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my thoughts on social skills
  • Moose
    Posts: 1,843
    Well written and thought provoking.

    I certainly agree that the way we grade and appraise social skills is 'screwy' and broadly understand where you are coming from in your blog. I think I would come to similar overall conclusions, but with a slightly different spin.

    I don't have a problem with N.T. skill levels as a point of reference, but I strongly dislike the notion that anything less/different to NT is 'bad' or that having skills that conform to the average is 'good'. The conventional view is to regard NT as a bar set at a certain height as if not achieving this level falling short or failing to make the grade. Instead, I think it would be far more helpful if we thought of NT as a centre line and that deviation from this average line is just being to the left or right of the norm. Left or right I feel is a better picture than above or below a line.

    I am not sure if one can argue the merits of autistic observation or NT empathy against each other. having said this I do think NT empathy is overplayed, or not looked at properly. I know many people who would be described as NT and as possessing empathising skill, but are their skills really that good. How many times do we hear someone say " I really can't understand why she did that" or "If I was him I would never do that". Yes they have some empathy and can put themselves in someone else's shoes, but then go onto imagine how they would do things differently rather than truly understand why the other person has acted the way they have. Is this really empathy, is this actually so different to those whom can't step into another's shoes at all?
    Equally, observational talents are an asset, they too can fall down. One may be great at taking in the details and studying the action, but arrived at incorrect conclusions.
    However, NT empathy is given greater value even when it is defective. It seems to me that consensus places disproportionate worth on the mere capacity to empathise and ignores the skill with which it is used. The NT may be hard wired as an empathic individual and the autistic person as an observant systemiser, but neither are necessarily employing their ability effectively.
    Whichever way we are predisposed, there is no intrinsic greater worth in an NT view or an autistic one any more than arguing right-handedness is superior to left.
  • Lixina
    Posts: 289

    The NT may be hard wired as an empathic individual and the autistic person as an observant systemiser

    That's not what I meant. I don't think these are inherent differences between autistics and NTs. I think they're an effect of growing up in a society where the majority is either similar to you or different from you. In a society of autistic people, the positions would be reversed.

    If you find, growing up, that no one else seems to do what you'd do in a given situation, you're going to learn not to put yourself in their shoes. If many people seem to think roughly similarly to you, then you'll learn that putting yourself in their shoes is a good strategy for understanding them. Autistic or NT doesn't matter, what matters is whether you're part of the majority.
  • dirtmother
    Posts: 898
    Thinking what you would do if you were in somebody else's shoes is not empathy. Certainly it is what a lot of 'neurotypical' people do, but it isn't empathy. As for "I know just how you feel"....I don't think so! I feel that empathic skills are in pretty short supply across the population - and that's just when people are in the mood to use them if they have them. Plenty of people do have the skills but don't always choose to use them.

    My son with PDA has more empathy than perhaps most neurotypical people I know (not just my opinion). Can't always act in accordance with what he knows, but that is not the same thing.

    The people with Asperger's or autism that I've known (all pretty different to my son as different to him as to NT people or as NT people are to him) all tend to have particularly good social skills in *some* ways - far more polite than most, and often very kind. It's just when things go wrong...

    'Speed of Dark' by Elizabeth Moon is a very readable novel about someone with Asperger's which makes the very valid point that people with ASDs, although assumed to have deficits, are held to a higher standard of behaviour than others, they are taught 'rules' which 'normal' people in practice don't observe.
  • Moose
    Posts: 1,843
    I quite agree that the ability to place oneself in another's shoes is not empathy, but actually 'theory of mind'.

    Lixinia, again I do understand your reasoning and think of H.G wells' 'Country of the Blind', but am not convinced that you are 100% right with asd's and social skills.
    How about in settings and environments where ASD's the majority? In special school settings an individual may be surrounded by others neurologically, emotionally and behaviourally similar to themselves and yet still find it hard to see where they are coming from.
    Whilst I supported my son in school this was something that struck me with some of the other students who seemed no more able to identify with fellow students than they were with teachers or support staff! However, whilst these did not appear able to place themselves in their shoes they were generally more tolerant of their issues.
  • Lixina
    Posts: 289

    In special school settings an individual may be surrounded by others neurologically, emotionally and behaviourally similar to themselves and yet still find it hard to see where they are coming from.

    Well, autistics kids share some traits in common, but two randomly selected autistic kids will generally have less in common than two randomly selected neurotypical kids. It seems like autism is probably several different things that look similar, rather than a single condition.

    Plus there's a difference between growing up in a society where nearly everyone is like you, and just attending a school with kids like you.
  • mamma b
    Posts: 19
    I think this is a fascinating discussion and perhaps highlights some of the problems that comes with laying out any set of criteria to describe anyone --NT or AT. For instance wouldn't a theory of mind or empathy be required in some measure to socially manipulate? Most children will socially manipulate to avoid something, is it therefore simply that PDA children become more practised because of the nature of their condition. Does that mean the skills are different or just used in different quantities so they become more honed?
    My grandson got a certificate of kindness from his school in reception year and this year the TA says he is the politest and most kind boy in the year group. If any one is hurt he goes to them and tells a teacher. What am I to believe? He is being manipulative? he sees an advantage in gaining brownie points so that people will take the pressure of in class? Or just maybe there is a little bit of social identity there and perhaps a bit of pride?
    He mostly has to be persuaded to go to school("the days are too long!") and there can be meltdowns(although less so this year more tears and clinging) and there will no doubt be many difficulties ahead, but he will always be more than a set of criteria.
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