anti-skills

ABA therapy is not like typical parenting

Content note: This post is about the difference between intense behavior therapy and more typical forms of rewards and punishments used with typically developing children. It contains graphic examples of behavior programs, and is highly likely to be triggering to ABA survivors.

Anonymous said to realsocialskills:

I just read your thing about people with disabilities and their interests. Don’t people do the same thing to typical children? Restrict access to things enjoyed until act ABC is completed? For example, growing up, I was only allowed to watch tv for 1 hour a day IF I finished all of my homework and schoolwork related things first.

realsocialskills said:

It’s not the same (although it has similar elements and I’m not a huge fan of the extent to which behavior modification techniques are used with typically developing children either.)

Here’s the difference: Most children actually should do their homework, and most children have interests other than television. Typically developing children are allowed to be interested in things, and supported in pursuing interests without them becoming behavior modification tools.

(Another difference: intense behavior modification is used on adults with developmental disabilities in a way that would be considered a human rights violation if done to typically developing adults.)

Using behavior modification tools for one or two things in a child’s life isn’t the same as doing it with everything in someone’s life. Intense behavior therapy is a violation on a level that it’s hard to describe.

Intense behavior therapy of the type I’m talking about typically involves:

  • Being surrounded by people who think that you’re broken, that all of your natural behavior is unacceptable, and that you need to be made to look normal in order to have any hope of a decent future
  • Having completely harmless things you do pathologized and modified (eg: having hand flapping or discussing your interests described as “a barrier to inclusion”)
  • Having those things conflated with things you do that actually *are* a problem. (eg: calling both head banging and hand flapping “sensory seeking behavior” and using the same reinforcers to eliminate both) 
  • Being forced to stop doing things that are very important to you, by people who think that they are pointless and disgusting or “nonfunctional” (eg: using quotes from TV shows to communicate)
  • Being forced to do things that are completely arbitrary, over and over (eg: touching your nose or putting a blue ball in a red box)
  • Being forced to do things that are harmful to you, over and over (eg: maintaining eye contact even though it hurts and interferes with your ability to process information)
  • Having everything you care about being taken away and used to get compliance with your behavior program (eg: not being permitted to keep any of your toys in your room)

(Behavior therapy often also involves legitimate goals. That doesn’t make the methods acceptable, nor does it make the routine inclusion of illegitimate goals irrelevant.)

Here’s an explicit instruction from a behavior expert on how to figure out which reinforcers to use for autistic children:

Don’t assume that you know what a child with ASD likes. It is important to ask a child, observe a child or perform a preference assessment. When asking a child about reinforcers, remember that multiple reinforcement inventories can be found on the Internet.

You can also simply sit down with a child and ask them questions like “What do you like to do after school?” or “What’s your favorite food?"or "What toys do you like to play with?”

When observing a child, set up a controlled environment to include three distinct areas: food, toys, and sensory. Then allow the child somewhat free access to this environment.

Watch and record the area that the child goes to first. Record the specific items from this area that the child chooses. This item should be considered highly reinforcing to the child.

Continue this process until you have identified three to five items. Remember that simply looking at an item does not make it reinforcing, but actually playing with it or eating it would.

Notice how it doesn’t say anything about ethics, or about what it is and isn’t ok to restrict access to. This is about identifying what a child likes most, so that it can be taken away and used to get them to comply with a therapy program. (Here’s an example of a reinforcement inventory. Notice that some examples of possible reinforcers are: numbers, letters, and being read to). 

People who are subjected to this kind of thing learn that it’s not safe to share interests, because they will be used against them. That’s why, if someone has a developmental disability, asking about interests is often an intimate personal question.

This isn’t like being required to do your homework before you’re allowed to watch TV.

It’s more like:

  • Not being allowed to go to the weekly meeting of the science club unless you’ve refrained from complaining about the difficulty of your English homework for the past week

Or, even further:

  • Not being allowed to join after school clubs because you’re required to have daily after school sessions of behavior therapy during that time
  • In those sessions, you’re required to practice making eye contact
  • And also required to practice talking about socially expected topics of conversation for people of your age and gender, so that you will fit in and make friends
  • You’re not allowed to talk about science or anything else you’re actually interested in
  • You earn tokens for complying with the therapy
  • If you earn enough tokens, you can occasionally cash them in for a science book
  • That’s the only way you ever get access to science books

Or even further:

Being a 15 year old interested in writing and:

  • Being in self-contained special ed on the grounds that you’re autistic, your speech is atypical, and you were physically aggressive when you were eleven 
  • Having “readiness for inclusion” as a justification for your behavior plan
  • Having general education English class being used as a reinforcer for your behavior plan
  • Not being allowed to go to English class in the afternoon unless you’ve ~met your behavior targets~ in the morning
  • Not being allowed to write in the afternoon if you haven’t “earned” the “privilege” of going to class
  • eg: if you ask questions too often in the morning, you’re “talking out of turn” and not allowed to go to class or write in the afternoon
  • or if you move too much, you’re “having behaviors that interfere with inclusion”, and not allowed to go to class or write
  • or if you mention writing during your social skills lesson, you’re “perseverating” and not allowed to go to class or write

Or like: being four years old and not being allowed to have your teddy bear at bedtime unless you’ve earned 50 tokens and not lost them, and:

  • The only way to earn tokens is by playing in socially expected ways that are extremely dull to you, like:
  • Making pretend food in the play kitchen and offering it to adults with a smile, even though you have zero interest in doing so
  • You gain tokens for complying with adult instructions to hug them, touch your nose, or say arbitrary words within three seconds; you lose two for refusing or not doing so fast enough
  • You lose tokens for flapping your hands or lining up toys
  • You lose tokens for talking about your teddy bear or asking for it when you haven’t “earned” it
  • You lose tokens for looking upset or bored

Or, things like being two, and loving books, and:

  • Only having access to books during therapy sessions; never being allowed unscripted access to books
  • Adults read to you only when you’re complying with therapy instructions
  • They only read when you’ve pointed to a picture of a book to request it
  • You’re required to sit in a specific position during reading sessions. If you move out of it; the adult stops reading
  • If you rock back and forth; they stop reading
  • If you stop looking at the page; they stop reading
  • If you look at your hand; they stop reading
  • Adults interrupt the story to tell you to do arbitrary things like touch a picture or repeat a particular word. If you don’t; they close the book and stop reading.

Here are a few posts that show examples of the kind of thing I’m talking about:

tl;dr Intense behavior therapy has some things in common with methods that are used with typically developing kids, but it’s not actually the same. Intense behavior therapy involves violation and a degree of control that is not considered legitimate with typically developing children.

a shorter version of the last post

As disabled people, we learn early that it’s our job to protect abled people from ever having to notice either the logistical problems or the hate we face. And especially, we learn not to show that it hurts us. And double especially, we learn that we are not allowed to tell friends or caregivers or ~nice ladies~ or others that they are hurting us. And triple especially, we learn that we are not allowed to be angry because that’s ~just the way it is~ and ~people don’t understand~.

I think that protecting abled people from having to notice disability and ways we are harmed as disabled people goes so deep we do it automatically and without noticing most of the time. And abled people *really* don’t notice, because they think it’s normal and natural and have not had any need to challenge it. They feel completely entitled not to have to deal with disability, and the entitlement feels so natural that they don’t even *notice*. And we don’t notice how much we protect them, either.

I’m not sure what to do about that. I would like to start unlearning it, but I’m not sure how. Have any of y'all found ways?

fourloves:

realsocialskills:

When people say “I can’t” I’ll sometimes encourage them to say “I decided not to” or something instead. Nobody can predict the future, so maybe nobody can know for sure whether somebody would be able to do something if they tried some more times. However, a person has a right to decide to stop. They may judge that it’s so unlikely they would succeed that it’s not worth trying; and doing it may not be worth a tremendous amount to them. I also have a right to my opinion that maybe they can.
realsocialskills answered:
You have a right to your opinion, but you don’t have the right to have them respect your assessment of their abilities. You especially do not have the right to have them take your opinion into consideration when they’re deciding what they can and can’t do.
Inability to do things is real. And yes, I may sometimes be wrong about my inability to do things, but taking it seriously when I think I can’t do something matters. Even if I’m wrong.
There’s a difference between deciding I don’t want to do something, and deciding that I think I am incapable of something, or that doing the thing is unacceptably risky for me.
Even if other people think I’m wrong - I still have the right to assess what my limits are and act accordingly. And even though I will sometimes mistakenly think that I am unable to do something I am actually capable of, “I can’t” is still a vital part of my vocabulary.
There’s a difference between not wanting to do a thing, and reaching the conclusion that I’m probably not capable of doing the thing and that trying is hurting me.
I need to be able to acknowledge that I have limits in order to manage them correctly, and do what I can instead of pretending that enough willpower makes everything possible.
So does everyone else. In particular, people with disabilities who have been taught that we’re not allowed to take physical limitation seriously. But being disabled and physically limited isn’t a moral failing. It’s just a fact of life that sometimes needs to be accounted for.

fourloves said:

anon needs to go away

who else gets chills when special ed teachers say “the word ‘can’t’ is not allowed in my classroom”

realsocialskills said:

Yes, teaching kids with disabilities not to recognize their own limits is a *major* anti-skill, and it does serious damage to people with disabilities.

