I’m currently working with a high functioning adolescent with Asperger’s Syndrome. She is often hurt or disappointed when people do not react the way she would want them to in social situations. Most often, these situations are severe, so reworking her expectations and perceptions of others has been useful. But today she made a comment that people who are not on the spectrum often make too. I wonder why we can’t make more of a change in our society about common friendliness.
My client declared today, “People don’t say hello back, people don’t smile at each other, people don’t even look at each other.” This is a generalization I hear many people complain about, but one that is hard to change because it is so ingrained in this east coast suburban culture. I was honest with her. I told her that I’ve heard other people say that too. But what is important is how it makes her feel, so we continued to focus on expectations, perceptions, and nonverbal cues she could use to ascertain how people might react to a friendly greeting or smile.
Today was a good reminder about common friendliness and how far it can go, how much it might change someone’s mood or the course of someone’s day. For all the times that my client has misread people’s intentions and cues, I think she made a great point today about the basics of human interactions, interactions that we can improve for all people, not just those who struggle socially.
Kristy L. Carlisle is a school counselor and a mental health counselor in training at Rider University. Her interests include protecting children from cyber-bullying and from food addiction.