Wednesday, 28 March 2012
There is a lot of talk in autistic circles about social skills. The way autistics are wired generally predisposes them to not having what society would consider "social skills". A couple thoughts:
The term "social skills" is kind of a misnomer. There are all kinds of feedback loops going on between you and the other party and if they perceive something to be not quite right they will respond negatively which may (perhaps beyond your sense of awareness) cause you to reciprocate negatively. The point here is that social "skill" is not like woodworking skill where you are working with a pliable medium, it is more like trying to ride an untamed bull (I use the term social traction to better describe what is going on as like with a car's anti-lock breaks gauging the car's traction there is constant two-way interaction).
For example, say you are at a party and see someone you knew from a college astronomy class. You go up to them and excitedly talk about the new exoplanet that they discovered not too many light years away. This person ignores you, shrugs, and walks away. It may have taken a lot of guts for you to do this and you may have skilfully executed the conversation but the other party was just not interested. You will find this plays out in less extreme ways in all kinds of interactions. People get to know you a little bit and find you are too eccentric and then cool down to you, only giving very short answers to your attempts at interaction.
They need to teach social skills in a way that mirrors an autistic's real-world social interaction. In sports they have the term "practice how you play". It basically means the best way to prepare for the game is to practice like you are already there. For teaching autistics this means instructing them how to deflect snubs and do damage control once the interaction goes sour. We shouldn't harbor the illusion that autistics start at a level playing field and should be taught social skills the same way a neurotypical would be. We should realize that for a large portion of the population, any fruitful interaction a lost cause. What we should be doing is targeting our training on the subset of people that may warm up to us if we present ourselves in a manner that they can interact with.
An example from last summer: I was volunteering at a college and walking through a hall way. Some woman walking toward me—out of the blue—said something negative about my shirt. There was nothing I could really do to salvage the situation and autisics need to realize that there are a lot of situations where it's just best to walk away.