12 November, 2010

4. Social skills and intent

I also guess you could--well, I mean, I can kind of feel the shape of an argument in my head--"Just because you guys like Stephen doesn't mean that Stephen has good social skills! That's something you guys are doing, not something Stephen is doing." I am sort of intrigued by the surfacing of this idea in me. If someone is severely disabled and doesn't really follow social rules like saying please and thank you, and doesn't seem to modify their behavior based on other people's reactions (I'm now talking about a hypothetical person because I feel like it's not possible to objectively judge that any real person isn't modifying their behavior), can that person really be said to have social skills any more than an object or a baby or a dead person that other people feel comfortable around? How can just being likable be a social skill?

Well I don't know but aren't some nondisabled people also just like a pretty rock that other people respond to because the sight of it makes them feel good?

I'm later going to discuss the idea of "mindfulness and modulation," which is a particular way of relating to people that I think is legitimately termed a skill, but which is not especially underrepresented in people with ASD, and is even overrepresented. Mindfulness and modulation is actually a conscious, intent-based social style. But lots of non-disabled people who are socially successful do not practice mindfulness and modulation, and may not move through the world with any more intent than someone like Stephen.

I mean, I recall meeting a friend of a friend who seemed very normal, and whom I didn't particularly like. Afterwards, my friend said, "She's sort of hard to spend time with because she doesn't pick up on social cues." I remember thinking it was funny because that seemed like such a textbook description of someone with "Asperger's," but this girl didn't have any of the qualities that would cause me to read someone as ASD. It hadn't even occurred to me to think of her as having "bad social skills" because she was normal. I guess I think of "bad/nonexistent social skills" as being something They say about Us--people with DDs or mental illnesses, or people who are part of subcultures. If They fuck up, if they're insensitive, it's just how they are.

If I fuck up, I think it proves everyone right.

Kids with ASD are said to be bullied and ostracized because they "lack social skills." In this equation, people who hurt other people (the normal people who are bullying the ASD people, conveniently erased by the passive voice) are said to be skilled. In this construction, they are the Haves and we are the Have-Nots and the thing they have is the ability to understand other people's feelings and reactions.

But um, then why are they acting like that if they know how it feels? When I was being bullied I remember having a feeling that the people who bullied me weren't real because they didn't seem to care about anything real and they didn't seem to know that I, and their other victims, were real.

(I went on a brief mental tangent trying to figure out if bullying can be considered a social skill--I mean yes they are mean blah blah, but even a bad action can come out of talent. I've concluded that while certain types of manipulation and abuse can be considered skills, most of the people who bullied me were not especially sophisticated at doing so. Obviously I was affected, but it's very easy to make someone feel bad; the tactics they used on me would have worked on almost anyone.

In the "My Year of Flops" section, I will discuss a bully with very good "social skills." I don't mean to imply that no such people exist.)


  1. "Just because you like Stephen doesn't mean that Stephen has good social skills! That's something you guys are doing, not something Stephen is doing."

    This is a good formulation. Thank you.

  2. When bullies are implied to be the "socially skilled" ones ...

    Isn't Socialization Wonderful?
    by Kate Gladstone

    Girls and boys, come out to play,
    But shoo the neighbors’ kid away.
    He’s awkward, shy and very smart:
    That’s proof enough he has no heart.
    The grownups say: “No empathy”
    And schedule him for therapy.
    They hope that all the high-cost fuss
    Will make him like empathic Us.
    Then he’ll do all the things we do,
    And be Quite Normal, through and through.
    WE are empathic — think of that! –
    Right now, we’re torturing a cat.