26 September, 2010

some stuff on the horizon (like you're totally all excited about this, maybe not huh)

gay kids are trying to be productive academically, sometimes that doesn't happen but it's presently happening a little. so I don't want to write too much.

some thoughts though:

1. we can't all be Renaissance men
("look, stop freaking out about how disabled so and so is, he seems to be supporting himself" "but he can't tie his shoes and he could never go to a frat party!" "that's okay, he can wear slippers" "but some job environments wouldn't consider it appropriate to wear slippers!!" "but so and so's current boss and coworkers are okay with it" "WHY ARE YOU TRYING TO AVOID TALKING ABOUT HOW DISABLED SO AND SO IS, HE'S JUST SOOO DISABLED AAAAARRGHH I CAN'T EVEN")

2. does disorganized speech mean disorganized thought--too lazy to find what I'm talking about, but I was reading comments on a blog post by someone who was having trouble getting her kid diagnosed with ASD, and the professional she went to kept being like "no, she seems like she has some kind of psychosis because of the way she talks." some people like Amanda Baggs and Anne Corwin were saying in the comments that they speak in disorganized ways but that it just means language and thought are not very connected for them, their actual thoughts are not disorganized, it's just hard to turn them into words.

however, for me, language is me, there's nothing without it. Augusten Burrows's annoying brother said that he had to create his entire personality himself, and I feel the same. ADCN said that when I talk it sounds like I'm just thinking out loud, and that is the natural/easy way for me to talk, the way I was talking to him when he said that.

I am a poor speaker because I'm a poor thinker. I'd like to get a good rediagnosis/evaluation before I graduate from college, because it seems sensible to have it. but I'm actually worried that at this point I'm too careful about speaking coherently, and my speech won't be a complete window into my thought process the way it was 10-15 years ago.

3. "social skills don't exist," a super epic and great post which I have already written a lot of. this isn't the same as saying social impairment doesn't exist--social impairment can be framed in many ways and it is socially constructed of course, but it is REAL. but I just think that social skills aren't even real. it's a completely useless/empty concept.

first, what are "social skills"? making people like you? making friends? being able to manipulate people? making people not bully you? coming off the way you want to come off? those can't ALL BE THE SAME SKILL. what if you come off as intelligent/authoritative because you're tall? is being tall a social skill for that person? is being the same race as other people a social skill because it makes people more comfortable around you?

second, there is more than one person in the world. not everyone is taken in by the same things. and also, I guess I'm an idealist and tend to have a pretty gooey idea of connection and love. I believe there's potential for connection between various pairs and combinations of people--but not everyone gets the opportunity to connect. that doesn't mean anything as simple as saying that someone "lacks social skills." what a hateful thing to say, everyone has social skills, they're just not all the same things.

I also really love Stanley Greenspan/floortime, which is a way of actually consciously modifying your behavior to try to connect with people who have severe disabilities (for example, trying to speak in a way that isn't rough on their sensory issues, or trying to become involved in their stimming). If anything is an actual SKILL, this stuff is, and I think it's awesome--but it's not something that most people are naturally good at.


  1. I think social skills are a cluster of related skills, not just one skill. Mainly I think it revolves around a) being able to read people via their body language and facial expression and tone of voice, and to be able to adjust you how deal with them appropriately based on that, b) being a good communicator; knowing how to bring up sensitive topics and assert yourself without increasing the level of conflict but being able to achieve a sort of win-win situation where both parties feel like they were treated fairly and got what they emotionally needed, c) being able to approach people and make friends without experiencing a lot of rejection.

    Being tall, even if it provided social benefits, would not be a social skill because it's not something you can learn.

    I can see the point of pointing out that lack of social skills aren't the be-all, end-all of autism, but I am curious as to why you seem against the idea that lacking social skills plays any part in autism at all.

  2. I don't know if everything you just listed is something you can learn, either. Also, some people are (apparently) really good at those things from a young age. When did they "learn" it? Would people who did try to teach themselves those things actually do those things in the same way as the people who were always really good at them?

    Wouldn't the people who learned them often be worse at them because they weren't intuitive? Occasionally, wouldn't they maybe sometimes be better because they didn't take things for granted? Wouldn't their "social skills" not really be the same as the normal people's social skills, exactly?

    I don't believe that lacking social skills plays a part in autism because I don't believe that social skills exist, at all. Or they exist everywhere and everyone has them, even tables and chairs.

  3. I think if you apply a skill effectively, it doesn't matter how you learned it or if you just picked it up intuitively. What matters is how you use it.

    Also, those things I was talking about aren't all things that NTs are naturally good at either. Some are, some aren't. I've met my share of NTs who were terrible communicators, imho. And yes, in general I think social skills can be learned, and I don't think there's necessarily a difference in effectiveness whether you learned them 'naturally' or learn them 'on purpose'.

