In a very interesting book published in 2004, authors Myles, Trautman and Schelvan propose that some individuals may lack social intuition. The Hidden Curriculum is a brief survey of commonly missed "rules" that can help inform people who struggle to understand social norms.
The authors explain that social intuition, the skill of automatically understanding social rules, "is the lifeline that saves most of us on a daily basis from an array of potentially disastrous social situations."
It seems that neurotypical people, in contrast to those with AS, constantly, instantly and seamlessly survey the unwritten rules in social environments to make decisions about how to proceed successfully within a given context.
Great. For them.
As most readers know, socializing is not so simple for most people with Asperger's. While many people with AS can accomplish this constant surveying, assessing and decision making, it might use up nearly all his or her energy. With no assurance of success! After an exhausting evening of trying to keep up with conversations, mimic others' behavior, and stay off topics like Star Trek, it's no wonder many people with AS end up avoiding the social settings they crave.
According to the authors, and according to most clinicians, social skills are just that - skills. They can be taught, learned, practiced and mastered. Where to start? Let's start with the category of friendship.
Here is some loose paraphrasing of some of the "rules" the authors list. Some of them may sound amusingly obvious; others give the reader pause. See what you think:
- Friendship takes a lot of time to develop. Just because someone has been nice to you once does not mean he or she wants to be your friend.
- You should not have to pay someone to be your friend.
- If someone asks you to hang out, it's probably not a good idea to ask him or her to hang out every day.
- When someone does not want to hang out, don't pressure him or her to hang out - accept the answer and move on.
- Just because someone is very popular, it does not mean that he/she is nice or a good person.
- When you're first getting to know someone, consider doing a structured activity together first, like going to the movies or playing miniature golf. This way, there's a starting and stopping point, and you don't have a lot of time to talk.
- Friends say nice things to each other, not nasty comments like "You are such a loser."
- It's ok to feel mad at your friend sometimes. You can work out your differences and tell your friend why you felt mad.
- Friends forgive each other for mistakes they accidentally make.
- When you have a friend over, follow these steps:
2. Offer him a drink.
3. Ask him what he feels like doing. Have two activities in mind
(like video games or a movie)
- Consider following your hobbies to find friends - many adults find friends in book clubs, chess clubs, athletic groups, etc. These groups may be independent of work or school.
- If you're at a friend's house to eat and don't like what's being served, say "Just a little bit, please. I'm not very hungry' instead of "I don't want any - I don't like it
- When hugging a relative of the opposite sex, keep yourself a little separate, and don't hug for too long.
- Spend some time talking about what your friend is interested in. This way, you won't dominate the conversation with your own interests, and your friend will feel included.
If you find yourself faltering, please know you're not alone. And remember that you can master these skills so that people want to be around you. Don't lose hope.