“Social skills” are not what we might think they are…

It would seem, from my Autistic viewpoint that non-neurodivergent communication is a series of learnt, well rehearsed and well rewarded bows and gestures. A series of signals and signs, calls and echoes, all performed and repeated like a dance whose rules and regulations have been lain down by generations. Lain down in millennia of oppression and forced disconnection from how we actually communicate and empathise with each other as human beings. It would seem that the difference between Neurodivergents and majorities is their ability to be conditioned into thinking this is the way we actually should behave towards one another.

Hierarchical social structures are based on the illusion that one person is more powerful than the other. And that power often comes from symbols. Other times it comes from having more knowledge, or more skills or creating the illusion of importance.What has happened to experiencing real emotions, real connection, real affection, real meaningful relationships in our current culture? 

We live in a world where some young people are now connecting more with brands than with their own families. We live in a world where people feel a distance from others they do not know while forgetting that we are all connected, we are all related, we are all one family and we are all one. 

Autistics and others diverge from this idea of what is appropriate or acceptable. We do not comply. We do not take part in the beautiful but meaningless-beneath-the-surface dance and so we are ostracised, pathologized and abused. We are cast out because we refuse to play by illogical and harmful rules. Neuro-majorities are the proud emperor and we are the child telling them they’re wearing no clothes.

They are wearing no clothes as they continue to dance. The dance which was carefully cultivated through generations of systems, coercion, hardship, struggles, revolutions, wars and social classes. It is there to stop opportunities for true connection. To stop us being who we are meant to be. It keeps us divided and keeps us believing that we need to be wary of each other when in fact it is the masters of the dance who we need to direct our attentions towards. 

The carefully cultivated dance – a symbolic ritual where one bows to another, registering the relinquishing of power, winching in defeat. The other struts, registering the win. And so the dance is played out amongst us, each day, as we talk about the weather and see who wins this round of power games. Passed on from one generation to the next as “etiquette”, as “manners”, as “social skills”, as whatever nice word we can find to hide what it truly is: A ritual for our generalised oppression. The truth is -no one ever wins.

The dance – the social skills that we use to remind each other to follow the rules, to do as we are told, to follow instructions, to fit in and go along with what those who have won the power game for now are telling us we should do. The dance where we pretend to feel, pretend to interact and pretend this is who we really are.

3 Responses

  1. I found your piece very interesting. I agree that a lot of social communication is an expression of power and sometimes an expression of abuse and exploitation. It can also be an expression of deep empathic connection to another human or non human being or a connection with nature. To an extent the games we have evolved to play are functional but at the extremes social games can be callous and manipulative. But much of our social communication is helpful loving and pragmatic.
    Just as not all neurotypical people use social communication to abuse others not all autistic people are victims and some are actually abusive themselves. My ex partner is autistic and although his social communication wasn’t typical he was often controlling, critical and verbally aggressive and threatening. Our daughter is also autistic and she has a lovely character and is loving and kind in ways that sometimes differ from the norm.
    I work as a therapist with autistic people and their families and see the various ways people communicate and show love and the ways they/we work out how to speak each other’s language.
    I see too, the stereotypes that surround autism and the lack of meaningful, empowering support.
    I am currently doing research into autism and psychotherapy and I am appalled at the lack of data from the autistic clients’ perspective. A search on autism and psychotherapy and adults yields data on children , ABA and how therapy needs to be adapted but very little from autistic people themselves. I see ABA as having contributed to the deficit model and to a system of controlling to achieve highly destructive masking.
    My wish is for divergence to be celebrated and for people to be supported to be at home within the worlds we occupy and those we can share.

  2. I think this is boiling all of it down to a power dynamic, and I think that is too narrow. Because they hate it too! Secretly under the surface it causes pain and stress and miscommunication and sadness. we just SEE that they have no idea what they’re doing, and following the crowd that they think knows because it’s not socially acceptable to not know what you’re doing. Even though no one knows. But everyone thinks everyone else knows.

    1. Of course they hate it too, the problem is their place in it matters far too much to them to DO anything about it.
      At this point, there are very few of us who care. We’re considered lesser and inferior already, regardless of our position so catering to that system has no benefit to us.

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