Today, it is with much happiness that I get to publish my understanding of how to proceed with my personal goal from a “social skills” (small talk) perspective. In doing this, I will attempt to diagram where I failed or misunderstood things in the past, and hopefully others will find value in this (either in using this for their own model, or for understanding where their kids are potentially disconnecting).

Background: When I first learned about my disability being a “social” disability, it did not make sense to me. Too many points did not add up. Still, as I sought answers to how autism is manifested in me, I realized that I did have a very serious issue that I needed to resolve. I am virtually stuck at a grade level in my work that prevents me from influencing the world at my true potential. I have been offered promotions in the past but have always declined them, knowing that I would be the first one fired in the Sr. Executive ranks in corporate America. As I started to put pieces together, it became clear that the thing I was really missing was the ability to do small talk at social events (some people call this networking or schmoozing).

In addition to this, I was noticing a few other points not adding up. First is that all the autistic young people that I met (and I noticed this on me too) have wildly varying degrees of social skills. What I mean is that this kid may one day be really, really attentive and “polite” and show amazing social skills abilities, but then the next hour could be a total ass. It did not make sense to me that this kid sit in hour after hour of social skills training, but that is what was being suggested by all the well-meaning providers caring for him. So I decided to embark on the path of learning social skills from the NTs in an attempt to get my own skills up well enough to carry on small talk in social situations at work, and also to learn how the kids that I mentor can best learn these skills or how they apply.

I have virtually unlimited means and IQ to spend on this task and decided to throw caution to the wind and spend whatever it took to get me there. Over the past year I have come to the following analysis:

Spent: Hundreds of hours of personal 1:1, 2:1 therapy or counseling (I had 4 very well-regarded professionals helping me at any given time). Over 10,000 US dollars was spent to this end.

Result: Their model, even when broken down, is actually too complicated for me to employ on any consistent basis. I can sometimes remember the stuff that I learn, but often do not. I often do not have the EF or sensory processing skills to call upon or even care about their models. That said, through the work of these professionals, I have come to the following new model for me.

Advocating Socially:

Problem Statement: I went into social skills training to improve my small talk abilities at social functions. I had a loftier goal when I first started, but it boiled down to this smaller goal due to my severe disability in abstraction skills. This picture represents the problem statement best:


My entire year was focused on following models written by and recommended to me by NTs. The net result was that I did learn some. In fact, it was through my work with these people that I actually was able to connect so many dots. Michelle Winner insisting that my "People are Idiots" bucket was an emotional bucket was something that I denied for a long while. Finally, I saw the connection through my work with Dr. Arnold in Executive Function skills and how they affect Emotional Regulation. This also came to me as I observed ASD kids in similar situations. I realized that my actions were like theirs. Even more important, though, was this from Michelle Winner: She helped me to understand that this other culture (the NT culture) has brain wiring that is "emotional" first and is not really wrong even if I do not understand the context. This all helped me to set up the following picture....

The NT Social Model:
The NT social Model is found in all social skills books written by NT people. They set up the scenario that my way is wrong and they offer a solution for me to step into their model. They give me all manners of words and pictures that tend to shut me down due to their dehumanizing and insensitive nature, but also do give me clues when they are written correctly. Sometimes in my sessions 1:1 with my coach, or even in 1:1 situations with my boss, I get really good at scenarios and scripts. I think I made some marked improvements, actually, by following this model, though the cost of these improvments was very, very high.

Note the addition here of the "inhibit" button along with my awareness of the emotion happening. If I find myself being a victim to Path 1, I know that I need to increase my emotional awareness skills to improve for any future scenarios. I cannot be "empowered" to make any choices if I am denying that I am responsible for inhibiting an emotion.


The Advocating Socially Model:

My colleague (psychologist and now friend) always says to me that I am "perfect" as I am. She understands that my abilities in understanding social situations are very low and adjusts her world to be "with" me, like all my friends currently do for me. She "gets" advocating. Michelle Winner and Pam Crooke also have advised me to advocate, but when I saw a picture of advocating it was the stuff I did AFTER I messed up to justify my mistakes, versus something that I did PRIOR to messing up. Prepping for a presenation this past week made me deep-dive into some advocacy work, which set up the scenarios of advocating socially. In other words... instead of scripting how to be NT, I need to script and prepare for how to advocate for myself.


This is exciting to me because it gives me ALL the options. Under MOST circumstances, I will be unable to do Path 3. As an option to this (provided I remain aware of how the sensory issues and EF skills failures are...) I can choose instead to say something like, "I am sorry, but the noise here is too much for me and I need to go outside for a spell." This will excuse me in a non-rude way and still be honest to how I am feeling. In the past, I would not have admitted this "weakness" of being bombarded with noise, but it is something I am certainly willing to do in the future.

In analyzing the possible outcomes of these scenarios, it occurred to me that I will be successful equally with Path 2 and Path 3 in most situations. It makes TOTAL sense that I hone these two phrases so that I always have polite words to excuse myself from a situation that may get me in trouble. In other words... I can haz advocacy very easily by memorizing just one or two polite scripts for my common triggers of EF (emotional regulation) failure. Advocacy is not just cleaning up my messes (this I do very, very well) but preventing them in the first place by...

1. Recognizing that my "People are Idiots" trigger is an emotion (anger)
2. Recognizing that this trigger is caused by my misunderstanding of context (many times)
3. Inhibiting my first response (to be rude)
4. Choosing the path I want to take to get the result I want. (if a context issue is identified, I can always ask clarifying questions)

Nearly 2 years after I wrote these articles, NT scientists say what I figured out right away... It really isn't a "social skill issue" at all. :)

Now if they would drop the theory that it is about our "obsessive interests and go instead to real-time processing and sensory processing difference THEN we can be in agreement.