Can you actually work on your social skills?

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Arran
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30 Nov 2013, 5:29 am

I have regularly encountered statements, usually directed at nerds and geeks but less commonly people with AS, telling them to work on their social skills. Is it actually possible to work on your social skills or is it just empty weasel words? How is it possible to work on social skills in reality? When it comes to technical skills, studying, sports, party tricks, playing musical instruments, art work, etc. then one can practice practice practice to the point of perfection, but social skills cannot be practiced in the same way because if you mess up then it will anger and upset others leading to resentment and ostracisation, with the potential of it lasting for many years.



CyclopsSummers
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30 Nov 2013, 8:53 am

I think it's very very much possible to hone your social skills when you're on the autistic spectrum or have another type of social impairment. I have experienced it myself. There was a time long ago when I would not look a stranger in the eye, because it made me feel that uncomfortable. But with time, I found that it's not such a scary thing, and I practiced it, at first with people I trusted like relatives and friends. Then, I extended it to strangers. And when I found that it wasn't all that bad, I integrated it into my routine social behaviour.

I'm not the most sociable person out there, by far. I'm pretty inept in many ways, but there are a lot of things that I can do now, which I couldn't do when I was in my early teens. And that did take a fair bit of practice. But I think a major factor that can slow down this process of acquiring and honing social skills, is that folks on the autistic spectrum tend to feel a fair share of insecurity when having to deal with the social conventions. "Oh, what if this comes across wrong? What if that is misinterpeted?" etc. etc.
If you step into a social gathering, and end up looking like a fool because of the things you do and say, don't worry too much about it. You can always try again, next time may just be a tad easier. Take baby steps, don't expect it to be perfect the first time around.


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30 Nov 2013, 11:07 am

If it wasn't possible, mine would have still been bad.


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Willard
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30 Nov 2013, 12:13 pm

Arran wrote:
Is it actually possible to work on your social skills...How is it possible to work on social skills in reality?


It's possible, but don't expect miracles. How, is by putting yourself in social situations, like a workplace, or joining a group with shared interests. There is no self-help manual. It takes time. It's often painful and you won't likely think you're improving at all, until one day you realize you're better at it than you used to be.



coffeebean
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30 Nov 2013, 12:30 pm

Yes, but it's a little different than some rote skills because it's not just a set of facts or procedures. Having skill in some subjects means developing an intuition for it.



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30 Nov 2013, 1:35 pm

I had to take acting lessons to learn how to behave "normal". Just think of how one of your favorite actor's character might deal with a social situation, and try it out.

Just remember, though, that the "Vulcan Neck Pinch" may cause more problems than it solves ... :wink:



cubedemon6073
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30 Nov 2013, 2:55 pm

Fnord wrote:
I had to take acting lessons to learn how to behave "normal". Just think of how one of your favorite actor's character might deal with a social situation, and try it out.

Just remember, though, that the "Vulcan Neck Pinch" may cause more problems than it solves ... :wink:


:lol: Is it ever to late to go to charm school?



em_tsuj
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30 Nov 2013, 11:00 pm

You can learn if you study. You just have to memorize the rules for different situations. Over time you get better at it. I doubt you will ever be as good as an NT though. They can do it automatically in real time. I have to think real hard all the time and consciously do the right thing. Sometimes it is impossible if I am too sad or too tired. However, I am much more presentable at the age of 29 than I was when I was a teenager and didn't even know about hygiene or how to dress.



binaryodes
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01 Dec 2013, 12:29 pm

It absolut is possible. Its like trying to perform a root canal one oneself but it is possible with a suitably potent local anaesthetic. Anyway I used to be pretty bad socially. Once a girl asked me out and I proclaimed that I dont date cockney (london) girls. I was dead serious and I didnt even turn around. The other ocassion I was at a party where I stood staring at a woman;s breasts while talking to her - I wasnt aroused at all, I just had no conception that that was probably unwise and didnt know where else to look.

Now how did I get to the point where I could identify these things as socially unacceptable? Trial and error. This is why its so damned painful. One can only learn social skills through practise which as the OP pointed out includes ostracision and sometimes flight from objects travelling rather quickly in your direction. With socialisation training you can circumnavigate that but I never had that luxury and I wouldnt want to change the experiences ive garnered from my particularly painful learning process.



em_tsuj
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01 Dec 2013, 1:41 pm

There are a couple of self-help books that I use. My therapist told me to buy How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. I also have Living Well on the Spectrum by Dr. Gaus. She is a psychologist who specializes in AS. She is great.

