How to Navigate Awkward Social Situations with Autism

Awkward, or as we like to call it “au-kward”, situations come in all shapes and sizes. They can be big or small, loud or silent, seen or unseen. Sometimes there is no predicting an au-kward moment with autism, making them more challenging than most.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that these moments are unavoidable. Even typical awkward moments are impossible to avoid! What matters is your approach when dealing with combating the situation and the mindset you keep.

Consider this scenario: my sister Emma is a flinger. She flings anything she can get her hands on – the problem is we never know WHEN it’s going to happen.

One day when we were much younger, we went out to lunch at a restaurant that had outdoor seating. Emma must have felt that this gave her some kind of permission to fling things, because right when she got her fries, she took one, wound up, and flung it as hard as she could over her head, backwards. All of us paused in shock not knowing where the fry landed, waiting to see the outcome.

Turns out it landed smack in the middle of the salad belonging to the man sitting behind us. He turned around and we braced ourselves for the looks of disapproval and frustrated comments, but he BURST out laughing! He couldn’t contain himself –he thought it was the funniest thing that had happened to him all summer. We exchanged some laughs and short explanations and went on with our lunch.

Moral of the story: don’t sweat it. Au-kward situations happen to the best of us. For times that you need a little navigating, here are some of my tips:

  • Laugh it off. Sometimes if you’re the one trying to hide whatever is happening, people will automatically feel tense and irritated. If you laugh and keep it light, most likely it will roll off their shoulders.
  • Keep distractions handy. For those times when the au-kward situation seems never ending, YouTube on an iPad is your BEST FRIEND.
  • Have a short and sweet “explanation” thought out in your head. My go-to line for my sisters is usually something like, “Hi guys, sorry to interrupt, she has autism and is easily overwhelmed. This is just her way of coping.” You don’t need to get into detail, just enough to define the situation.
  • If someone is really irritated by what’s happening, start with your “explanation”. If that’s not enough and they’re still on your case, don’t go into attack mode (although it can VERY be tempting at times). It’s ok to come to terms with the fact that some on-lookers just won’t accept au-kward situations for what they are. At that point, that’s their problem. I like to smile, nod, and move on.

Au-kward moments make life interesting. Whoever can’t handle it must just be boring.

If you have an au-kward moment, learn how to share your personal story with us and submit! We love learning from you.