Hands in a heart shape holding an infinity rainbox. Underneath the words Sandra Bell ND Coach
#6 Do ND need social skills training?
  • In short, no they don’t.
  • ND social and communication skills are just as valid as NT social and communication skills.
  • We need to meet in the middle, and not ask one side of the communication dyad to invalidate themselves.
Social skills for blog

In short, no ND don’t need social skills training, because they already have social skills. Just because they aren’t the same social skills that neurotypicals have doesn’t make them wrong, or less than, just different. In the same way that someone who speaks a different language doesn’t need language training as they already know a valid language. BUT one way to be able to communicate would be for one party to learn the language of the other party. Not because their native language is wrong, but because it would mean they can then both speak the same language. This does however put the non-native speaker at a disadvantage, because they are most practiced, and likely feel most comfortable and able to best express themselves when speaking in their native language.

So taking that to social skills and focusing in on autistic individuals as one of the diagnostic criteria is that they struggle with neurotypical social situations. Autistic individuals often have their social skills dismissed, and then are told they need to “learn social skills”. This means that their  “native language” or way of being social has to be overridden by a foreign one. Which in turn means they are always trying to translate how they would naturally react and communicate and turn that into what is “acceptable”. How exhausting! And indeed it is.

I’ve even come across tag lines from those who deliver social skills training that are of the nature of “Social skills can be learned. Never give up!”. Which really translates to, even though your neurodiverse child has completely valid social skills, they don’t align to neurotypical ones, so we can help them to invalidate their natural instincts and get them to do it the way we “know” they should. This kind of thinking reminds me of missionaries going off to tame the natives, or even how here in Australia we used to think that we needed to show the Indigenous of our land the error of their ways. I would hope that we all know better now, yet we continue to treat neurodiverse individuals in that same way. Singling out neurodiverse individuals, and mainly autistics, to be taught social skills has the underlying assumption that the neurotypical way is the right way, and that the neurodiverse who don’t understand how to socialise and communicate properly can be shown how to do it so they can fit in and not make others uncomfortable.

I’m deliberately using neurodiverse here because I don’t believe this is limited to autistic individuals. I think it also impacts other neurodiverse individuals like ADHDers who may naturally communicate in a more impulsive ways, like needing to jump in when they have a thought so they don’t lose it. Or dyslexics who may need to communicate in a more verbal or visual way than neurotypicals.

Being autistic myself, I vastly prefer the autistic way to communicate - cut the small talk, talk about facts, and tell it like it is. No needing to decipher what someone really means, we are very happy to tell you and to hear the truth from you as well. We’re not trying to be offensive, or aggressive, or combative. Why is it better to not really say what you mean? But I do get that this doesn’t suit everyone.

To me what really needs to happen is that everyone is given communication and social skills training that covers the diversity there really is out there. We can then learn how to better understand each other, despite our different natural instincts for communicating and being social. This means that both sides can meet in the middle, rather than asking one side to invalidate themselves and move completely over to the other side in order to be accepted or listened to. Or if it isn’t possible then we could have a translator who does understand both styles. Similar to when two people don’t speak the same language use a translator so they can more easily communicate.


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