I am the type of person who can figure things out once I know what the rules are, the basics. Maybe these two books will help you as well.



anneurysm
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06 Dec 2013, 12:29 am

The only way to truly learn them is through practice. If you are interested in doing this, it's good to read a few ASD-specific books to identify the specific things you need to work on, but the real difference comes when you are out in the real world, and specifically, with others your own age. The real world is much different than a book and much more complex and complicated: the more time you spend with people and observe what they expect from others, the better you will be at understanding them.

I read up on studies concerning social skills therapies for people on the spectrum, and there's a huge problem with generalization...specifically, people use the skills well in the session but don't apply the to their real world interactions. You absolutely have to apply your skills to the people you already know, even it's through trial and error. I'm on the spectrum and once I found out about my diagnosis in high school, I started adjusting my skills and got progressively better at them. Though I've made mistakes, I don't dwell on them anymore, and see the gaining of skills as a process: and I still learn new things all the time. The truth is, there truly is no end point, but you can always improve. Socializing is now okay for me and I can now "pass" as neurotypical, but I don't know if that's a good goal for others here because it did take a lot of work.

I'm now really interested in whether people with ASD can learn social skills...I strongly believe that some of them are able to and some of them aren't depending on how they process their environments. I know many people with AS and can definitely see a huge range in how well they understand and conform to social norms: two people can have the same diagnosis and one can "pass" as NT and the other, you can tell "something is up" with them after 5 minutes of meeting them. I guess the trick is to see where you are on this continum and if you are willing to push yourself to attain the social goals you want.



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06 Dec 2013, 3:06 am

I definitely went way too far in developing social skills [to the extent I could, back in the day] Autistic burnout is real, people, and I believe that it is primarily caused by wasting so much of our time and effort in trying to pass as {IMO} almost an alien species with a number of horrifically negative characteristics.

I wish that half of the money spent training us that we are inferior and should not be ourselves with accomodations in schools, work places,autistic mentors care providers for some autistic people, and help with establishing autistic communities.

I am beyond disgusted that our people are treated so disparagingly and that the measure of an autistics success is primarily based on the developement of a facade.

This HAS to change, and I [and you?] need to be part of that change.



minervx
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07 Dec 2013, 1:37 am

yes you can. anyone who tells you you cant is just making excuses because they couldn't do it yet



MathGirl
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07 Dec 2013, 11:13 am

vickygleitz wrote:
I wish that half of the money spent training us that we are inferior and should not be ourselves with accomodations in schools, work places,autistic mentors care providers for some autistic people, and help with establishing autistic communities.

I am beyond disgusted that our people are treated so disparagingly and that the measure of an autistics success is primarily based on the developement of a facade.

This HAS to change, and I [and you?] need to be part of that change.
I was thinking along the same lines. Social skills is a strange term because it's not a very specific skill and different people have different definitions of it. From what I've observed and read, a lot of social skills are really the ability to understand and work with own and others' emotions and having a certain flexibility to go along with that. It does not need to entail learning scripts or trying to pass as non-autistic, but it has more to do with navigating the social world generally. Autistics don't have bad social skills according to the above definition at all. For example, empathy is part of social skills and a lot of autistics have very strong empathy. Anyhow, it's not a skill you can just simply learn directly. That being said, I can tell you how I improved my social skills to become successful (by conventional standards?) socially and academically. It's probably not anything anyone has ever told you so far, so it might seem a bit of an outlandish solution, but it really did work for me. It's more of a "how to raise your emotional quotient (EQ)" solution, maybe, but emotional intelligence is directly related to social ability.

First, I began by introspecting your own emotions. I thought about my past situations and how they have made me feel. I did a mental nuanced analysis of what you feel at very specific points in time. Also, I became conscious about how and why I behave in certain ways in certain situations. I read books about autism and about typical behaviour just to understand how behaviour is related to emotion. I picked and chose the patterns I felt I related to the most. Studying psychology has really helped me, too, because I recognized what people respond to well and what they don't respond to as well and have related this information to myself as well as implemented it into my daily communication. However, I am still mindful between trying to "please" others and my own comfort levels. If something doesn't feel natural to me, like small talk, I just don't do it, but I tell people that it makes me uncomfortable. So, being able to recognize and communicate your comfort levels is key to prevent "autistic burnout" - it's also part of social skills.

