Asperger’s Syndrome and the 2 Kinds of Social Rules


AspergerSyndromeIf you are a person with Asperger’s Syndrome (autism spectrum disorder) you have some problems with social situations. One of those problems is that you have a harder time learning the social rules that neurotypical people take for granted. But the social rules can be learned, once you overcome the odd idea that other folks have to change their ways to accommodate you.

One problem in learning the social rules is that there are two kinds of social rules, the real social rules and the rules that some person or group want you to accept as if they were new social rules.

The real social rules are the rules that even the rebels among the neurotypicals expect you to follow. For example, if you are at a funeral you don’t insult the dead person. You also don’t tell mourning family members that the dead person’s death, at this time, probably saved them a lot of money. Other real rules are the ones about conversation— when you are in a conversation with one or more other people, you don’t talk nonstop for a full hour. You have to give other people a chance to talk. And if you are at a social event, you don’t talk about shocking, gruesome or controversial things, especially when the other people are giving you signs that they don’t want to talk about it.

Faux social rules are really ways people have of telling other people, ‘do it my way’. For example, an atheist might demand that a religious person never talk about their faith unless they ask permission of every person within earshot; but they reserve the right to talk about their atheism loudly, even when they are in a church. Or a rule that you have to eat birthday cake at a birthday party even if you are diabetic or on a sugar free diet.

It’s very hard to learn which social rules are real if you are an Aspie! Especially since the real social rules are mostly not talked about unless someone violates them. And if YOU violate them, no one will talk about it to YOU, unless they are scolding you for it.

But one thing about real social rules— they exist to help us be kind to other people, and sensitive to their problems. They exist to help us learn to take turns and share, just like they tried to teach us when we were little kids.

Another problem with learning the real social rules is that some people who are charming or popular or influential break some social rules in some situations. For example a host of a political radio show might be joke about some person he disagrees with dying of cancer, even though the normal social rule is that you don’t say bad things about dead people, especially not the newly dead while people are still mourning.

The truth is: neurotypical people can get away with breaking real social rules because they have good social skills and can judge if their audience will accept. Aspies just can’t do that, and for us breaking the rules will just reinforce the idea that we are oddballs, unkind, not good people to be around.

So we Aspies need to spend time on learning social rules, even if it’s boring, even if other people will still think we are kind of weird whether we obey social rules or not. It will sometimes help make our lives a bit easier. And if we are aspiring/actual writers as well as Aspies, it will help us out with writing social interactions— a big worry for many Aspie writers.

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3 thoughts on “Asperger’s Syndrome and the 2 Kinds of Social Rules

  1. What a great post! I started a novel a couple of years ago and had one character who was an Aspie. I did a lot of research and was fascinated by all the intricate behaviors and the ways to direct it (like by using a social script or studying rules as you wrote about). I’m in no way saying I know enough to understand it all, but I loved learning about it and wanted to portray an Aspie as authentically and sympathetically as possible. (I also know another writer who’s an Aspie — @stuartkenyon81 ) I won’t resurrect the trunked novel. but I hope to put an Aspie in a future novel. Have a very good weekend! 🙂

  2. Tonya, one great thing about having Asperger’s is that things improve as you get older, since you learn more and more ways to cope with social situations. I’m sure your son will continue to learn throughout his life how to cope with various social situations in better ways.

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