    Everyone has some things that come more naturally to them than other things, and I don't think that having something come naturally to you necessarily makes you better at it than someone who had to work hard to learn it, because if you had it come naturally, you may not have worked hard on that skill and thus someone who has can surpass you. Also, taking something like social skills apart and understanding *why* some things work better than others can give you deeper knowledge than if you were just naturally good at it and never had to give it a second though.

    I do feel a need though to point out that I do make a distinction between social skills and passing. I don't think you necessarily have to spend a lot of time into pretending to be super-duper normal in order to have reasonable social skills. Or at least you shouldn't in order to be considered to have reasonable social skills. I think being good at communicating your ideas to people and not being offensive should be good enough.

  4. I feel uncomfortable talking about this stuff because I know that it comes off like I'm trying to make statements about "what autism is" or like I'm trying to deny other people's experiences. A disclaimer: I've had a lot of social problems in the past and expect to have a fair amount in the future. That I don't have any significant social problems right now is one reason that I think of social skills as being super, super subjective--but nonetheless, even in my very easy environment, I do structure my life in a particular way to avoid having big social problems.

    I am not some really socially successful person going around saying "Autistic people don't really have social problems and I'm saying this from my experience as someone who's Autistic and has no social problems." Because, a)I'm trying to examine the use of the terms "social skills" and "social impairment"* objectively, and therefore I'm trying not to talk from my own experience, and b)I do have/have had/will have (world without end) social problems.

    *(while I don't believe in social skills, for the record, I do believe in social impairment.)

    But (end of disclaimer) that doesn't mean I objectively lack something called "social skills." I could take everything on your list and come up with examples of people failing at A and B, and still being considered socially successful and normal. I could also come up with examples of people who fail at C without having any mind disabilities but just because of obvious environmental factors (such as being gay in a homophobic environment).

    I also know that some people with very obvious ASD can be very popular and social (C) without acting very "normal."

    And I know that some people can teach themselves to do A and B, but still not be very socially successful or come off as very normal.

    Aaaaaand I have to go to work and I really worry that talking about this stuff is alienating you/other people, but I just...like...

    the reason I am really obsessed with talking about this stuff is that I feel like there's a tendency to say,

    "Oh, look at these people, they don't have a super obvious difference from other people, like being nonverbal, but they consistently can't fit in with other people...so therefore they must be lacking fitting-in-with-other-people skills." And I feel like this is very medical model of disability and puts all the weight on the person who can't fit in and says that the only way to fix their problems is for them to be different and learn to do certain things (some of which the person may not actually be able to learn to do, at all).

    does this mean that you or I or any ASD people aren't socially impaired, functionally, in the real world? not at all.

    but I don't think we are all objectively missing a very specific set of social abilities. (this isn't to say that if you can't read faces, etc., I'm denying that fact about you, but I do think something like reading faces doesn't have to translate to social impairment. and in my case, being able to read faces hasn't helped me avoid social problems.)

  5. You don't have to worry about alienating me; you're not.

    I'll have to go back and think more about what you've written, quite honestly, because while I feel like I don't agree with you right now I also think there's a good chance that I'm misunderstanding what you're trying to say, and I want to understand what you say because I think it's interesting.

    It's something that's hard to wrap my mind around, because like you said, I have social impairment and generally my conflicts with people always seemed to be framed in terms of what I did wrong. So the easy conclusion is that I lack social skills. And then there's other things, like having a hard time in groups and always feeling like I have a hard time getting my say in because somehow I'm always out of rhythm with the conversation. And again, it's easiest to see that as an ability I lack because everyone else seems to love doing things in groups.

    But I don't want to throw out your ideas either until giving them more thought. So I'll hafta cogitate on this one.

  6. I am excited!

    I love what you're saying about is being the same race a social skill, because a lot of the time when autistic people are said to lack social skills it's because we make people uncomfortable based on their prejudices.

    In my experience, some people have been repulsed and horrified by my behavior, and some have been attracted and amused. Is my honesty a social skill because it helps me communicate directly? If so, it's a social skill that loads of NTs lack. Is stimming a social skill?

    I'm pleased with the idea that social skills don't exist/ every person has a different set/ they are totally and absolutely socially constructed.

    I also loved your previous post about the repetitive questions because that's something I do a lot -- not in terms of "What's Walmart" exactly but more like "Are you sure we won't be late? Tell me again what terminal we're leaving out of. What's the name of our hotel? And we're not late?" Or I ask people how to do things that I already know how to do, just to make sure I haven't got it wrong.

    This always freaks my mom out because she's worried that suddenly I appear to not know things that I used to know. But really I'm double-checking to allay anxiety.

    Also also. Your statement that language is you/is everything is something that I think about all the time. I actually made a drawing last year to that effect that I need to post soon. It's something I think about a lot when I read Amanda Baggs' stuff, because her experience is very much beyond/under/above language, and mine is completely based in language. That's very much the NVLD profile, also.

