10 Things I Thought Were Social Anxiety but Turned Out to Be Autism

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If you struggle with social anxiety, these 10 signs indicate that it could be something more and you might be on the autism spectrum.

Although I was diagnosed as autistic when I was 8, it took me until the age of 20 to fully accept it.

Prior to this, I tried aimlessly to place why I was struggling but I would consider anything but my autism. I couldn’t understand why I couldn't think or relax my way out of being anxious in a social situation, for example.

There undoubtedly can be overlaps; people may be given a diagnosis of social anxiety as a result of negative social experiences which have come from being autistic.

Here are 10 things I thought were social anxiety, but I later realized were actually a result of being autistic.

1. Scripting conversations.

If I ever had to address something I considered difficult, I would go over and over what needed to be said in my head. Until I had come up with what I considered to be the “perfect words,” I wouldn’t be satisfied. I had a fear of judgment.

2. Not knowing how to join in with conversations.

I would desperately wait for a gap of a few seconds (which usually never arrived) so I could jump in with a contribution, which would end up being ignored anyway. I felt unwelcome. By the time I’d find a space to contribute, the conversation had moved on.

3. Struggling to make friends.

I struggle with approaching new people in person, and when interacting with them it can take a while for me to warm up. I’ve been typecast as quiet and shy, no matter how much I tried to put myself out there.

4. Trying really hard to fit in.

I would force myself to fit in with others. For example, one day I watched a game of football purely for the purpose of trying to make conversation with my classmates. It’s not something I would ordinarily do.

5. Withdrawing in social situations.

Similar to struggling to join in with conversations, I would step back and almost hide away if I felt unwelcome for whatever reason.

6. Fearing being disliked.

I have constantly feared that people wouldn’t like me, in any environment that I’ve been in (be it school or work). I believed it was just an irrational thought, but I realize now that it stems from years of constant rejection.

7. Copying other people’s speech patterns.

This also includes copying their facial expressions and tone of voice. I did so because I believed they spoke ‘normally’, and I didn’t. I realize now that was merely me trying to act in a more neurotypical way.

8. Paranoia and uncertainty surrounding people’s intentions.

“Are they angry with me? What are they trying to say?” I’d misunderstand other people during my interactions with them, and I didn’t know what I’d done – people often don’t make it clear why I’ve annoyed them.

9. Failing to understand humor.

I struggled to understand humor when I was younger. I would laugh along as a means of fitting in socially, regardless of whether or not I understood the joke. I also didn’t understand why people were laughing at something I said that wasn’t intended to be funny.

10. Masking my autistic traits.

It’s beyond the level of being a safety behavior, but because I was unwilling to embrace my autism, I didn’t speak about it at all. I would mask my autism. If I was in a safe position to unmask, I would have been a bit kinder to myself, navigated social situations in a way that feels most comfortable to me, and focused on environments where I’m less likely to burn out.

Not all autistic people experience all of these, nor will those with social anxiety who experience all of these necessarily be autistic. But if you struggle with social anxiety and can relate to many of the signs on this list, you might be neurodivergent. 

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Last update was on: May 20, 2024 9:00 AM

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