Why are social rules complicated for a person with autism?
Written on 12th Oct 2015 by Alex Lowery
It is well known that the world can be a very complicated place for a person with autism. It can be especially complicated when it comes to picking up social cues, body language, tone of voice and general social rules that neurotypicals take for granted. In this article, I am going to be focusing on the social rules, and why they are so complicated for a person with autism.
I am autistic, and like many other people with autism, I frequently find that I have a hard time understanding social rules. They are just extremely complicated and hard to follow. People seem to speak in this code language where they have to say certain things and are not allowed to say other things.
I feel the reason why those of us with autism find social rules complicated is because we see things very black and white. We have a very literal take on the world, which can often mean that we see things in a very logical and ordered way, and for this reason social rules are extremely hard for autistic people to understand. A lot of people have this code language that they use which isn’t very black and white at all. People will tend to say one thing, but really mean another. If you meet a friend somewhere and they ask, ‘would you like me to buy you a drink?’ What they likely mean is they want to sit with you and then they’ll buy themselves a drink and you will buy yourself your own drink. Somebody may tell you can call round to their house anytime you like when they don’t really want you to ever call round their house. They just say that because (I guess) it’s the done thing to say. Somebody might ask you a question, but only accept one answer. For example, they might be wearing a hat, ask you what you think of the hat and if you say you don’t like it, they’ll get offended, so are unwilling to accept the truth as the answer. Basically…. Neurotypicals seem to have this code were they say a certain thing which really has a completely different meaning from what they’re actually saying, and all the fellow neurotypicals all understand this code.
Neurotypicals also seem to have a certain way of telling jokes, using sarcasm and irony as well as using everyday expressions. When I try to be sarcastic, or joke or even use an expression, people sometimes take me literally, and say it doesn’t sound natural coming from me. I know of a man who’s always telling jokes about people getting old, and he manages to make everyone laugh when he does it because he is so funny. Whenever I’ve tried to tell jokes about people getting old, it seems to come out wrong. The truth is that context and tone of voice in social situations isn’t black and white either. It’s extremely complicated. Neurotypicals just seem to be able to pick up social cues from a young age. It’s not something they even need to be taught in school. They just seem to grow up picking it up. People with autism think very literally and black and white, so to them social rules have to be learned, and it’s not easy to learn them. I’ve learned set social rules, but I still make mistakes socially, because social rules are ever so complicated and different rules can apply and vary in different situations.
People with autism also tend to only focus on one thing and miss the big picture so this can also be a reason why social rules are so complicated because it tends not to be the prime focus of the autistic mind. However, I do think the main reason why social rules are complicated is because they’re not black and white and people with autism do think very black and white.
Even for autistic people who have studied facial expressions so that they know what bored or sad looks like can still really struggle. They may develop social anxiety because they feel overloaded trying to remember all the different expressions. They may become so focussed on looking for signs of boredom that they begin to think people always find them boring. They may feel exhausted after a small amount of interaction because this is so exhausting and takes up a lot of thinking. If the person on the spectrum also has sensory issues as well it may lead to feeling sick and panicky.
I hope you enjoyed this article. Please leave me comments.
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