You crossed your friend at school and you thoughtlessly shared a funny story which happened over the weekend that you mutually find interesting. This seemingly effortless exchange taken for granted is an example of a simple social skill that doesn't come naturally to autistic people. Okay so many people are a little awkward, what's the big deal? Like your feet, you wouldn't understand their value unless you lost them. Being social creatures by nature we have to navigate complex networks to survive. We spend our entire lives interacting with others by reading subtle social cues, facial expressions, body language, sarcasm, tone of voice, deciphering hidden meanings in spoken words, understanding unwritten rules as well as finding our place in social hierarchies. Autistics don't speak that language, not intuitively anyways. We learn to speak it like anybody learning a second language, and like any non-native speaker, we'll always have an accent, however subtle.
One trait of Asperger's is "selective mutism", meaning aspies verbally shut down around certain people, usually those who have an inauthentic demeanor. We may be super chatty and interactive with some, but completely quiet around others. We wear a social mask sort of speak. Aspies will spend their entire lives acting to some extent. We guard our true selves like the holy grail. I've always known I had an outgoing personality but but I haven't always had the tools to convey that properly with others. It was like putting a Blue Ray in a regular disc player, they weren't compatible. There was a disconnect between who I was and who I portrayed. Some of us come off as painfully shy or obnoxious, but underneath the quirkiness there's a really interesting person. Unable to bond with others and showing your true self effectively is the loneliest feeling in the world. Not knowing how to communicate properly is like being shackled to the sideline and tripping over your own chains every time you try to reach for the court. Sometimes you have to sit in the bleachers first to understand how to play the game.
My earliest memory of rejection was at 4 years old, but the bullying didn't start until I was 9. I was often insecure and isolated at school, but I loved summer camps because it was a chance for me to start fresh every week. Many of the games we played were structured so I never had problems being involved with other children. During unstructured play time I either stood as someone's shadow (someone who didn't mind having a tail follow them around) or I would go off on my own. I never got close enough to anyone for them to figure out I couldn't keep up with intricate social demands. My social skills were superficial and rehearsed at best. I have to credit a lot of my social growth to immigrants. I always gravitated towards children who couldn't speak English or French (I'm bilingual). Foreigners couldn't tell I was socially awkward and I didn't have to decode current pop culture references or conversational rules like hieroglyphs. I befriended a few Afghani girls on my street. We couldn't pronounce each other's names so we gave each other nick names like "tree" and "flower". Most of our play was directed through pointing and simple sentence structures. Certain learned mannerisms and expressions that I adopted from inter-cultural friendships sometimes got me in trouble within other social settings. Despite my social language barriers, laughter never needed translating.