weeks though – I want to do it in the early mornings (the pool is open to lap swimmers 7-8am) since I figure it’ll be less crowded, but right now, my mornings are dictated by labwork, since I’m sharing equipment, and the only time I can use it is before 9:30am. Makes for very early mornings, and I’m not giving up my precious scope time for a major social nightmare.

How do other people handle these sorts of situations?



  1. Reblogged this on Appalachian aspie..

  2. Thank you for this wonderful post. I recognize these dilemma’s and questions very well, when being confronted with new places to go to. I always try to ask lots of questions beforehand, use pictures, street view and if available watch video’s from the particular location. Because just like you said, even though it’s the same chain / company there can be a lot of different things to consider. Going with someone else who’s more flexible definitely helps. Other then that it’s just trying to survive and not being too hard for yourself when things didn’t go as planned. But that’s probably the most difficult thing to do! 🙂

    • Google Street View is my number one go-to resource whenever I need to go to a new place. It helps SO MUCH. Like once, I had to take the bus somewhere, and I scouted the entire route in Street View, so I recognised landmarks on the way and knew where to get off, without having to rely on the name of the stop. It helped that there was a huge Russian Orthodox church right before my stop, though. But I wouldn’t have known that from looking at a map!

      • Exactly, it’s the best invention right after the computer! 🙂 Street View also helps to feel less stressed when on location, because you already are familiar with the surroundings and what you might run into.

  3. I have a lot of the same issues with new places, but had forgotten most of them because I’ve been married 15 years and my husband usually helps with those. I’m still working on getting him to precede me to the table so I’ll know where I’m going.

    Sometimes stuff sneaks up on me. I went to a restaurant with a friend once and decided to go back for lunch a few days later, confident because I’d been there before. But they had changed the menu and taken off the dish I was going to order. There was nothing else I would eat on the menu and I wanted to leave, but it was awful trying to figure out if I should just get up and walk out or if I needed to talk to the waiter and explain why I was leaving. I considered ordering something and not eating it, but then I’d be out the money, still hungry, and feeling foolish. I ended up waiting until the waiter came back and told him that the dish I wanted wasn’t on the menu anymore and then I just kept talking and couldn’t stop. It was so embarrassing.

    Good luck with the swimming. Some places have a machine that you can put your swim suit in from the top and it will spin it around until it’s dry. You just stick it in the hole in the top (no lid to shut or anything) and press a button. I think that’s how you do it, anyway. I watched and then tried it once, but my one-piece suit was too big to fit in.

  4. hello, i get your blog,i have aspergers . i taught myself too swim


    meltdowns will happen,i take part in a lot research from universities .

    married we have 2,boys and 1,girl. i am older than you so been there

    had this happen too me.done that.if you would like to e.mail me ask me

    any thing please do,my e.mail

    mark________________________________ > Date: Sat, 1 Mar 2014 01:37:06 +0000 > To: >

  5. My secret for eating these days is to, if you go to a chain restaurant, ask for an allergy menu. It helps me find the things with milk protein and peanuts so I can avoid them, and every major chain has them. Those who don’t usually the waitstaff will help you pick an item. Some of them I get a bit embarrassed about the level of production they put on about it (i’ve had the cook come out to discuss menu items and their contents with me, which maybe overkill?), but i realize they’re trying to help. And it’s nice. And the smaller places they’re usually really cool too if you say what your allergies are (And if they’re just aversions, they usually won’t know they’re not allergies, so no biggie).

    As for the pool, I wondered a lot of the same thing, but when I joined our YMCA here for the pool, I asked them if they could give me a walkthrough of the pool area and explain how their schedule worked, and they were really accommodating. It may be in part that the people who were handling things were already tuned into special needs (one of the reasons we joined is to teach my son how to swim, because he loves water and has no fear of it, and they had instructors experienced with my son’s needs and were able to give him affordable classes, and now we can all swim together and he loves it. Yay!) but anyway, they were more than happy to show me around, and tell me how the process worked. And when you’re in there for the tour, you can look at what others are doing – like if they bring out a shirt, etc.

  6. When I first went to a yoga class, it was so confusing and anxiety-inducing. Like, what do I do first? Where do I change? Where are all these other people getting their yoga mats from? Can I just sit somewhere or will that offend others? ACK! So I gathered up my courage and went back to the receptionist person, explained to her that I was autistic and needed some help navigating a new situation, and would someone be available to give me a run-through of the entire process. It really helped.

    • What a great idea!!! I think your asking enacts a RIGHT, one which may not often be claimed by those of us on the spectrum (perhaps at times from totally undeserved shame or embarrassment, sometimes just not knowing…), for all people to access public environments. If you were in a wheelchair, you might need someone to tell you where the ramp was; if you had young children, someone should help you find child seats for them…For me, I always knew I had what I called “directional disability” (cannot find my way out of a paper bag), though I did not always know I was on the spectrum. Between that and prosopagnosia I have had some “interesting” situations come up over the years!!! However, now I will say, “You know, I just don’t recognize faces, can you remind me of your name and how we know each other?” or I will say “I have the worst sense of direction…can you tell me where I am? [or what have you]” Also, as others are saying, all the gps and mapping stuff is sooo great. As are friends and partners. But I like @autisticooks “normalizing” impulse. And hey, maybe next time the receptionist person will be there to help YOU, even better, thanks to @autisticook! Love,

  7. This all sounds extremely familiar. Google Street View is a good shout, I use that a lot. @AsparagusGirl first introduced me to the term “Seeing Eye Friends” and this accurately describes the way in which I often need a friend to help me navigate through new places. If neither of these things are possible and I *have* to go to the new place, for example to see a doctor, then I throw myself in, stim like crazy, wear my headphones and give myself plenty of time to recover.

