How I Improved My Social Skills

Since I wasn’t diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder until I was 20, that meant two decades of struggling and struggling particularly when it came to social skills. But despite finding socialising awkward and stressful, no one ever thought much of it. At most, I was labelled extremely shy. The idea that I was autistic simply did not exist – I didn’t behave according to the stereotype so it was just never considered. But still I struggled. So I thought I’d share how I coped with that and what strategies I employed to make socialising easier. Hopefully they’ll be helpful to some of you. Having said this, these are very specific to my experience, the areas in which I function better, and the areas I find more difficult so they won’t necessarily apply to everyone. But I thought I’d share them just in case, just in case one person finds one example helpful.


As I said, I found social skills very difficult to make sense of as a child and teenager. I found it difficult to process and participate in conversations, for example, making friendships and school relationships potential minefields. So, to compensate, I paid great attention to how other people behaved and interacted, analysing and cataloguing it until I had somewhat of an internal database to draw from. Having said that, I don’t think it’s as simple as just copying other people, at least not for everybody; for me, I think the fact that I’ve always done a lot of writing has had a significant impact on my speaking abilities: it taught me a lot about language, about the flow of words, etc. In a sense, it was like practicing social interaction by myself.

There is definitely an element of ‘masking’ (artificially ‘performing’ social behaviour that is deemed to be more ‘neurotypical’ or hiding behaviour that might be viewed as socially unacceptable) when around people but that’s something I want to talk about in a separate, more in depth post. This is not a post that will teach you to mask (something that can be helpful in certain circumstances but become detrimental over extended periods of time); it’s a post containing some tips and tricks that, over the years, I’ve found to be helpful in make socialising less stressful.

Diagnosed as a teenager and older, it can be very difficult to find support and strategies as most of the information is dedicated to young autistic children and the parents of autistic children. So, for those of us diagnosed later, we’re forced to learn how to cope in social situations by ourselves. These are some of the things I personally did to improve my social skills…

  • Eye contact – I’m still not very good at eye contact because it makes me feel so vulnerable and overwhelmed, like the other person can see what’s going on behind my eyes or like I’ll be able to see all that’s going on behind theirs. So mostly I rely on short bursts before looking at something ‘relevant’: my drink if we’re at a cafe or the ground if we’re walking, for example. But if I really do need to make eye contact with someone for longer than feels comfortable, I use the strategy of looking at a particular feature on their face so it still looks like I’m looking at them. I want to make that connection that eye contact creates (and I want that for the other person too) but sometimes it’s just too overwhelming and this seems to be the next best option.
  • Making conversation with people – I find meeting new people really hard: they don’t know anything about me and I don’t know anything about them. How do you understand someone when you don’t know what makes them who they are? But then I also feel kind of suffocated by all of that information. As you can imagine, it’s a pretty overwhelming situation. So, as a teenager, I started developing a script for starting conversations, a way of breaking the ice that proved to work well. I tell the person I want to talk to something I like about what they’re wearing or doing (if they’re drawing, for example) and ask them a question about it. As human beings, we like to talk about things that matter to us or that we’re passionate about and most of the time, this method sparks the beginning of a conversation, which makes continued interaction easier as you now have a positive foundation.
  • Official conversations with unknown people – I find conversations with, for example, people in authority positions pretty challenging so I’ll often spend time beforehand, running through possible different branches of the conversation, ordering my thoughts in areas that are likely to come up, and generally making sure I’m clear about the information I want to get across and/or the questions I want to ask. That preparation makes the conversations easier and less overwhelming and ultimately lead to a more positive outcome. I (or my Mum) have, in the past, contacted whoever it is that I need to speak with to find out what sort of information is likely to come up if I’m unsure so that I can prepare and most have willingly laid out how the appointment or meeting etc will likely take place.
  • Allow yourself to take a backseat in conversations – It’s perfectly okay to not be an active participant in social interactions all of the time; it’s okay to be a part of conversations without being (one of) the main contributors. If the topic being discussed is confusing or emotionally charged or you’re feeling drained, there’s no rule that says you have to engage. It’s perfectly fine to sit out for a bit of the conversation and rejoin when you feel comfortable or like you have something to offer.
  • Disclose your Autism if you feel comfortable doing so – I can only speak from my experience but I’ve found that people are a lot more likely to overlook my social stumbles or support me through social interactions if they understand the basis of them, as well as making sure they’re clear about what they’re saying and the emotions behind it. I’ve also found it can strengthen friendships to share about your Autism but this is obviously a judgement call and a very personal one at that.
  • Let people in – Similar to the above point, sharing your way or the ways you’ve developed to communicate can be really important and create a really strong connection within a friendship. So, if you’ve developed your own way of describing things (the way I talk about production in music and how a song can have too much of a particular colour, for example), explain it to them if they ask what you’re talking about. Sharing things like this can add something special to a friendship, or any kind of relationship.

