Autistic-friendly social skills vs. blending in with NT's

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Mona Pereth
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02 Jun 2019, 5:50 am

From what I've heard, a lot of "social skills training" involves learning to act like NT's. For example, imitating NT eye contact rhythms, NT body language, and NT-style chit chat.

Many (though not all) "high functioning" autistic people do manage to learn to do these things, but find them utterly exhausting, draining precious energy away from doing anything productive. Others are either unable to do these things or unwilling to accept the personal cost of doing them, and hence face big social and economic disadvantages in mainstream society.

I'm a big believer in the aim of creating autistic-friendly environments (e.g. Autistic-friendly workplaces and autistic-friendly social spaces) in which we're NOT obligated to wear ourselves out by trying to act like NT's.

Yet, even in an autistic-friendly space, we still do need to have some social skills in order to get along with other autistic people and with autistic friendly NT's. But the social skills needed in an autistic-friendly space are not the same set of "social skills" that are needed in order to blend in with NT's. The two social skill sets do overlap, but are far from identical.

In a truly autistic-friendly space, it should not be necessary to imitate NT eye contact rhythms or NT body language. It should be understood and accepted that different people have different natural body language, and that you can't know what it means until you get to know the person well.

Also in an autistic-friendly space, it should not be necessary to be able to pick up on subtle hints. There should, instead, be a strong ethic of clear and forthright communication.

There should also be a strong ethic of consent and respect for personal space, e.g. not hugging someone without first asking if they want to be hugged. There should be a recognition that we're all different, with different needs.

Social skills that are needed in autistic-friendly spaces as well as in the mainstream NT world include basic courtesy, e.g. "Hi", "Bye", "Please", and "Thank you".

There are also some social skills that I think are needed more by us in an autistic-friendly space than by NT's in the NT world. These include:

1) Assertiveness (without being aggressive).
2) Active listening.
3) Giving and receiving constructive criticism.
4) Conflict resolution.

I think these skills are probably easier for many of us to learn, and less exhausting to exercise once learned, than the art of pretending to be NT. Some of these skills may even come more naturally to (at least some of) us than to NT's. Many NT's do not have these skills, preferring instead to rely on subtle hints.

Yet the above-listed autistic-friendly skills can also be useful in many mainstream NT workplaces -- although, of course, greater care would need to be taken when exercising them there. There are, currently in the NT world, many jobs in which these skills are required. As a result, there are many tutorials about these skills available on the web.

Note: When I speak about "assertiveness" and "active listening" as being needed in order for us to get along in an autistic-friendly space, I am talking about the purely verbal aspects of these skills. These days, many of the above-mentioned web tutorials on assertiveness and active listening emphasize eye contact and body language. In an autistic-friendly space, we should be able to ignore that stuff and focus just on the content of what is being said.

Anyhow, I would be interested in other people's thoughts about the differences between (1) "social skills" in the sense of pretending to be NT and (2) the kinds of social skills we need in order to get along with each other, and with autistic-friendly NT's, in an autistic-friendly space. Can you think of any skills in the latter category that I haven't mentioned?

EDIT: Another relevant thread from a while back: Social rules of autistic-friendly social spaces?


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kraftiekortie
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02 Jun 2019, 6:05 am

In general, we should seek to meet NTs halfway; and they should do the same.



JustFoundHere
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02 Jun 2019, 1:22 pm

Here in the 'Social Skills and Making Friends' forum, I've advocated friendships with NTs who are receptive to further understanding HFA. These can include NTs who've had some types of professional experience with HFA colleagues/clientele.

From my own personal experiences, the potential of such friendships offers encouragement regarding HFA.

I would be very helpful to receive feedback from those regions that are "ahead of the curve" on HFA awareness!



Mona Pereth
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02 Jun 2019, 2:40 pm

kraftiekortie wrote:
In general, we should seek to meet NTs halfway; and they should do the same.

What are some examples of what you mean by "meeting NTs halfway"?

In my opinion, we should seek to make friends with autistic-friendly NT's/allistics. I define an autistic-friendly person as one who accepts us as we are and does not expect us to imitate NT's in ways that are particularly difficult or that cause us undue stress.


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- Finally diagnosed with ASD in May 2019, after having suspected it for over ten years, and after having deeply explored the autism community for over one year while waiting for and obtaining diagnosis.
- In longterm relationship with boyfriend who was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome in 2001.
- Long history of participation in various oddball subcultures.
- My "Getting to know each other" thread: Hello from NYC.


ad lucem
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04 Jun 2019, 1:11 am

I like your list quite a bit.
I'd add one item: ask for permission. For instance: "Is it okay if I ask you about your family?"
One of course never knows exactly what is off topic for other people, but you can always start asking for permission for topics that are very personal for yourself.

My 2 cents.

/ad lucem



cyberdad
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04 Jun 2019, 1:28 am

An "autistic friendly space" in all work places would be great in an ideal world.

In the real world where would this be implemented?

The private sector is not going to jump for joy at the idea of creating such infrastructure unless we are talking about really large IT-tech companies who knowingly employ a reasonable number of staff who are on the spectrum. I know there are programs to employ autistic staff in places like Silicon valley but don't they just share office space/open plan with neurotypical staff? do they want to be separated? if you are alluding to "high functioning" (and lets not kid ourselves that employers only really take the most highest functioning people on the spectrum) I am sure they want to be integrated not sit in "safe spaces" away from other staff who might then think differently of them.

The next question is whether this is implemented because there is a duty of care requirement for special needs staff. For example almost all organisations make allowance for wheel chairs (because they are required to by law) but do they make allowance for staff who are visual or auditory impaired? Then there's the question of "reasonable number". If we are talking government does one autistic staff member warrant getting a special workroom and workstation? do you need two, three? what's a minimum? does this require government legislation to enact? or is it purely based on the good will of each individual organisation?

