When I’m walking the halls of Berkeley High School, it seems like everybody but me is making chit-chat. I always wonder: How do they do it? How do they always have something to talk about? For years I have felt like I am on the outside of social situations, looking in.
I am a socially awkward autistic teenager who has always struggled to make friends. When I tried to chat with my peers in middle school, I could never find anything to say. For a long time, I gave up on my dreams of making friends. I didn’t talk to my peers. I never hung out with anyone. It was isolating and miserable. I knew that I wasn’t alone in my social challenges, but I felt alone. A couple years ago, I accepted my neurodiverse identity, rather than feeling ashamed of it. I realized that I didn’t have to be alone. Someone had to bring all the neurodiverse people together as a community. So, I founded a neurodiversity club at my old school, establishing a haven for all of the neurodiverse students there.
Moving to Berkeley from the East Coast this year was a liberating experience. I found myself in a community full of supportive people that truly cared about me and my challenges. Recently, I have started going to the Neurodiversity Club here at BHS and have met some friendly people. I managed to come out of my shell, and you can too. Here are my tips for breaking free of your shell as a neurodiverse teen:
Believe in yourself. Believe that you can do it! The first step in making friends is to give yourself positive messages. Tell yourself that anything is possible if you think you can do it. Imagine yourself where you want to be socially, and you will soon find that you’re there.
Find your tribe. Sometimes, having a special interest can feel isolating. You may think to yourself, “Nobody else is interested in this, so I’ll never be able to connect with anyone over it.” That’s not true! I guarantee that there are people out there who are interested in who you are. You just need to find them. There are scores of clubs at BHS that cater to kids with specific interests. If you can’t find a club that’s right for you, then start one. It’s possible to find your tribe, even when it seems impossible.
We all make mistakes. Nobody is perfect. If you mess up, it isn’t the end of the world, even though it can seem like it. It’s important to never let mistakes get you down. Making friends has been a hard-fought battle for me, with many ups and downs. You might not get it right on your first try, but you will succeed if you accept that you made a mistake and resolve to do better next time.
In the coming weeks, I will continue to use this column to discuss the challenges faced by neurodiverse students and share tips for solving them. Sending positive vibes your way!