On "feeling unsafe"

Sometimes, people in power use “feeling safe” in a manipulative way. They shift the conversation away from whether or not you actually are safe, and into a conversation about your feelings. Sometimes people in power who do this have a kind affect and seem to really care about helping you to feel better. This can make it hard to know in your own mind what the problem actually is, and hard to keep hold of your understanding that something is wrong and needs to be addressed.

It helps to keep in mind that these things are different:

  • Feeling unsafe in reaction to something even though you actually are safe
  • Seeing something as evidence that you are actually unsafe
  • People in power will often try to confuse you about which thing you are experiencing, but it’s important to stay mindful of the difference.

It’s also possible to have a feeling that you are unsafe, and not be sure whether it’s reasonable or not:

  • It’s important to take that feeling seriously
  • And to think through what it means, and whether there might be a real danger
  • Sometimes when you feel unsafe it will be an irrational reaction, but don’t be quick to dismiss it as one
  • If you think it’s an irrational reaction, make sure you have a concrete reason for thinking that it’s irrational and that things are actually ok

People can feel unsafe around someone for all kinds of reasons other than being unsafe:

  • Being bigoted against another group (eg: racist fear of black people)
  • Being triggered by something (eg: feeling afraid because seeing men wear hats is triggering)
  • Forgetting to take medication and having strange reactions to things as a result 
  • Taking a new medication with unexpected side effects that complicate your ability to perceive things accurately  
  • Misunderstanding something someone did or said (eg: taking something literally that was not intended literally)
  • Hallucinations
  • Being exhausted
  • When it’s this kind of thing, sometimes the external situation still needs to be addressed, but often it can be dealt with by processing things yourself 

But sometimes the problem is that you’re *actually not safe*, and sometimes this is in ways that it’s hard for other people to see, eg:

  • If you are being pressured to share private information with people who can’t be trusted to keep things confidential
  • If you are being pressured to use a ramp that is too steep to be safe, or allow people to carry you into an inaccessible building
  • If people around you are bigoted against you in subtle, but constantly corrosive ways
  • If people are intentionally triggering you in order to confuse and disorient you into doing what they want
  • If you’re being triggered in a way that makes it impossible for you to understand what is going on well enough to keep yourself safe, even if no one is doing it on purpose
  • If there is no food available that you can safely eat for an extended period
  • If you are experiencing executive functioning problems in ways that make it hard or impossible for you to do things that are necessary for survival, and no one is willing to help you
  • If you’re spending a lot of time in a environment is physically overloading in painful ways
  • If you have medical problems and doctors refuse to communicate in a way you can understand, or if you only have access to them in an environment that prevents you from communicating
  • and any number of other things

All of these things are the kind of thing that apparently well-meaning people will often try to address by trying to get you to process your feelings so that you will feel safe. That’s a dangerous reaction, and it’s important to notice when people are doing it, and to learn how to insist that they address the actual safety issue.

Sometimes the feeling is the problem.

Sometimes the problem is that you’re *actually not safe*.

If someone’s trying to manage your feelings rather than the actual threat to your safety, it’s important to remember that they’re doing a bad thing. And that it’s ok to want to actually *be* safe, even if all they want to do is make you *feel* safe. 

Cooperation with feelings derails is one of the hardest anti-skills to unlearn. But it’s also really, really important.

Hi! I love your blog. I don’t know how many blind people read your blog (I heard Tumblr is pretty inaccessible for reading programs) but my friend, who is blind, mentioned that she was taught, in whatever social skills education she received, that there is a “friendship look” that establishes a relationship between sighted people. I was shocked! There are lots of looks that people can give each other, but, in my experience, this is not one of them. I just wanted to alert anybody else who may have heard the same thing.

realsocialskills said:

I’m not sure. It might be that sometimes when friends are in a group, they look at each other kind of to check in. 

I haven’t ever heard anything called a “friendship look” though. Have any of y'all?

An anti-skill that interferes with friendship

cocksucking-accent:

realsocialskills:

This post is a further response to an ask by someone who identifies as aspie and is struggling to making friends.

Yesterday, I addressed the burden of stigma we face, and how it can make it hard to find people who will treat us well enough to be good friends. Today, I want to start talking about other problems autistic people often have making friends. (Usual standard caveat - if you relate to any of this, it’s fine to use these concepts whether or not you are autistic. Don’t worry about appropriation.)

There are a lot of social problems that autistic people often have beyond other people’s anti-autistic hate. Some of these things are inherently difficult for some of us, and some of them have to do with how we are often taught counterproductive coping strategies.

