Asking followup questions

Is it OK to ask follow-up questions? So if I asked someone “Would you like some of my ice cream?“, and they said no but I felt there was more to it, and I said something like “should I avoid offering you food?”, would that be OK?
This is often ok, yes.
I think phrasing it as “Would you rather I didn’t offer you food?” would be slighting better. “Should I…” could be perceived as defensive, It could also be read as you wanting them to offer a reason that you could  potentially argue with. “Would you rather…” is clearer about wanting to know what their preferences are.
If you can read body language, pay attention to it when you’re asking questions. If they seem uncomfortable, it’s probably better not to ask additional follow up questions.
(If they’re a friend, it might be appropriate to ask if they’re ok. If they’re a professional associate, err on the side of backing off.)
Sometimes it’s better to back off rather than try to fix things, especially if the problem is that someone is feeling really self-concious.

When someone won’t stop making fun of you

What do you do when someone is constantly insulting and making fun of you, but every time you try to tell them how much they’re hurting your feelings, they say they don’t want to talk about it? I don’t want to force someone to have a conversation that is painful or uninteresting to them, but it’s also extremely frustrating to deal with constant insults and belittling, and have no way to express how hurt I am or make them stop.
First of all, telling someone to stop insulting and belittling you is not pushing them around. You have every right to tell them to stop, and telling them to stop isn’t bad, even if it makes them feel bad.
That said, it’s possible to tell someone to stop insulting you without making it into a conversation about your feelings. It’s ok to say “That’s not ok. Please don’t say things like that to me.” You don’t owe them a long explanation of *why* it’s not ok.
Sometimes it’s also good to end conversations if someone starts insulting you. Eg “I’m not going to stand here and be insulted. This conversation is over.” and then leave the room, or hang up, or whatever the ending would take in that conversation.

Breakup aftermaths when other things are going on

I’m going through a breakup and am dealing with pretty crippling anxiety and depression despite the fact that my ex and I didn’t end on bad terms. I am a very socially awkward normally and my ADHD sometimes causes me to act impulsively.
I have three questions:
  1. How/when/who is it appropriate for me to discuss my problems with (Like when people ask how I’m doing I normally lie but I think that may not be good for me.)
  2. How long should I wait before spending time with my ex, seeing him is like tearing off a band-aid and
  3. What is a good way for me to cope with my loneliness when my social anxiety prevents me from being able to be around most people?
Realsocialskills answered:
A few thoughts:
First and foremost, there is no one solution to this problem. You’re going to have to slowly find ways of making your life better. You’ll probably feel better if you think of it that way.
I get the sense that you might be thinking of the problem as “How do I get over my ex, stop being so impulsive, not be depressed, not be anxious, and not be so isolated, so that everything will be ok?” That’s a really overwhelming problem, but it’s not actually the problem you have to solve. The problem you have to solve is “What things can I do to start making my life better?”
And there are a lot of things that might be worth trying, and other things worth avoiding. I’ll start with the things I think you should avoid:
Don’t rely on your ex for emotional support:
  • It’s not good for either of you
  • Part of what being broken up means is that you need to separate emotionally and regain your own space
  • Relying on your ex for emotional support makes it damn near impossible to do this
  • Especially if you don’t have much else in the way of support
  • It is not your ex’s responsibility to make your life ok post-breakup
  • It’s probably not a good idea to spend time with your ex until you’re past the point of the breakup feeling like an excruciating loss when you see them

Respect other people’s boundaries:

  • Someone asking you how you are isn’t necessarily an invitation to share
  • “How are you” is usually a fairly meaningless socially greeting.
  • Sometimes people ask because they are concerned and really want to know. These are usually people you are already close to, or people you’re related to.
  • If you’re not sure whether they really want to know or if it’s just social noise, you can say “It’s kind of hard right now” or something similar, and see if they ask follow up questions
  • If they ask follow up questions, it’s usually ok to tell them what’s going on
  • But keep in mind that it’s ok for people to decide they don’t want to be your support system
  • And it’s important to respect that
  • can bee a good way to meet new people in an unthreatening way
  • It’s easier to talk to new people when you know that you share an interest and are gathering to talk about it or do something
  • It’s also often ok to go and listen to other people talk
  • And it’s ok to leave if you need to

