It is important for neurotypical therapists to understand that social interaction can be exhausting for autistic people and other people who are neurodivergent, especially if they are being pressured to imitate neurotypical mannerisms and mask their autistic behavior and feelings. Therapist Neurodiversity Collective therapists don’t “train” social skills. Historically, social skills therapy has been generally based upon neurotypical expectations that do not take into consideration the diversity of the populations we serve.
Examples of Neurodiversity Paradigm Aligned Objectives:
- Self-Advocacy, self-determination
- Perspective Taking: Client and family, instructors, peers
- Interoception for: Self-Regulation, Self-Awareness, Problem Solving
- Teaching how one’s body sensations correlate to emotions
- Figurative Language: Metaphors, Similes, Personification, Hyperbole, Symbolism
- Building upon strengths
Note on Perspective Taking Therapy: Targeting perspective-taking may include teaching children and teens to understand how and why neurotypicals act the way they do in various settings and situations without the expectation for the child or teen to imitate neurotypical social skills through the masking of their neurodivergence. Therapist Neurodiversity Collective does not use rote social scripts or social stories that compel verbal or behavioral compliance as this takes away personal agency, self-determination and leads to inauthentic communication.
Perspective-taking goes both ways: If perspective-taking is addressed with a student or client, it must be addressed with their family, instructors, peers, and the other people in the person’s life regarding Neurodivergent/Autistic Social Skills. Research backs this up. Contemporary research in Diversity in Social Intelligence, The Double Empathy Problem, and Autistic Masking demonstrate that social skills training is an archaic approach to therapy.
Examples of Ableist Objectives:
- Treating Autism
- Eye Contact with Communication Partner
- Quiet Hands and Whole Body Listening
- Extinguishing perceived neurodivergent social deficits
- Teaching social scripting that encourages masking (feelings, emotions, stimming, sensory needs, quiet hands, compliance for rehearsed role-play, etc.) “Social Stories*” that are written and used in a manner that is meant to compel compliance
- Social skills goals that focus on making the client appear indistinguishable from their neurotypical peers
For Further Reading:
“Training” Social Skills is Dehumanizing
How to address pragmatic language and social skills while respecting neurodivergent differences.
The Self-Advocacy Curriculum is a tool that is intended to help individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities learn more about the self-advocacy movement; celebrate neurodiversity; cultivate local self-advocacy groups; and ultimately, become and remain empowered through self-advocacy. – The National Autism Resource and Information Center and the Autistic Self Advocacy Network
THINKING PERSON’S GUIDE TO AUTISM – The Meaning of Self-Advocacy “Self-advocacy has been and is still often labeled intransigence, non-compliance, treatment resistance, lack of motivation, behavior issues, violence, manipulation, game-playing, attention-seeking, bad attitude, bad influence, babbling nonsense, self-injurious behavior, inappropriate behavior, disrespect, disruption of the milieu, catatonic behavior, social withdrawal, delusions, septal rage syndrome, and even seizures or reflex activity.”
The ARC -POSITION STATEMENTS – Self-Advocacy “People with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (I/DD) must have the right to and be supported to act as self-advocates. Self-advocates exercise their rights as citizens by communicating for and representing themselves, with supports in doing so, as necessary. This means they have a say in decision-making in all areas of their daily lives and in public policy decisions that affect them.”
SO WHAT MAKES A GOOD THERAPIST? “Good therapists help children with finding ways to communicate, fostering independence without pushing too hard, understanding sensory issues, self-advocacy, learning to jump or ride a bike, understanding how to assess people and situations for danger, processing emotions in a way that is self-validating, and learning many new things the child desires to enhance their life.”
Interoception “The ability to tune into the activity of our internal organs is called interoception and there is emerging evidence that this ability is linked to how well a person is able to identify their own emotional state and to empathise with others.”
What is interoception? “Interoception is a pre‐requisite skill for self‐management and self‐regulation. It provides the tools to know when we are developing emotional reactions and the skills to be in control of those reactions