Common process for young Autistic children is for them to head off to an occupational therapist, speech therapist or a team based social skills group program. Clearly this is a preferable option to an ABA program of compliance training and applied behaviour modification therapy delivered for hours on end as if it was dog training.
Generally it is safe to say that these programs are not dangerous to children, however they should still be questioned. Are they actually effective? Do they actually result in better outcomes for the children. Indeed, do these children go on to live better and happier lives, more fulfilled lives because of them. Does in fact make the social interaction in which they engage easier, more fulfilled and more successful.
Clearly here we are not considering the evils of ABA, CD, MMS, Chelation, GcMaf, Stem Cells and the like. But still we must consider the long term outcomes of these programs.
What exactly are these children learning and gaining in terms of their longer term success in negotiating life in a predominantly allistic world. A world that demands they interact in order to have successful educational and employment outcomes.
My personal experience was social skills pretty much taught at the end of a wooden spoon and a large amount of raised voices. Clearly the formerly mentioned approaches are preferably, nevertheless I learned many different social norms and rules. These equipped me supposedly to negotiate my way through life and provided an ability to attempt to fake an allistic life.
My two autistic children have received a thankfully more fun, caring and enjoyable program of learning such skills. But the big question of course is of what benefit are they. Has it actually been a positive experience in terms of the outcomes for the children. I guess in terms of my children that is a question awaiting answering.
In my case I can only say it has been an abysmal failure. Yes I managed to get through 40 odd years of life thinking and pretending to be an allistic member of society, but in reality this was an abject failure. On the education level my schooling was essentially a time of living through a fog. Consequently I was a very late starter to further education, which, of course, has had considerable impacts on my employment outcomes. My employment history is one of many different position of varying timeframes but never anything that could be considered of anything like long term.
Indeed the the positions have ended almost every time as a failure in the social context. Missing cues and being inappropriate. Misunderstanding cues and expressing things in such a way that left the employment situation to be untenable.
The big question of course is why has this been for me, and I would suggest a myriad of other autistic people, an abject failure. What is it about either the social skills training or the social context within which we live that is unable to be taught.
Greater minds than mine have considered these issues, but I would like to offer my take on it. Essentially this is that every social situation to be negotiated is different. They are in fact never the same even when they might look quite the same. The issue with this is that the social skills training is in effect like teaching a bunch of monkeys how to live as a tribe. Perhaps that is a little crass, but I think it is a fair analogy in terms of thinking about social settings like they are instinctual based situations rather than nuanced and varied from time to time, person to person and day to day.
It is my experience that in my Autistic mind that when faced in a social situation I am faced with having to draw on the rules I have learned, choose the correct rule or skill and apply it to the situation. So have a think about that for a moment. Consider, an Âûtistic person already in a state of stress due to being in a social situation. They meet someone and they have to assess, what comes next, oh that’s it I have to shake this persons hand, give them eye contact and make an appropriate greeting. Oh but wait this person is of a different ethnic culture and there rules are different, so what do I do, oh that’s it, I do all that but I don’t look them in the eye…
By this time the Âûtistic person is already looking a little out of place. Already the other person in the situation is possibly wondering, oh, this is odd, what’s the go with this person I wonder.
A gap in time, occurs. A gap in time that the Autistic person needs to think and work things out. However it is also a gap in time that the allistic person is left to wonder and unfortunately often reason that this person is somewhat different, this person doesn’t fit in. I wonder what the go is here.
To make an apology, it is my view that social skills training and programs, whilst in many ways benign, teach a bunch of rules, skills, expectations and behaviours from which, the Âûtistic person can draw. Something like a filing cabinet from which to draw. Unfortunately this filing cabinet is a little more like a floppy disk at worst or a traditional platter based hard drive at best, a storage system that is far slower than the modern solid state drives which very quickly access information.
The Âûtistic person must run this storage system, find the correct folder, find the correct file, apply the correct file to the situation. This would be all very well if the files fit the situations correctly. The reality is though that they don’t. As described in the above the variations and nuances of the social context, whether it be due to facial expression, body language, tone or any other of a myriad of possibilities mean that the Âûtistic is often left attempting to apply a square peg into a round hole.
Every person, whether Âûtistic or Allistic is unique. People are not a mass of uniformity. They do not walk in rows of conformity. People do not even act in the same way on repeat occasions of similar situations. They just don’t. It’s just that simple!
So the question what about social skills?
I have come to the view that we should dispense with these programs. There are many other things we can in fact do to assist Âûtistic children to grow to lead full lives and achieve successful outcomes in education employment and connection. There are many things that are not social skills training but in fact similar types of training that we already make an effort to teach our allistic children.
I would include in this efforts to teach our Âûtistic children Resilience, confidence and self-love. An understanding that regardless of anything they are valued, they are loved, they are worthwhile. In fact that yes you are a bit different, and that doesn’t matter because you are #DifferentNotLess. You’re #ActuallyAutistic. And most of all you are loved unconditionally by us your mother and father and brothers and sisters.
I wonder what your thoughts might be on this issue.