social skills they don't teach us

Listening to people who have disability accents

People with certain disabilities often have heavy disability accents. Their speech can sound very different from the way most nondisabled people speak.

People with disabilities that affect communication are often pushed into separate programs, particularly in adulthood. Even when they are in the same classes in the same schools, there isn’t much of an expectation that any peers listen to them. This was even more true a generation ago. As a result, most people without disabilities are lousy at understanding people with disability accents, and don’t understand that this is a glaring hole in their social skills.

Many unskilled people tend to maybe ask people with disability accents to repeat themselves once, and then they get frustrated and start ignoring them. Sometimes they pretend to understand, and smile and nod rather than actually listening. Sometimes they hang up on them. Sometimes they pass them off to another person, who also doesn’t bother to actually listen. Sometimes they hang up. If they are medical workers, sometimes they write on a chart that someone is impossible to understand or has no communication (particularly if that person also has an intellectual disability.)

Do not be this person. If you can’t understand someone with a disability accent, the problem is your skills, not their voice. (If you have a receptive language disability that prevents you from learning to understand accents, then it’s no one’s fault and you need an interpreter to communicate. Neither their voice nor your brain is wrong. In that situation, the skill you need to develop is finding an interpreter. EDITED TO ADD: I got this part somewhat wrong, and someone reblogged it with an important addition).

If you listen, and make it clear that you are listening, you will learn to understand, and you will be able to communicate successfully with more people. 

An important phrase for this is “I’m having trouble understanding what you’re saying, but I care what you are saying.”

Make sure it’s true, and keep listening. The more you listen, the easier it will be to understand. Understanding . And practice. You get better with practice.

Too many people are ignored because others can’t be bothered to understand their accents. You can make this better by listening (and by insisting that people you supervise listen.)

Shutting up won’t get you heard

Tone is important. When you say things the right way, it can increase the number of people who are willing to listen to you. 

But that only goes so far. No matter how good you are at framing things, some things that need to be said will upset people who feel entitled to be comfortable. And, when you upset people who feel entitled to comfort, they will lash out at you. This is not your fault; it is theirs. Tone has its limits.

Also, getting tone right is really hard. No one starts out good at tone; it’s a very difficult skill that you can only learn with practice. And the only way to get practice is to spend a lot of time talking to people about controversial things. Which means that, in order to get good at tone, you’re going to have to spend a lot of time talking about these things while you’re still bad at tone. 

People who mean well and genuinely want you to be heard understand this, and will encourage you to keep speaking up and keep working on your skills at speaking up effectively. People who want you to shut up about the things you’re talking about will try to make you feel horrible about your tone and convince you that your tone means you have no right to say anything.

Sometimes, when people say that you should be more careful about tone so that you can be heard, what they really mean is “I don’t want to hear that, shut up and say something else I’m willing to listen to”.

Don’t believe those people, and don’t shut up. The most important thing is to keep talking. If you are bad at tone, some people will refuse to hear you. If you are good at tone, some people will still refuse to hear you. If you say nothing for fear of getting the tone wrong, no one will hear you.

Shutting up won’t get you heard. Speaking up might.

The Presumptive Close

The presumptive close is a manipulative social technique. What it means is closing an interaction in a way that presumes that the outcome will be what you want it to be. This can be applied in various contexts with various effects.

In a business context, the presumptive close is a social move that goes unspoken but is often expected as a part of normal professional interaction. Some examples of situations in which presumptive closes may be used:

  • making a deal
  • asking for a raise
  • interviewing for a job

An example of a presumptive close in a job interview:

Interviewer: We’ll call you back if we’re interested in a second interview.
Job Seeker: Great, I’ll talk to you soon!

When the job seeker says “I’ll talk to you soon” rather than something like “I hope to hear from you,” they are presuming that the interviewer will definitely want a second interview. This communicates confidence, which may in turn make the second interview more likely.

