What if we have BETTER social skills than other people?

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nwoo2021
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17 Jun 2021, 5:23 pm

The human brain is divided into two halves. The left hemisphere is concerned with symbolic thinking, the right is more holistic. Most people are stronger on one side or the other. Some people, however, are strong on both sides, meaning that they can learn faster, observe in more detail, are more attuned to their senses, and can use their imagination to come up with bold new ideas. People with this strength are called “autistic”. Yet as powerful as their brains are, they somehow can’t communicate with other people.

Autistic people “don't fit in”. They don't understand social rules; they’re awkward, weird, “freaks”, etc… So does that mean that autism causes poor social skills?

Indeed, people with autism—like me—struggle to fit in with and understand their peers’ culture and tastes. We often believe—and are told by others—that this means our social skills are weaker due to our brain condition. However, this is in fact a reflection of a society weak at passing on cultural and social norms!

To learn social norms, we must have a social group to learn from. This starts in childhood and affects how we behave in our adult lives. And often, children learn social skills primarily by socializing with other children. This is known as “peer orientation”. A lot of us find this nothing unusual— but it’s actually a very new thing, a 20th-century invention. Before then, it was strictly adults who children learned their culture from. As explained by doctors Gabor Maté and Gordon Neufeld:

Quote:
Culture, until recently, was always handed down vertically, from generation to generation. For millennia, wrote Joseph Campbell, “the youth have been educated and the aged rendered wise” through the study, experience and understanding of traditional cultural forms. Adults played a critical role in the transmission of culture, taking what they received from their own parents and passing it down to their children. However, the culture our children are being introduced to is much less likely to be the culture of their parents than that of their peers. Children are generating their own culture, very distinct from that of their parents and, in some ways, also very alien. Instead of culture being passed down vertically, it is being transmitted horizontally within the younger generation.

Essential to any culture are its customs, its music, its dress, its celebrations, its stories. The music children listen to bears very little resemblance to the music of their grandparents. The way they look is dictated by the way other children look rather than by the parents’ cultural heritage. Their birthday parties and rites of passage are influenced by the practices of other children around them, not by the customs of their parents before them. If all that seems normal to us, it’s only due to our own peer orientation.


And this is everything an autistic child does not need.

A child’s peers are often obsessed with what they find “cool”. If an autistic child tries to fit in to this peer group, they will tend to go off-topic, paying attention to things no one else notices. Other kids don’t have time for that. They’re not patient. They won’t take the time to explain the rules to their autistic peers, because a child is not meant to be a teacher. If one child doesn't get it, no use including them. So the autistic child now thinks they don't fit in and that's a problem.

But a lot of kids with autism don't understand that other children feel the same way. They also fear that they need to “fit in” to satisfy their social needs. and they do not want other children to see it either. But because they don’t have the strong sensory issues that autistic children have, they notice their awkwardness less, and that’s what gives off the impression that their social skills are better.

Autistic children are more awkward not because they feel and adapt to the social atmosphere less — they do it more easily. And if the social atmosphere is permeated by awkwardness, then awkward is what the autistic child will be.

We can see objective cases of people with autism demonstrating that they can be more socially attuned than others. As an autistic person, I have often found that I have a better sense of other people than those around me. I am less surprised by their behaviours and traits, owing to the close attention I pay to social situations.

Another person I know who has autism told me that he can sustain a friendship longer than other people he knows. Sometimes, he and his friends go a long while without talking to each other, and once this happens, they don’t contact him, either because they forget or because they think it feels awkward. Unlike them, he himself is always willing to be the first to initiate contact. Many people with autism also are extremely honest and reliable: having made a commitment to a friend, we would very rarely break that commitment, no matter how trivial another may see it. In a contemporary social environment where we have few moral obligations to others, this can seem overbearing or odd; but it actually demonstrates an ability and willingness to connect with others that goes far beyond the shallowness of many contemporary friendships.