For instance, a lot of autistic people find it difficult to judge other people’s boundaries and level of interest in interacting (and that’s partly because, as kids, we’re taught that we have to interact with other kids and see them as friends regardless of what we or they want).
Here’s an example of how an autistic impairment and stigma combine to create a relationship problem for some people:
  • One thing that often gets autistic people classified as aspie is having more receptive language problems than expressive language problems
  • People with really good, or good-seeming, expressive language can often cover for the fact that they don’t understand much of what’s going on
  • This allows them, especially as kids, to pass as just socially awkward, or to pass as being too gifted to get along with other kids, or any number of variants on that theme
  • There is often very, very intense pressure on autistic people classified as aspie to cover impairment at all costs and to appear as normal as possible
  • This makes receptive language problems even worse, because it prevents them from getting good feedback on whether they’re understanding anything
  • And sometimes, aspie spaces can make this even worse. Sometimes aspie-oriented communities are centered around helping people to deny that they have language problems, and to say that the rest of the world just communicates wrong
  • (It’s true that the rest of the world needs to work on accommodating people with communication disabilities more - but autistic folks need to acknowledge that they *have* communication disabilities, and a lot of aspie-identified folks like to deny this)
  • Covering up receptive language problems can make friendship really difficult. Friends need to be able to understand each other
  • Which means friends need to be able to admit it and fix it when they *don’t* understand each other

If this sounds like you, it’s likely that getting better at friendship will involve looking more autistic.

More on social problems autistic people often struggle with tomorrow.

cocksucking-accent said:

“If this sounds like you, it’s likely that getting better at friendship will involve looking more autistic.”

This.

I’ve gotten better at a lot of things over the past couple of years and KP has been amazingly supportive of me and my mental health (which is a thing I honestly hadn’t experienced since my Dad, and I haven’t seen him in years and even then the divorce happened when I was 8 so I was only seeing him sometimes. And we came to the US (without my Dad, of course) when I was 12 so during my teen and identity-development years I was only seeing him like a month at a time over the summer.)

So now that I have the space to be myself, and that it’s okay to even own ear plugs, and to fidget with things, and to go non-verbal and ask to IM or text or something, I keep asking myself if I’m becoming more autistic or if I’m using it as a crutch.

But I’m not. I’m just in a safe space where I don’t have to keep it all in and pretend I’m normal and then break down as soon as people aren’t around.

… But I sure as hell do perceive myself as “more autistic.”

realsocialskills said:

Have you read Help, I seem to be getting more autistic? It’s really helpful at explaining that dynamic, as well as other reasons autistic people sometimes end up losing the ability to pass or other skills.

annekewrites:

Ugh, passing

applebeloved:

An anti-skill that interferes with friendship

realsocialskills:

This post is a further response to an ask by someone who identifies as aspie and is struggling to making friends.

Yesterday, I addressed the burden of stigma we face, and how it can make it hard to find…

annekewrites said:

Passing is so frustrating.

Some days I can hide my mobility issues, and I tend to feel like just because I can, I should.  In part because I’m also fat, and being a fat person with visibly obvious mobility issues is just asking for crap.

This rarely if ever ends well for me.  Just because I CAN go up stairs doesn’t mean, most of the time, that I SHOULD go up more than one flight of stairs at a time, and sometimes I really shouldn’t even do the one.

This is extra-fun when in an office environment promoting “fitness”.  :(

realsocialskills said:

I think The Spoon Theory is really helpful in dealing with this.

The costs of doing things matter. It is possible to be sort of capable of doing a thing at a high spoon cost, but incapable of doing it and all the other things without incapacitating yourself.

It’s hard to keep that in mind when other people think that if you can technically do the thing, you must do the thing or else you’re being lazy or something. But keeping it in mind really, really helps.

applebeloved:

An anti-skill that interferes with friendship

realsocialskills:

This post is a further response to an ask by someone who identifies as aspie and is struggling to making friends.

Yesterday, I addressed the burden of stigma we face, and how it can make it hard to find people who will treat us well enough to be good friends. Today, I want to start talking about…

applebeloved said:

People don’t know how freaking hard I work to appear normal. So if you’re my classmate or someone who knows me and is reading this, you better take this down.

Things I had to work on:

1. Smiling
I don’t see anything genuinely funny, but if I do, I shall laugh.

2. Not slanting my eyes, keeping my face straight
My eyes apparently freak out adults

3. Slouching to fit in
My peers used to laugh at my stiff straight posture.

4. Not stimming
Like flapping my hands and jumping around and releasing tension in my body. Nowadays I react by doing an upper body dance which amuses my friends.

5. Speaking slowly and coherently
I get excited and speak intensely and really quick, especially about things I love to talk about

6. Eye contact
Hate it

7. Ordering food, asking questions, answering them
Scared

8. Pretending to be interested in what others say
I tell them if they ask me if I truly am bored. But I try to listen.


I eat chocolate to calm myself down and regain my wits about me

realsocialskills said:

People really, really need to understand the toll passing takes on people.