  8. Your article is quite interesting.See I am the motherof a a hfa 11 year old,.I try to help to calm his anxiety as much as I can whenever situations occurr,but anyway I call in advance and explain to whoever or wherever we need to go about my kid´s need to know in advance what is going to happen and yes google helps a lot like on vacation in a new city, hotel room and so on. We live in Mexico so we are not shy to see menus in advance and even ask all that stuff. Something really difficult to handle is other´s people attitude, and how they are going to react. Thanks for sharing.

  9. I tend to just not go places by myself. I make plans to meet people to travel places. I look up menus online before I go places and figure out what I will be eating before I go.

    I’ve waited outside in the snow for half an hour for other people to come to the door of events/get togethers because I didn’t know how to get inside.

    But yeah, the way I try to deal with this is mostly just by going places with people. Or at least new places. Because I’m awful at things like that.

  10. I normally try to have a friend talk me through it once if I can (especially if I know a friend who is familiar with a particular location). I might say “once I get into the pool area, who can I ask to find out where the locker room is? What words do I use to ask that?”. Or I convince a friend to go along with me (and this could work even if your friend wasn’t interested in swimming…they could just accompany you there and then leave).

  11. I have a few Aspi-diagnosed friends, and they seem to like having a role, when they socialize. It was the same with my father, where most of his social life, was doing volunteer work for the local sports club.

    When I quit, his world fell apart, until he understood that he could continue anyway. When he was dying, all his friends from the club came and said goodbye, but it is my guess that they spoke about the future of club then as well.

    One thing that I question, is do what degree one should try to work around a problem, and to what degree one should confront and try to overcome them.

    My father knew small talk was important, and became quite good at it, but I know he used to hate it, as it was one of the problems he talked with us about. We that knew him, knew that the small talk was partly scripted, but I don’t think strangers noticed. He also talked about him taking the planing/organizing role during play as a child, a role he more or less took in any group after that.

    The last years of his life we went on a few holidays, where we just drove around in Sweden and Norway, without planing a head, but it was I that had to ask if hotel had free rooms, because one could not just storm in some unknown place and ask strangers if they had free rooms.

  12. “I ended up waiting until the waiter came back and told him that the dish I wanted wasn’t on the menu anymore and then I just kept talking and couldn’t stop. It was so embarrassing.”

    Aspies and normal people are evolved to live in a society where everybody know everybody, so it was important not to make fool of yourself. So your feeling of embarrassment is common, but normal people talk about how these feeling is not rational, as you live in a world were you don’t know these people. I have had these kind of jobs as a student, and it is not customers like you they look down on. It is the impolite bastards that treat you like dirt, make you run back and forth, and then leave no tip.

    By the way, only psychopaths don’t feel this, and it seems it is mostly Aspies that don’t talk about it as a problem that is common for all people. I don’t understand why, but it might be because Aspies are so used to having problems others don’t have, that they have a hard time understanding that normal people have the same problem, only that they have it to a lesser degree.

  13. You open by saying it’s not insightful…but maybe you don’t realize for an .NT parent struggling to understand the seemingly most mundane explanations of a thought process are immensely helpful. My favorite part of autistic blogs are the comments so I can see hey I do that too, or I don’t but I….and just the dynamics of interaction itself. We can understand the greater concepts but it’s that day to day stuff where we make all our mistakes. So thanks 🙂

  14. People not on the spectrum have much (not all) of the same problems and more so when they travel abroad. I guess they don’t get that nervous about it and if they do they’re better at managing and/or hiding it. If you don’t know whether you’ll be seated: just stand still for a while at the edge of the dining area. Look around, wait until somebody comes to get you or gestures you can go trough. Ten to one you won’t wait long and if you do, so what? Chances are someone else will come after you and will show you how it’s done. Nothing wrong with looking helpless now and again; people have a natural tendency to help. If not fuck them.

  15. Continuing above I’m mostly nt but freak out knocking on someone’s door even if I’m sure it’s the right house :/

  16. For me, I find it really hard to even ask someone for help at times like this. I avoid so many new situations because I don’t know what’s expected, and asking someone would make me feel incredibly vulnerable or exposed or uncomfortable in a way that’s overloading. I admire you for having the courage to tackle the swimming, and I do think it takes courage for some of us.

    • I love the idea of seeing eye friends!

      I am an NT who was incredibly shy into adulthood but often had to travel for business solo to unfamiliar towns and cities.

