March 14, 2006

Social Skills vs. Social Conformity

Posted in Autism/Asperger's at 3:04 am by caelesti

Lately I’ve been reading autism blogs- and one thought that has struck me is how professionals & parents of autistic kids confuse the issue of social skills with conformity. Case in point-Kit Weintraub
“Ms. Weintraub’s son, Nicholas, has benefited greatly from A.B.A., she said, and she is unapologetic about wanting to remove his remaining quirks, like his stilted manner of speaking and his wanting to be Mickey Mouse for Halloween when other 8-year-olds want to be Frodo from “The Lord of the Rings.”

Now I can understand, and support helping autistic folks get help in learning better social skills. We all need them to get along with others and survive in the world. But you can have good or passable social skills and still be “different” or eccentric. People might make fun of you, but that’s their problem not yours. My parents, while helping me improve social skills as a kid, appreciated my uniqueness. But then they are both rather eccentric as well- as are many parents of autistics- it has to come from somewhere doesn’t it? Unfortunately, other autistics are stuck with parents who want not just a kid that can function in a neurotypical society- but one who totally conforms to it.
The Autism Society really needs to discourage this- hmm- we need a national “It’s Ok to be Eccentric” campaign.
Ref: How About Not Curing Us



  1. Patrick said,

    I agree that parents need to understand that you really can’t separate autism from the child. Autism IS the child. It isn’t a disease. It’s merely a set of symptoms … characteristics really … that some people decided to describe. The label is useful only to the degree it helps us better understand the individual for whom it is used. Labels are useful when they help us plan, help us develop strategies, help us figure out how to help our young people navigate a complicated, confusing and sometimes cruel world. Knowing the label helps target specific strategies that, in the past, have been helpful to others for whom the same label has been applied. The label also should, at some point, be of some use to the individual in question. Reaching out to others in similar circumstances can be reassuring and provide social opportunities as well as some useful tips. For most people who are described as autistic, memorizing some rote strategies for interacting in social contexts is necessary and important. But expecting the individual in question to integrate many of these social protocols and engage them naturally the way so-called “neurotypical” people do, is not a realistic expectation. I think individuals in such circumstances can become highly skilled in the art of picking and choosing the appropriate social response to a given social situation. And probably get it right most of the time. But this is not the same as reacting naturally. It’s just very good acting. That is something we certainly should celebrate because it means the individual will have a better time navigating human society.

    At the same time using the label as a list of behaviors one would like to eliminate in the individual is inappropriate and very unfair. It makes the job of adapting much harder because one now has the additional pressure of having to figure out the correct response so Mommy won’t start crying again. The outcome can be a young person who has A LOT of anger and who, maybe, sees the neurotypical world as “the other” to be engaged only to the degree necessary and no more. The result can be isolation, depression and misery. My advice to parents … treat your kid like a person, not an autistic person. Use the label to inform you not to help you create a new set of expectations for your child. In other words folks … chill!

    It would be helpful to know more about this “A.B.A.” … sounds like a professional association.

  2. Caelesti said,

    I think the stuff you are discussing is a bit more general than what I was talking about. But good points definitely. For me some learned “NT” behaviors have just become habit- and I don’t even think about it.
    I sometimes wonder what “autistic giveaways” i put out, but I don’t think it’s really possible to know all them, nor necessary or desirable to try to get rid of them.

    ABA= Applied Behavior Analysis- it’s a popular therapy used for autistic kids, in helping them change behavior. I’m surprised you hadn’t heard of it.

    Oh, and I forgot to comment on the absurdity of being upset over which fictional character your kid picks as a Halloween costume. But then, that’s pretty obvious…

  3. Patrick said,

    The truth … it’s your job to keep up on all of this stuff. Seems like you’re doing pretty well at it.

  4. caelesti said,

    There is a lot of pro-autism activism going on the web. I’m adding a bit to it.

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