If we lived in a society that was oriented towards relationships between adults and children, young people with autism would have stronger social supports within which to thrive. Rather than being forced to learn social skills exclusively within the shifting and awkward environments of their peers, they would have adults sharing with them structured social rules. And what’s more, their peers would have the exact same thing! Honesty and reliability are traits that are essential in intergenerational family environments—consistency and unconditional love is part of what makes a family community. Within this sense of security, an autistic child can develop healthy social relationships while still having their differences. A set of societal norms dictated by children cannot do the same. As Neufeld says, "The planets revolve around the sun, not each other."

Of course, many autistic adults are no better, and building community remains difficult. Again, we can attribute this to a lack of social structure, which we humans were really not prepared to deal with. Most of human evolution happened in the pre-industrial world, when our lives were more structured than they are now. A person could reasonably expect that they and their peers would have the same overall lifestyle from birth until death. And since people with autism tend to prefer having predictability, rules, and things making sense, more than other people do, this need for security was fulfilled meaning autism did not have the same stigma it has today. Once autistic people are on board with a shared “cultural narrative” and goals, their unusual moments of insight are helpful, not detrimental.

The archeologist Penny Spikins even suggests that autistic traits may have carried significant advantages as far back as the stone age. She suggests, for example, that “the incorporation of an autistic obsession with fairness and rules may have been key to providing highly systemised conventions to circumvent any tendencies to follow allegiances, or react emotionally to the unfamiliar and so may have been critical in promoting collaboration between different groups.”

Most people who have the privilege to receive the autism diagnosis live in industrialized societies, so the common image of autism is subject to a heavy bias.
So it’s really just current social norms (or lack thereof) that sees autism as a disability, or even as a thing at all: a collection of traits to be noticed, defined, and medicalized.

Autistic people are not failing to understand social rules. They are, on an instinctual level, trying to find social rules, and getting frustrated that there aren’t any.



WhatTheHey
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17 Jun 2021, 9:54 pm

I like what you wrote.

I think most of our communication and style is just different. Not bad. Not wrong. Not disordered. Sure there are those among us who are disordered or whatever, but I think it's because they have ASD + something else (like sociopathy, for example), and the something-else gets lumped in with the ASD as if they were the same. Or rather, that the ASD exists and is everyone's focus, but it's the something-else causing the problem ("Little Johnny went and shot up the school - it's because he has ASD" - no, Little Johny has ASD, but he's also a raging sociopath).

The things that tend to get me in most trouble, or isolate me from others, or get me bullied, have never in and of themselves been bad/etc. They are just different from what most others around me are doing. When I was a kid, I rarely connected with other kids, but sometimes with some adults. Sometimes adults I could converse with, and they seemed pleased that I had the interests I did, and would often provide me with more books or tools to help me continue to advance. Other kids? They just thought I was weird.

Also, I still get in trouble for being "too" honest ("Am I supposed to lie?"), "too" insistent that the rules be followed ("But YOU made the rules I'm trying to follow!"), "too" practical ("But I get things done!"), etc.

It's very confusing and frustrating.


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18 Jun 2021, 3:54 am

Interesting points.

I have found also during my life that other people with apparently autistic traits like being around me. Therefore small groups of apparently autistic people (I don't know if they are diagnosed or not) tend to collect in my house.

I suppose this is partly because an environment set up by an autistic person is likely to be more comfortable to people with similar traits and the communication is easier.

I haven't read the linked article but I wonder if autistic people in teh past found similar support networks locally.



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18 Jun 2021, 4:25 am

nwoo2021 wrote:
Autistic people are not failing to understand social rules. They are, on an instinctual level, trying to find social rules, and getting frustrated that there aren't any.

I read your whole post. This last part seems to summarize how most Aspies feel. Ties in with the black-and-white thinking, lack of social imagination, Theory of Mind problems we have. In truth, there are indeed social rules, but they simply can't be deduced using logic, so they seem non-existent.

