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

Posts tagged ‘friends’

New Therapy for Social Anxiety

Well over a year ago, I had unfortunately slipped into one of my loneliness phases. I was rather dissatisfied with my social life at the time and sought out further help in this aspect of my life. I heard that the Centre of Mental Health Research at the University of Waterloo was putting on a program for people dealing with social anxiety. Knowing that this applied to me, I was instantly curious and contacted them. Their program was being primarily run by PhD students in psychology under the supervision of faculty members who were professional psychologists. These students would run therapy sessions in both group and individual settings, depending on the needs of the clients.

After contacting them, they gave me a couple of phone interviews with me, wanting to know my background and what specifically my needs were. I told them everything, such as being diagnosed with high-functioning autism and my social difficulties, pretty much all of which I have written about in this blog. They said they would get back to me soon to let me know if I was suitable for the program. A week or two later, they did come back and decided to take me on. They said I would benefit most from individual therapy sessions, instead of a group setting, which was completely fine with me. It would be good to have their undivided attention. Unfortunately, however, they also said they had no time for me at that moment, but that they could put me on a waiting list where they would get back in about a year. That was just fine by me. I would still be here at Waterloo and understood the high demand for their services.

Back in September of this year, they did indeed contact me again to let me know that a spot had opened up for me if I still desired to be part of their program. I was pleased they had gotten back to me and of course I said yes. I would meet with someone once a week. I certainly appreciated this frequency, especially since in my past meetings with psychologists and counsellors at Waterloo, I would be lucky to meet with someone every other week, given the size of the university.

I was paired up with a PhD student in psychologist who would be my therapist. Our first few sessions were spent on her to getting to know me and my areas of concern through interviews and filling out questionnaires. Once that was over with, we started on the social anxiety therapy itself.

I have gotten help for anxiety before when I went over to the Students Success office at Waterloo in preparing for my PhD comprehensive exams in How Anxiety Works For Me. There are similar techniques in overcoming anxiety in social situations. For example, you can run a social experiment where you plan to put yourself in a social situation that is a little out of your comfort zone. You first write down how you feel and what you expect to happen and give a percentage on the chances of a certain outcome happening. Then you list your safety behaviours that you must abandon in the experiment, which are detrimental behaviours that one uses in coping in anxious situations without avoiding the specific situations altogether. For example, one of my safety behaviours is thinking a lot before replying in a conversation. By doing so, I am not avoiding the situation that is causing me anxiety entirely, i.e. having a conversation, but I am still using a behaviour that hinders my enjoyment out of having the conversation. Then you go and do the social experiment and come back and jot down what you learned in challenging your anxious thinking, to what extent the initial prediction was true, and put down a new percentage of the chances of the initial prediction happening in further situations.

It is strategies like these that are helping and will hopefully continue to help me as I continue to push the boundaries of my comfort zone to combat social anxiety. I will also add that it is indeed very nice to see someone on a weekly basis to help guide me through this. She gives me strategies to try every week like the one above, which helps keep me motivated and accountable. It’s absolutely wonderful that Waterloo set up such a program and recognised the demand for it. Hopefully as time goes on, more places will recognise this demand as well.



Settling For What I Had

I was happy when nine years ago I was diagnosed with high-functioning autism at the age of 13. I could justify my actions to myself without feeling weird about whom I was. I had gone on from elementary school at this point and was now in junior high. The biggest behaviour in my life at that point (and still sort of is today even though I think I’m progressing year after year) was how rarely I interacted with the people around me and how much I enjoyed being alone and doing various activities by myself. I accepted myself as autistic when I was diagnosed and then let my solitary life continue on its merry way.

I actually held this attitude throughout junior high and high school. It wasn’t actually until I was in second year of university when I realized that something had to change. I no longer could live without feeling more of a connection to people, especially my peers. There is more than enough to say on this change in my life in one single post so I’ll save that story for a future post. Mind you, this realization didn’t really happen overnight. It’s not as if I one day I was completely happy with my life of solitude and then the next day I had a desperate need to connect with others. Indeed, I occasionally felt a small desire to interact socially more in both junior high and high school. My subconscious, however, always got the better of me. Yes, I thought to myself, it would be nice to have closer friends, to have people over to my house (the only time that happened in junior high and high school was for my 15th birthday) or for me to go visit them (which never happened) and to have strong friendships. But why I bother? I was happy enough with the way things were, and even if I did try anyway, I’d probably do something wrong in the process, causing the people I would betrying to connect with to back away, saying what a weird person I was.

This was probably the greatest fear I had as a teenager. I had a lot of acquaintances throughout this time of my life. Only a slight minority ever really weren’t nice to me and large number of fellow students were actually impressed with me, particularly where I had passion and a large strength in mathematics, which I demonstrated several times in class. I wasn’t prepared to try to risk ruining my reputation as a quiet, but good guy. While I had very few enemies, I also had very few friends.