In a social context, or in a situation where the person using the technique has more power than the person they’re using it on, a presumptive close can be used to cross boundaries, and make people feel like they can’t say no. In a social context, the use of a presumptive close may also be less obvious, or less conscious.

An example:

Person 1: Can you drive me to work tomorrow?
Person 2: I’m not sure. I’ll think about it.
Person 1: Okay, I need to leave by nine.

It’s worth being able to recognize this technique, in order to more easily maintain boundaries.

Things that may help.

This tells you what acronyms might mean. Before I had this, I had no idea what AFAIK (as far as I know) or LMAO (laugh my a** off) or anything meant. This is easy for me to use and helps pretty well.

Warning:Web page colors might be triggering. It’s bright green over black with blue at the sides.

This lists many American idioms. Idioms are in yellow, explanations in white. The letters at the top are clickable; you can click them and they’ll take you to the letter you’ve chosen.

Urban Dictionary, Wikipedia, and TV Tropes can also be really helpful.

Hunger can impair communication

Some people who can usually use language to communicate lose a lot of their words if they get too hungry.

When you’re hungry, you don’t have as many cognitive resources available, and some of what is available gets taken up by dealing with hunger. For some people, this can mean that the resources needed for language simply aren’t there.

If you’re finding that you often can’t speak well in the middle of the day, it’s possible that you are forgetting to eat. This might be the case even if you don’t feel hungry.

If you get used to not eating properly, it can be hard to notice hunger. If you’re too hungry for too long, sometimes you get used to automatically ignoring the sensations of hunger, which can make them hard to identify.

If you’re experiencing sudden cognitive or communication impairment, and you haven’t eaten recently, it might be a side effect of hunger. Sometimes, if you get too accustomed to the sensations of hunger, you don’t notice feeling hungry until it stops you from thinking well.

If you used to be able to use language reliably but are experiencing seriously diminished ability, it might mean that you haven’t been eating properly for a long time.

Hunger isn’t the only reason some people have intermittent language problems, and it’s not the only reason people lose language skills in a longer-term way. But it’s very common for people with communication disabilities to have dramatically worse communication problems when they are chronically hungry.

If you’re having communication problems that seem to be more severe than you expect, it’s worth checking to see if you’re also having trouble eating enough. And if you are, it’s worth making fixing that a priority.

methods for making words come out





Some things that work for some people who sometimes have trouble making words:


  • Sometimes text-based communication works better
  • Sometimes using email or instant messaging or text messaging will make you able to use words when you couldn’t do so with your voice
  • When that doesn’t work, sometimes typing random nonsense or quotes or something can get you into a mode in which you have more words to use


  • Sometimes if you can say any word or phrase, it makes other words start working
  • For instance, saying lines from a book or TV
  • Or, frustratingly, sometimes explaining inability to speak makes it easier to speak
  • If it’s a particular word you can’t find, describing the thing can work


  • Sometimes making sounds that aren’t words works as expressive communication
  • Sometimes making sounds can make words come after


  • Sometimes waving hands can help make words come out
  • Or making gestures of other sorts, like pointing at things

i can almost always type coherently even when i can’t talk worth a damn. on the rare occasions when i can’t type either, keymashing actually sort of works. like there are a bunch of keymashes in the pipe and i have to get them out before words can come through.

there have been times where I completely lost the ability to make anything other than pained/angry animal noises

not even typing helped

all that came out was keymashing and by the time I got all of that out I was no longer able to type either

all I could do was go lay in bed until I passed out from mental exhaustion

surprisingly, when I woke up I had words back again

scary, but I guess the lesson was sometimes my brain just needs a hard reset and no amount of wheedling will fix things quicker

if you give yourself a break before you hit the wall, you get your words back faster. it’s a hard skill to learn, though, because you’re surrounded by people who think language and sensory impairments aren’t real, and push you to push yourself, and only believe you’re in trouble when you break down in humiliating ways. if you let them judge for you, you’re always going to be on the edge of losing functionality, because that’s the only way they acknowlege your limitations.

