The recent study “Being vs. Appearing Socially Uninterested: Challenging Assumptions about Social Motivation in Autism,” and the resulting New York Times article, got me thinking about the value we place on socializing. The article does a good job, I think, on telling non-autistic audiences that we are just as human as they are. That autistic people need to be met halfway just like anyone else. That our body language and communication and social interests displaying differently than others does not mean it is lesser.
So I don’t really have a bone to pick with that. Mostly, I just got to thinking about the immense value we place on socializing in the first place. There is, of course, an expectation that people should engage in socialization. And to an extent I think most or all people want and need it. But sometimes I remember that I was fine in elementary school before I acquired any friends I had frequent contact with, and I was really happy by myself. All the time. Reading books, writing stories, playing outside in make-believe, playing with my beanie babies. I wasn’t actually particularly wrapped up in social relationships until the third grade. Even then, it was the teacher who decided I needed company and sent another third-grader over.
And even now, I definitely have more friends than I used to. But I am often only interested in socializing within a certain circle of people. Small talk is the bane of my existence. I don’t really engage in lengthy conversations with acquaintances, even. I crave social interaction – but I mostly want to socialize with the people I feel most comfortable with.
I know socialization helps people relate to and care about each other, most likely. I find it easy to still care about someone even if we don’t talk much. That doesn’t make me unique or better, it’s just how I work. I do understand there is value in socialization as a tool for compassion. But just because someone really isn’t interested in socializing doesn’t mean a person is bad. Less socially interested people have equal value to more socially interested people. We have the ability to be compassionate. We are still full human beings.