A blog advocating autism through my own personal experiences and insights.

A Need for Structure

If there’s one thing that I would like more of in my life then it would be to have closer friends. This probably won’t come to any surprise to anyone who has been reading this blog and/or has known me for at least the past year or two if not more. My efforts to get closer and to interact more with people have been both unsuccessful and successful. I’ve gotten involved with various clubs, for example, and I have even hung out with people more in an unofficial setting. Both of these are certainly true for the last four years I have been at my undergraduate university Acadia in Nova Scotia. It seems like only yesterday when I was that quiet shy junior high school student whose only solid interaction with his peers was in the classroom, and I applaud myself on how far I’ve come since then on my pursuit for social interaction.

But in the past couple of weeks I have asked myself what more I could do and have engaged in some serious self-reflection. And what I have concluded can be answered in four words: a need for structure. Structure for me is good. Structure for me is what comes natural to me. I’m good at navigating myself around a highly-structured system. If something goes wrong, I can easily see why or at least have clear decisive steps at my disposal to correct the problem. This is why I’m very good at math and logic. These subjects rely heavily on structure. If I’m given a math or logic problem, I can rationally figure out how to do it. I might make a mistake or two along the way to obtaining the solution, but if I do, I can figure out why the mistake was a mistake and how to correct it.

So what does this have to do with my weaknesses in social interaction and making friends? The answer is almost too obvious. Because the making of friendships don’t occur in highly-structured systems. Most situations of social interactions aren’t structured (at least not to a degree I find satisfactory).

I will illustrate with an example to help explain the degree of ‘structuredness’ that I desire. The example is math club in high school. The point that I want to make has nothing to do with the fact that the club solved math problems to competed in regional and provincial math leagues. The point I want to make is that the organization itself of the club was highly structured. We all divided up into groups of four and spent a specific amount of time trying to solve each problem (I think it was five minutes). We then did relays where each group of four would line themselves up in a line and each would work on an individual problem that would depend on the answer(s) to the problems that the others in front of them in the line would have. As soon as the last person in the line was done and everything would be answered, he or she would pass the answer sheet to the proctor. If it was correct, the relay was finished, and if at least one of the answers was wrong, then the proctor would simply pass it back, not saying what the answer was. And if one of the individuals in the relay thought one the previous answers was wrong, he would pass it forward.

What do I like about this arrangement? The structure. The activities done here are highly-structuralized. Now I’m not saying that I’d desire if all communication was done this way. All I’m saying is that the communication in these activities was simple and straightforward and there was no degree of uncertainty or subjectivity of what someone was trying to communicate.

In the real world, however, the opposite is true. There’s a lot of subjectivity, vagueness, and a lot of ways to interpret something, whether it be literally or figuratively. And there’s social conventions as well. I just see a big mess. When I try to figure out how conversing works and how people end up becoming friends as a result, I see very little structure. I’ve already illustrated this point in a couple of previous posts, namely Figuring Out the Dating Game Part 1(https://acceptingdifferences.wordpress.com/2011/08/02/figuring-out-the-dating-game-part-1/) and Figuring Out the Dating Game Part 2 (https://acceptingdifferences.wordpress.com/2011/08/05/figuring-out-the-dating-game-part-2/) where I describe how over a period of years I tried to apply my logical mind to figure out how dating relationships work and how I then listed everything I found out in terms of logical rules.

As another example, I would like to take the character of Sheldon Cooper off of the T.V. show The Big Bang Theory. In an episode in season 2, Sheldon wanted to make friends with his unlikeable colleague Kripke at the university he was working at. While his reason for doing so had nothing to do with wanting to have more friends (I think it was only because he thought that Kripke only allowed his ‘friends’ to use a computer lab or something), how he went about trying to be friends with Kripke is completely illustrative of how I think. He looked at a child’s storybook in a bookstore and managed to deduce from it the rules of making friends that the storybook was conveying. He then drew those rules into a big flow chart into how he could become friends with Kripke. What ultimately happened was that he ended doing indoor rock-climbing with Kripke, though it ended up freaking him out (rock-climbing was really only the least objectionable activity that Sheldon agreed to do with Kripke).

As yet another example, I attended something of a social get-together for young people with disabilities in Waterloo. I saw a poster for it at the university, though it had nothing to do with the university itself. I contacted one of the leaders about it. While she was very pleased that I had shown interest, she warned me that since I was high-functioning autistic that the event probably wouldn’t be highly-structured. I was very touched that she had replied like this (I think it was the catalyst of me recognizing just how much I relied on structure), but agreed to go anyway since it couldn’t hurt. I envisioned a group having conversations that I would fall behind in because no rules would be in play (a situation I’ve been in many times before). As it turned out, the group was structured to my liking. Instead of random conversations happening all over the place, what happened was that we played a couple of games that made us get to know each other more. We each took turns in naming three things about ourselves where two of them would be true and the other false and we had to guess what the false one was. The other game was taking random questions out of a hat and answering them. It was through structured games like these that I was able to interact and enjoy being there.

Even in my facebook texting I show some of my love for structure. If someone’s online that I think I’d like to talk to, I just message them, saying, ‘Hi (name inserted here)’. They then greet me back and I say, “How’s it going?” unless I have something specific on my mind I want to talk about. And after texting for a while and I don’t want to anymore, I usually say, “Well, I’ll let you go now”, maybe adding a reason such as wanting to write my novel or go to bed. I’ll then wait for them respond, and then we say our goodbyes.

In my last post I discussed a lot about accommodating myself, though I’m still trying to come up with ways to accommodate myself for this need for structure. I will, however, be pursuing social interactions regardless (of course). One guarantee that this recognition for a need for structure has done for me, however, is that it has led to far more self-appreciation than I ever felt. Now that I’m aware of what my main obstacle is when it comes to social interactions and it’s really built into me by the way I’m designed as an autistic individual, I no longer feel all that depressed of not having that many close friends. Instead, I love myself for wanting to have closer friends and doing the absolute best that I can do to try to obtain them. I feel more complete. And I think feeling more complete and self-appreciation is indeed a firm step forward in obtaining friends to begin with. In order to love others, you must love yourself.

Comments on: "A Need for Structure" (2)

  1. Lynn Hussey said:

    Well put J.C. enjoyed this.. : )

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