A reader sent me a link to a 50-question multiple choice quiz to determine your Autism Quotient. Autism is basically what you get when you take introversion to the extreme — to the point where you can no longer function well in social situations.
I don’t put too much diagnostic faith in online quizzes, but the questions themselves can sometimes help raise awareness of areas that still need work. The main thing I learned about building social skills was simply to practice them a lot. If you avoid social situations, your social skills will atrophy. If you maintain steady practice, you’ll get better over time. Joining an organization like Toastmasters makes it easy to practice regularly.
I scored a 13 on the quiz, which is slightly below average. I know someone who’s been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, and I suspect he’d fall into the “very high” category. He had a very hard time in school.
As a child I would have scored higher, probably landing in the “above average” category, but I could always function well enough socially. I tended to be very socially selective of my friends though, but with the right people I enjoyed social interaction quite a bit. I loved camping trips with the Boy Scouts, for example, and I went on dozens of them; plus I looked forward to the regular weekly meetings. I was a smart kid who did well in school, but I wasn’t interested in social activities I thought were dumb or pointless. I hated family get-togethers, but I loved the Boy Scouts because of its focus on skill building; it was a great balance to learning computers when I was 12-14 years old. Today I have an easy time with social and solo activities, as I wrote about in “How to Go From Introvert to Extrovert,” but I definitely worked hard on my social skills since my childhood.
As an adult I still eschew idle chit chat, but I love deep, high-level conversations. I can talk to someone about their greatest life challenges for hours, but a conversation about the latest Hollywood gossip makes me want to jump out of my skin. Unfortunately my wife loves chit chat, so I had to develop an effective strategy for dealing with it. When she starts getting overly chatty with me, I just start kissing her. She hasn’t figured out how to chat and smooch at the same time yet, and fortunately she has some girlfriends that are able to help pick up the slack so she can meet her weekly chat quota.