But, training the autism out of an autistic person is neither ethical nor accepting of neurodiversity. Deficit-driven clinicians continue to attribute any Autistic social difference as “deficient” but flat out ignore the fact that social communication reciprocity is a two-way street. Nothing about Social Skills Training is neurodivergence-affirming therapy. Absolutely nothing.
When I first considered the possibility that I may be autistic, I thought the only missing piece was difficulty with social communication. I understood topic maintenance, turn-taking, figurative language, sarcasm, small talk, and the fact that no one actually wants a real answer when they ask how you are doing. I also knew that I hated small talk, talked about things I had no interest in for the sake of being social and polite, practiced responses in my head before saying them out loud, and had more difficulty expressing ideas verbally than in writing.
Our autistic female students are constantly mimicking and copying behaviors of peers so they can hide their autism. We, as clinicians, teach them to do this because we were taught that autism must be hidden and masked through the therapy we provide. We are licensed, credentialed ableists, “therapizing: our autistic students to learn to be in a constant state of making in order to be acceptable, to be worthy, to be liked.
Why Perspective-Taking and Neurodiversity Acceptance? (Part 2 of “Training” Social Skills is Dehumanizing: The One with the Therapy Goals)
Wasted years upon years of endlessly drilling autistic children and adolescents to memorize and parrot “appropriate” rote phrases for specific social situations will not lead to their peers perceiving them as more likable. Social skills training is not a “cure” for autism despite what the ABA industry would like for us all to believe. All “social skills training’ does is to teach autistic people how to mask their autism. And the potential harms of masking (exhaustion, anxiety, depression, frustration, decreased self-esteem suicidal ideation) are significant.
Dictating how a neurodivergent person is expected to communicate in specific social situations takes away their self-determination. Training people as one trains animals is appalling. SLP Neurodiversity Collective believes in respecting the authentic social communication of all people, rather than compelling compliance for neurotypical expectations through a system of rewards and punishments.