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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....

goonIcantakeit Fri 13-Sep-13 18:24:39

"We measure each other by financial and academic success"

It seems to be more by height, charm, aggression and charisma from where I stand. In all of which DS2 is rather lacking....... smile. But I love him smile

MadameSin Fri 13-Sep-13 16:57:49

Sorry, haven't got time to read whole thread but in short ... yes we are, but for good reason. Socially life is tougher than it's ever been. Our expectations of one another are very high and it's become a never ending circle of competition. We measure each other by financial and academic success. We tend not to look inside the person iyswim. We are a shallow society and as the world becomes a smaller place, we enter into transitional relationships where quick judgements are made on a brief enounter with another. It's such a shame out children are not accepted for who and not what they are. I think this high expectation of social awareness and standards is quite British. Many other countries in Europe take a very different approach to social skills.

goonIcantakeit Fri 13-Sep-13 14:32:08

I think so too soph....

Well, I'm really glad for this thread because this week we have:
- dropped tennis lessons (ie me accepting that it is ok to stop without making a fuss)

- started team dodgeball sessions which he loved and came back very excited because he had shared out a pack of sweets....

- joined the school orchestra which he loved and which would have been impossible even a year ago....

- been totally alone right in the middle of the playground again - I greeted him and he happily greeted me back and told me about something that morning

- apparently been invited to someone's house (this qualifies for a whoo-hoo in my household....) - I'll believe it when the mother says it!

- most significantly for this thread, attempted cubs again, and come home a bit teary because "the teacher talked really fast and I didn't understand"....

Has DS2 been reading this thread do you think? smile ? smile

Anyway, you are all really helping me here, because when I saw him in the playground alone again, my stomach remained in place and I was open to the possibility that he was neither unhappy nor antisocial but merely interested in watching what was going on. I'm not saying that was definitely the case but I feel healthier as a mother for having been open to that possibility..... IYSWIM......

sophj100 Fri 13-Sep-13 13:36:06

Like most mums when faced with hearing a diagnosis of being on the autistic spectrum, I not worried for the future but instinctively looked at the cause. With so many anomalies, myths, variations & unknowns from inherited gene to diet-related, I couldn't help but dissect my own skills, to see if indeed I was the cause. Not to associate 'blame' but to be pro-active in understanding this 'uninvited visitor'.

PolterGoose I had a similar 'lightbulb' moment whilst listening to the Paediatrician give the diagnosis on my 4 year old this July. she had a wry smile as I read my lists and scribblings in my notebook, and I looked up, giggling nervously, to say that maybe I was a little bit on the spectrum myself....she didn't agree or disagree!

I am not naturally comfortable in social situations and it's not shyness but I've never been able to explain why. I don't find the 'chit-chat' easy & certain venues leave me claustrophobic. I like my own company and often prefer it, to attending a social gathering.

I run a de-clutter company and love creating organisation from chaos and whereas I don't try to match my children's issues, there is definitely some overlapping. Interesting new topic for debate? I think so....

TheLightPassenger Thu 12-Sep-13 16:34:58

Goon - re the playground example - I honestly don't know. As the logical answer is - why should your DS join in a game he doesn't like. Whereas the social conformist what will the neighbours think answer is - either your DS should join in or be more discreet in doing something else so as not to stand out. So I suppose in as much as there can be a right answer, it will be somewhere in the middle.

Devil - not so much now, but in the past I have gravitated towards noisy seemingly confident people, as it sort of fills in the gap in the conversations more easily

Polter - interesting point re:social skills. Despite being massively socially awkward, I am frequently asked for directions etc by people, so I obviously give off some sort of approachable or reasonable pleasant vibes....

PolterGoose Thu 12-Sep-13 16:05:12

This is all very interesting. Like many it wasn't until ds got his dx that I had my lightbulb moment and realised perhaps why I've always struggled socially...

The problem for me is that so much emphasis is placed on the pretty much superficial social chit chat that seems so important to so many people. I've never been able to perform socially in that way. But at the same time my 'career' is dependent on effective communication, empathy and responding to the needs of others. I've found that many NT people are very good at the superficial stuff but crap at anything with any meaning... probably not articulating well but 'social skills' in my view is often taken to mean being social and chatty when actually it isn't, it's more than that.

goonIcantakeit Thu 12-Sep-13 12:42:47

"I believe it is the speed of response in a conversation is the problem"

Absolutely. I think we overlook this from day one. "Say less, Stress, Go Slow" says the good book.....

I'm a bit of a pro on the telephone myself. But there is of course a very narrow focus with no body language.

I cannot take notes of meetings very well, and am often astonished by people who have concluded a to-do list whilst talking and listening too. In fact, this conversation has inspired me to start recording my meetings which would eliminate something I have come to think of as a disadvantage.