i’m speaking of a general ‘you’, btw, not you specifically, vj. it seems to be p much universal.

anyway, no amount of ‘educating’ the people around you will get them to be responsible gardeners of your limits and boundaries, so you have to learn to nurture yourself. and that’s hard. because we’re not taught that it’s ok to nurture ourselves or be careful of ourselves. but we need to do it anyway, even if it pisses people off, even if they don’t understand.

think of yourself as being like a fine sports car. you wouldn’t treat it like an offroad truck. you wouldn’t delay oil changes until the engine is smoking. you wouldn’t run the tank empty before gassing up. you wouldn’t wait until the tires are bald before changing them. you do maintenance regularly, and repairs as soon as the slightest problem crops up, because a sports car is a tetchy machine and needs lots of tlc.

and when it gets the right maintenance, it blasts everything else off the road. :D

Reblogging for very insightful commentary.

methods for making words come out

methods for making words come out

Some things that work for some people who sometimes have trouble making words:


  • Sometimes text-based communication works better
  • Sometimes using email or instant messaging or text messaging will make you able to use words when you couldn’t do so with your voice
  • When that doesn’t work, sometimes typing random nonsense or quotes or something can get you into a mode in which you have more words to use


  • Sometimes if you can say any word or phrase, it makes other words start working
  • For instance, saying lines from a book or TV
  • Or, frustratingly, sometimes explaining inability to speak makes it easier to speak
  • If it’s a particular word you can’t find, describing the thing can work


  • Sometimes making sounds that aren’t words works as expressive communication
  • Sometimes making sounds can make words come after


  • Sometimes waving hands can help make words come out
  • Or making gestures of other sorts, like pointing at things

Not everything is your problem

When someone is abusing you:

  • It’s ok not to care why they’re doing it
  • Their circumstances aren’t your problem
  • Neither is their childhood
  • Neither is the possibility that they’re playing out abuse patterns they learned as an abuse victim

These are larger social issues. It’s important that some people work to address them.

But not you. Not with regard to your own abuser. You don’t have to wait for huge social problems to be solved to be allowed to demand that a specific person stop abusing you.

It’s ok, and advisable, to focus on protecting yourself.


This is a good example of something used to intentionally confuse powerless people about communication and consent.

This is a worksheet with typed questions. A student’s (defiant) responses are in handwriting. The handwritten responses are in [brackets]. This worksheet is not about problem solving or communication. The only possible responses that will be accepted are pre-determined compliant responses. This worksheet is an example of something that intentionally confuses students about consent and communication, and confuses them into thinking they “agreed” to things that were in fact imposed on them.

Do not do this.

Text of the sheet follows:

Classroom Expectations and Responses


In order to better manage the class, together we will discuss and elaborate procedures for the following situations in the classroom. For each situation, we will decide which actions should be taken by me, Mr. Thomas, and yourself, the student.

1. If I have a question, need help, have a problem, or need to interrupt Mr. Thomas, 

I will [shout my opinion]

 Mr. Thomas will [shout back]

2. If I arrive in class without the necessary tools, such as pens, pencils, worksheets, or my binder,

I will [freak out]

Mr. Thomas will [cry]

3. If I am late to class,

I will [burst into class and comment on Mr. Thomas’s mustache] 

Mr .Thomas will [blush and say thanks]

4. If I am late for class [4] times,

I will [make an effort to be late next time]

Mr. Thomas will [give me a high-five]

5. If I am absent from class,

I will [probably be out partying somewhere]

Mr .Thomas will [miss me dearly]

6. If I do not hand in an assignment or lose an assignment

I will [bribe the teacher]

Mr .Thomas will [be able to afford a new laptop]

7. If I need to use the washroom or pencil sharpener

I will [kill 2 birds with one stone and sharpen my pencil on the way to the bathroom]

Mr .Thomas will [be proud of my efficiency]

8. If I arrive in class or am found in class with food or drink, in the class

I will [share]

Mr .Thomas will [not get any]

9. If I am caught using a cellphone or other electronic device without permission,

I will [say “Hold on a sec, I’m making a call]

Mr .Thomas will [understand]

10. If I am disruptive in class, (For example, constantly leaving my desk or work area, interrupting Mr. Thomas when he is giving instruction, distracting others while ignoring my work)

I will [begin a mutiny]

Mr .Thomas will [begin his downfall]

Are there other situations which need to be discussed?

