Tag Archives: social skills

Not a Cure

The cure vs. not cure battle seems to be continuing to rage on. Ages ago I made a post with my take after someone accused me of not needing any kind of help, since I am against being “cured.” It seems that to some people, it’s a binary. Either we’re just fine as we are and don’t need help or treatment, or we need to be cured. The reality is, of course, more nuanced, with different individuals needing different amounts and different types of help and treatment.

So, looking at the cure stuff, it seems that there is a pretty big disconnect between the broader autism community, and how some parents think of it. See, to autistic adults, most of us see autism as an identity. As a neurology. To get rid of the autism is to fundamentally change who we are.

I gather, though, that to some parents of autistic children, they see it differently. See, autism is diagnosed by behavior. While scientists are slowly researching how autistic brains are different from neurotypical brains, it’s still an area that we don’t really understand, and we are very very far away from using that kind of information in diagnosis. Behavior is all we have. So “having autism” is, in a sense, synonymous with “being diagnosable.” Of course, there are problems with that logic, and one of the big ones – the one I am wanting to talk about here – is how some people use it for their idea of “cure.”

Basically, for some parents, “curing” their child only means making them no longer diagnosable. And making them no longer diagnosable means making them get rid of the behavior used for diagnosis. And when I think about that, well, it’s quite distressing.

See, I could probably learn to stop stimming. But it would leave me constantly tense and uncomfortable, it would eliminate a huge part of my body language, and I would have to keep a fairly significant portion of my attention dedicated to preventing stimming. Sure, it would reduce how diagnosable I am, but it would not better my life in any way. Quite the opposite.

If there were enough external pressure, I could probably succumb to not showing my sensory issues. I could choke down food that makes me gag (well… maybe. The gagging can get pretty bad). I could sit in silent agony as clothing tags dug their way into my skin. I could learn to not flinch at painful lights and noises (which, actually I did learn that one a little. It’s not a skill I particularly enjoy, and I am working on getting rid of it).

I could take intensive social skills classes. Which, actually, wouldn’t necessarily be bad. My social skills are way behind other people in my age group, and this is very much an area where I need help. As I’m pretty sure I’ve written about before, my ability to handle parties or similar forms of group socialization is approximately nil. I just can’t do it. So teaching me to handle stuff like that would be good.

On the other hand, not all ways of teaching “social skills” are about bettering an autistic person’s ability to actually interact. Sometimes they are about hiding our weirdness. Things like forcing eye contact regardless of the pain involved. Or forcing us to touch people even if it makes us feel sick or panicked.

So if my childhood had included all that kind of “help,” and somehow I learned to cope with that stuff without more or less constant meltdowns, I might have stopped being diagnosable. But the thing is, I would still be autistic. I simply would have learned how to hide my autism. And it wouldn’t even be able to last long term. As life continues, as the challenges of life increase, it would take more and more effort to maintain the facade. My ability to do anything else would diminish more and more. Eventually, the house of cards would crumble. Inevitably.

Making the autism invisible does not get rid of it. All it does is make it so neurotypicals can happily pretend it isn’t there.

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Filed under opinion, that's not helping

The Dunning-Kruger Effect

So I do a lot of thinking about my social skills. I think about where they are now, I think about where they were in the past, I think about what I want to learn and where I hope I’ll be in the future.

One thing I notice when I look back is that I seem to have been subject to the Dunning-Kruger effect rather a lot.

So before I go further, let’s talk a little bit about what that actually is. Basically, it’s a form of cognitive bias where a person is both really terrible at something, while simultaneously being unaware of how terrible they are at that thing, even to the point of thinking they are good at it.

Apparently there are four main points in play here. Basically, someone who is really incompetent at something will often:

  1. fail to recognize their own lack of skill
  2. fail to recognize genuine skill in others
  3. fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy
  4. recognize and acknowledge their own lack of skill, IF they have been exposed to training for that skill

And… yep. That’s me in a nutshell, at least when it comes to social skills. In the past, I honestly had no idea I was so clueless in my ability to socialize, related to others, make conversation, etc. I even, at times, thought I was good at it (I wasn’t. oh gods, I really really wasn’t). I am increasingly finding that the more I learn, the more aware I become of being so utterly clueless, at least of anything beyond the basics.

