People often follows rules like sheep without thinking of the reasons behind these rules. Autistic people question the rules

Autistic people must conform to social norms

Can we talk about Social Norms?

Very often I hear people justify the intensive social skills training of Autistic children by saying things like “but everyone conforms, social norms exist”.

People often follow social norms like sheep. Autistic people question the rules and social norms

Let’s put our ideas of Autistic children and adults aside for a moment and the idea that autism magically causes a lack social skills.

Let’s look at social norms:

In the phrase above there is a presumption that social norms are good, are acceptable and should not be questioned.

As humans, we seem to have an inability to spot the oppressive ideas in our social norms in our own time. We look back through our history and shake our heads and tut at our ancestors for being so ignorant to the follies of their times. But we often fail to evaluate and recognise these follies in our own time.

We also seem to fail to realise that we are society, each one of us makes up society and each one of us has the power to make positive changes.

And what about those visionaries who can see these follies and who try to lead us away from our tunnel visioned ideas? We do not treat them very well. Society says they are crazy, we say there are misguided. We say that they have alternative ideas as if alternative is a negative thing. But “alternative” ideas are exactly what we need when we live in a society that does so much harm to so many of its members.

In 1950’s a woman rarely left the kitchen. She was subservient to her husband. Women of today look in utter disbelief at magazines from that time advising women how to best serve their spouses. But do we ever think about the “alternative” thinkers who brought about change ? Their society no doubt subjected them to all sorts of mockery and mistreatment from the society of their time? And do we wonder what the women of 2050 will look back and say about us? We seem to be under the illusion that we are doing everything right in the time we exist in without being able to evaluate it from an eagle view.

US abolished slavery in 1865, before that is was a social norm to keep other human beings as captives and human trafficking was a norm at this time.

Social norms are defined as “ the accepted standards of behaviour of social groups. … behaviour which fulfils these norms is called conformity, and most of the time roles and norms are powerful ways of understanding and predicting what people will do. There are norms defining appropriate behaviour for every social group”. (

In Ireland from 1920’s and for decades the Catholic Church incarcerated women in institutions if they became pregnant outside of marriage. They were abused and their children were abused and taken from them or also condemned to a life of slavery. It was socially normal for women and children to be punished and incarcerated without any trial while the fathers went about their lives as normal.

Wkipedia tells us that “Under the rule of Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945, gay men and (to a lesser extent) lesbians were persecuted with thousands of gay men imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps.” Disabled people, Roma people and people of many religions and backgrounds were also incarcerated, tortured and murdered in Nazi camps. This was socially normal in Germany at that time.

176 BC Every morning, a Roman citizen could go to the arena to watch a person being killed, often crushed to death by animals. This was a social norm at that time.

Social norms in 15th to 18th century included women who were deemed witches to be hunted and burnt at stakes. I often wonder how many of these “witches” were visionaries of their time.

When social norms are not social

What we refer to as “social norms” are often a violation of basic human rights and it is no different when people use “social norms” as a way to oppress and discriminate against Autistic people.

People will often say “well every child has to sit still” as if it was a harmless phrase. But forcing any child who finds sitting still difficult or painful is actually abuse. Sitting still is not a social skill it is a motor skill. “Eye contact is necessary and expected” is another phrase used often to justify the assimilation of Autistic people into non-autistic culture. Eye contact can be intrusive, upsetting and painful for many Autistics so enforcing it is also abuse.

A justification for training Autistic children this “social skill” is so that they can be successful at job interviews later in life. Let’s put aside the absurdity of coaching toddlers for job interviews for a moment and let’s ignore the ridiculously high levels of unemployment in our community and ask these “therapists” how well they would do in an interview while someone stuck pins in their eyes. It would be far more logical to just educate employers about Autistic Communication and social skills.

When we tell Autistic people that they need to be just like everyone else we are saying that they cannot be themselves. We are telling them the same thing we told women in 1950’s, that we told Roma in 1940’s Germany, that we tell Irish Travellers in Ireland today. We are telling them the same thing we told LQBTQIA when we told them they had to be just like the straight community. We are telling them not be themselves but to conform and be just like the rest of us. This is where people use conformity where they really mean assimilation.

There is a certain arrogance when we use “social norms” as a way to justify our oppression of others. We often give away more than we realise when we hide behind social norms. We are unknowingly telling people that they need to act more like the rest of us because that is a better way of existing. Often we use “normal” to hide the fact that we are saying acceptable or better and by doing so we think we are hiding our prejudice.

When we say “I just want my child to be normal” , what are we really saying? When we say “but everyone conforms” what are we really saying?

We are saying that we have no tolerance for anything which deviates from the idea of “normal” we have been sold. We are saying we are too lazy to think outside of our tunnels and to analyse our way of thinking. We are saying that it is better to be just like everyone else.

By saying that we wish someone was “just like everyone else” we are also giving more of ourselves away than we intend to. We are saying that we believe that humans are homogenous rather than a diverse group. None of us is “just like everyone else” because we are all ourselves. We are all wonderfully unique threads in this human fabric. We are all human for sure, and so we are more alike than different but we certainly are not all the same. Just like every leaf on an oak tree is a leaf, each one is different to the other but each leaf is beautiful and brings something unique to this world. AUsome Training focuses on explaining the beauty of Autism. We explain autism from the Autistic perspective. We can teach you!

Autistic Social Skills in the context of Autistic Culture

Autistic Culture sees through the false ideas that we are sold. Autistic culture questions and evaluates the ideas we live by and when we say “we see the world differently” it does not mean that we are innocent or that we somehow view the world through rose tinted glasses. In fact, quiet the opposite is true. When we say that we see the world differently, we mean that we see the oppression and discrimination in today’s social norms that others will not see until we have broken them down, re-educated them and they have become another unwelcome part of our human history.

When we say we see the world differently we mean we can see things as they really are and are not distracted by the idea that “social norms” are inherently good or useful. We see through the double standards in people’s words and see what they are saying even when most times they are unaware themselves.

We live in a world which exhibits an appalling level of human rights violations and yet many are under the illusion that we are free, that we are living in an inclusive world and that we are at a point in human evolution where we now know best. These are seriously misguided ideas.

Autistic Culture is full of fairness, an intense sense of justice, of speaking out against injustices not just against ourselves but any injustices against others. Autistic Culture is full of examples of Autistic people who are not lead by group think and who are not afraid to stand against the discrimination of others. This makes me wonder how many of the visionaries of the past and prominent change makers, now revered and respected were indeed Autistic.

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