Today’s article is collaboration between me (Gwen Greenwood) and guest blogger Peter Donely, whom I met at university. You can find Peter on twitter at @slot_car_pete

In a simple but thought provoking piece, Peter talks about the importance of hobbies/interests, and how they can help people on the autism spectrum to make new friends and discover more opportunities to practice their social skills, something I can relate to a great deal.My own hobbies have opened up my world and provided the basis for my career. If I discussed all of them this article would be far too long, so I’ve decided to focus on one.

HERE’S MY STORY OF HOW A SIMPLE HOBBY TRANSFORMED MY SOCIAL LIFE:

My parents enrolled me in a local drama school at roughly the same time I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. I continued to attend their Saturday classes until I was seventeen, and his provided me with plenty of opportunities to make friends and socialise outside of school. These opportunities for social interaction would become invaluable when I moved to secondary school (a place with a much stricter social hierarchy) and swiftly became known as the weirdo who doesn’t talk. My drama classes didn’t subject me to the sensory overload and overwhelming number of people I encountered at school. They also had a clear structure, making them much less daunting than unstructured social activities such as chatting with friends at a shopping centre. I developed skills in acting, eventually going studying Drama and Creative Writing at University, where I got a 1st. But perhaps more importantly, at drama club I was not known as the weirdo who never talks. I was known simply as Gwen.

Drama classes can be extremely useful for someone with ASD. With their emphasis on body language, vocal tone, facial expression and eye contact they effectively teach social skills. Additionally, having to put yourself in the shoes of a fictional character is a great way to expand your empathy. But drama’s not for everyone. Any hobby that gets you interacting with others is a great way for someone with autism to build confidence and learn new social skills. I know one individual with Asperger’s who’s made many friends through his interest in Cosplay and comic conventions, and another who’s friendship group consists almost entirely of people he met while training for football matches. Really  it doesn’t matter what your interest is, as long as you use it to get out into the world.

HERE’S PETER’S STORY OF HOW A SIMPLE HOBBY TRANSFORMED HIS SOCIAL LIFE:

As anyone with Asperger’s and/ or Autism will know, socialising is difficult for those of us on the spectrum. It can be difficult for us to go out and make friends- something our neurotypical peers seem to find so easy! This can lead to some people on the spectrum becoming socially reclusive, staying at home on a computer all day, MMORPG’s and social media their only form of interaction with the outside world.

I, however, have found a hobby that allows me to interact with a small number of people once or twice a week while participating in club nights. This hobby has allowed me to travel the country and see places I might never have visited otherwise. This hobby has allowed me to improve my confidence, my communication skills and my self-esteem.

The hobby I am referring to is slot car racing. I got into this hobby as a teenager when my mum and sister found out about it at a local exhibition. At first I was shy and quiet as I didn’t know anybody. I even had one of my parents stay with me while I attended slot car races. Eventually I was able to be left on my own as I got used to the people there. I even started doing races against other clubs during weekends. At one point I stopped going because of my exams, but I did return to the hobby in 2010 and still go today. I know of several other Autistic individuals who attend a club in Blackpool and have even seen a video of how slot racing is helping an autistic person in America come out of his shell.

The most important part of choosing a hobby is to find something you love. I like motorsports, hence why I took up slot car racing. Someone else might like astronomy; they should go along to an astronomy society meeting. Attending clubs and societies means you are going to be meeting people who share the same interests as you. This can be great for an Autistic person as they can speak about their interest as much as they want, something I find very therapeutic.

I’d recommend partaking in a hobby to any Autistic individual. It might help you come out of your shell as well.

 

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