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do you think as a society we are too obsessed with social skills?

(63 Posts)
goonIcantakeit Tue 10-Sep-13 10:52:22

Now my son is older (8) with no dx, life is pretty easy. He celebrated his eighth birthday by overcoming his fear of all handdryers except the awful Dyson ones.
The problem is, he swings between periods where he has established friendships on the playground and longer periods where the friend has "broken up" with him, and depends a great deal still on his lovely big brother (10).
When we are in the "broken up" periods, I get down, fearful, anxious about him, terrified that his sibling will lose patience with him, and it hits me right in the solar plexus, just like it used to when he was three and people would speak to him and he didn't understand.

Is it his social skills that are the problem? Or is it my lack of acceptance that's the problem? And if the latter, is that because I was brought up to believe that knowing how to deal with lots of different kinds of people and be socially successful is the be all and end all in life? I was definitely brought up to be ashamed of my older brother because he was a loner at school.

I have also leafed through some of the recent books on introversion, which seem a bit simplistic because you can't divide a whole population into two groups. But sometimes I wonder whether these authors make good points about social skills being excessively valued. I also suspect that introversion is more to do with your sensory profile than these authors mention.

Anyway, please don't flame me, but do wander over if you want to chew the fat and ponder whether it's really so terrible to be alone in the playground or whether perhaps sometimes it's society telling us you should never be alone....

TheLightPassenger Tue 10-Sep-13 16:18:52

keepon - spot on. If I had know I had OCD and at the very least AS traits at an earlier age, it probably would have been better for me overall than thinking I was bad or inadequate. I say overall as I suspect there would have been initial anger at not wanting to be different etc. It's for precisely this reason I may need to look at the private DX route for DS further down the line. Though he may "only" meet the criteria for social communication problems rather than ASD.

sorry claw, I haven't been deliberately ignoring you. I suppose my gut feeling is to say re:your son - but that's so unfair - it's not like he's bullying the other kids or insulting them or mugging them for their pocket money - that dominating conversation/rigidity isn't that bad a trait - but then I am probably so close to the spectrum/such a people pleaser that I can't really vouch for my opinion as representing any form of normality!

claw2 Tue 10-Sep-13 16:36:16

Goon ds is excluded because he doesn't make a good friend, its not the other childrens fault, its not ds's fault. Children do not want to play with children who don't make good friends.

Ds is targeted, he is excluded from play because of his difficulties or taken advantage of and I think that is the difference from being forced or choosing to not interact.

Now days ds is choosing not to interact more and more, not really a true choice, if you didn't have the choice to start with.

Keep Do you think our kids will ever enjoy social interaction or just tolerate it in future?

claw2 Tue 10-Sep-13 16:56:26

TLP, ds has his dogs, who he regards at his 'best friends' and gets a lot of enjoyment from their company. He has far more empathy for animals, they are far less complicated!

Anyhow enough about ds, im taking over the thread blush

I suppose the difference is having good social skills but no desire to actually use them, which is fine or having limited social skills resulting in a desire to not interact. If social skills were improved would there be a desire to use them and interact?

KeepOnKeepingOn1 Tue 10-Sep-13 17:06:46

Trouble is that limited social skills do not always result in a lack of desire or motivation to interact. This is what is so painful to observehmm

claw2 Tue 10-Sep-13 17:22:03

Yep agree totally Keep, ds used to be like, not so much now, but it might return now he is back in school.

so we have

1. Having good social skills but no desire to actually use them.
2. Having limited social skills, a desire to use them, but failing.
3. Having limited social skills but no desire to actually use them.

I think 1 is a choice, 2 and 3 are not.

KeepOnKeepingOn1 Tue 10-Sep-13 17:32:24

Perhaps what you are suggesting is that options 2 and 3 result from neurological difference/deficit whereas option 1 does not. Where is the dividing line? Is the dividing line physiological or biological or social?

claw2 Tue 10-Sep-13 17:48:08

Not necessarily, im thinking more about having a true choice and being happy with that choice.

HisMum4now Tue 10-Sep-13 17:56:18

^ds when younger so desperately wanted to interact, join in, have friends etc. The reality is he cant, he doesn't make a very good 'friend', he dominants the conversation, only talks of things which interest him. He is a 'know it all' and rigid with rules and his thinking. He misinterprets social interaction and often feels persecuted by others. He is very intolerant of others.

The difficulty isn't with society or 'norms', the difficulty is with ds. He is forced into isolation most of the time because of his difficulties.^

Claw, have you ever considered how did you come to the certainties you assert above? Were you born with them? Would any of the above make sense to you if you grew up in the society dominated by aspies where compliant accommodating feeling types would be a minority?

claw2 Tue 10-Sep-13 19:27:44

Just my opinion, based on my observations of ds. My point being ds would love to interact, he just isn't able to, whether that be in a world dominated by aspies or not.