I spent the majority of my life stumbling awkwardly through social interactions but once I discovered that it was due to being autistic, I felt a lot less self conscious about it because I understood where it was coming from. And while I can’t and don’t intend to speak for anyone but myself, I’ve had very few negative reactions to disclosing my ASD in social situations. The majority of people are, at most, curious and want to understand; many people barely react. But the fact that many of the people I talk to know that I struggle socially and may mess up (and sometimes fall spectacularly on my face) is comforting. I don’t have to worry about what they’ll think of me. I’m still me, whether I’m articulate or flat on my face.

Staying Creative in Lockdown

During the first lockdown, I really struggled to be creative but eventually, I accepted it (as much as I could) because the pandemic was new and scary and I was just trying to take things day by day. The pandemic is, of course, still scary and disruptive, at the very least. But I’m back at university now and I need to be productive and creative and write songs so I thought I’d try and create a list of things that might help with that. And hopefully they’ll help you too. There may be a songwriting slant to these ideas but I do want to try and make sure that they’re applicable to as many creative disciplines as possible.


  • TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF – We all know that it’s difficult to be productive and focussed if you’re physically struggling. So try and make sure you’re getting enough sleep, food, exercise, and water. They may not be actively involved in the creative process but it’s a lot harder to engage in anything when your body isn’t functioning properly.
  • CREATE A SCHEDULE WITH ALLOTTED TIME FOR YOUR CREATIVE PURSUIT – Some people work really well to a tight schedule and if you’re one of them, set yourself a specific amount of time at a particular point in the day to work on your creative project. If you’re not a strict timetable person, perhaps try it out but with a looser approach. Think about the time of day when you usually feel most creative and productive and each day, sit down and try to work on your project or skill. It doesn’t have to be for a pre-set period of time, it’s just about giving yourself a regular prompt so that the time doesn’t just pass you by.
  • SET YOURSELF LITTLE GOALS – Setting yourself small goals that are relatively easy to achieve is a good, gentle way of getting out of that ‘stuck’ place and back into a creative mindset. That sense of achievement can really help with your motivation and so it’s easier to keep going and keep creating. And over time, those goals can get bigger and they won’t feel impossible to achieve.
  • CHALLENGE YOURSELF WITH PROMPTS OR CHALLENGES – Sometimes our thinking gets stuck in repetitive patterns and shaking things up with a challenge or a prompt (here, here, and here are some good ones for songwriters) can divert our thinking and inspire new thoughts and ideas to pursue. I often find with challenges (thirty day challenges, for example, with a prompt every day) that the majority of things I produce don’t go further than the day of their creation but then I’m really proud of a handful of the raw pieces that I go on to turn into songs, poetry, etc that I never would’ve thought to write otherwise.
  • COLLABORATE – A second voice in the process can, again, push you in a different direction, away from the paths you would naturally take and into new creative territory. Another person can act as a sounding board, challenge your ideas and thought processes, provide insight that you might not have considered working alone, and offer encouragement if you lose confidence. Working with another person can be really scary to start with but it can be really galvanising. And working with someone you really click with creatively can result in the most amazing art.
  • TRY LEARNING FROM THOSE WHO PRACTICE YOUR CRAFT – We all practice our craft uniquely, from the slightest difference to a completely different approach. Reading up (or watching documentaries, interviews, etc) into how different people work can give you an insight into different approaches, as well as a new perspective on your own. Both looking into those who work similarly to you and those who work differently can be helpful; I think it just depends on what you’re looking for and what you’re feeling restricted by.
  • TRY AN ONLINE COURSE (IF YOU HAVE THE TIME/FUNDS) – Having a structure with assignments and guidance can be really motivating and just get you into the groove of creating again if you’ve gotten stuck. Sometimes your own internal motivation isn’t quite enough and you need some outside pressure to kickstart your creative engine again. There are plenty of courses (especially online, what with the pandemic preventing face to face courses at the present moment) and classes that are designed with particular creative pursuits in mind. And, of course, if you’re looking for a more personalised, self paced approach, YouTube is full of videos with advice on just about everything.
  • READ OR WATCH SOMETHING NEW – I’ve recently become a big fan of this as a source of inspiration. Many of us use our real life experiences when creating but that has been much more difficult since the pandemic began and our lives shrunk down into these tiny bubbles. Fiction can inspire all sorts of new ideas, whether they spark old thoughts or memories to re-explore, provide an escape into a different life, or trigger a whole new project through a specific moment or sentence. There’s so much potential inspiration right there waiting. And even if you don’t get a specific idea from watching a new movie, for example, there’s so much to learn from the pacing, colouring, atmosphere of a scene that you can apply to your artistic discipline, even if it isn’t a visual one.
  • TRY SOMETHING NEW – Trying something new is scientifically proven to increase your creativity because it presents new challenges that stimulate our creative brain. Just within your discipline, a new project or style presents you with new challenges for you to explore and overcome, forcing you to problem solve and expand your thinking. You could go even further by trying a completely new creative discipline or hobby and see where it leads you and what ideas it sparks.
  • CHANGE UP WHO YOU’RE FOLLOWING ON SOCIAL MEDIA – Most of us look at social media everyday and if the things you’re seeing are triggering negative emotions, it could be helpful to unfollow them and remove that influence from your life. And try looking for new people to follow, people who post content that makes you feel good, inspires you, and motivates you; a specific post or just the influx of new, different content could inspire new creative ideas.

