Written by:
March 9, 2019

Social skills & responsibility

Last updated on February 23, 2021

Q: Are neurotypicals responsible to teach social skills to autistic adults, or is it their own responsibility?

Social skills are our own responsibility. But that’s not all that needs to be said on this topic.


Dialectical reciprocity

Note that social skills are instrumental to social interaction, and social interaction is a mutual endeavor, which both/all parties involved have responsibility over. So we may have a responsibility to correct and regulate each others’ social skills, insofar as both/all parties are willing to learn, improve, help, and/or be helped.

Dimitris Bolis et al. presents a framework called the dialectical misattunement hypothesis, which views conditions such as autism not merely as a (potentially disordered) function within single brains, but as a dynamic interpersonal mismatch.[1]Beyond Autism: Introducing the Dialectical Misattunement Hypothesis and a Bayesian Account of Intersubjectivity

A diagram of the dialectical misattunement hypothesis, which is an interplay between intersubjective communicative gaps and individual prediction styles. Consequently, we have a shared responsibility over interpersonal communication.
Dialectical misattunement: increasing communicative gap (collective level) yields increasingly different prediction and (inter-)action styles (individual level) and vice versa. (Image attribution: Dimitris Bolis et al. – redesigned by Embrace ASD)

In other words, challenges with communication for example are not solely down to the individual, but are to be overcome by all parties involved.


Responsibility

Neurotypicals have no inherent responsibility to teach autistic adults—or anyone else—social skills, however. Nor is there an obligation to do so.

And nor are autistic adults inherently in need of social skills lessons by neurotypicals, fellow autistics, or anyone else.

There not only has to be mutual participation in social interaction, but there has to be a mutual understanding of shared responsibilities when we choose to participate, and a willingness to learn from each other.


Liberty & autonomy

Having said that, autistic adults should obviously have the choice to reject any teachings of social skills if they so choose.

I should not have to risk an entitled neurotypical person walking up to me and teach me social skills based on their perception of my alleged social inadequacies based on my autism. However, I would not regard it as improper if they operate under the assumption that I am lacking in certain social skills, and it would be conducive to me to make me aware of my (perceived) shortcomings. In fact I would likely be thankful. But also allow me the autonomy to reject such teachings if I deem them to be unnecessary, or if I am already aware of them, but choose not to apply them.


Deliberate social impairment

I may just be acting socially impaired with deliberate effort, you know? Maybe not applying certain social skills helps me navigate the social world in ways neurotypicals have not even conceived of.

Just maybe, I actually learn a lot more about social interaction by failing at it frequently. Maybe I have come to understand people—perhaps specifically neurotypicals—in a much deeper way on account of my faux pas? I have also learned a lot by seeing other people make this faux pas, so it may actually be conducive to me if everyone around me had fewer social skills!

Who’s to say that neurotypicals necessarily have a conducive view of what social interaction ought to be, or what it ought to look like? Are they not merely applying what their parents/teachers/etc. taught them what social interaction is supposed to be, rather than being able to point to any objective framework? Who is to say that remarks like, “Nice weather, eh?”—or questions like, “How are you?” not asked out of interest, but merely to start a conversation—are actually good means of social interaction?

Other people’s definition(s) of social interaction may not be in agreement with mine—or indeed my idea of fun, or my idea of a meaningful way to spend time.


Utility

Let’s not forget that social skills are instrumental to social interaction. If there is no interest in social interaction, social skills are not nearly as important as some people make them out to be.

Social skills serve us only insofar as we want to navigate the social landscape.

And as an autistic person, there may just be ways to navigate the social landscape that are alien and awkward in the eyes of neurotypicals, but which make sense to us, and are—just maybe—more conducive to our needs and wants than the social skills you think we have a need for.


Also have a look at:

2 persuasive tactics for autistics
This article
was written by:
martin-silvertant
Co-founder of Embrace Autism, I’m living up to my surname as a silver award-winning graphic designer. Besides running Embrace Autism and researching autism, I love typography and practice type design. I also fight dodecahedragons during sleep onset.I discovered I’m autistic when I was 19, and was diagnosed at 25.

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