From what I observe, neurotypicals operate on a feeling regarding how they feel they fit in within the hierarchy of whatever social environment they're in. They know if they're "right" or "wrong" based on validation or condemnation from the majority of people they interact with. They also, in turn, return the favor by rewarding or ostracizing those who violate these norms they've deduced. Aspies are most likely to be on the outs, as they're punishing us for non-adherence.



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18 Jun 2021, 6:23 am

Quote:
From what I observe, neurotypicals operate on a feeling regarding how they feel they fit in within the hierarchy of whatever social environment they're in. They know if they're "right" or "wrong" based on validation or condemnation from the majority of people they interact with. They also, in turn, return the favor by rewarding or ostracizing those who violate these norms they've deduced. Aspies are most likely to be on the outs, as they're punishing us for non-adherence.


In other words people like us deserve to be bullied and NTs have a right to bully us.


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19 Jun 2021, 4:09 am

It ties in with my feeling that my way of relating to people may be in some ways more rewarding than that of the general herd, though I'm not certain that feeling is objectively valid. The observations that support my theory are rather diverse.

Mark Twain frequently lampooned and otherwise critiqued many aspects of society, much of his criticisms being about its false and hypocritical nature, and his protagonists are usually somewhat more genuine people. I think being genuine is something Aspies may often be rather good at, at least compared with the kind of mainstream society I often hear complaints about here or my own experiences, which tell me that the outliers are often a less judgemental, a more honest and perhaps even a more compassionate class of people. It seems possible that my disdain for mainstream society is more realistic than just a convenient prop for my own ego would be.

In spite of a lot of failed relationships, the majority of the partners concerned have wanted to continue with me, and after separation a surprising number of them eventually made overtures to restore the relationship later. They wouldn't have done that if they hadn't been getting something from me that they had difficulty finding elsewhere - and in most of my relationships I haven't particularly been the money supply.

The OP mentioned children learning social rules from their peers. I've heard a lot about schoolkids and the spiteful way they often treat each other. I've often thought that things tend to go wrong socially in schools because a lot of their behaviour goes on behind the backs of the grownups. Most schools seem to have a bullying problem that they don't have the political will or the resources to fix.

I've heard that there are or were societies who revered us, though I know of no examples, perhaps because I've never looked for them.

So yes, although I think it's important not to take it too far, I suspect there's something in the notion that we may have some social advantages that are to a degree going down like pearls before swine in the modern "normal" developed world.



nwoo2021
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23 Jun 2021, 9:49 pm

Quote:
I've heard that there are or were societies who revered us, though I know of no examples, perhaps because I've never looked for them.


That's because nobody knew what autism was for most of history. People with autism were probably not categorized in a specific way, rather their personality traits were associated with them and them only. This is still the case for autistic people who are not believed to have it.



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18 Jul 2021, 11:55 am

nwoo2021 wrote:
To learn social norms, we must have a social group to learn from. This starts in childhood and affects how we behave in our adult lives. And often, children learn social skills primarily by socializing with other children. This is known as “peer orientation”. A lot of us find this nothing unusual— but it’s actually a very new thing, a 20th-century invention. Before then, it was strictly adults who children learned their culture from.

Maybe not "strictly" adults -- kids have always played with other kids -- but, certainly, in the old days, kids learned their culture primarily from adults in their families.

nwoo2021 wrote:

This link isn't working for me.

nwoo2021 wrote:
Quote:
Culture, until recently, was always handed down vertically, from generation to generation. For millennia, wrote Joseph Campbell, “the youth have been educated and the aged rendered wise” through the study, experience and understanding of traditional cultural forms. Adults played a critical role in the transmission of culture, taking what they received from their own parents and passing it down to their children. However, the culture our children are being introduced to is much less likely to be the culture of their parents than that of their peers. Children are generating their own culture, very distinct from that of their parents and, in some ways, also very alien. Instead of culture being passed down vertically, it is being transmitted horizontally within the younger generation.

