Having Asperger Syndrome or autism can be especially hard at Thanksgiving or other holidays where all the neurotypicals expect to be invited to celebrate with family or friends. Not being invited is hard. Being invited, perhaps reluctantly, can make you feel like the ghost at every feast. Here are some of the problems we might go through:
- Not being invited. It’s not always a form of discrimination that you can ‘protest’ about. With our lack of social skills we may not be sending off the secret social signals that we want to be friends or want to be invited to things. Our non-hosts may even think they are being tolerant of our differences in not inviting us to an event they think we don’t want to attend. I don’t really know what one can do when one is not invited, especially by family.
- Being invited and not thinking it’s sincere. The thing to remember is that neurotypical people can have problems with social skills too. Sometimes they invite us in a way we think indicates they don’t want us there— for example emailing to an account you check twice a year instead of picking up the phone. Or only inviting you through another family member who is supposed to be responsible for you. It’s hard to know what to do when you are wondering whether someone is hoping against hope you will stay away, and they won’t give you any clues that would let you know if you are really welcome.
- Being invited with restrictions. Maybe you once had a ‘meltdown’ at Thanksgiving when you were nine, and you still are cautioned that you can come ONLY if you behave yourself now that you are 52. Or you loudly proclaimed your atheism when the others were saying grace or proclaimed your faith when the others were congratulating themselves on their atheism, you may be told you can come ONLY if you keep your opinions to yourself. Now, it is a social rule not to discuss religion or politics at any family or social event where opinions may be divided, but forgiveness is also an option, especially if the host knows about your autism spectrum disorder. We may need to do a lot of forgiving too, especially if forgiving slights and even insults is the only way to stay connected to your own family.
- An invitation that is clearly charity. If you have been invited by someone you barely know because their family custom involves some ‘charity’ invites and they can’t find a homeless person this year, you may feel too awkward to come. It is socially awkward being someone else’s act of charity when you feel like a regular, normal person who ought to be invited to events for regular, normal reasons. But you might try accepting such an invitation if you feel up to handling the awkwardness, because accepting someone’s charity invitation could be your act of charity toward them.
- An invitation that requires a money contribution that you can’t meet. Some families celebrate with restaurant food or catered food. If they want you to kick in money you don’t have, it may be easier to stay away than beg to attend at the group’s expense. There is not much an Aspie can do about this. Most of us are unemployed, on scanty disability or underemployed. And most families who buy Thanksgiving food pre-cooked do so in order to spare family members work.
If you are going to be spending Thanksgiving alone, you don’t have to be depressed or lonely. If you have a working DVD player you can perhaps rent a couple of movies so you can keep yourself distracted. Better yet, buy some new books you will save for the day.
Social media may not be much of a help when most of your social media buddies are spending time with their families and shouldn’t take time out to interact with you. But there may be others in your situation. You can interact with people like that— maybe even plan a social media ‘party.’ And of course if you have friends In Real Life who will also be alone, why not suggest a get-together? You don’t have to plan a full feast. You can just heat up frozen pizza or chicken wings or something easy.
Another good solution is if you can find someone who has an ‘in’ at the local soup kitchen or a church where they have turkey dinners for the poor and lonely. Being one of the people who is helping may be easier than going as a recipient of the charity. And you can be doing good as well as feeling less lonely.