Do you know I've discovered a new twist to the autism spectrum? 

It actually has come about as I've worked with different individuals, particularly children and adolescents, of varying diagnoses.  And, as I've reflected more carefully, this twist is even more subtly disguised when I consider a range of adults I have worked with in my counseling practice.

Social Challenges Are Not Just Part of the Autism Spectrum!

By now you may be aware of one of my favorite authors in the field of teaching emotional intelligence.  Michelle Garcia Winner has pioneered some very helpful ways of conceptualizing and helping educators understand the social challenges that students on the autism spectrum face.

Recently I came across one of her articles.  It was like the light bulb went on! 

Ms. Garcia Winner points out that many people struggle with social and emotional intelligence.  Many different diagnoses fall under the category of perspective taking deficits.

At this point, I'm going to share the four main actions that are part of perspective taking in any social interaction that occurs.  (I'm borrowing this from another article from Ms. Garcia Winner)

* Actively considering and adjusting to the thoughts and emotions of one’s self as well as the person(s) one is communicating with.

* Actively considering and then comparing and contrasting beliefs (e.g. religious, political, and cultural) of one’s self as well as the person(s) one is communicating with.

* Actively considering and then adjusting one’s message given the prior knowledge or experiences of one’s communicative partner(s).

* Actively considering and then adjusting given the motives and intentions of one’s self and/or their communicative partner.

I like this re-conceptualization of perspective taking deficits because it means that you may know many more people around you who also struggle with some of your same social challenges.  In fact, it is not uncomon to see children with different diagnoses but similar social struggles make friends with each other. 

Here are some diagnostic labels that manifest similar difficulties with perspective-taking.  I'm quoting here from Ms. Winner's article:

Persons with the following diagnoses may also have social cognitive deficits:

  • Tourette’s Syndrome www.tsa-usa.org
  • Obsessive compulsive Disorders (OCD)
  • Oppositional Defiant Disorder
  • Emotionally Disturbed
  • Sensory Integration Disorder
  • Expressive-Receptive Language Disorder
  • Apraxia
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Murky undiagnosed person social cognitive deficits

Practical Implications of the Twist:

First, it may be helpful for you to read up on the diagnoses listed above.

Sometimes, having a label can be comfortable.  We can become comfortable to the point of becoming insulated, and even avoiding others who are different than us.  Expand your comfort zone a bit: become uncomfortable, and learn about the other diagnoses listed above.  It will give you a broader understanding of all the people around you.  You would be surprised to find out how many people have their own private struggles, and those may be very similar to yours!

In a sense, studying the above diagnoses is like becoming aware that there are other cultures around the world; that not everyone is exactly the same race, nor do they have the exact same worldviews.

Second, you can learn as much as you can about social thinking, perspective-taking, and emotional intelligence.

I suggest that you become a regular reader of Michelle's Blog over at SocialThinking.  Read the different books she has written.  They are extremely practical and full of positive solutions.  As an adult, you can benefit from reading the materials even for the kids.  And Michelle is in the process of writing a book about social thinking for adults on the autism spectrum.  So I suggest you keep your eyes open.

Use Google Alerts to track keywords such as "social thinking", "perspective-taking", and "emotional intelligence".  You can track news, blogs, and other pertinent resources that will aid you in your personal growth journey. 

Third, look into social skills groups or personal coaching.

This is a sensitive point for many individuals on the autism spectrum.  Many individuals have had a negative experience with therapists.  Recently, I was getting some very helpful feedback from a number of individuals with autism or Aspergers who have been put off by therapists who do not keep up in their field; who make assumptions about their clients; and who do not seem to truly listen to their concerns. 

You may have to go through one or two (or even three) therapist or coaches before you find a group or a therapist/coach who is helpful.  I encourage you not to become discouraged and give up.  Your life and your relationships are worth your persistent efforts.

What do you think?  Do you have reflections and further practical suggestions on this topic?  I welcome your comments!

About the Author

Stephen Borgman

Stephen Borgman is a psychotherapist who frequently works with neurodiverse children and adults.

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