12 November, 2010

13. Social model of social failure

I guess this as close as I will get to an ending. I've typed up everything I can find in my notebook related to this, and written the things I had floating around.

Basically I think it's definitely true that a lot of normal people sync up with each other and come off in certain ways to each other, and then when a lot of people with autism don't sync up with normal people, or don't come off properly, the results can be very bad for the person with autism.

I don't think this relates to people with autism not having "social skills."

I don't think social skills exist. Or, if I do, I think they exist like God exists--in everyone. They just may not always be apparent. For example, I may have very good social skills when relating to other people who have disabilities, or people who are interested in the same things I'm interested in. I have much better social skills with men than I do with women. Social skills are not contained in a person--they require the right other person.

With work, I think a lot of people can learn to develop their mindfulness and modulation skills so that they can have good social skills (i.e., capacity to connect) with more people--or, so that more people can have good social skills with them. It's the same thing.

Some people--disabled or not--may not be able to learn how to do that, but they will still sometimes meet a person who is exactly like them, or who is very good at mindfulness and modulation, and they will have good social skills when they are with that person.

Other people will just not let other people in. Sometimes it will be because the other person is obviously different. Such people may have good social skills when interacting with people who aren't different. But with people who are different, they will always have no social skills; and when a person who's different is with someone like that, they will "lack social skills" too. (But if they were told by a professional that they lack social skills, they won't understand the two-way nature of the failed connection.)

A person could be going through life, who can't talk, doesn't like to look at people, and is in a lot of emotional pain which they express with "challenging behaviors." This person may live in an institution where no one engages with them because the person is not judged to be interesting, or interested, or capable. One day a new person comes to the institution who is interested in the first person. They start to walk around together and sit together, even though they don't look at each other. Maybe they play games like the two kids I knew who liked to move each other's arms without looking at each other. Maybe they make noises at each other. Maybe they just physically stay near each other as much as possible. This is what life is about, and for some people, it never happens.

But it just takes people who fit each other, or learn to fit each other.

When someone is isolated or bullied, that is not all about them. Other people are bullying them and deciding not to engage them. Still other people, from a distance, in abstract, are framing the person as Someone Without Social Skills, while leaving the other people involved unmarked.

But everyone involved must have bad social skills, because they are all contributing to what is going on. Maybe we can't in the short term stop people from bullying and isolating other people, but we can in the abstract apply the social model of social failure, and stop saying that social failures deserve to be alone.


  1. I do definitely agree that the victim shouldn't be blamed. And I don't really think a pack of bullies should be considered to have 'social skills'. I mean, hurting other people isn't something that social skills are supposed to be about.

  2. So, if I understand you correctly, you're basically saying that social skills are socially constructed, in much the same way that disability is socially constructed. Is that it, or have I misunderstood you?

    The reason I ask is that this interpretation of what you're saying would seem to imply that disability doesn't exist either, which doesn't seem like something you would say.

  3. So what you are saying is that social skills are relative. I agree somewhat. I am infinitely better at being social with people that I know very well, and with new people it's a real mess. But this is due to brain functioning and the fact that I can't socially connect with people that I essentially have to "learn" from scratch. My mind is too busy interpreting their movements, tone, word choice, etc. Which is of course entirely different for every person I meet. My brain basically turns my social skills off since it's not a priority. If it were up to me, I would make it a priority. My favorite people tend to me "neurotypical", outgoing, talkative, and have good social skills with non-typical or disabled people. They are rare, but these are the people who end up being my friends. The fact that I and other people are judged and categorized as crazy/disabled because we have "bad" social skills (bad social skills being an example of social failure) certainly falls under the social model. There are clearly people who do not fan the flame of the social model of social failure (like those people who are my friends), but they are still in the minority. There are a few members of my family who basically treat me like I am a bad person because I lack social grace, but not everyone does that. Maybe that's a sign bad social skills are slowly becoming generally accepted like you mentioned blindness. Society as a whole has a lot to learn about neurology and invisible disabilities in general.

  4. It takes two to talk.

    Two to interact.


    I have more to say, but I think I'll say it to you later, because it's not fully formed yet.

  5. It's especially nice to read this because a month or so ago I made the same conclusion (in essence) in regard to my own experiences with friendship failures/successes. So it's nice to see it written out with such clarity and detail. Good post.

  6. Hi disemvowelled Matthew--

    I do think disability is socially constructed, but so is everything in the world, and that doesn't make it any less real. I think social skills on the other hand--as something that some people have, and some people don't--actually aren't real in any sense.

    I mean, if everyone had the same kind of brain problems I have, then they would be considered normal and not a disability (although I think we would still be living in caves so I'm glad that's not the case). But presently you can look at me and compare me to other people and say that I can't do things other people can do or I can't do them in the same way.

    But I don't think social skills can be judged as something that any individual person can and can't do because the people you're succeeding or failing to socialize with aren't objects. It's always two-way. That's why I think social skills can't be objectively judged like other skills (being able to read, being able to see).

  7. This was an excellent serries. I'm glad you wrote it.

  8. Ah, I see what you're saying. Disability is a question of skills/abilities, but social failure is more about different communication styles. That makes sense.