Essential to any culture are its customs, its music, its dress, its celebrations, its stories. The music children listen to bears very little resemblance to the music of their grandparents. The way they look is dictated by the way other children look rather than by the parents’ cultural heritage. Their birthday parties and rites of passage are influenced by the practices of other children around them, not by the customs of their parents before them. If all that seems normal to us, it’s only due to our own peer orientation.

Yep. What brought this about was the advent of mass public education.

Hopefully, in the era of computer technology, it will eventually be possible for education to become more decentralized and less one-size-fits-all, while remaining available to all. Hopefully society can then become less age-segregated as well.

nwoo2021 wrote:
And this is everything an autistic child does not need.

A child’s peers are often obsessed with what they find “cool”. If an autistic child tries to fit in to this peer group, they will tend to go off-topic, paying attention to things no one else notices. Other kids don’t have time for that. They’re not patient. They won’t take the time to explain the rules to their autistic peers, because a child is not meant to be a teacher. If one child doesn't get it, no use including them. So the autistic child now thinks they don't fit in and that's a problem.

Agreed so far.

nwoo2021 wrote:
But a lot of kids with autism don't understand that other children feel the same way. They also fear that they need to “fit in” to satisfy their social needs. and they do not want other children to see it either. But because they don’t have the strong sensory issues that autistic children have, they notice their awkwardness less, and that’s what gives off the impression that their social skills are better.

Hmm, this I think is an over-generalization. First off, autistic children vary in what kinds of sensory issues they have, if any. Also, autistic children can have other kinds of neurological issues, besides sensory issues, that affect social behavior, such as attention issues. For example, I'm worse at multi-tasking than most people are, which is the main reason I have trouble with eye contact.

nwoo2021 wrote:
Autistic children are more awkward not because they feel and adapt to the social atmosphere less — they do it more easily. And if the social atmosphere is permeated by awkwardness, then awkward is what the autistic child will be.

This may well be true for some autistic children, but not all. Some autistic people are ultra-sensitive to social stimuli, whereas others tend to be oblivious.

nwoo2021 wrote:
We can see objective cases of people with autism demonstrating that they can be more socially attuned than others. As an autistic person, I have often found that I have a better sense of other people than those around me. I am less surprised by their behaviours and traits, owing to the close attention I pay to social situations.

Another person I know who has autism told me that he can sustain a friendship longer than other people he knows. Sometimes, he and his friends go a long while without talking to each other, and once this happens, they don’t contact him, either because they forget or because they think it feels awkward. Unlike them, he himself is always willing to be the first to initiate contact. Many people with autism also are extremely honest and reliable: having made a commitment to a friend, we would very rarely break that commitment, no matter how trivial another may see it. In a contemporary social environment where we have few moral obligations to others, this can seem overbearing or odd; but it actually demonstrates an ability and willingness to connect with others that goes far beyond the shallowness of many contemporary friendships.

This too is true for some of us but not all. Many autistic people have difficulty making friends and have found their friendships to be rather fragile.

nwoo2021 wrote:
If we lived in a society that was oriented towards relationships between adults and children, young people with autism would have stronger social supports within which to thrive. Rather than being forced to learn social skills exclusively within the shifting and awkward environments of their peers, they would have adults sharing with them structured social rules. And what’s more, their peers would have the exact same thing! Honesty and reliability are traits that are essential in intergenerational family environments—consistency and unconditional love is part of what makes a family community. Within this sense of security, an autistic child can develop healthy social relationships while still having their differences. A set of societal norms dictated by children cannot do the same. As Neufeld says, "The planets revolve around the sun, not each other."