Interacting with people on the internet

  • A lot of people who can’t interact easily in person get a lot of social interactions from Tumblr
  • This counts as social interaction. Don’t devalue it
  • It also might help to seek out some other type of forum, like a message board about your interest/fandom/whatever
  • Email lists can be good too, especially if they’re the kind that don’t have archives that can be googled
  • Even with people you know, it might be easier to interact on chat or Facebook or some other internet based way


  • If you have a faith tradition, it might help you to go to church/temple/synagogue/mosque/place of worship.
  • If you have a bad experience with the place of worship you grew up with, you might be able to find one that works better for you
  • Most communities have a number of places of worship. Some of them probably have nice people
  • Unitarian Universalist churches work for some people who don’t feel comfortable in the organized forms of the religion they grew up with, but don’t want to reject it either
  • Going to a place of worship can be a way to meet people
  • It can also be a way to be around people without having to interact too much directly
  • For some people, being near people without having much conversation can be a way to feel less lonely without anxiety-inducing pressure
  • There also might be things you can volunteer to help with that aren’t too socially intense
  • There also might be study groups that work for you, because you can talk about the topic or just listen
  • Prayer can also help some people. Talking to God can help, even if you can’t talk to people.
  • Organized religion is not right for everyone, but it can be really good for some people

Reading fiction or watching TV

  • For some people, stories are a good way to cope with loneliness
  • Reading or watching stories is sort of like vicarious social interaction
  • It can also help you to learn a bit more about people and relationships
  • There’s a reason why lonely isolated kids coping with growing up by reading novels is such a pervasive trope
  • This isn’t helpful for everyone. Fiction can be really misleading and not everyone can understand it. But for some people, it can be good.

Therapy is helpful for some people

  • Some people find it helpful to talk to a therapist
  • Sometimes therapists can help people manage social anxiety and depression better
  • Or figure out executive functioning strategies
  • Or learn appropriate boundaries that make friendship easier
  • Therapy is not a good idea for everyone.
  • For some people, it isn’t helpful.
  • For some people, it’s a matter of finding the right therapist
  • For others, it’s actively anti-helpful and damaging.
  • For some people, it’s sort of helpful but not worth the costs
  • Therapy is something that can help some people to get support that helps them to figure out how to improve their life incrementally
  • Only you know whether therapy is a good idea for you (and it’s ok to decide to stop going to therapy if you decide that would be better)
  • In any case, therapy isn’t magic and it’s not a cure. There isn’t actually such a thing as “getting help” and that fixing your life. There’s just trying things and seeing what works.

Medication can be helpful for some people

  • Anxiety, depression, and ADHD are all conditions that some people find easier to manage with medication
  • For some people, medication is useful in the short term even if it’s not good in the long term
  • Some people don’t benefit from being on medications regularly, but do benefit from having medication available for occasional use to control anxiety or panic attacks
  • Medication is not right for everyone.
  • For some people it doesn’t work
  • For some people, it works, but has intolerable side effects
  • For some people, it works, but it takes a lot of experimentation to find the right medications and doses
  • Only you can decide if medication is right for you
  • Medication is not a cure or a way to become a different kind of person. It’s a strategy for managing things that works well for some people
  • If medication doesn’t work for you, that doesn’t imply that you don’t really have depression/ADHD/anxiety.
  • It also doesn’t imply that your condition is mild
  • Or that you’re not serious about making your life better
  • All it means is that medication is not a good strategy for you

Some words can apply broadly

Is it wrong for me, as a neurotypical person (AFAIK, there have been hints that I might have something undiagnosed), to use terminology coigned by atypical people? The way f’example stimming and overloading have been explained to me describe things that I do and the reasons behind them really well, but I don’t know if it’s appropriate for me to call them that.
realsocialskills answered:
Most people who stim a lot and get overloaded a lot are autistic. Most. Not all. Some people with ADHD also experiencing stimming and overload. So do some neurotypical blind people. So do other folks.
Overload and stimming are words that describe particular experiences, not a particular diagnosis.
If you have those experiences, it’s ok to use the words.

When food is too hard

Related to the remembering food exists thing, do you have any advice for what to do when your depression is making preparing food seem so hard that you’d nearly prefer to just go hungry?
A couple of suggestions:
Order a pizza, or some other form of food that gets delivered to you
  • Hunger feeds on itself and makes everything harder
  • If you’re in a state of mind where preparing food seems too difficult to be bearable, ordering food can often break that cycle
  • So can getting takeout or going to McDonalds
  • This is not a frivolous expense
  • And it’s not necessarily more expensive than preparing your own food. McDonalds has a dollar menu.
  • When you’re starving from not eating, it is not the time to worry about health food. Making sure that you eat comes first. Eating anything (that you’re not allergic to) is healthier than regularly going hungry because you can’t bring yourself to eat.