[Mr. Thomas will be tied down, Jacob will reign over the classroom]

About rocking

Among other things: Rocking is body language. Rocking is emotions. 

There is a slow happy!rock. And an anxiety!rock. And anger. And affection. And any number of others. And they are not the same.

And it is possible to look and understand. It is possible to learn how to read rocking, to know what it’s showing.

This is body language. Meaning shown on a body.

They tell us that we do not have body language, that we have a flat affect. And then they try to make this true; they try to flatten us and stop us from moving and showing emotional body language.

But we aren’t flat. We have body language. And rocking is part of it. (And any number of other movements. Not just rocking. But rocking is on my mind.)

I can’t tell you how to read it. Not much. Not yet. I’m trying to figure out some of the words for that. It is hard to describe body language in words, even body language that is socially valued enough that a lot of people have tried. All the more so this.

What I can tell you is that autistic movement is meaningful. Not mysterious. Not ethereal. Not in-another-world. Meaningful, present, and possible to understand.

(Not simple. Communication between people is never simple, and never formulaic. Meaningful. Complicated.)

Keep that in mind. The first step to understanding is knowing that there is something to understand.

A red flag: "I'm not that kind of person"

Any variant of this conversation is a major red flag:

  • Person: Please stop doing x
  • Other person: I would never x! I’m not the kind of person who does x!

Or this:

  • Person: I’ve had problems with x in the past. Please make sure not to x.
  • Other person: How dare you suggest I am the kind of person who would x?!

Or this:

  • Person: Please x.
  • Other person: Of course I’m going to x! How dare you say I wouldn’t?!

Here are some less abstract examples:

  • Person: Please stop pulling my hair
  • Other person: I’m not pulling your hair! I’m just brushing it. That doesn’t hurt. I’m not the kind of person who hurts people when I brush their hair.
And this:
  • Person: I’ve had problems in the past with roommates eating my food. Can you reassure me that you won’t eat my food?
  • Other person: I’m not the kind of person who eats other people’s food. Why would you say that about me?!

And this:

  • Person: When are you going to pay me back the money I lent you?
  • Other person: I’m going to pay you back! I’m not the kind of person who neglects to pay people back!

In all of these cases, Other Person is construing a conversation about a problem, or a request to solve a problem, as an attack on their character. Most people don’t want to attack the character of others, especially on issues that aren’t quite deal-breaking, and so often, this works and gets them to drop the issue and let Other Person keep doing the objectionable thing.

There aren’t kinds of people who do bad things, and kinds of people who do good things. Everyone does bad things sometimes; it is important to be aware of this and correct problems you cause. Making everything about whether you are The Kind Of Person who does bad things prevents you from seeing and fixing your mistakes.

Acting this way is *really nasty*.  Don’t do it, and don’t let others trick you with it.

another thing about friendship




If you find yourself dreading interaction with someone, you probably don’t like them.

Even if you can think of all kinds of reasons why they are objectively likeable.

Even if you think they’re a good person.

Even if you used to enjoy their company.

Even if your friends like to hang out with that person, and you think that’s a good thing.

You probably don’t like them. And that’s ok. You don’t have to like everyone.

And it’s a lot better if you spend time with people you like, than people you don’t like.

this is a good thing to remember…

Be careful to also remember that depending on how introverted you are, the amount of time you want to spend even with good friends may be significantly less than the amount of time more extroverted friends want to spend with you.