Whether and when to try to pass is a very personal choice - and for many of us, it’s survival. But the cost is high. And that needs to be a factor in decision making, and in education.

An anti-skill that interferes with friendship

This post is a further response to an ask by someone who identifies as aspie and is struggling to making friends.

Yesterday, I addressed the burden of stigma we face, and how it can make it hard to find people who will treat us well enough to be good friends. Today, I want to start talking about other problems autistic people often have making friends. (Usual standard caveat - if you relate to any of this, it’s fine to use these concepts whether or not you are autistic. Don’t worry about appropriation.)

There are a lot of social problems that autistic people often have beyond other people’s anti-autistic hate. Some of these things are inherently difficult for some of us, and some of them have to do with how we are often taught counterproductive coping strategies.

For instance, a lot of autistic people find it difficult to judge other people’s boundaries and level of interest in interacting (and that’s partly because, as kids, we’re taught that we have to interact with other kids and see them as friends regardless of what we or they want).

Here’s an example of how an autistic impairment and stigma combine to create a relationship problem for some people:

  • One thing that often gets autistic people classified as aspie is having more receptive language problems than expressive language problems
  • People with really good, or good-seeming, expressive language can often cover for the fact that they don’t understand much of what’s going on
  • This allows them, especially as kids, to pass as just socially awkward, or to pass as being too gifted to get along with other kids, or any number of variants on that theme
  • There is often very, very intense pressure on autistic people classified as aspie to cover impairment at all costs and to appear as normal as possible
  • This makes receptive language problems even worse, because it prevents them from getting good feedback on whether they’re understanding anything
  • And sometimes, aspie spaces can make this even worse. Sometimes aspie-oriented communities are centered around helping people to deny that they have language problems, and to say that the rest of the world just communicates wrong
  • (It’s true that the rest of the world needs to work on accommodating people with communication disabilities more - but autistic folks need to acknowledge that they *have* communication disabilities, and a lot of aspie-identified folks like to deny this)
  • Covering up receptive language problems can make friendship really difficult. Friends need to be able to understand each other
  • Which means friends need to be able to admit it and fix it when they *don’t* understand each other

If this sounds like you, it’s likely that getting better at friendship will involve looking more autistic.

More on social problems autistic people often struggle with tomorrow.

mayaminamoto:

realsocialskills:

selfcareafterrape:

realsocialskills:

When people say “I can’t” I’ll sometimes encourage them to say “I decided not to” or something instead. Nobody can predict the future, so maybe nobody can know for sure whether somebody would be able to do something if they tried some more times. However, a person has a right to decide to stop. They may judge that it’s so unlikely they would succeed that it’s not worth trying; and doing it may not be worth a tremendous amount to them. I also have a right to my opinion that maybe they can.
realsocialskills answered:
You have a right to your opinion, but you don’t have the right to have them respect your assessment of their abilities. You especially do not have the right to have them take your opinion into consideration when they’re deciding what they can and can’t do.
Inability to do things is real. And yes, I may sometimes be wrong about my inability to do things, but taking it seriously when I think I can’t do something matters. Even if I’m wrong.
There’s a difference between deciding I don’t want to do something, and deciding that I think I am incapable of something, or that doing the thing is unacceptably risky for me.
Even if other people think I’m wrong - I still have the right to assess what my limits are and act accordingly. And even though I will sometimes mistakenly think that I am unable to do something I am actually capable of, “I can’t” is still a vital part of my vocabulary.
There’s a difference between not wanting to do a thing, and reaching the conclusion that I’m probably not capable of doing the thing and that trying is hurting me.
I need to be able to acknowledge that I have limits in order to manage them correctly, and do what I can instead of pretending that enough willpower makes everything possible.
So does everyone else. In particular, people with disabilities who have been taught that we’re not allowed to take physical limitation seriously. But being disabled and physically limited isn’t a moral failing. It’s just a fact of life that sometimes needs to be accounted for.
selfcareafterrape said:
respect people’s boundaries.
respect people’s boundaries.
respect people’s boundaries.
If you do this, you are being extremely invalidating. You are being gross. Don’t be gross.
though- I would like to say, in some cases it is appropriate and okay to ask ‘Could you do it with some help?’
Because sometimes people say ‘I can’t’ when they want to do a thing- but they can’t do it alone. and if you are offering to help them do the thing, it is okay. But do not ask if you aren’t willing to help- or point them in the right direction.

realsocialskills said:

Yes, there are cases where “could you do it with some help?” is appropriate, especially if it’s clear that what you’re doing is offering help and NOT trying to make them do the thing.

mayaminamoto said:

And sometimes “could you do it with help” is EXACTLY the right thing to say - assuming the asker really wants to help. It’s really hard to ask for help, especially if the task is perceived as “easy” in the society. In my eyes (could be different for different people) saying “I need help” is even harder than saying “I can’t”, since it makes me dependant on the helper. So yeah, ask if you can help, respect the answer (because sometimes there’s really nothing you can do) and don’t make people do anything they don’t want to/can’t do, regardless of reason.

realsocialskills said:

Yes, that is true. It’s really, really hard to ask for help. Particularly if you’re in a context in most people don’t expect disabled folks to be part of things on equal terms (which, unfortunately, is most contexts.)

pervocracy:

sexualfrustrationmama:

we don’t need to “teach girls to say no”, we need to teach boys to take “no” for an answer so that girls who learn to say no, who already say no, who’ve been saying no can feel like it’s even a viable option that’ll have an effect in the first place

Also: we don’t need to “teach girls to say no,” we need to teach girls to say “no” when they don’t want something.

My sex ed class taught girls lots of ways to say “no” to sex.  The problem was that they didn’t teach that this had any connection to your actual desires—it was just something you had to do. Which is not empowering; when you teach “you’re supposed to say no; it’s not about what you want,” the implication that girls’ desires and decisions don’t matter came through loud and clear.

It also implied, to the boys in the class, that pressuring girls and ignoring “no” were the only way they could ever have sex.  If girls are supposed to say “no” all the time, regardless of what they want, then maybe a girl who says “no” doesn’t really mean it.  And if girls are supposed to say “no” all the time, but heterosexual sex clearly still happens… it normalizes the idea that boys are not just allowed but expected to not take “no” for an answer.

We really need consent education. Not just about sex. About things in general. About what it is and what it isn’t, and how to communicate.

Socially stigmatized people still have to respect boundaries

Here’s something I’ve seen happen among autistic folks. I think it probably happens in other groups too.

  • Someone is subjected to a lot of social violence
  • People don’t want to talk to them because they’re autistic and weird
  • People mock the idea that people like them could ever be a good friend or partner
  • They’re very lonely and isolated as a result of social violence and discrimination

Then, as they’re figuring out that social violence is bad, this leads to an entitlement mentality:

  • They think that, since discrimination is wrong, other people owe it to them to be their friends
  • or to consider dating them
  • Or not to consider things associated with their stigmatized group dealbreaking (eg: if an autistic person who doesn’t understand social cues violates boundaries a lot)
  • And they get angry at people who reject them
  • And act like they’re doing something wrong
  • And then invasively try to explain why the person they want to be friends with is wrong and really should be their friend
  • and then persists, even after the other person has clearly said no

It really doesn’t work that way, though. No one has to be your friend. No one has to date you. No means no, even when it is motivated by bigotry or misunderstanding.

And it’s a lot easier to find good friends and partners if you stop pursuing people against their will.

Well, you wanted a ask c:(I’m typically not good at thinking things up XD) so what inspired you to make this blog ^_^? Like how’d you come up with the idea and such.
I started increasingly noticing things that follow a certain pattern. I think this is the first one I noticed explicitly:
  • Some guy gives a talk on how important social skills are
  • And how people need to learn to interact with each other
  • Then goes on and on about how important eye contact it
  • And then says text doesn’t count, because it’s impossible to communicate nuance or emotion or tone in text
  • So, my shaky grasp of eye contact is a failure of social skills, but his complete inability to understand text-based communication isn’t?

And so I noticed - only certain things get called social skills. That some things that aren’t actually useful skills at all get called social skills. Sometimes things people are taught in the name of social skills are actively anti-helpful.

And that there are a whole lot of things about human interaction that are worth knowing that don’t seem to get talked about much. So I decided to start talking about the things I think I know.

Respect names

This is something that often happens in English-speaking schools to kids from other cultures:

  • A kid has a non-English name
  • The teacher decides it would be better if they had an English name
  • They give the kid a different name, and refuse to call them their actual name
  • Or heavily pressure the kid into changing their name

This also happens to some kids in foster care. Their foster parents or social workers will decide that their name is a problem, and assign them a different name.

Some reasons adults in power will cite for doing this to kids in their care:

  • The name is hard to pronounce
  • Other kids make fun of the name
  • A kid with a non-English name will feel different from the other kids
  • Having a different name will make it easier for the kid to assimilate into English-speaking culture
  • And then the teacher makes the kid use a different name, one that’s more usual in English

Don’t do this. Names are important. It’s not ok to change someone else’s name.