HisMum4now Tue 10-Sep-13 20:01:56

But surely Claw, you were not born with the opinions of what is or isn't a good friend or what is evidence of inability to interact.

I thought babies form their opinions through their particular path of socialisation. They receive these ideas from their environment and confirmed them through their experience of growing in the society which you describe as intolerant and bullying towards those that are different, like your DS.

What if peers were friendly, tolerant and patient and interacted with your DS, as if he was normal, listen to him, tell him that they would like him to listen to their preferred topics etc. If peers made your DS feel welcome and safe, wouldn't he develop better interaction skills over time and become a very good friend with a select group of discerning peers?

claw2 Tue 10-Sep-13 20:26:33

Not born with these opinions no, i was raised with a brother with autism, if that makes a difference to my opinions or not.

If peers were as you describe, more like adults really, then ds would probably still be intolerant of them, as he is with his older brothers etc who treat him in a way you describe.

I really doubt that ds would pick up skills just by being around other tolerant children. I am of the opinion that ds needs to be directly taught these skills and this is kind of what the discussion is about really, should we bother or just be accepting of the lack of social skills.

As I said earlier social skills involve a lot more than just interaction, social understanding being one, ds just doesn't understand social interaction or doesn't get what others mean, no matter how nice it might be, he misinterprets social situations and feels persecuted.

goonIcantakeit Tue 10-Sep-13 20:29:20

"I have told DS that he only has to get through 3 more years of this - he says it doesn't bug him... he finds "watching people try to act like trendy fools" entertaining.

Honestly... so do I grin"

so Beemum, he isn't lonely because he has you and you understand and like each other?

hoxtonbabe Tue 10-Sep-13 21:00:00

This is really interesting as it is an eyeopener for me. When he was younger he didn't make friends so easily as his behavior wasn't what one would call appropriate so only played with the boys that were similar to him which meant years of him getting into trouble (school etc just put it down to his language issues, I now know its probably not that now..all 10 years on) when he got towards the end of primary, he got a bit better, he started to join in the football and music club at school, secondary school, he now has hardly any interest in interacting with people, he was described by an SLT as not being anti-social, but equally he doesn't like to socialise and has social communication difficulties, he has his limited interest and as some others have said here, he has his little online buddies that are all linked back to his limited interest, but to meet up with someone, Pah! I can only hope.

He has only been invited to 2 birthday parties since age 11, and he didn't want to attend, he tolerates his classmates, he doesn't ask for help (I read that on the first page, whats all that about as the teachers at school are constantly moaning about this..is this a common ASD trait??)

But with all that said he seems content to be in his own little bubble, its super stressful at home as hes always there iyswim, but what can I do? I cant force him out the house, and I have encouraged him till the cows come home and hes having none of it.

claw2 Tue 10-Sep-13 21:15:01

It is interesting discussion Hoxton isn't it, maybe my opinion will change as ds gets older. He is 9 at the moment.

Social interaction has a lot to answer for with ds, he desperately wants to interact. However his confusion about social interaction, social understanding etc, is responsible for his self harming. Its responsible for his subsequent mental breakdown and emergency A&E mental health assessment and suicidal thoughts. Its responsible for him not being able to attend school for over a year.

At the moment ds has just started specialist school and im still in fighting mode, I am determined to try and improve his social skills, so his life doesn't continue this way. For me it has to be worth a try.

hoxtonbabe Tue 10-Sep-13 21:37:05

Oh dear Claw :-(

I hope the new school can help as this must be a lot for you to deal with..

claw2 Tue 10-Sep-13 21:42:48

Thanks Hoxton, so do I.

AgnesDiPesto Tue 10-Sep-13 22:01:35

Really interesting thread. Ds (6) is the passive perfectly content on his own type. He has had good social skills intervention and it has made a difference to how he interacts with me, DH and ABA staff, but no real difference with his brothers or other children (although he is more tolerant it hasn't moved on to genuine interest).
I honestly dont know if DS will ever 'need' friends in the sense NT's understand. He is very happy for now without them. However I do think he will be very vulnerable (so needs his brothers / others to look out for him, so it would help if he liked them more) and his mental health will likely be better if he is able to have genuinely affectionate relationships. I do hope it will keep developing.
I do think as a society we are increasingly obsessed with social skills. I am especially fed up with hearing David Cameron etc bang on about how to be employable these days you need good social skills, language skills etc etc and think many jobs which don't require much in terms of social interaction are insisting applicants jump through social hoops at interviews which are probably unnecessary and make it even harder for those on the spectrum to get jobs.
On the positive side I think with the internet, texting etc etc that in some ways there are more ways to interact these days other than face to face / phone etc. and that may appeal to DS more.
It is interesting to wonder what it would be like if NT were the minority. The NT way of filling every gap or silence with meaningless banter is in many ways more odd than DS who is happy to be quiet until there is a pressing need to say something. Is his being a loner any worse than me being terribly needy?

goonIcantakeit Wed 11-Sep-13 12:39:58

"Is his being a loner any worse than me being terribly needy?"