With this, I strongly agree.

nwoo2021 wrote:
Of course, many autistic adults are no better, and building community remains difficult. Again, we can attribute this to a lack of social structure, which we humans were really not prepared to deal with. Most of human evolution happened in the pre-industrial world, when our lives were more structured than they are now. A person could reasonably expect that they and their peers would have the same overall lifestyle from birth until death. And since people with autism tend to prefer having predictability, rules, and things making sense, more than other people do, this need for security was fulfilled meaning autism did not have the same stigma it has today. Once autistic people are on board with a shared “cultural narrative” and goals, their unusual moments of insight are helpful, not detrimental.

Agreed.

nwoo2021 wrote:
The archeologist Penny Spikins even suggests that autistic traits may have carried significant advantages as far back as the stone age. She suggests, for example, that “the incorporation of an autistic obsession with fairness and rules may have been key to providing highly systemised conventions to circumvent any tendencies to follow allegiances, or react emotionally to the unfamiliar and so may have been critical in promoting collaboration between different groups.”

Most people who have the privilege to receive the autism diagnosis live in industrialized societies, so the common image of autism is subject to a heavy bias.
So it’s really just current social norms (or lack thereof) that sees autism as a disability, or even as a thing at all: a collection of traits to be noticed, defined, and medicalized.

Yep.

nwoo2021 wrote:
Autistic people are not failing to understand social rules. They are, on an instinctual level, trying to find social rules, and getting frustrated that there aren’t any.

For many of us, the latter is probably true.


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18 Jul 2021, 12:31 pm

What if the sky is actually orange but we just see it in negative? :chin:


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18 Jul 2021, 1:25 pm

Well, your first sentence is wrong for a start.

Quote:
But, the evidence discounting the left/right brain concept is accumulating. According to a 2013 study from the University of Utah, brain scans demonstrate that activity is similar on both sides of the brain regardless of one’s personality.

They looked at the brain scans of more than 1,000 young people between the ages of 7 and 29 and divided different areas of the brain into 7,000 regions to determine whether one side of the brain was more active or connected than the other side. No evidence of "sidedness" was found. The authors concluded that the notion of some people being more left-brained or right-brained is more a figure of speech than an anatomically accurate description.

https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/right-brainleft-brain-right-2017082512222



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18 Jul 2021, 2:01 pm

ezbzbfcg2 wrote:
nwoo2021 wrote:
Autistic people are not failing to understand social rules. They are, on an instinctual level, trying to find social rules, and getting frustrated that there aren't any.

I read your whole post. This last part seems to summarize how most Aspies feel. Ties in with the black-and-white thinking, lack of social imagination, Theory of Mind problems we have. In truth, there are indeed social rules, but they simply can't be deduced using logic, so they seem non-existent.

From what I observe, neurotypicals operate on a feeling regarding how they feel they fit in within the hierarchy of whatever social environment they're in. They know if they're "right" or "wrong" based on validation or condemnation from the majority of people they interact with. They also, in turn, return the favor by rewarding or ostracizing those who violate these norms they've deduced. Aspies are most likely to be on the outs, as they're punishing us for non-adherence.


I don't relate to that at all. I feel more like there are lots of social rules...knowing them just doesn't come naturally, since it is hard to really pay attention to and read all the social cues people give.


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Harry Haller
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18 Jul 2021, 5:25 pm

Interesting (complex) thoughts

How many of ye have the experience in grade school of actually sitting down with yourself and trying to work out what socially is going on, why the other kids behave as they do, how they know what to do, why some kids are popular and others not? And after all the effort still being mystified?

Concept being, I think AS needs to do manually what comes automatically to NT's, who have a secret "box" in their brain that automatically gives them all the information necessary so no thought at all is required.

Kinda like driving automatic vs. stick -- if just now starting out with stick 8O



nwoo2021
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18 Jul 2021, 6:31 pm

Quote:
This link isn't working for me.


https://drgabormate.com/preview/hold-on ... apter-one/

Quote:
Hmm, this I think is an over-generalization. First off, autistic children vary in what kinds of sensory issues they have, if any. Also, autistic children can have other kinds of neurological issues, besides sensory issues, that affect social behavior, such as attention issues. For example, I'm worse at multi-tasking than most people are, which is the main reason I have trouble with eye contact.


