How to Be a Social Thinker
What's Social Context?
Social Skills are a very poorly understood topic of teaching for people with autism. We often think of social skills as something that are called daily adaptive living skills, but social skills go much deeper than that and are even way more complex than just adaptive living skills.
Social skills involve adaptive living skills like being able to say hello to someone to ask them how their day was. Social skills include manding or making commands or requests to get what we need in life but perhaps the biggest component to social skills is in social thinking.
Social thinking is how we perceive or think about the social world around us. It deals with how we interpret the social context of the social situations that we are in. Social thinking is used to help us decide how we are going to respond to others and behave around them.
It can be very challenging for people with autism to understand the idea of social thinking. There are many great books about social thinking written by the likes of Michelle Garcia Winner. She is an exert on social thinking and she does a very good job of interacting with people with autism to understand our needs.
Social thinking is a huge umbrella of things that include how we read other people’s non-verbal communication. It also must deal with implied meaning of things and could be used to determine if we get the meaning of idioms and thinks like that.
I use social thinking the most to try and determine what others body language and facial expressions mean. Since communication is only seven percent verbal and ninety-three percent non-verbal I am very much paralyzed when it comes to communicating with other people. I work very hard to understand thins but sometimes it is hard for me.
Social thinking has also helped me realize something else. There is a thing in autism or in social skills in general called social context. This is where we must really put our social thinking brains to use so that we can get help with generalizing our social skills across different environments or different social contexts. We must be able to generalize so that we know how to apply the skill in all different social context and environments that we are in.
My friend Doctor Peter Gerhardt says, “Context is King” and that is because context really helps us decide how to use each social skill. So, there are two components to social skills for people with autism. The first is that we must learn the physical social skill. The hard part is when we learn the social skill then we must learn to generalize and carry it across all the different social contexts and environments and this is where it gets exhausting for us.
The issue we run into is that there are not a lot of people trained in social thinking and social context. Thus, it makes it hard for someone with autism to truly get the help they need. I find that there are not a lot of qualified experts in these areas and the ones that are qualified are not able to be paid by insurance companies yet, so we are really leaving a lot of good help on the table and not enacting it for autistic people. I hope one day that will change.
Social context really bothers me because for example one of my goals is to learn how to talk to a woman at a bar and get a dance with her. Social context would tell you that the only place that my staff should be helping me talk to the girl at is at the bar because it would need to be in the right social context for me to be able to learn and go apply all those social skills in the right social context. So, a good therapist wouldn’t take me to the library they would take me to the bar and help me approach women. At least that is how the perfect service looks in my autistic brain.
I feel there’s so much to learn about autism and I do have a lot to say. I want to continue educating others and trying to help make it so more medical professionals understand autism better. It is lonely going to therapy when no one on your therapy team understands you. So that is my biggest mission. I want to help my team and other people’s treatment plans understand autism better.
Once we all begin to understand autism better then we will be able to make progress in the amount of help that we can give to autistic people. Then we will be ready to take on the world just like neurotypicals are and we will be more able to advocate for ourselves and take care of our most basic human needs. It will never be easy having a unique challenge but I for one will not fold and sit and fold my cards. It’s time to take on the challenge and change the world one day at a time. Are you with me on this?