Yes. Often wanting to say no to particular interactions is not the same as consistently dreading interactions.

Noticing manipulation






Thinking and being coerced into thinking you need something or something is for your benefit is an easy trap to fall into. I’ve fallen into it so many times. So how do you avoid that?

Lay low and trust nothing.  This goes out to josiahd, too.

That’s pretty much how I’m operating. I just don’t know how people can ever expect us to be super discerning. I am the most gullible person in my group of friends and have always been.

I have to trust something, though. Because I can’t deal with this on my own, anymore.

So I need to figure out what to look out for.

Any time that someone else is disproportionately invested in convincing you that you need something, it is for their own purposes and not yours.  Do not trust.  Run away.

Even if you can’t see how it would affect them.  Especially if you can’t see how it would affect them.  It doesn’t matter what the thing is.  It doesn’t matter how much it might actually be in your best interests.  If someone else’s level of interest in getting you to do something is, like, too high…and you can’t see why, that is all you need to know.

Wow. Yes, this is true and really important.

How to learn from TV

There’s a lot you can learn about human interaction by watching TV that you can’t learn in a social skills class or by reading a book.

There are a lot of rules and concepts that no one actually understands on an explicit level. No one knows how to explain them, and a lot of times people don’t even realize there’s anything to explain, or that it’s possible to actually not understand.

TV characters follow some of these rules, and show some of these concepts.

And when you watch a TV show, you can watch the same episode again and again, and learn more nuance by seeing how it works on a TV story.

I think that The Simpsons, Worst Cooks in America, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer are particularly good for this, but there are many others.

Response to a question about coming out

Hey Social Skills, as an INTJ I love your blog since my social interactions are often less than elegant. On your post about coming out - perhaps it would be prudent to add a post about people who ARE gay and socially disabled about when it is okay to come out, when it could be dangerous, etc? I feel that that post may have implied that they should hide it for themselves too, when it is to some extent more acceptable to be open about one’s OWN sexuality. Thanks so much for running this blog :) -H

This depends a lot on context, and I don’t have a general theory of when coming out is a good idea. 

Here’s some things I do know:

Secret relationships are really dangerous, because they isolate people in them from their friends, and they also make it difficult-to-impossible to get help if things go bad. Some predatory people use being closeted as a way to isolate their partners. It’s usually a bad idea to date someone who isn’t out to *anyone*, and it’s also usually a bad sign if all the decisions about how and when to be out are made by one partner. 

Even when nothing on that scale is happening, secret relationships cause problems. Having to pretend to be single is a cost – for example, when your siblings come to family events with partners and everyone wonders why you are still single.

Concealing something that fundamental places sharp limits on how close a friendship can be, and it’s important to take that cost seriously.

It makes life a lot better if you can find friends who it is safe to be out to, and if you can move to an area in which being out is possible.

If you are religious, and you are a member of a faith or faith community in which being gay is stigmatized or demonized, you are not alone and you probably should not try to take this on alone. People are probably trying to tell you that you have to choose between your faith and your sexuality, but there are others within your faith in same-sex relationships who have rejected this and kept their faith. That might not be where you end up, but talking to them is still likely to help you find your way, if for no other reason than that they will know what you are talking about in ways that most secular people will not. And with the internet, it’s possible to find them – there are email lists and there are organizations, and it can help a lot.

And just, generally speaking, the best coming out advice comes from people whose lives are or have been similar to yours. Because it depends heavily on context.

But there’s a lot more to it than that, and I think it’s probable that a good percentage of people following know more than I do about this. Comments anyone?

Some things to think about after a bad interaction

If after interacting with someone, you feel filled with shame, or fear, or just generally feel like shit – it’s an indication that there’s a problem. Feeling that way tells you that there’s a problem, but it doesn’t in itself tell you what the problem is. 

