September 24th, 2007


Social skills

Some of my friends have a kid who's switched from homeschooling to public schooling for various reasons. (Homeschooling has served him well and it looks like the public school in question will also serve him well, so I really don't want to get into a homeschooling vs. public schools vs. private schools debate here.) He's a bright and self-motivated kid. And this will be relevant in a minute: he has Asperger's Syndrome. I've been thinking a lot about the transition he's going through, and it seems like a lot of people are saying this will be good for him to learn social skills.

What I want to know is: what do you think those social skills are? What social skills would you like a kid to know when he/she makes the transition to adulthood? Concretely. Specifically. This kid is very bright, but I think that what our culture does with kids like him is the equivalent of sending a kid off to school and saying, "Okay, now you should be learning math. We're not going to tell you where the math books are. They're somewhere in the building, and they have something to do with one of your classes. Go learn math." "What kind of math?" "Y'know, math. It's important. The same math everyone else your age has learned."

Here's an example of the sort of social skill I mean: I think that it's important for an adult to be able to approach strangers with a specific professional question. To be able to walk up to someone at a conference, for example, and say, "Hi. Are you here for the x conference? Oh, good -- do you know where registration is?" and to generally carry on the rest of that conversation. Some people will find this difficult and others will think it's great fun and a marvelous opportunity to talk to other people in their field. But everyone should know how to do it, what general set of words to use etc.

Or another social skill: an adult should be able to express to another adult that they disagree but are willing to drop the subject at hand.

Some of the examples in my head are handled terribly by our current school system, but the fact that people aren't learning them doesn't make them less valuable. I'm curious, though, about what you all think this "learn social skills" thing actually means, or should mean. What are we taking for granted that "of course everyone knows" that may well be learned behavior on the part of neurotypicals? If you've got Asperger's yourself, what social skills have you learned the hard way, or what did you wish someone had explained to you in your late teens and early twenties?