How do you advocate for this to be implemented at a government level? or do you approach individual companies on a case by case basis?

Lots of questions before this gets off the ground...



Mona Pereth
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04 Jun 2019, 4:40 am

To cyberdad: I've replied here in the separate thread Autistic-friendly workplaces.


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- In longterm relationship with boyfriend who was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome in 2001.
- Long history of participation in various oddball subcultures.
- My "Getting to know each other" thread: Hello from NYC.


Mona Pereth
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04 Jun 2019, 4:46 am

ad lucem wrote:
I like your list quite a bit.
I'd add one item: ask for permission. For instance: "Is it okay if I ask you about your family?"
One of course never knows exactly what is off topic for other people, but you can always start asking for permission for topics that are very personal for yourself.

Agreed.


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- Finally diagnosed with ASD in May 2019, after having suspected it for over ten years, and after having deeply explored the autism community for over one year while waiting for and obtaining diagnosis.
- In longterm relationship with boyfriend who was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome in 2001.
- Long history of participation in various oddball subcultures.
- My "Getting to know each other" thread: Hello from NYC.


JustFoundHere
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06 Jun 2019, 12:10 pm

Discussion thread (of a few posts as of this writing) on Asperger resources offering examples - helpful in boosting AS/NT (or HFA/NT) relationships. Are there model examples here?:
viewtopic.php?f=32&t=376752&p=8249512#p8249512



Mona Pereth
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14 Jun 2019, 9:37 pm

Another relevant thread: Introverted social skills.


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- Finally diagnosed with ASD in May 2019, after having suspected it for over ten years, and after having deeply explored the autism community for over one year while waiting for and obtaining diagnosis.
- In longterm relationship with boyfriend who was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome in 2001.
- Long history of participation in various oddball subcultures.
- My "Getting to know each other" thread: Hello from NYC.


SocOfAutism
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01 Aug 2019, 8:43 am

My husband (who is an aspie) always says that if you try too hard to blend in, you come off as “creepy”.

I believe there is a happy medium between comfortable behaviors/responses and “socially correct” ones, which can be memorized in a flowchart-type mental structure.

I read a lot of Erving Goffman (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erving_Goffman), who wrote the sociological canon on symbolic interactionism. Symbolic interactionism is the study of communication at its most minute level. I have long felt his works to be a must read for autistic people. Most sociologists do not get through more than ONE of his books (says something about my field). I feel that sociology did not publicly advance after Goffman’s generation. Very much worth reading. His books are a blue print for conversation. They give you every possible situation, the correct response, incorrect responses, and- this is key- what is going on inside the other person after receiving an error in communication.



Mona Pereth
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01 Aug 2019, 5:07 pm

I think you may have misunderstood the point of this thread. By "autistic-friendly social skills," I meant the skills needed in order to get along with each other within an environment specifically intended to be autistic-friendly. What you seem to be talking about, on the other hand, is the attempt to find a workable compromise for autistic people to try to get along in an NT-dominated environment without trying so hard as to seem "creepy." That's a worthwhile topic in itself, but perhaps we could discuss it in a separate thread?


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- Finally diagnosed with ASD in May 2019, after having suspected it for over ten years, and after having deeply explored the autism community for over one year while waiting for and obtaining diagnosis.
- In longterm relationship with boyfriend who was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome in 2001.
- Long history of participation in various oddball subcultures.
- My "Getting to know each other" thread: Hello from NYC.


Rainbow_Belle
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02 Aug 2019, 3:48 am

Autistic people are better off seeking and finding people that have Autism and can understand the struggles of life with Autism. Ignorant and uneducated people, do not understand the struggles that Autistic people go through. Autism is not something we can get over or grow out of. Autism is a life long condition that makes social interactions interaction difficult because our brains are wired differently.



SocOfAutism
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02 Aug 2019, 1:01 pm

Mona-oh yes I did misunderstand, but I’m not sure my contribution would be much different.

Please keep in mind that I subscribe to what should be considered a dead field of sociology. I think it is my responsibility to make note that the field of sociology has changed and few of my “colleagues” find the work of people like Goffman, Leon Festinger, and I would include operant psychologist BF Skinner as well, to be useful in today’s world. I believe their breakthroughs are what our social world is built upon.

That being said, there are somewhat universally accepted ways to have a conversation. We face each other, we speak out loud, use written symbols, or hand signals, we take turns, have phrases and rituals that are mutually understood, etc. One can memorize how to properly engage in conversation and what it means to have a failure in communication. As a baseline. For that, I would go to Goffman. But it may be more realistic for people to watch YouTube videos or get a self help book written in plain language.

My point is that all parties involved in the communication process should understand what is expected and be able to provide and receive their ends of the conversation.



Magna
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02 Aug 2019, 4:37 pm

Great topic.

I agree that eye contact shouldn't be expected or even required to carry on a conversation. A blind person who speaks is capable of communicating with others.

As far as social expectations/rules in an autism community, I envision conversing with other autistics where it'd be socially acceptable for a person talking to someone else or to a group of people to simply say something like: "I'm done talking for now" and be able to just walk away with no further explanation. I like that better than "bye" when exiting a conversation because it's being clear and forthright that I don't want to talk anymore and I want to go somewhere else.

NTs would think such a statement would be bizarre. I would have no problem whatsoever, nor would I be offended if I was talking to a fellow autistic and they said: "I'm done talking for now." or "I've got nothing else to say right now." or something similar and walked away. I would not take it personally.


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