      I therefore can share a few tips that may be helpful with navigating restaurants, especially if you are in a situation where you don’t have immediate access to a seeing eye friend. (Like any suggestion, not all may apply to you and your results may vary.)

      Whenever possible, call when the restaurant isn’t busy. A hostess is more able to give you the time to ask and answer your questions if you call when the place is slow; by contrast, they will likely be quite abrupt with you if you call on a Friday night at seven pm when there’s a 45 minute wait to get a table.

      Call and ask if they take reservations. If they say yes, then you know that they will seat you.

      The more expensive the restaurant, the more they should (generally) go out of their way to make you feel welcome, especially if you’re dining alone.

      Call and ask what their specials are of the day AND how much each costs: most restaurants don’t include them on their online menus. In addition, many servers will NOT tell you the price of their special unless you ask: I found this out the hard way when I was in California and the delightful sounding special turned out to cost $50 more than I was expecting!

      If you are worried about finding the entrance, go to the restaurant when it’s light out and slowly drive around the parking lot to see where people are entering and exiting.

      Consider eating there the day before your planned outing, when it is less crowded: perhaps during their “early bird special” hours. It will be less noisy and therefore less likely to cause sensory overload when you are trying to get used to the place.

      Hope this helps,
      Recent post:
      Top 10 List: What it’s like to have autism

      • Thanks. But you have to understand for me, the phone call is even worse than just going there in person. I don’t do telephones at all! And good to know about the price of specials! I wouldn’t have ever guessed, but I almost never go to fancy restaurants that have specials or cost more than ~$20 per meal, unless I’m with my university and they’re paying…

      • Hey E, I can’t exactly put myself in your shoes regarding your apprehension with phone calls, but I can relate as when I was a younger adult I often would use page long emails to avoid a two minute phone call that could’ve resolved the issue. One thing that helped me to go from incredibly shy to a socially comfortable extrovert was to put myself in situations where I could practice a given social situation *A LOT*. I have probably gone on over 50 job interviews in the past twenty years, from meeting with HR recruiters and the hiring manager, to rapid fire interview questioning by a committee of four or five people, to full day interviews with hiring managers, their boss, and future co-workers. At this point, I actually enjoy the interview process because I’ve already been asked every possible question, so there’s no surprises to worry about. I’ve heard good things about this group,, from an Aspie who’s used them, and they just started offering social tutoring via Skype.

  17. I have similar problems. I drive and having to buy gas is scary for me. We have one full service station in our area. That is where I go. If I really have to go to a regular self serve station, it takes me a long time to figure it out. Now I have a new car and have to try to go to a car wash. I’m thinking of just doing the coin wash-there are videos for how to use it on-line. I also have problems with restaurants, new places etc.

  18. Hi E. As a more-or-less NT person, I want to say you worry too much. On the other hand, as the parent of an autistic child, I know your worries about going new places are very real. As a man, I can tell you that my objective in a locker room when I’m going swimming is to get in, do what I need to do, and get out. I’m just not a social person in the locker room. I don’t know how ladies act in the locker room, so my advice may not work for you, but… Just get into the locker room, do what you need to do, and get on to your next destination, whether that’s the pool or somewhere else.

    As for whether to wrap yourself in a towel or not when going between the locker room and the pool, do what feels comfortable to you. Most people are not going to notice whether you’re wrapped in a towel or not – I think you’ll find that people do both. Don’t wear clothes over your suit at this stage – that kind of defeats the purpose of the locker room as a changing area. Can you shower when you’re done swimming? Absolutely. Do you have to? That’s a personal preference. Should you wear shower shoes if you shower? Probably. It reduces your chances of getting exposed to athlete’s foot if you do. If you’re anything like my autistic child, you hate being itchy. As for the bathing suit/towel thing, I usually lay the towel out flat, put the bathing suit at one end in the middle. Fold the sides in to the middle, then roll up starting with the end with the bathing suit. Toss it in a plastic bag and when you get somewhere you can hang it up, do that to let it dry.

    Good luck with the swimming thing. Just do it! 🙂 You’ll be glad you did, and once you’ve done it a few times, you won’t worry so much about what to do, because you’ll know how to do it.

    • Thanks! Yes, I’m sure I worry too much, but at the same time, I don’t want to do something supremely stupid accidentally. I’ve gotten a solution, though – my friend and I are going together, and he knows the system. While I won’t have a locker room buddy, I do have explicit instructions and I’ll have a friend to be with the whole time outside of the locker room to guide. He’s quite happy to guide, and understands my limitations. Now if only the pool weren’t closed for spring break!

  19. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences and thought processes. I found your blog (and have been reading voraciously) because my 3-year-old was recently diagnosed with ASD and all of it has been helpful — but this post made me laugh and click “comment” because it describes me so well!

    I am (as far as I know) NT but I like to know exactly what to expect and am hyperaware of what other people *might* think if I don’t follow what I’m “supposed to” do. The last time my husband and I went out to a fancy restaurant, I researched online for days beforehand about all the details, like whether this particular restaurant had a coat check and whether or not to tip the coat check person.

    So, yeah, I think I’m just commenting because in this way we must be kindred spirits or something…

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