So hopefully some of these tips are somewhat helpful to all of us. Being creative and making art, as a career or for the sheer enjoyment, are more important than ever in these difficult times. So even when it gets hard, don’t give up. Try something new, look for inspiration elsewhere, or take a break. Do whatever you need to do to support your ability to create.

EXTRA NOTE: Here are several articles that I read while writing this post that I found to be really interesting and potentially useful resources: (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)

The DSA Process For My Masters Degree

Since the academic year is starting up again, I thought I’d write about my experience with getting support for my Masters Degree as a disabled student. The DSA (Disabled Student Allowance) process can be very difficult so, having been through it twice now, I thought I’d share my experience. I don’t know if I’ve had a good, bad, or typical experience but I thought that simply putting the experience out there might be helpful to anyone at the beginning of this process, to give them an idea of what may happen down the line. As I’ve already said, it’s difficult and tiring but that’s not to say that I would discourage someone from applying. I was just very naive going into it the first time and was blindsided by how complicated and stressful it was; I’m lucky to have had help going through this both times. Having support from sources such as DSA can be hugely beneficial but I wouldn’t want anyone going into the application process unaware so I thought I’d share my experience as I haven’t seen many accounts of the whole process…

I wrote about my first assessment in great detail here, so I suggest reading that but I’ll also sum it up here to make sure I’m sharing the full experience in one place. So… That first assessment was a complete disaster. The assessor was perfectly nice but when we got to discussing what support DSA was willing to offer me, it went downhill fast. They would offer me a laptop, but not one with an operating system required to run the programs I needed for my course because apparently that was a course specific need rather than a disability specific need despite the fact that I – a disabled student – needed them to do my course. They wouldn’t offer me any travel support towards commuting because I’d ‘chosen’ to live at home when I actually had to live at home because of my disabilities. And they have no direct contact with the universities themselves so they couldn’t offer any support through them. So, essentially, they weren’t going to offer me anything because my needs didn’t fit their guidelines, because my disability didn’t fit with their idea of disability. It was hugely frustrating and distressing and I left in tears. I felt completely let down and abandoned.

