Some rules need to be followed. Some rules are optional. Some rules should be broken. It’s hard to tell the difference, and people teaching social skills to atypical will often lie about this.
Here are some things I think about rules:
1) It’s ok to lie to forms on the internet about your age or other personal information in order to read something you want to read or use a website you want to use.
For instance, you don’t have to wait until you are 13 to use a forum or get an email address. It’s no one’s business how old you are, or what your gender is, or anything of that nature. (And more often than not, people don’t actually care, it’s just a legal thing they put on their site forms in order to avoid getting in trouble).
2) If breaking a rule doesn’t actually hurt anyone, it’s likely that it’s ok to break the rule, and also probably a bad idea to try to enforce the rule.
But it might not be worth risking punishment for breaking the rule. For instance, if there’s a rule in school against wearing red shirts, it might make sense to decide to follow it, but it’s almost certainly a bad idea to tell the teacher that someone else is wearing a red shirt.
3) Rules about things like allergies or other things that affect the physical safety of other people should almost always be followed, even if the rules are somewhat arbitrary.
For instance, if there’s a rule against bringing nuts into a particular place, you shouldn’t bring them there even if you know it won’t hurt anyone, because people count on the rule being followed in order to stay safe. You might be wrong about the safety of what you are doing, and even if you are right, it’s not good to make that decision for someone else.
4) If a rule is putting you in physical danger, you shouldn’t follow it unless people are likely to catch you breaking the rule and punish you in a way that is even more physically damaging.
If a rule is making it impossible for you to communicate, you probably shouldn’t follow it.
If you can get out of a situation where people expect you to follow physically, emotionally, or cognitively dangerous rules, it’s a good idea to investigate escape options. (There isn’t always a way out. But sometimes there is. And sometimes people will try to convince you that there is no way out, even though there is).
5) The rules told to you by people at the top of a hierarchy are often not the real rules, for the same reason that the rules web forms ask about your age. Sometimes people make rules because it protects them to have those rules in place, even if no one ever actually follows them.
It’s useful to ask people on your level of the hierarchy what the actual rules are, and observe what people actually do. This isn’t foolproof, and isn’t a substitute for your own judgement, but it is a vital source of information, and you can’t know what the rules are without it.
6) Sometimes peers or people in authority will lie to you about the rules in order to humiliate you.
If people are laughing at you a lot, this is probably going on. If the same people who told you a rule laugh at you for following it, they’re probably intentionally lying to you, especially if this happens multiple times. If you’re particularly confused by a pattern of social interaction, it’s worth considering whether this is happening even if you hadn’t noticed that it was. We are trained to believe that we are always that problem and not to notice patterns like this, so it can be hard to remember that this is a thing and understand the dynamic when it comes up.
There are a lot of other things about rules worth knowing. Comments?
7) If you need to follow rules, if they make you feel more comfortable or ease your anxiety or any other reason, it is perfectly okay to create your own! Any rule that doesn’t hurt other people is okay.
If you find yourself unable to follow a rule or rules you’ve created, though, it’s also okay to decide that you don’t want it to be a rule anymore. You’re not a bad person for not being capable of following a rule (whether you created it or not), especially if nobody gets hurt because you didn’t follow it.
One thing I’d add to that it’s important to know when you’re following a rule because it makes you more comfortable, and to understand the difference between that sort of rule and a rule that everyone just ought to follow for objective reasons. It can be really hard to tell the difference, but it’s important.
It’s also important to remember that other people don’t know about idiosyncratic rules, and can’t reasonably be expected to follow your rules without them having been discussed (and depending on the type of rule, possibly discussed and agreed on).