I suspect not Agnes...

goonIcantakeit Wed 11-Sep-13 12:44:51

"im still in fighting mode"

that brings back memories.... good luck.

sophj100 Wed 11-Sep-13 13:57:37

Great topic goonIcantakeit. Being sociable is deemed as the 'norm' and not wishing to socialise as a negative (anti-social). Like anything, it must be bespoke for each individual and depend on a lot of factors. Anyone with problems relating in a social situation, does not necessarily wish they could. Being on your own, does not make you lonely, if you are happy. As an adult, we can pick or choose when we want to be alone but as a child, particularly in a school environment, it is deemed 'ab-normal' not to do so.

My eldest, 6 year old (ASD) and in Year 2 has moments of wanting both to join in and to be alone and he should be able to choose when to do so, particularly in a play scenario. He struggles to understand how his 'friend' can be someone else's friend too and feels betrayed if they don't want to play with him. Equally, my 4 year old (ASD) and just started Reception always wants to join in but he has behavioural issues which mean he tends to lash out, his form of address when words fail him but this is misunderstood as aggression or unfriendliness. He then gets frustrated that they don't understand him. He has no friends in particular, he just throws himself into the arena!

I agree, we do seem to associate success with being surrounded by an entourage of friends. Facebook shows how many friends each person has, like a badge of achievement.

I feel too much emphasis has been put on being sociable as a pre-requisite to success. So many successful adults in a variety of fields, prefer the solitude to focus on their area of expertise. On a basic level, I think a child's success has to be that he is loved and supported, with acceptance for their individuality.

Wow, this is such a good topic and I better stop now as it takes a lot of thought and not sure I've even explained my thought process clearly!

goonIcantakeit Wed 11-Sep-13 14:07:18

smile at soph.

The need to pretend to be sociable at all costs can damage a lot of people I think.

I think it can lead to you actually disliking people and yourself.

HisMum4now Wed 11-Sep-13 20:40:38

fed up with hearing David Cameron etc bang on about how to be employable these days you need good social skills, language skills etc etc and think many jobs which don't require much in terms of social interaction are insisting applicants jump through social hoops at interviews which are probably unnecessary and make it even harder for those on the spectrum to get jobs.

we do seem to associate success with being surrounded by an entourage of friends. Facebook shows how many friends each person has, like a badge of achievement.

Is there an increasing pressure from the society on social skills which marginalizes people on the spectrum more than ever? How can people on the spectrum fight back survive and thrive in this environment?

sophj100 Wed 11-Sep-13 22:16:22

Funnily enough, after my 4 year old's diagnosis in July, I had a good chat with the Paediatrician on the very subject of people on the spectrum and how those with such focussed attention and repetitive behaviour, meant they would prove successful in certain areas of industry - even sought after.

I agreed, as my mind at the time was keen to see the diagnosis in a positive light (unlike when my eldest was diagnosed), focussing on his abilities, rather than his 'dis-ability'. It sent me away feeling hope that those on the spectrum have a very real potential to succeed in certain areas of the workforce which requires their special insight.

I try to believe there is room for all varieties of social skills in society who can rub along together. If I look at my friends and 'nit-pick', I'm sure I could find those who don't always act appropriately - too chatty, too quiet, abrupt, grumpy etc., and yet as adults we accept these foibles. I guess we can only reinforce our children's feelings of self-worth by assuring they know they are loved & cherished and lead by example. Let's turn it on its head and instead of our children adjusting to the environment - let the environment adjust to our children, for a change! smile

HisMum4now Wed 11-Sep-13 23:52:54

instead of our children adjusting to the environment - let the environment adjust to our children Thanks for putting it so well, Sophj

Is it turning things on the head though? People on the spectrum always existed and contributed to society mostly by being themselves, the way they were. I am less and less sure whether people on the spectrum can actually adjust a great deal, more like just on the margin, to the extent they can learn and develop. Autistic people do not evolve into not being autistic. They just cope better.

If you apply the concept of equality to gays, women or wheel chair users, would you say they are required to adjust? The requirement for gays or even wheel chair users to adjust would be seen as discrimination. I don't think of women as adjusting to the male dominated environment, but rather as taking our rightful place.

I would say let the environment adjust to our children or maybe let the environment respect and acknowledge the rightful place of our children. Autistic people belong here.

sophj100 Thu 12-Sep-13 08:28:26

Much more succinctly put HisMum4now it is more about respect and being acknowledged, rather than total adjustment. We don't ask for more for them, just an equal amount. smile

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