  7. Re. "does disorganized speech mean disorganized thought"...I've been thinking about this a lot lately myself, or at least stuff related to it (specifically, autism being associated with "tangential speech", which I definitely have a lot).

    That said, regarding my own thinking...certainly it can be "disorganized" at times in the technical sense, as in, it's not like I always have all my thoughts on a topic or situation perfectly lined up and definitively delineated or anything. Certainly I experience things internally like ambiguity and indecision and not immediately knowing how to connect a lot of data I've taken in.

    But I don't think my thinking is "disorganized" in the sense psych professionals usually mean when they use that word.

    From what I've read/heard, "disorganized thinking" seems to (in the psych sense; I wish I had referenced for this on hand but I don't) suggest a particular kind of disconnect from reality that I KNOW I don't experience. In other words, the phrase "disorganized thinking" is kind of a psych-jargony phrase, one that tends to be clustered (when professionals use it) with notions like people being "delusional" and whatnot.

    So that's why I object to being described as having "disorganized thinking" based on my speech (which tends to be a lot more tangential and inconsistent and rife with what a lot of people seem to consider "weird" analogies than my writing). Not because my thinking itself is somehow perfectly structured, but because it isn't detached from reality in the way a psych person might presume it is. If that makes any sense.

    (Oh, and the notion of phrases like "disorganized thinking" being psych-jargon was NOT immediately obvious to me. It took a lot of experience with having the wrong things assumed about me before it became clear that the way I was interpreting the words was not how they were actually being used.)

  8. that makes sense Anne. I think my thinking sometimes is actually detached from reality so maybe it's different for me (I wonder if there is some schizophrenia/autism overlap where some asd people have more schizophrenic traits, and I'm in it).

    I'm really glad that y'all (Fiona and Zoe) aren't mad at me. I was thinking about it the whole time at work. I just feel really worried because I know that I was alienating/disrespectful in my previous post on this suspect, but at the same time I just really don't believe in social skills or objective social impairment and when I get into things I really want to write about them all the time but then I just feel like a jerk because blah blah blah.

    I was thinking of making a disclaimer post that I link to from the front page of the blog emphasizing that I'm trying to build a "social model of social failure" and I'm not actually denying the existence of social failure or impairment when I write about these things. Because I don't usually focus on my personal experience of disability, and I fairly rarely about my social problems here, so I feel like it might come off like I don't have any social problems and I'm saying that other ASD people don't either--like, maybe I should state more clearly that I'm talking about frames/models of disability and not anyone's actual experience of ASD?

    am I making sense/would that be a good idea/can you guys help me fix it so it's not insulting to anyone?

  9. Hmm. I guess that would depend on what you mean by "disconnected from reality". But personally I've found it really difficult to disconnect from reality even when I've very much wanted to (this doesn't happen much nowadays, but it did as a kid and teenager), so maybe you are experiencing something really different. (I certainly don't think all autistic spectrum people are the same in terms of how our brains work, after all...there might be certain common trends, but to me "autism" only makes sense at all as a concept when defined very very broadly. But that's a whole other topic entirely).

    Anyway...to give an example of what I mean by "wanting to disconnect from reality but not being able to"...when I was in middle school or thereabouts, one of my obsessions was time travel. I saw a movie (very cheesy 80s movie called "Somewhere in Time") where the protagonist was able to basically self-hypnotize himself into traveling into the past. And I tried to do the same thing myself...that is, I attempted to do everything I could to convince myself I'd gone 30 or 40 years back in time. But it didn't work. I couldn't even START to make myself believe I was really back in time. And I couldn't make myself believe I was really an alien or whatever else my imagination came up with as being potentially super interesting. But it wasn't for lack of trying.

    So basically...I seem to be patently unable to actually convince myself of things I "know" aren't true or that certain kinds of evidence don't exist for. Hence, if you're actually able to convince yourself of things just because (for instance) you WANT them to be true, or because you're afraid of them being true, then yeah, you're probably experiencing something I can't actively relate to.

    But if you're talking about something else then I have no idea what it is so wouldn't be able to comment without an example or something. (Which you aren't obligated to provide, of course, I'm just babbling because this subject is interesting.)

  10. That makes sense and I think it's not insulting. The way I'm thinking about it now is that social rules as they exist are exclusionary. Autistic people tend to not do some things that neurotypical people do, but socialization doesn't have to be based around those things to the degree that it is.

    That makes a lot of sense to me. I think my biggest disagreement with your previous post came from my interpreting it as saying that difficulties that autistic people have with socializing come from anxiety/sensory issues, or even that autistic people don't actually tend to have difficulty socializing. Framing it as coming from the social model clears that up a lot.

  11. sorry I took a while to answer. I guess you could call it standard theory of mind stuff that I'm overreacting to. it just can be very disorienting and scary and make me feel detached from reality when I realize that people don't understand what I think I'm telling them.