I am sufficiently clueless that I don’t even know what good social skills actually look like. I mean, I can see some people are obviously socially successful, but I don’t know how to learn from their example or apply whatever they are doing to my own life. I cannot differentiate between good advice and bad advice. Socially speaking, I am extremely vulnerable and I always have been, just because of how much I don’t know. Sometimes I worry about being taken advantage of, because as soon as I am criticized in a social arena I will back off and apologize, no matter what. Because often, I did fuck up somehow and I just don’t know how. But it means that there could be times where I don’t fuck up, where someone else fucked up, and they can blame me anyways because I don’t know the difference. This is something that worries me, because I cannot make myself any less vulnerable than I am.

That it is so possible, so probable, so be so clueless of my own lack of skill really does worry me. So now I try to offset this effect by being as aware as possible of my own incompetence. It’s a lot easier to learn when I know I have a lot to learn and can remain open to said learning.

I’m honestly hoping at least a few of you will be able to relate to all this. And if you can’t, remember that this Dunning-Kruger effect is actually a thing. Which is to say, try to be patient with me, and maybe with others who are like me. I am trying, but it’s super hard.

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Filed under issue, personal

Introversion and Socialization

So I’m an introvert. I actually suspect my introversion and autism are linked, through sensory processing difficulties. Not that they’re the same thing, by any means, but they do impact each other. Humans are noisy and smelly and tend to move around and do things, which means there’s a lot of sensory input to keep up with. More people means more sensory input, which increases the risk of sensory overload. So I’m careful with my socialization.

Beyond that, I really am an introvert. However, I also like to socialize. I’ve gotten the impression that there is this idea (at least in the US) that introverts must all be asocial and want to avoid people at all costs. People also claim or believe that introverts are “just shy” and will turn into happy extroverts if we can just be brought “out of our shell.” This is particularly frustrating for me, but since I’ve written about that before I will not try to get into it again.

No, this comes from someone recently asking me to explain how I can be an introvert and still like to socialize, as apparently this was a totally unfamiliar concept to them.

The usual way of explaining introversion (when people aren’t insisting that it’s shyness or anxiety or asocialness or whatever) is that being around people saps our energy, as opposed to extroverts who gain energy by being around people. This is, at least in my case, more or less true. I have a finite amount of social energy, so I have to be careful where I spend it. Once it’s gone, that’s it. I can’t socialize anymore, and I have to wait for the energy to recharge. If I drain myself too much, it can take a week or more before I have enough energy to socialize again. So I’m careful. I budget my social time.

But I do have friends. I like hanging out with people. I really enjoy crafting with people who I like to be around. I enjoy rituals with my grove, and I enjoy the LARPs that I’ve taken to doing. The big thing is – when I decide that I would like to socialize with you, I am saying that I like you enough to spend some of my limited social budget on you.

Another point I want to make is that sometimes I see extroverts talking as though the extrovert style of socializing is somehow the “right” way to socialize. I once saw an extrovert defending introverts and saying how introverts can socialize too, by saying that we could go to a party and do the social butterfly dance just like extroverts, we just end up tired at the end. And honestly, I kinda thought that extrovert was part of the problem. Maybe I don’t want to go to parties. Maybe I don’t want to do the social butterfly dance. Hell, maybe I can’t do the social butterfly dance because it involves intricate social cues that I seriously cannot keep up with. Not only is it ok to be an introvert, but it is ok to socialize like an introvert. No matter what extroverts might say. So I mostly try to do my socializing one-on-one (as I’m sure I’ve mentioned many many times on this blog). Extroverts don’t always like to socialize this way. I’ve known plenty of extroverts in my life who were utterly baffled by the idea that I might get more out of one-on-one interaction than in a loud, chaotic group. However, their lack of understanding does not make it any less true.

But really my point is that I can TOTALLY be introverted and also be social. Maybe less frequently social, maybe a different kind of social, but STILL SOCIAL. IT STILL COUNTS.