It’s worth taking some time to figure out what’s behind it, and why you feel bad. For me, it helps to use words to talk or write to myself about what I think is going on, and these are the kinds of questions I ask:

1) Do you think that you *did* something bad?

  • If so, what?
  • Was it something you did on purpose?
  • Was it something you did inadvertently but culpably?
  • Was it a minor mistake that is being blown way out of proportion?
  • Is it something you would consider a big deal if someone did it to you?
  • Do people whose judgement you respect think you did a bad thing?
  • If you hurt someone who didn’t deserve it, is there anything you can do to fix it?
  • If you angered someone powerful, is there something you need to do to protect yourself?

2) Do you usually feel awful after talking to this person? (If so, that’s a major red flag.)

  • Did this person get you to agree to something you hadn’t meant to agree to?
  • Are you really confused?
  • Do you understand the interaction? Do you know what they said and what you said? If you always feel horrible after talking to someone *and* you usually have no idea what the content of the interaction was, there’s probably a problem.

3) Do other people you know have similar interactions with this person?

  • If so, do they know what is going on?
  • Are your trustworthy friends worried about your interactions with this person? If so, why?

Interacting with marginalized people who do valuable things

Sometimes people do unusual things, things that people like them are not expected to do, things that might even be taboo. 

This happens to autistic folks, men who do childcare or raise their kids or otherwise “women’s work”, women who do many things, people with other disabilities, children and teenagers who accomplish things, basically any group of people who are often not expected to do things.

And sometimes people who want to support them end up making things worse. This is too abstract, so I’m going to give an example. This is not specifically a women’s issue; I’m using that as an example because it’s one I’ve seen a lot:

Say, a woman is the first female research scientist. And that she’s overcome a lot of opposition to get to this point.

And now that she’s finally gotten to the point of being allowed to do research that other people take seriously; 90% of the time what people want to talk about is her gender. About what it’s like to be a female whatever or the first female whatever.

Even when she’s come to give a presentation on her research – people who ask questions at the end all ask about what it’s like to be a female scientist and not what she’s actually presenting on.

And it’s hard to assert boundaries about this without just being seen as an uncaring bitch.

Many of the people are just curious, sometimes in a creepy way. Some people asking about it are hostile, and want to show that they really don’t think women should be allowed.

But sometimes, the hardest thing to take is people who want to tell you how great it is that you’re a female scientist, who mean to be supportive, but who are still really intensely focused on the freaky female part rather than the scientist part. Because, then, even the people who like you aren’t really taking you seriously, it’s *always* about the thing, the freakness.

And even then, it can seem like people are assuring you that you have their permission to be a freaky female – and being treated like you need permission by supporters 

And it’s so much better to be taken seriously on the terms you care about, on what you’re actually doing.

So, be careful about that. The best way to support someone who is doing something important and stigmatized is to value the thing they’re doing, and take them seriously as someone who does it.

Asking the right questions

So, there are good and bad ways to use two-choice questions.

There’s the way that’s trying to get people to say particular things and make people comply. Like this:

“Are you ready to look at me when you talk, or should we continue this later?”

That kind of question forces an answer that one way or another, is the answer the questioner wants. It makes it so someone can’t say what they really want to say, so they can’t say “I don’t want to look at you but I do want you to listen to me”.

And there’s the way that’s trying to get actual communication, trying to help someone say *what they actually want to say*.

Like this:

“Do you want to talk right now, or stop talking?” if it’s an actual attempt to figure out whether someone wants to have the conversation.

And they look the same, in certain ways. 

But they’re not. They’re not.

Because only one allows someone to say no. Or to give a response the questioner doesn’t want.

And if you can’t say no, it isn’t communication.

And I didn’t explain that clearly in my post about this.

And it got thousands of notes.

And I’m scared that some people thought I was endorsing the former, the kind where it’s fake communication that confuses vulnerable people about what communication is.

No no no not that.

I mean communication. Not compliance-getting.