It’s actually *more* important not to change a kid’s name if other kids are making fun of it, because:

  • You’re teaching the kid that their name is wrong
  • And that it’s their own fault they’re being bullied, that it’s because they’re weird
  • It also teaches the bullies that it’s ok to bully people for having weird names, and that they’re entitled to have other people erase themselves for their sake
  • A kid who is being bullied for their name will also be bullied for other things, especially if they are from a non-English-speaking culture
  • Changing the kid’s name will not stop this, it will just make the rest of it harder to take

Names are important. Respecting someone’s name is part of respecting them as a person. It’s not ok to change their name for your convenience.

Socially stigmatized people still have to respect boundaries

shulamithbond:

realsocialskills:

Here’s something I’ve seen happen among autistic folks. I think it probably happens in other groups too.

  • Someone is subjected to a lot of social violence
  • People don’t want to talk to them because they’re autistic and weird
  • People mock the idea that people like them could ever be a good friend or partner
  • They’re very lonely and isolated as a result of social violence and discrimination

Then, as they’re figuring out that social violence is bad, this leads to an entitlement mentality:

  • They think that, since discrimination is wrong, other people owe it to them to be their friends
  • or to consider dating them
  • Or not to consider things associated with their stigmatized group dealbreaking (eg: if an autistic person who doesn’t understand social cues violates boundaries a lot)
  • And they get angry at people who reject them
  • And act like they’re doing something wrong
  • And then invasively try to explain why the person they want to be friends with is wrong and really should be their friend
  • and then persists, even after the other person has clearly said no

It really doesn’t work that way, though. No one has to be your friend. No one has to date you. No means no, even when it is motivated by bigotry or misunderstanding.

And it’s a lot easier to find good friends and partners if you stop pursuing people against their will.

This^. I am autistic and I’ve been in both roles in the past - when I was a lot younger, I probably did violate some people’s boundaries in trying to get them to be my friends/boyfriends (I was lonely and didn’t really know better, but that’s not an excuse because it still sucked for them). Last year in my freshman year of college, another girl on the spectrum pretty much did the same with trying to be my friend (no offense to her, but we weren’t clicking and I didn’t personally want to hang out with her).

I take responsibility for my own actions, but I also do truly think that social skills lessons for autistic people need to include more discussion of boundaries, both ours and other people’s, including training us to say no and stick to it when we want to. My social skills classes back in grade school contained some “no one has the right to touch you; your body is your own,” but nothing for just saying no in normal social situations. The friendship of allistic people was treated as a reward for being sufficiently social and learning to pass for allistic.

I even wonder if kids who are disabled in general need more training in saying no. I think being disabled in our society means your wishes and boundaries are not taken as seriously, and sometimes that can lead to not taking others’ boundaries very seriously, either (although I want to make it clear that most criminal *boundary violations* are committed by neurotypicals and able-bodied people, not disabled/autistic people; we’re more likely to be victims than aggressors).

Agreed regarding all of this. Including autistic folks being more likely to be victims than aggressors.

That said, I think there are things that are innate to autism that can make it harder for some of us to learn to understand and respect boundaries - both our own and those of other folks.

Like, if you have a language delay, it also makes it harder to learn to say no and make it stick. And if you have trouble reading body language, it’s harder to understand when words people say mean no and when they don’t. And if you have seriously impaired executive functioning, it’s harder to learn how to be considerate of others’ time and keep promises to do things. Etc.

It can be a genuinely hard problem. It’s not *just* because people hate us that a lot of us have trouble with this. 

And then the way a lot of us are taught makes it a lot worse. Among other reasons, because just about every concept we need for this gets distorted beyond belief. (Eg: “respecting boundaries” tends to mean “doing whatever people in power tell you to do” and “being considerate” tends to mean “looking normal”.)

Or if you’re taught that all attention is positive and that people have to be with friends no matter what - it can be hard to realize that deciding you want to be friends with someone does not make them your friend.

Etc Etc

All of this means that there are some specifically autistic (and sometimes broader things that apply to everyone who grew up disabled) ways that boundary fails can happen, either innocently or maliciously. I think this is as important to talk about as any other area of autistic life.

It doesn’t mean we suck or that we need to be cured in order to be good, or anything like that. It means that we need to figure out different ways of doing stuff that work, just like in other areas of life.

Making the point about therapy more sharply

Three year old children in preschool are some of the least socially powerful people in our culture. But, they are routinely given a lot of choices about what they do and how they do it.

They’re not usually required to do painful and boring things over and over with no regard to their feelings or their experiences. And, from time to time, they can say no to something an adult had planned for them and have it stick.

Preschool teachers know that their work depends in large part on getting the willing cooperation of most of their students. That doing things to them over their miserable protests over and over is probably going to end poorly.

All too often, therapy for people with disabilities is less respectful, consensual, and individualized than the average preschool class.

If you’re exercising more control over a ten year old kid with a disability than you’d feel comfortable exercising over a nondisabled three year old child, you’re doing it wrong. All the more so if you’re doing it to an older child or an adult.

