People who apparently have superior social skills lack an important one

I have a tendency to notice patterns. This probably isn’t surprising to many people, but basically how it works is: I see something and I think that’s unusual, and then I start noticing that the thing that I saw is not really that unusual: it becomes a pattern.

The pattern that I have noticed recently is a little bit confusing, because it is something that I have noticed neurotypical people tend to do quite a lot, and everyone always wants to claim that neurotypical people have superior social skills, and superior empathy when compared to autistic people. (As an aside, the empathy thing is a complete myth, but you can read more about that at Musings of an Aspie or Ollibean, because that is not the topic of this post)

So, this is what I’ve noticed. Someone will post something about how ABA is really not that great (understatement of the year), and someone will mention PTSD, and then another person will ask

“How can ABA cause PTSD? What sort of things did they do that were traumatic?”

Don’t be that person. 

Alternatively, someone will post something about how hard it is for someone who experiences anxiety to make a phone call, and then another person will comment

“Making phone calls is not that hard. Is it really that hard to make a phone call if you have anxiety?”

Don’t be that person either.

There are probably a dozen or more examples that I can give, but hopefully those two will suffice.

You might claim that you are trying to understand what it’s like, and while that may be a noble intention, you cannot ask someone who experiences the world completely differently to you to explain why that makes stuff so hard for them. The truth is if you have not experienced those things, you cannot really ever truly understand what it’s like.

As an example, even though I have watched a variety of simulation videos, I will never truly understand what it is like to be dyslexic. I can develop an understanding to a degree, but I will never truly know what that means to an individual who is dyslexic because that is something that would shape the way in which they experience the world. I would never request that a dyslexic person tells me what that is like. If they volunteer that information, I will listen, but I will acknowledge that I have privilege in that regard which means that I will never fully comprehend the effect that being dyslexic has had, and continues to have, on their life.

Putting people on the spot by asking them to explain things to you can be triggering for those people. Chances are they have had to live with the challenges they face for a long time, and they’ve already had to explain that dozens of times. Demanding answers to your questions reeks of arrogance and privilege – Yes, I am judging people who do this!

Of course, there are people who are willing to share through blogs, or Facebook pages, or books. Find them. Read those. Accept that what they’re explaining may be very different to how you experience the world. Most importantly, accept their explanations on their own terms. People who are willing to share do sometimes provide the opportunity for people to ask questions. Until the opportunity is provided, don’t wander in with your neurotypical privilege hanging out demanding that your questions be answered because you “honestly want to understand”. That’s what Google is for.