After I felt that I have gained sufficient introspective proficiency, in that I was able to internally understand my feelings and reasons for my behaviours, I began applying it to real life. Introspection and practice can go concurrently. You do not need to be able to communicate your feelings beyond certain ones that are troublesome and need to be elucidated to others (i.e. upset, discomfort, anxiety). So here's what I did in practice - I went out to autism groups because I knew I could relate to people better there and I tried to find commonalities between their behaviours and my own. From the behaviours and feelings I have linked together in my introspection experience, I matched these behaviours to the corresponding emotions that I would be feeling. We are all human and this behaviour-feeling pattern-matching would work with everyone to various degrees, but it was a lot easier to start with people with ASD first because me and them had plenty of behaviours in common. If you can join their conversations and talk about your experiences while listening to what they have in common and what their differences are, you can put your introspective observations into even more practice.

Gradually, as my knowledge base expanded, I learned different emotional possibilites for different behaviours. I sometimes need to ask why a person does something; sometimes I can guess and probe whether my guess is correct or not. This is something that takes A LOT of practice and is not something I can just explain how to do. It's important to just learn about what NTs do that are the same or different from you and what people with ASD do that are same or different from you and how these groups generally differ from each other (although it is truly a continuum). A general framework helps, but every individual is different and part of social skills is figuring out what the patterns of a particular person are and then adjusting your behaviour to theirs. Important: this does not mean behaving like them or in a way that would please them - it just means knowing how to navigate the situation well within your capacities! With some people, it would be a harder task for you and take a lot more out of you than others; I try to only spend my time with those people if absolutely necessary because they are draining. Generally, "social skills" are just a lot of social practice, knowledge about how people operate, and ability to mediate between your own feelings and other people's patterns. I try to find commonalities between the thinking/communicating styles of me and other people. If there is little in common (i.e. they are extremely touchy-feely while I am hyper-logical and emotionally detached in conversation), or if people are not willing to make some accommodations in order to connect with me on my level, then they are too exhausting to deal with for me and I stay away when I can.

Throughout the process, I also came up with phrases I would say to navigate certain situations, which is also known as self-advocacy. They are not exactly scripts because I can tailor them to current situations and my own comfort levels with people. For instance, I can explain if there's too much background noise, if the conversation is going too fast for me to follow and I feel overwhelmed, or similarly advocate for other people. Reading what other people on the spectrum have done is, I believe, essential to succeed in this. This is also a social skill.

It's very important to NOT stigmatize behaviour and/or emotions in this process. I generally don't discriminate between good or bad behaviours in myself or others; I take everything at face value. The way I see it, there is nothing wrong with anyone and any difference in behaviour is just a difference that is part of the vast human variety. Also, it's important to remember that by linking behaviour to emotion, you are just making guesses about the other person's feelings, so you have to do something to verify your guess (e.g. by asking or by doing something else to support your hypothesis) before you act upon it in any way. It's a bit of a complex process, too, but covert assumptions can be hurtful to others.


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saxifraga
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07 Dec 2013, 11:42 am

I dont know if my reply here is exactly what you have in mind but its a social coping mechanism that helps me get by in the workplace. As I think I mentioned in a different thread, I'm a manager of a fish/seafood market and as such have to deal with the public all day. I'm very good at my job and proud of that however I freely admit the fact my people skills need work. This is really the only negative whenever my job performance is brought up.

What I have done is to look at it in the aspect that part of my job is to be a happy and social fishmonger. That being said I approach this as any actor would in showing up for a days work. When dealing with customers i try my best to put on a pretend face, smile, be upbeat and cheerful, make small talk that I think is relevant to the situation, etc... The facade drops the second they step away from my counter. The acting resumes with the next customer. At the end of a workday I feel twice as exhausted as i usually would as pretending to be something i am not requires a lot of effort.

While this is not a true learning or mastering of new social skills as I think you intended to ask about, it is a modification of same that benefits me in the workplace and in the big picture makes my life a little bit easier.



poppyfields
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08 Dec 2013, 2:09 am

Yes, but I'm convinced there are minute details that are quite complicated, that are not hard and fast rules. These details are what make even a high functioning aspie with a good job and some friends seem "off".

But I think it is worth working on social skills even if you only have modest gains because being an adult you need those skills sometimes just to get an interview or whatever.