When social communication fails, this does not mean the person we are trying to communicate with, trying to reach intersubjectivity with, trying to extend our own agency with… does not have a mind, does not have agency, is not human. What we think of as the ability to mentalise, to ‘read someone’s mind’ then, is perhaps the rather less impressive coincidence of happening to possess a similar mind, and what we think of as intimacy and a shared-humanity is nothing more than mirror-gazing.
If we start from the assumption that neurotypicals are ‘normal’, and Autistics are ‘disordered’, then poor connections between neurotypicals and Autistics inevitably get blamed on some ‘defect’ or ‘deficit’ in Autistics. If an Autistic can’t understand a neurotypical, it’s because Autistics have empathy deficits and impaired communication skills; if a neurotypical can’t understand an Autistic, it’s because Autistics have empathy deficits and poor communication skills. All the frictions and failures of connection between the two groups, and all the difficulties Autistics run into in neurotypical society, all get blamed on Autism.
But the way that things like this normally go? […] When nonautistic people can’t read autistic people, it’s either because nothing is there to read (we’re just assumed not to be giving off nonverbal cues because the cues we give off aren’t always the same as nonautistic people), or because autistic people have a global social skills deficit […] Even though it’s the exact same problem going in both directions: A difficulty reading people whose experience of the world fundamentally differs from your own, which may be a nearly universal social skills deficit in both autistic and nonautistic people.
No one is born knowing the rules. Everyone has to learn the rules, and everyone has to learn some of the rules explicitly. […]
For neurotypical people, the need to learn social skills [e.g.: in business, in personal relationships, and in the area of disability] is treated as normal, expected, and honorable.
For autistic people, our need to learn social skills is treated as disgusting, defective, and in need of normalizing therapy.
Stop romanticizing neurotypicality
Learning to be good at social interactions isn’t a matter of Learning the Rules; it’s a matter of learning to develop your judgement.
I don’t think social skills exist. Or, if I do, I think they exist like God exists – in everyone. They just may not always be apparent. […] Social skills are not contained in a person – they require the right other person.
With work, I think a lot of people can learn to develop their mindfulness and modulation skills so that they can have good social skills (i.e., capacity to connect) with more people – or, so that more people can have good social skills with them. It’s the same thing.
Some people – disabled or not – may not be able to learn how to do that, but they will still sometimes meet a person who is exactly like them, or who is very good at mindfulness and modulation, and they will have good social skills when they are with that person.
Other people will just not let other people in. […] Such people may have good social skills when interacting with people who aren’t different. But with people who are different, they [as well as the person who is different from them] will always have no social skills […]