By the end of the assessment, I was so utterly distressed that the assessor told us that we could appeal, which we did. The second assessment was with a different person, a really lovely woman called Rebecca, and was much longer and in much more depth. We went through everything again in minute detail: from the necessary computer specifications to the exact details of an average university day’s travel. She went through all the possibilities and all the potential outcomes, as well as the potential roadblocks and the reasonings behind them. It was a lot of information but I did leave feeling more hopeful; I really felt like she was on the case, like she was really committed to helping me get as much support as possible. Her report went through several different people before reaching a senior SFE (Student Finance England). It was initially rejected but then, when we provided them with documentation proving I receive PIP (Personal Independence Payment), they changed their minds and granted me a new laptop, software and apps to help with my lectures, independent study, and mental health, and mentoring through the National Autistic Society (although it seems that, due to the pandemic, this service no longer exists). I didn’t get any support for the travel but I’m grateful for what I did get, plus the travel costs haven’t exactly been an issue over the last few months… From that second assessment, it was four months before I received the support I was awarded.

In my experience, the whole DSA process is very slow. It was slow when I went through it during my Bachelor’s Degree and it’s been even slower this time, presumably due to the pandemic. I started this process in January – much later than intended but my mental health was so bad that I couldn’t handle the in person assessment – and didn’t get the equipment until June. Then the laptop that arrived wasn’t the right one and so we had to spend another two weeks – and a somewhat ridiculous amount of emails proving that it was in fact the wrong one – organising the swap, insuring that I got the one that my DSA assessment had determined I needed. A couple of weeks later, the new laptop arrived but setting it up took much longer than it should have. This was due to how the people who’d previously worked on my laptop had set it up, making the transfer of all my files much more complicated and messy. It’s still not as sorted as I would like it to be but it is functional.

Factoring in all of this, had I been doing my Masters in one year rather than two, I would’ve had this equipment for less than a semester before I finished the course. Yes, this was affected by the pandemic, problems with the university Autism support person, and the late start in pursuing DSA but that was due to the reasons I was in need of support so it’s not the most efficient system in that regard: what happens if you’re too disabled by your disability to seek help?

The laptop and software that DSA have provided me with has been invaluable, especially since my laptop was dying a slow death around the time I received the new one. We didn’t get everything we were hoping for but it’s definitely better to have it than to not. So, having now been through this twice, I thought I’d offer some tips that would’ve been helpful to me before going through the process…

  • If you disagree with part or all of the final assessment, ask to talk to someone else – It’s not something you’re necessarily made aware of when you have the assessment but I was so distressed by the end of the assessment that the assessor told us we could appeal. My second assessment yielded quite different results than the first one so it’s definitely worth asking if you feel that you haven’t been heard or fully supported.
  • Ask what kind of documents act as proof of a need for support – The earlier you find out what paperwork might help your case, the quicker the process will go. We, unfortunately, didn’t know that the PIP documentation was helpful and the whole thing may not have taken so long if we had.
  • Take someone with you as it can be overwhelming and tiring – These assessments can go on for hours and there’s a lot of information to both give and receive. Plus, it can be a pretty emotional experience so having someone with you can make the whole thing easier; you have someone to lean on and two pairs of ears to take everything in.
  • Ask for everything that you would find helpful – You might not get it all but you definitely won’t get it if you don’t ask and hopefully you’ll get some of it. It’s also always worth asking what you’re potentially entitled to because there may be things you aren’t aware of that could be helpful.
  • If you’re told something isn’t possible, ask why – The assessors can’t know every relevant question to ask and you can’t know every relevant piece of information to give so if they tell you something isn’t possible or available, it’s worth asking why because you may have some information or some paperwork that changes the situation and what support you can get.

I hope this post is helpful for anyone considering or going through the process. I hope I haven’t made it sound too scary. I really do recommend it but I wouldn’t want anyone to be unaware of how difficult and stressful it can be. You deserve to get the support you need and I only want to make that easier, if only by arming you with information and advice. So, if you’re going through it, I wish you the best of luck and I’m rooting for you.