This site is written directly for you, the person with social communication challenges. We hope you find it useful. (If you are someone else, please see the notes intended for different audiences below.)
It’s not just people with autism or nonverbal learning disorder or social anxiety disorder who have social communication problems, but lots of intelligent people who have spent their lives with their noses in books or faces fixed firmly on the computer screen or doing other solitary activities. Most of the people who get labeled “nerd” or “geek” have social communication challenges. So we’re not really interested in whether you have any sort of diagnosis, or if, like Sheldon, your mammas had you tested.The only assumption we tried to make about you is that you’re a competent speaker of English, reasonably intelligent, not a young child, probably somewhat frustrated by persistent miscommunications and therefore interested in learning more about how most Americans interpret social signals. (A lot of what is written here will be relevant for other English-speaking countries, but there will be some cultural differences.)
There’s probably a lot here you already know (as different people start at different levels of awareness and ability) — so feel free to jump around and skip what you like. As there is no linear path that needs to be taken through the material presented, topics (each containing basic information and examples, exercises, and references) are organized into clusters. The Attitudes and Emotions cluster is most crucial for establishing and maintaining relationships. Hidden Social Dimensions helps you understand the social repercussions of the inner workings of conversations. If you’ve been told that you sound “like an old person” (when you’re not) or “not feminine/masculine enough” or “like you’re from somewhere else” or just “you don’t sound like us,” the Identities cluster may help you understand why.
Audio and Video Exercises
If you are a family member or friend of someone with social communication challenges:
The text throughout this website is addressed to your loved one, but feel free to read along! Really, who couldn’t improve their skills in these areas? You may think your loved one has “problems,” but you may be surprised how much you yourself may identify with and/or learn. (We all did.) We hope that this site will help you understand how you might better explain certain situations, behaviors, and reactions to behaviors in ways that your loved one will find nonjudgmental and helpful — and help you better understand your own unconscious patterns of behavior that may be making some situations more difficult. (We try not to assign fault, in general, but you have to consider that some of the miscommunication may actually be your fault. A conversation is a two-way street.)
No professional expertise or academic background is required for acting as a “confederate” for role playing and video modeling exercises — just “typical” interactional skills and willingness to put in some time, but for best results you should try to recruit others, not always playing the role of the confederate yourself. Your loved one may have so much information about you and so much experience interacting with you that s/he has become relatively good at reading your social signals — but that doesn’t necessarily generalize to interacting with others. Ideally, you should try to recruit at least one person who has not had a chance to establish a relationship with your loved one yet. With any luck, you’ll be able to form a (small) group that can meet together — in which case, see the note we wrote for facilitators of support groups.
If you facilitate or are a member of a support group for people with social communication challenges:
Excellent! We are delighted that you found this website. We wish that there were more groups like yours.
You do want to have at least one member of the group who has good social skills, but it’s fine to have group members who are at all different levels. Some of them may not be aware that this type of social signalling is going on at all, and have only ever previously paid attention during conversations to the meanings of words. Some group members may be aware that the social signalling is happening, but not have the keys to decode it properly, or send out appropriate signals of their own. Some may have a pretty good understanding of how to interpret social signals in theory, but can’t attend to them all quickly enough in real-time conversation with all of its distractions. Some of them may have “splinter skills,” doing really well with some types of social signalling, but unaware of or misinterpreting others. Hopefully, the group facilitator will be able to develop a group profile to figure out how much time needs to be spent discussing which material (explaining in theory) vs. looking at examples vs. practicing skills (vs. taking a break and doing something else altogether, because really, wouldn’t you like some ice cream or a doughnut?), keeping the whole group together for some discussions/activities, and splitting it up for others.
Note that you may want to devote multiple meetings to a single particularly challenging unit. At the first meeting, you can cover and discuss the information, sharing your own experiences and insights, coming up with your own examples, and assigning the written exercises to be done before the next meeting. At the second meeting, you can talk about how people did with the written homework, and what you thought of the feedback on the suggested answers. If folks feel ready, you could do the audio and video exercises together, and talk about some of the problems that come up when doing those. Finally, at a third meeting, after all this has had a chance to sink in a bit and folks have had time to revisit the information and exercises if they want to, you could try the role play/video modeling exercises.
For units that seem like less of an issue for your group, less challenging and/or less important, you might devote just a single meeting, assigning the reading, written, audio & video exercises as homework before the meeting, and proceeding together directly to the role play/video-modeling exercises. (Obviously, if units seem self-evident or unimportant, your group can just go ahead and skip them altogether.)
We also highly recommend that you read Michelle Garcia Winner’s Tips for working with a Social Thinking group, available at her website socialthinking.com
If you are a professional who works with individuals with social communication challenges:
We’re not going to tell you how to do your job. But we would recommend that you read what we wrote for facilitators of support groups for people with social communication challenges. If you can find other people to work with you and your client, forming such a group, that seems like a great idea to us: the more people you can practice social communication with, the more fluent in it you can become. If you can’t form a larger group, you can still treat your sessions as a “group of two.”
Feel free to use any text here that you find useful, in any way you see fit (copying, reprinting, disseminating, adapting, editing), as long as you do it for educational and non-profit purposes, and any publications appropriately cite this website.
If you’re a foreign student of American English and/or American culture or someone who teaches EFL or ESL:
This site really wasn’t designed for you, but you might be able to learn something anyway. Please let us know if you do!