Spiraling Thu 12-Sep-13 12:13:28

Better social skiils, i think the internet forums are a life line for many, as the internet is in general, i can email easier than spending days gearing to make a phone call. Many asds are empathic, but just do not appear to be.

I believe it is the speed of response in a conversation is the problem, writing in your own time, check the meaning is correct is far better. If having a conversation, I struggle so much, cannot follow it and read the body language and details due to other things going on around me. Also being able to bring a smile, humour into a conservation is important and get jokes, to much to handle, panic, overload then shut down.

My dad is an aspie, applauded around the world, and teaching a generation of aspiring geologists, yes his chosen subject. At home, well, let be content with saying at least he many 6months a year abroad, could not cope with demands family life brings. In the right environment you really can flourish, but takes a lot of work and good people around you. My mum happen to love him totally for all his strengths and scooped up the weakness. Sadly he will never know. He remarried 2 days after the divorce and his 2nd wife handles him well, abate without 5 kids in tow.

devilinside Thu 12-Sep-13 12:06:09

Interesting isn't it. A woman at the school gates talks continuously about herself, never listens and talks over you. Yet she is always surrounded by groupies. (I have noticed a similar pattern on Mumsnet) I as an AS adult, steer clear, but I notice, many people cluster around them. Is it because they are looking for a charismatic leader who is not very empathetic. Are some NTs unable to function without a leader? (not knocking NTs, but am interested why so many of them cluster around these queen bee types)

goonIcantakeit Thu 12-Sep-13 11:55:21

May I ask another question?

I was doing some work at the school the other day at playtime. Glancing out, I see DS2 in the middle of the playground all alone watching. Cue the usual visceral reaction.

Then a child he likes approached him, held out his hand to shake and started some kind of clapping game. DS2 joined in (yeah!).

I said to DS2 that evening, "I saw you with d in the playground". He said, "yes, I didn't know what game he was trying to play".

I am right to be hopeful that DS2 trusted D enough to join in even though he didn't understand the game? In which case, does that mean it was ok to stand in the middle and avoid the games he didn't like?

goonIcantakeit Thu 12-Sep-13 11:50:20

Spiraling - I've said it before and I'll say it again. I've read so many empathetic, thoughtful, responsive posts on this board by people who say they have poor social skills and who also may have ASD.

One interesting question for those of us who are a bit "trait-y" or even have a dx. If life was conducted via internet forums, would you still consider yourself to have poor social skills? Or might you consider yourself to have excellent social skills?

It's fascinating to read the tactless, all-about-me, non-empathetic posts that you see elsewhere on the mumsnet boards and to reflect that those posters may come across as quite socially skilled in their face-to-face life.

Of course, there are degrees: My brother now comes across as empathetic, responsive and socially skilled on the radio (yes really! BBC and everything!) because he gets to broadcast on his specialist topic. None of the people who post positive messages on the related forums would ever guess his history or his challenges, which are many even now.

Spiraling Thu 12-Sep-13 11:25:48

This is an interesting subject. I have spent most my life (over 40 now) being a loner and not though choice. I can relate to everything you have said claw about yous ds, and I feel similary, I would like friends but really do not process the skills to achieve this.

School was a nightmare my dog was my best friend, was dx with dyslexia in 80's, but I have now applied for as asd assessment. Went to uni to do engineering, ended staying nearly 20 year (as commented it changing and the demands that you be a social networker rather than an interested introvert is not good).

Finally felt ok, and contented enough for me to stop hating myself, took up running, swimming, found a husband, 2 kids (one asd other nt). But with the whole school thing back and not working, feel inadequate again, as make no connections, struggle so much and feel lonely again, back to depression. As I do not fit into this aspect of society and they are not willing to tolerate awkward interactions. I like helping, but now contribute in other ways, school garden, the cakes, homemade stuff.

Agnesdipesto my mum is very happy with her own company, and never pursues contact. She is incredability active with her interests, mainly self taught and has ended up in demand for her skills. She says she has more than enough friends that genuinely care for her, oh and her 5 kids.

So I am trying to learn to be a a contented loner, with allotments, sewing, excercise, a house etc.

I have a twin sister, our interests are the same, the outcomes very different, I use to think she was a social whirlwind, but now I know it is because she is NT. I only really feel at ease in her company, shame the Irish Sea separates us.

Ds1 has to be taught everything in a hands on way and I know this will apply for social situations and am trying to get the school to address this but failing. I find it fascinating how easily ds2 just seems to get things and goes with the flow of life. A local school did a lesson a week on a variety of disabilities, covering the range in the class, I think it really made a difference. Awareness and knowledge is everything and keeping it quiet as society does only enhances the gap.

HisMum4now Thu 12-Sep-13 09:51:37

Just an equal amount smile

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

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 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 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?

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.

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 12:44:51

"im still in fighting mode"

that brings back memories.... good luck.

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

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

I suspect not Agnes...

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?

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

Thanks Hoxton, so do I.

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 21:15:01

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.

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