By Tom Iland
When you have autism, social interactions can be one of the most difficult aspects of life. Uncertainty and an underlying fear of rejection may cause people with autism to avoid interacting with others rather than seizing the opportunity to get to know people.
People like me on the autism spectrum are often passionate about our interests, whether it is art, animation, movies, insects, roller coasters, dinosaurs, Legos or something more quirky! Joining clubs or organizations based on your passion is a great way to meet others, both on and off the spectrum, who like what you like. In fact, there are entire clubs, societies and organizations that are based on interests like yours! The trick is to find one and get connected.
One of my passions is roller coasters. I connected with others who love coasters as much as I do through American Coaster Enthusiasts (ACE). Members meet at theme parks to ride together and talk about technical features of the ride. We never get bored and we never bore one another! One of the best perks of being in this club is that ACE members get invited to ride a theme park’s new roller coaster days before the ride opens to the public! Local news crews often cover these events and we sometimes appear on TV! I was featured on Six Flags Magic Mountain’s website riding Green Lantern: First Flight! I was also invited to a wedding when two ACE members got married on a coaster. If this sounds fun to you, please visit ACE at www.aceonline.org.
It’s wonderful to spend time with others doing or talking about something that you all love. Not sure where to start? Websites like www.meetup.com allow you to search for groups in your area centered on your interests. It’s free to be a member of Meetup. You can get e-mail event alerts and receive suggestions of clubs you might like. Remember, there’s safety in numbers! When using social media and the internet to meet people, meet in public places in the daytime and stay with the group.
Volunteer in Your Community
You can also volunteer for organizations around one of your interests! While I don’t play sports, I know a lot about the rules of the game. During high school I was a referee for the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO), where my brother and sister played. Every Saturday, I was included in the soccer scene in our town. I met so many families, and wherever I went people would say, “Hi, Tom” because they knew me from soccer. It felt good to provide a service to the community and be appreciated as a fair referee.
Make a Difference
When I was a senior in high school, I got involved with Safe Rides, a local organization that gives free, confidential rides home to intoxicated teenagers (or teens who do not wish to ride with a driver who is drunk or high). For three years I volunteered my own time and car to pick up teenagers on Friday and Saturday nights, saving lives and keeping the streets safe in the process. For the last nine years I’ve been a supervisor and continue to help teen volunteers get trained. It is very gratifying to know I am making a real difference in others’ lives. To learn more about Safe Rides, visit www.scvsaferides.com.
Form Your Own Group
Finally, if you can’t find a club or activity that you like, you can also start your own informal group! I started a social group with people I met in my social skills class. We play board games and have pizza one Friday a month. Our group helps all members feel safe and included, and have fun in the process! I play Star Wars roleplaying games (RPG) with a group of young men every other month. I also go Christmas caroling every year with some friends from my high school choir class! These social connections keep me busy and make my life happier.
You, too, can come to life by starting or joining a club that involves something that you love to do. Before you know it, you’ll be creating relationships that could last a lifetime. Make yourself and your interests known to the universe and see what happens!
If you liked this blog, watch for my new book, Come to Life, later in 2016! I will share more tips on transition to adulthood!
I would love to hear from you! Learn more about my professional presentations and trainings at www.ThomasIland.com. Please like Thomas Iland on my social channels for more messages of inspiration.
Tom Iland’s achievements include graduating from Cal State University Northridge, becoming a Certified Public Accountant, and working in corporate America. Tom is now pursuing a professional career as a speaker and trainer sharing insights and practical advice with the Autism community. Tom was featured in the Art of Autism’s Autism Unveiled Project in 2015 and has shared with the Art of Autism why he left corporate America to become a motivational speaker.
This blog was originally published on Tom’s website.