When I’m with same-age friends, I often end up being the one who interacts with the ‘adults’ and strangers on behalf of the group. It’s usually me who talks to the person at the checkout, or the waiter, or whoever seems to be in charge and know what they’re doing.
It’s strange, because I’m not very good at interacting with people. I can’t really keep up with smalltalk or start a conversation with a friend. And yet I’m much better at those kinds of stranger interactions than my peers.
I think it’s to do with scripting. For a lot of autistic people, scripting is important. It lets us plan out what needs to be said, and prepare for all eventualities. We can use scripts to make sure we know the right thing to say in a certain situation. I’m good at purposeful conversation with strangers because I’m good at scripting. I plan what I need to say and make sure I get my point across with the most efficiency.
But I’m bad at non-purposeful social interactions, for the same reason. When there’s not a specific piece of information that needs to be exchanged, it’s impossible to plan out the interaction. What am I supposed to say? How do I say it? What do I expect them to say in response? It’s a nightmare.
Neurotypical people my age are generally good at that stuff. They seem to like improvising and playing with social dances and games. But because they’re good at that, they also tend to be bad at scripting – because they don’t generally need it. So when they do need to have a functional interaction, it’s difficult – because their usual social skills are less relevant. Tactical dishonesty and subtlety is not very useful when trying to get a specific message across.
I always used to be confused when my outgoing friends became suddenly shy and awkward when trying to interact with a stranger like a cashier or waiter. Over time I learned that their social skills were better suited to social relationships. While mine are better suited to functional interactions.
I think this is quite an interesting example of how autistic people don’t have worse social skills, but just different skills.