Keep stuff around that’s easy to eat and doesn’t require any preparation or only need to be microwaved, for instance:

  • A box of cereal
  • Chocolate
  • Granola bars
  • Ice cream
  • Popsickles
  • Protein shakes
  • Rice cakes
  • Peanut butter
  • TV dinners
  • Frozen chicken nuggets
  • It can also help to keep around disposable plates and utensils so the thought of having to wash dishes doesn’t deter you from eating

Get someone else to tell you that you need to eat:

  • Sometimes it’s easier to remember that eating is important if someone else tells you
  • For instance, if you text a friend saying “remind me that I need to eat” and they do, that can sometimes make it more possible

Get someone else to talk you through the steps of making food:

  • If there’s someone you can ask how to find/make food, that can be helpful
  • Sometimes what’s really exhausting is not so much doing the steps, as it is anticipating them, or figuring out what they are
  • If someone can help you through that, it can make it much more possible

When your workplace isn’t accessible

My workplace (a theatre) is really inaccessible to people with physical disabilities. I’ve pointed it out to the manager, who isn’t interested in fixing the problems. When people with physical disabilities come into the building, the best thing I know how to do is let them know ahead of time what parts of the building they won’t be able to access (bathrooms, all but the last rows of the auditorium, etc.) It doesn’t feel like enough. Could you talk about some other useful ways to help?

I think there’s probably not much you have the power to do as far as fixing it. Depending on where you’re situated, you might be able to tell the owner, or report it to a local organization that deals with accessibility issues. But, it’s very likely that you won’t be able to fix things that way.

Assuming that you won’t be able to fix it, here are some things you can do:

  • When people call and ask about accessibility issues, be honest
  • And specific. Listen to the questions people ask, and answer them honestly.
  • Sometimes you won’t know the answers. When you don’t know, say that you don’t know.
  • If it’s something you can check, offer to check.
  • If people are angry, don’t try to defuse their anger. Don’t tell them it’s not your fault. It’s not their job to make your feel better about the state of accessibility. They have a right to be angry,
  • Maybe ask if they want to talk to the manager? They *might* be more interested in the problem if customers complain.
  • Find out if there’s an accessible theater nearby. If people call and ask if your theater is accessible in a way yours isn’t, tell them “Unfortunately not, but <other place> is.”
  • Familiarize yourself with access issues other than wheelchair access, too. Does your workplace offer captions? Descriptive audio? Sensory-friendly screenings? For which films?
  • If not, which theaters do?

Anyone else want to weigh in? People with access needs, what would you want someone to do in this situation? People who’ve been in this situation, did you figure out anything good to do?

Using books for actors to learn nonverbal communication?

There are many books written for actors that talk about how to convey emotion through tone, facial expressions, and body language. Although they tend to be over-exaggerated, I’ve found them to be helpful because they point out common social cues that non-neurotypical people don’t always learn otherwise. Some books even mention how social cues vary between cultures.
I’ve heard those can be useful. Do you know any specific books that are good?
A comment from Mel Baggs:
I’m generally really uncomfortable with acting-based “social skills” because a lot of what people are looking at is stage conventions, not natural emotions. Then to some people stage conventions start to look more realistic than real emotions. I hate it. (Especially since I often get the short end of the stick in such situations. I’m 100% real, but I’m rarely a stage convention. And I’ve been penalized for that.)
That makes a lot of sense.

I’m not really familiar with acting at all. It seems plausible to me that some people could learn some things from it, but I could see how it could be really dangerous to put too much trust in it.


