One time when I was making an earlier stage of this post, Fiona commented and defined social skills in the following way:
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.
Right now I would like to zoom in on b (I think c is what a lot of this series is about--rejection is an action undertaken by other people--and I may briefly address a because I think it's the "skill" that has the strongest case and it would be disingenuous for me to ignore it). If you are going to describe social skills as getting along with other people and being diplomatic, then you have to prove that normal people usually get along with other people and are diplomatic. You can't prove this, because almost everything that happens in the world shows that it isn't true. Besides, if all normal people had this type of "social skills" and all people with autism didn't, then people with autism wouldn't have social problems anyway--as long as they only interacted with normal people, they could rely on the normal people to adapt to them. Since this is not how things are, it can't really be true that b is a part of being normal and not-b is a part of having autism.
I actually do think there is a skill set that involves mindfulness and accommodating other people, but it is not particularly associated with normal people. Lots of normal people have it but lots of people with ASD have it too. In fact, I think that some people who have grown up being "weird" or "socially impaired" or "socially isolated" have an almost mathematical sensitivity to other people's feelings, because to them relationships feel more novel.
One time another person with ASD send me an email saying something like, "I'm really stressed and I have to write an email to my sister, but I thought I should write to you first because I know that you might get worried and think I'm mad at you if I don't email you back." This is a good example (and a lovely person), but a better exploration of the same thing was written by Luai and posted here:
I saw a report once about a study where autistic kids and NT kids were asked a series of questions about how they would act in certain situations; one of them was what they would do if they saw their mother crying. While the NT kids answered that they would go over and talk to her and hold her, the autistic kids almost universally said they would do something they knew she liked, like emptying the dishwasher, or making something for her.
And I love this, because it illustrates something I've always felt was true. If you don't know the social script, the set thing "everyone" does when someone is upset, or the set thing that "everyone" thinks is valuable, you have to think it through for yourself. You have to think, what makes person X happy? And this is why that boy caught bugs for you in seventh grade, and why I made a green alligator-shaped valentine for my crush in first grade, and why a friend of mine made a special "romantic dinner" for her boyfriend that consisted of pokemon mac-and-cheese and dinosaur chicken nuggets.
Sadly the article referred to going over to one's mother and hugging her as being the "right answer" (as in, "all the normal kids picked the right answer, but the autistic kids...."). >.<; I honestly don't know how people can continue to be so stupid.
Postscript: I like Fiona and she can have whatever opinions she wants. I don't want her to feel like a frog that I am taking apart.