Even more on learning no

Boundaries are complicated.

Sometimes you want someone to stop doing something, and you have every right to demand that they stop. Sometimes you don’t, because it’s something they have every right to do.

Sometimes it depends on the relationship.

Sometimes it’s very, very ambiguous.

Sometimes it’s the kind of thing where it’s ok to ask, but not ok to demand.

And this works in reverse. Sometimes it’s ok for people to demand that you stop doing something; sometimes it’s ok to ask but not demand; sometimes it depends on the relationship; sometimes it’s ambiguous.

When you’ve been taught that you aren’t allowed to have any boundaries, part of what that means is that you’ve probably been prevented from learning the tools to tell which things it is and isn’t ok to demand, insist on, or request. The relationships and various categories of obligations are probably unbelievably confusing.

Part of learning how to have boundaries is learning how to respect other people’s boundaries. Respecting boundaries isn’t at all the same as deferring to people, but the difference can be really hard to sort out.

This means that when you start learning to have boundaries, you’re going to make a lot of mistakes. You’re going to demand things it’s not really ok to demand, and you’re going to refuse things it’s not really ok to refuse. You’re going to make mistakes about other people’s boundaries.

And you’re going to hurt people, including yourself.

That’s unavoidable, because it takes time to learn these things. This doesn’t mean you should give up.

Sometimes, while you’re learning about boundaries and making a lot of mistakes that hurt yourself and others, you might feel like you should give up. You might feel like you are irredeemably bad, and that maybe you’re just too awful to allowed to have boundaries. You might even feel like you’re too irredeemably awful to have the right to live (I’ve felt that, at times). These are really common and normal feelings for people who are learning this, but they’re not the reality.

You have the right to exist. You can learn this. You can learn how to have boundaries and respect other people’s boundaries. You can learn how to keep yourself safe and still treat other people well.

You have a lot to learn, and you have to keep caring how you treat people. It’s important to keep actively paying attention to your boundaries and other people’s. You have to continually work on it and improve, in both directions. You have to do the best you can, learn from your mistakes, and try to do better. You can do this. 

It’s ok that you are going to make a lot of mistakes. It’s not ok to ignore the mistakes you make. Part of learning to assert boundaries means that there are a lot of other skills you have to learn about understanding obligations and treating other people well. This gets messy.

You also have to accept that some of your mistakes are going to have consequences. On the extreme end, you might hurt people in ways that mess up relationships while you’re learning. Some mistakes you make might be deal-breaking for people you’d really like to remain close with. Even if it is not entirely your fault, even if you messed up ought of honest confusion, it still might be legitimately deal-breaking for someone else. You might get banned from cons you like. You might get fired. You might lose your place in a group you valued. It’s awful when that happens, but it’s bearable. It doesn’t mean you should give up. It means you should take what you’ve done seriously, keep learning, and leave the person you hurt alone if that’s what they want. 

Even when it’s not your fault you don’t know how to treat people, other people don’t have to tolerate it when you treat them badly. They also don’t have to sympathize, forgive you, or listen to explanations about how you came to misunderstand the situation. 

That’s the extreme end. That might not happen. What will definitely happen is that you will hurt people in more minor ways that almost everyone your age knows how to avoid. That doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, but you do have to take responsibility for what you do, fix things if you can, and keep learning.

This is hard, but it’s important, possible, and worth it.

Don’t give up.

More on learning to say no

When you first start learning how to say no, you won’t know how to do it politely.

This means that you’ll offend people. Even when you have every right to say no. Even when everyone agrees that it’s ok to say no.

Asserting boundaries politely is a skill worth acquiring, if you can do it. But that takes time and practice. It’s something that’s learned alongside learning how to have boundaries; it’s not something you can learn first as a prerequisite for being allowed to have boundaries.

And when you haven’t figured out how to say no politely, the reactions you get might look to you like evidence that you really *can’t* say no. It might look to you like you have to choose between having no boundaries, or hurting people in unreasonable ways.

This is especially true if you are a disabled person who has learned to pass as nondisabled by following rules. A lot of disabled people are taught that they must pass at all costs, and taught not to asset boundaries as part of this. Starting to learn to have boundaries will probably undermine your ability to pass. That can be terrifying, and some ways people react might be triggering. But you’re ok. You’re not broken. You’re allowed to have boundaries, even if it means looking weird. Even if it breaks rules. Even if people are offended. You are a person and you have rights.

The rules for politely asserting boundaries are really complicated. It takes time and practice to learn these rules. And not everyone can master them. And even people who can have to be rude sometimes in order to have boundaries, and that’s ok too. Being able to be polite is not a prerequisite for having rights.

It’s ok to say no, and it’s ok to have a rough time learning how.