When you don’t understand tones of voice on the phone

Love your blog! I’m an Aspie/NLDer and 25. One of my biggest problems is understanding tone of voice. Like I can’t talk on the phone. Everything gets lost on me. As a result, I never know if people are joking, being serious, are mad at me, etc. It’s very frustrating for the other person and even more so for me. Do you have any advice? Do you know of any good websites that help people with this?
I have a couple of suggestions:
Watch more TV:
  • TV shows can be a good way to learn about tones of voice
  • Partly because they have predictable tropes, so it’s easier to have a sense of what’s probably going on than in real conversations
  • It’s also possible to watch the same episode over and over in order to learn new things from it.
  • Once you already know what happens, it can be easier to pay attention to other things like tones of voice and other conversational cues
  • Watching TV can also give you useful scripts and phrases
  • Tropes happen in real conversations too; understanding the tropes can make conversations easier to follow

Some specific thoughts about which shows might be helpful:

  • Shows made for teenagers in the 90s tend to have a lot of telephone conversations. Often, both people are visible, so you can also watch facial expressions.
  • If you have trouble telling TV characters apart, try watching cartoons made for adults. (kids cartoons often don’t have enough dialogue to be helpful).
  • Futurama, The Simpsons, and King of the Hill are particularly good for this because large parts of the shows are about conversation
  • Community is also a good show to watch. It’s easier to tell the characters apart because they actually all look different. A lot of shows have identical looking white people with the same haircut, clothing, makeup, voice and mannerisms.
  • Community is easier to follow because the characters look different in *all* of those ways. The main characters all have different skin, faces, hair, clothing, voices, and mannerisms.
  • Community also has a realistic autistic character who successfully interacts with non-autistic characters. Watching him interact might help you figure out stuff about interacting

Use alternative means of communication:

  • Not everything has to be done over the phone
  • Sometimes it’s easier to use email or text conversations, or to meet people in person
  • It’s ok if that’s what you need.
  • I hardly ever use the phone socially except to arrange other kinds of interaction, except when I’m talking to a couple of people I know really well
  • Sometimes you can avoid incomprehensible phone conversations by claiming that your phone’s reception is bad. People usually believe that. It’s not even really a lie – it’s just that the reception problem is taking place between your ears rather than between the phones
  • You can also let your phone go to voicemail and text back instead of calling back.
  • Or say things like “I’d really like to talk to you, but this isn’t a good time. Can we get together sometime next week? How about Tuesday?”
  • If you understand body language at all, you might find that Skype is more usable for you than the phone

I don’t know of any effective resources effectively aimed at helping people to understand tones of voice. I suspect that they don’t exist, given what I know of how these things tend to be presented to autistic people. Social skills classes are usually oriented towards making people seem acceptable by following rules. They should be oriented towards helping people to understand things well enough to interact on their own terms, but they generally aren’t. Also, autism tests involving tones of voice are exceptionally ridiculous.

I could be wrong though. Do any of y’all know of any useful resources that teach tones of voice explicitly?

Pretending not to get hate jokes can backfire

agentotter asked realsocialskills:
I’ve tried that strategy of pretending not to get racist/offensive jokes… in my experience it doesn’t work. It just leads to earnest explanations of why the stereotypes in the joke are true. With my coworker whose entire joke repertoire was offensive, I never did find a strategy that worked. I let him know repeatedly that I wanted him to stop, and he wouldn’t. All I could do to stop it was walk away (which with my job wasn’t always possible.) I quickly got a rep for being “stuck up.” :/
I suspect that this strategy might work sometimes when you’re dealing with people who aren’t intentionally being hateful. Some people think it’s ok to tell hate jokes because they don’t really think the hate counts if it’s in joke form. Maybe making those people have to notice what they’re doing works.
Other people are telling those jokes because they’re *intentionally* being racist/misogynist/otherwise hateful. So pointing out that they’re being hateful isn’t going to help – they know that, and they’re doing it on purpose.

When you don’t want to reconnect

What do you do when you hurt someone to the point that they end a relationship with you, but then later on, they’re the one who wants to be friends with you again (or get back together, or otherwise start being part of each other’s lives again), but facing up to what you did makes you feel really bad and you just want to move on without being in each other’s lives?
Is there any way to say, “I think we’re better off not in each other’s lives” without hurting them even more?
First and foremost, it’s ok to decide not to resume the relationship. You don’t have to have a relationship you don’t want to have, even if the reason it initially ended is that you hurt the other person.
It’s probably not possible to completely avoid hurting them, because rejection always hurts. It’s painful to want to have a relationship that someone else doesn’t want, especially if there’s a loaded emotional history. You probably can’t prevent that hurt entirely.
But, saying no to a relationship you don’t want is not the same kind of hurt that you caused by whatever you did before. (Even if it’s triggering because of what you did before, which happens sometimes.)
What you can do is avoid being cruel about it, and avoid sending mixed messages. You could maybe say something like, “I’m sorry that I hurt you, and I hope you’re doing well. At this point, I don’t think it’s a good idea for us to be interacting.”