Thanks for explaining.

Quote:
This too is true for some of us but not all. Many autistic people have difficulty making friends and have found their friendships to be rather fragile.


The point is that this depends on where and how people make friends. People are different, but I can now recognize that my own difficulty making friends was because of not having the right environment.



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18 Jul 2021, 6:34 pm

hurtloam wrote:
Well, your first sentence is wrong for a start.

Quote:
But, the evidence discounting the left/right brain concept is accumulating. According to a 2013 study from the University of Utah, brain scans demonstrate that activity is similar on both sides of the brain regardless of one’s personality.

They looked at the brain scans of more than 1,000 young people between the ages of 7 and 29 and divided different areas of the brain into 7,000 regions to determine whether one side of the brain was more active or connected than the other side. No evidence of "sidedness" was found. The authors concluded that the notion of some people being more left-brained or right-brained is more a figure of speech than an anatomically accurate description.

https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/right-brainleft-brain-right-2017082512222


It may not be entirely like that, but metaphorically the idea still works. The autistic brain still shows a much stronger connection between the two halves, both in the structure of the brain and in the concept.



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18 Jul 2021, 6:53 pm

Harry Haller wrote:
Concept being, I think AS needs to do manually what comes automatically to NT's, who have a secret "box" in their brain that automatically gives them all the information necessary so no thought at all is required.


I think it is the complete opposite, actually.

The other kids are also missing the information you described as "why the other kids behave as they do, how they know what to do, why some kids are popular and others not". The difference is that for them, those questions do not come automatically, so they don't bother and so they go back to socializing with no concern.

Most of what comes automatically to people comes because it has been taught to them. Autistic people often have the information come automatically when others don't. I can speak from personal experience: I was able to read at the age of three without ever being deliberately taught to. Most kids learn at twice that age and only with structured teaching.

Nobody, autistic or otherwise, can learn social skills without other people. At most, they can do some independent reflection on others' social behaviour, but of course they need a reference point. It just seems like autistic people don't get communication skills automatically because from childhood, we're expected to believe that socializing is separate from being instructed and working on practical skills.

If anyone is more likely to have the box, it's autistic people, because the autistic brain allows for more connection between its different regions.



Harry Haller
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18 Jul 2021, 7:08 pm

nwoo2021 wrote:
I think it is the complete opposite, actually.

The other kids are also missing the information you described as "why the other kids behave as they do, how they know what to do, why some kids are popular and others not". The difference is that for them, those questions do not come automatically, so they don't bother and so they go back to socializing with no concern.

Most of what comes automatically to people comes because it has been taught to them. Autistic people often have the information come automatically when others don't. I can speak from personal experience: I was able to read at the age of three without ever being deliberately taught to. Most kids learn at twice that age and only with structured teaching.

Nobody, autistic or otherwise, can learn social skills without other people. At most, they can do some independent reflection on others' social behaviour, but of course they need a reference point. It just seems like autistic people don't get communication skills automatically because from childhood, we're expected to believe that socializing is separate from being instructed and working on practical skills.

If anyone is more likely to have the box, it's autistic people, because the autistic brain allows for more connection between its different regions.


Great theory. I like it for its complexity.

Doesn't explain "why" the well known social difficulties/awkwardness of Autists, however


I mean, most of what the brain does is automatic.
Think digestion. Think hormonal, blood pressure, autonomic, -- why even walking, running becomes automatic.
When running the landscape doesn't bounce because there is an automatic mechanism causing tiny eye movements to compensate for our motion. All automatically.


It would be awkward if we had to consciously through thought regulate blood pressure; but what is being proposed with this robust hypothesis is that those who had to consciously, through thought, regulate blood pressure, would do a better job of it



Last edited by Harry Haller on 18 Jul 2021, 7:12 pm, edited 1 time in total.