Is it Really a Social Disorder?
Most professionals today are focused on making autism all about social skills. I contend that it isn't about us lacking social skills but about us lacking a combination of context (see this great article on context blindness)and executive functioning (EF), along with sensory processing issues. (My cognitive model about autism is more closely related to some of these theories.)

This chart shows how lacking context alone can play in a "social" situation that leads both of us to think the other is not very socially smart.


But IF you MUST believe that it is about social skills, then please read my personal journey on discovering how the current social skills best practices worked for me:

First... My Personal Warning!!! Parents, please HEED for all of our sakes. While I feel there is great value to be had in learning about the NT culture and their ways, this thing that all the schools and even many of the medical professionals seem to focus on (normally lumped into a bucket called "social skills") needs to be considered "icing on the cake," NOT the starting place of therapies for the ASD person. What I mean is that you cannot put social skills classes on top of an unbalanced or low self-esteem or depressed or anxious ASD person. Most of the social skills curriculum taught in the schools is does more harm than good to the ASD person. It is designed to make them be something they are not (namely NT) and something they never can be. It teaches an autistic person to look at people (often stressing eye contact) and/or discourages stimming (hand flapping or pacing). It tells us what is "expected" behavior as if it must also be our behavior or else we will not survive. This sort of lesson will hurt more than help. Social skills training designed for autistic people must focus on building confidence and advocacy skills by teaching the NT culture as a different (not the ONLY or RIGHT) way.
If you haven't seen the "Hierarchy of ASD Needs" page, start there and come back.

If you or your ASD loved one is having frequent meltdowns, LEAVE this and all other social skills pages entirely until the meltdowns are under control. Social skills are the LAST thing that most of us need and trying to learn them can be very hard for many of us (perhaps all). As such, it should not be done without much consideration for the "big picture" of the person. Again I recommend that everyone START instead on the "Hierarchy of ASD Needs" page and build up the ASD Triangle to achieve reduced symptoms as a priority. Only then should you attempt to add improvements to their social awareness. I am NOT a big fan of most social skills training at all and prefer that people learn to advocate and disclose. That said, if the person is otherwise stable with good enough confidence and advocacy abilities... it makes sense to give them more tools to integrate even more successfully in the world.

My Year-long Journey in Personal 1:1 Social Skills Sessions:
Since my DX just over a year ago, I have embarked on a journey to understand what this thing is that I am supposedly missing from my knowledge base as a person with ASD. The thing that every parent, teacher and doctor seems to care about most... social skills and the ASD person....

In an attempt to really wrap my head around what this thing is about, I signed up with a local psychologist for social skills training with the specific agenda of helping me to become better at small talk (something my boss said I did not do well). I recorded my every session for nearly a year and it turned into 41 pages of blogging. I have been told that this log should be made into a book by several people. Here it is, free of charge, to read on your own. MANY people with ASD have benefited from the nuggets I was able to pull from these sessions and many more caregivers have benefited from reading how I learned or even how little I knew.


Social Skills Training for Adults (Karla goes to training)

Conclusion: Jan 19, 2012 I finally discontinued services having spent over 6K in US dollars and hundreds of hours utilizing the very best resources in the world with only small improvements that only on some occasions could be actualized. And this (my friends) is with my above average IQ and EF skills. The cost to benefit for me is simply not there. I have, however, discovered, with the help of all the professionals and some of my peers a tactic that I will deploy to allow me to step into the next level of senior management at Intel.

Bringing in the BIG Guns (Karla enlists the help of Michelle Winner):
In addition to these sessions, I contacted the world renowned Social Thinking Team from San Jose to help me figure out how to make my learning go more quickly. I chose to contact them because I found their material to be the best of the stuff that I have seen in the "social skills" bucket, but even with that, I found it nearly impossible to make progress. It still caused me a great deal of stress. Fortunately, I got a reply from Michelle Winner that resulted in a meeting in Tacoma a few weeks later. Since then, we have been back and forth in email quite a bit. We determined that the current material published by them was likely too complex for my level of social awareness and my current social competencies. Their company designed a very cool system that gives functioning labels to people as they pertain to social ability. To my surprise, all the professionals I have worked with (including Michelle and her teammate, Pam Crooke) agree that I am in the ESC category on this chart, which puts me at a somewhat moderately ASD affected category. An interesting twist is that Michelle and Pam also claim I am RSC. One would think that I might be only mildly affected by ASD symptoms given how I have managed to navigate the world, but I am afraid that is not true. Here is their system of functioning levels (I personally think this is the best one out there):

Social Thinking - Social Communication Profile

Michelle kindly wrote a new documentation for me that broke the basic social skills concepts down even further and sent them to me to review. This promptly caused me to shut down as I tried to absorb all the data from the 40+ pages of words. (See my processing data process.) This shutdown is a pretty typical way for me to react to this training. This is (in part) due to new motor neurons firing in my brain and in part due to the way I process data in general. In embarking on this learning, I find that I am having to build a whole new language with existing words in this new context. This is similar to learning a foreign language in my experience.

After weeks of slogging through this new material, we decided that we should just meet up so they could help me absorb it that way. Over Thanksgiving, both Michelle Winner and Pam Crooke visited my 40-acre remote homestead in Oregon to help me grasp the concepts. And yet somehow I still did not just magically grasp them. Apparently I am a tiny bit lost in the "social skills" department. LOL! Michelle tells me that she has many clients who do not get this very quickly. My prognosis is yet to be determined, but she thinks I have much ability under some of my core deficits to actually be good at this. I can tell you that the effort I have put into learning this so far exceeds the abilities that most people have for work from my experience. It makes me question exactly who is benefiting and how from these sessions. But the reports from the field are that more nuanced-challenged folks can indeed benefit from this with less struggle. And, it seems that I too can benefit....

After 4 solid weeks of spinning around and around with this new data (and with hundreds of emails and hours of sessions from the Social Thinking Team), I finally started to form the picture/chart that will be helpful for me to implement changes in my behavior with others. A BIG learning from me is that these NT or emotional type people actually operate on two levels. They have the "here and now" social consciousness level and then they have the "longer term" level of social consciousness. I am not aware of it if there is a "here and now" one for me that is ANY different than the "long term one." (I will explain this in much more depth as the words come....) Another big awareness for me was this emotional need that most people have versus just a select "broken" few. LOL!

Here is my first slide toward the radical approach of teaching ASD social skills from a cultural perspective:


Note that this slide is designed as an ASD-friendly slide to give (on just one page) the basics of staying out of trouble in social interactions. This representation of social skills tactics differs from the current curriculum I have seen to date in that it gives the problem statement (which is NOT about us having a disability but about NTs having one) and then gives ways in which we can CHOOSE to help our NT friends from the constant anxiety they suffer in social situations due to their neurology. These are TOOLS not RULES. A person with ASD may well decide that they do not desire to use these "supportive actions" in a social situation and the NT may indeed get angry, but at least it is not a big surprise to the ASD person then. With the KNOWLEDGE of the information on this page, an ASD person is empowered to use the tools provided in the "supportive actions" box to prevent these little outbursts from the NT person they are interacting with.

Sadly, even with this breakdown I discovered that I could not use this data (actualize the work) in many situations where I needed it most and was left with no options, increased anxiety and anger.

My NET learning from this very costly experiment was that I had to add a little piece called "advocacy" into the current social skills cirriculum in order to make it work for me.

See next steps below....

Putting it All Together:
Advocating Socially: how I resolved my issues with social skills/small talk at work