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Filed under social skills

The importance of validation

Recent events in my life have lead me to wanting to talk about validation as a social skill.

I think validation is very important. Seriously, so important. It’s something I’m fairly deliberate about in my own interpersonal relationships and work hard on, and I find myself sometimes rather wishing that other people were better about it as well.

But first I want to address a myth that seems to be around about what validation means. So I’m going to try to make this very clear:

VALIDATION DOES NOT MEAN AGREEMENT.

Are we clear? I’ve seen plenty of people trip up over this concept, thinking that the only way to validate someone is to agree with them, but that is just not the case at all. Nor does validation mean admitting that the other person is correct. You can validate someone while strongly of the opinion that they are wrong, and you can even proceed to explain that disagreement after the validation. I mean, you can validate someone by agreeing with them, it is certainly also valid (heh), it is simply not the only way.

I actually want to talk about validation in the context of disagreement here. I’ll be honest – it’s something that I need. If you are going to school me on being wrong about something, I will find it a heck of a lot easier to hear you if you start with some validation. If we’re having a debate, you can say something like “those are interesting and well thought out points, but I disagree with you because of blah, blib, and bloo.” If we are discussing something and I’ve made several points and you only disagree with one of them, you can say “I agree with foo, bar, and baz, but I disagree with qux because blah.” If I misunderstood something you said, you can say “I can see how it could have seemed that way from your perspective and I’m sorry* it came across that way, but I really meant blah.”

Another area validation comes into play is when reassuring someone’s worries. First, I’m going to establish some credentials. I grew up worrying a lot. A whole lot. Enough that my mom called me a “worry-wart” (I’m not really sure what that means exactly, but it was because I was worrying all the time). So I can tell you from experience that saying “oh, that’s a silly thing to be worried about” in response to me sharing a worry with you does not help at all. Not even a tiny little bit. All it does is pile up shame on top of my worry, and we already know how I feel about shame.

So I make a point to never, ever do that to another person. Even if I think their worry is silly or not really worth spending a lot of energy on. Instead, I start with validation. This does not mean that I say “oh yes, that’s a great thing to worry about” or anything like that. In this context, it means that I start by saying that I understand worry, and that I can see why they might be worried about that (because seriously, I generally can. soooo much experience with excessive worrying). Only then will I go on to as thoughtful a reassurance as I can muster, about how things are ok or we have plans in place or whatever else. Heck, I am all about making contingency plans for unlikely events, so I am happy to do that too.

Still, the point is that I start with validation, before doing anything else. I don’t have to lie, or agree with the other person, or declare that they are right and I am wrong. I only have to respectfully acknowledge their point of view.

Now I’m going to get into a metaphor. There is a reason I think this is such a big deal in disagreements. Disagreements create friction between people. A few simple words of validation can act as a lubricant on that friction, decreasing it and ultimately making it easier (so much easier) to deal with and work things out. It makes it easier for people to really hear each other. It makes it easier for people to feel heard. This is important, and again, I speak from personal experience here. Both from my experiences of positive effects – in terms of both giving and receiving validation – and from my experiences of how much harder it can be when validation is absent.

I am also imagining that at least a few people are going to see this as some form of passive aggressive behavior or something, but I really don’t see it that way. As I already mentioned, I see it as social lubricant. I also don’t see any contradiction involved. I can respect a person’s thought process even if I disagree with their conclusion. I can accept that I don’t always word things great, even if I think the other person misinterpreted what I said. And openly acknowledging that makes interactions go so much more smoothly. When I first started figuring this out I was astonished at how nicer it made things. When Nee figured it out in our relationship, it smoothed out our friction by a hell of a lot.

Validation is important. You can validate a person without compromising your opinion or beliefs in any way. It’s a small thing to do that has huge benefits. I think the world could use a lot more of this.

*This is not a real apology. That’s ok, it does not need to be. You are not saying that you are wrong if you say “I’m sorry” in this context, you are simply offering to meet the other person halfway. If you can go as far as being willing to consider that maybe your word choices were unclear or you left out information or something that would be even better, but just a simple “sorry it came across that way” goes a long, long way.

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Filed under social skills