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The Social Human & The Art of Positive Communication for Autism
Posted on Wednesday, March 21 @ 20:50:33 EDT by
Social Skills
Nanna, Autism Advocate
I met Nanna Juul Lanng while speaking at the conference in Denmark. This is her first column:

Human beings are per definition flock animals. There is no real way around this fact. Our success as a species is partially based on our superior communication skills which allow us to share our knowledge and experiences in a much more efficient way than any other animal on Earth. We have no natural physical weapons; no claws, no fangs, no spikes. Even our most incredible athletes are, in comparison to most animals our size, quite slow and not particularly strong. We're so soft, fragile and vulnerable and to top all of this off we're also naturally naked. Our physical features are, all in all, not very impressive.

But by learning, adapting, sharing and creating we have spread throughout this planet, and we have created a lot of the world we see before us today. We are, as humans, hypersocial beings. We are genetically coded for social interaction. We depend on each other, we seek the approval of our fellow men, and we judge each other by our ability to master these social skills and rules.

Read on. . .

As most people believe, I am also confident that people on the spectrum of autism have “always” been around. As the majority of you also know we're wired a little differently than the average man/woman. Unlike them, we are not born with all of the social skills that society has come to expect from us all. Most of us have a social drive; we crave attention just like anyone else, we want to be accepted, to be approved of and loved, but not always in the same amount and quite often not in the same way as them. Also some of us only crave that second word: acceptance, and then ask for nothing more than to be left in peace. This is not an article for the latter.

In order to do well in the world and in society, if that is what we wish to do, we attempt to adapt, we do our best to crack the code that no one seems to speak of but everybody knows, often with limited results. I was diagnosed two years ago, when I had just turned 19, and it thrilled me to know, that I was not alone in this struggle, even more-so to find people with ASD who'd done a lot better than I. But I also met a lot of people on the spectrum, afterwards, some even younger than me, who had already grown bitter from the constant battles and all the defeats in this social human world. I am not saying, that I can “fix” anyone, I can't. If I had such an ability, I would have “fixed” myself long ago (I need better word for that) , and you'd see me hanging out at trendy clubs talking to very interesting and important people, luring them all in with my amazing skills. I'd be out catching great friends, like Ash catches pokemons... Which I'm not. However I have improved a lot, I can make friends, I can attract people, I am now able to benefit from social interaction, I can get people to listen most of the time, and if you're interested, I would like to share those techniques and tips which have worked for me.

Letting down your guard and opening up

I've made tons of social mistakes over the years. I've been mistrusting of everyone, especially men, and I have often felt that this fight was a waste of my precious energy. I've gone through periods where I just couldn't be bothered, especially in my mid-teens where I didn't try at all, and as a consequence, I didn't make any close friends. I was crying out for people to accept me as I was, but looking back I see, that I was guarded, slightly defensive and sometimes arrogant. I didn't let people in, even though I was lonely. All this because I was afraid of failure – of being hurt and ridiculed. By the time I graduated from school, I'd grown tired of my own restrictions, all those bonds I'd gotten myself tangled up in.

I learned that without exposing myself, without opening up, no one was ever going to let ME in. How could they? They didn't know the real me. How can you embrace something, you are not aware of? Especially when that something is guarding its true self like a starved dog guards its food.

Opening up is risky. You might get hurt. You will make mistakes. And some people will not like you, no matter what you do. But if you're not willing to gamble, you won't win anything.

Acknowledging your responsibility

Whenever you're communicating with someone such as the cashier in the supermarket or a new friend, know that you are at any given moment just as responsible for the outcome of the communication as the other person you're interacting with. How you behave does have an effect on that person. If you greet someone in a positive manner (by smiling, being polite and trying to be non-judgemental, etc.) you are much more likely to get a positive response back. But if your defensive mode is activated and you allow your fears and negativity to rule your thoughts and behaviour, most people will pick up on that and view you as a threat and unapproachable. Be aware of the signals you're sending. Try asking friends and acquaintances what they thought of you, when they first met you. If you don't have any friends worth mentioning a good way to educate yourself on the effects of body signals is to experiment when you're out in public. Pretend and observe. If you behave one way, how do people react to you? If you behave another way, then what?

As for online communication as good (though occasionally annoying when overdone) way avoid appearing aggressive or insensitive and cold is by using positive emoticons or simply by letting people know that you're are merely joking and/or you mean no harm. If you choose to go for expressive, written sounds like 'haha', be aware that many on the spectrum have a difficult time telling whether someone is laughing with them or at them – especially online.

Ask for help when you need it!

Don't be afraid to acknowledge your shortcomings. We all have them. We all have difficulties and if you're willing to admit them you just might be on your way to move forward. If someone (when you're out with friends, colleagues, or any other kind of social situation) says something, and you're not sure what they mean by it, ask! Something as simple as: 'I'm not sure if I understood you right, could you explain it, please?' or 'could you rephrase that?' works on most people. Try not to make a big deal out of it, even if it did sound offensive to you at first. Give them a chance to explain themselves, before you judge. 9 out of 10 times, people mean no harm, but they may have a crude sense of humour and are not aware of its possible effects on others.

Don't play the blame game

So, your friend or acquaintance has just said something 'stupid and offensive'. Bite your tongue and be quick about it before all those automatic, nasty thoughts slip out. You might be tempted to call someone an idiot, moron, imbecile, bastard or what have we, but if you're interested in having a nice, positive and rewarding conversation, it is most often best not to stick rude labels on them. You might have misunderstood them.

Name calling will make most people close up like a clam poked with a stick. Also they might be better at you at offending and your slip-up might backfire big time!

Also, when discussing try to not to indirectly blame people. Most people do this, I certainly do, but it doesn't lead to rewarding debates, only to verbal war. Instead of saying things like:

'You're wrong'
'You hurt me'
'You're not making sense'
'Are you retarded?'
...you could try shifting the blame, like:
'I don't think that's right, because...'
'That hurt me' / 'I was hurt by what you said'
'I don't understand your reasoning' / 'I'm not sure I get what you're trying to say'
'…' (Don't poke the clam. It won't like it. You cannot get your point across, when you've contributed to making the other person withdraw into him-/herself.)

People on the spectrum are notorious truth-seekers, but we are often also unyielding and stubborn, which can prevent us from comprehending the entire truth. And then sometimes, there is no definite truth, only opinions.

Saying sorry

We all mess up sometimes. Hurting others at some point is almost inevitable when socializing. Don't be the person, curled up in your sofa whilst staring angrily at the phone or computer screen, just waiting for the other(s) to apologize first. It takes two to tango - be the better man/woman and get on with it. Being a good communicator is also about admitting that you've slipped up. If you want to preserve the friendship or maybe just a tolerable relationship with a co-worker, you have to sacrifice your pride once in a while. Even when you think it's not your fault, because you were 'right'!

It will take time and it doesn't work on everybody

Even the most skilled NT gifted with a sharp eye and a silver tongue cannot succeed in every conversation. Some people are difficult to speak with, some will use any given opportunity to put you down, due to their own insecurities and ignorance and, well, there may be a thousand reasons as to why communication goes wrong. Know that it is not always your fault. The most important lesson, I've ever learned when it comes to socialisation, is forgiving myself.

None of this will ever come naturally to me. All that 'sensing and evaluating how far you can go and how to say your honest opinion without sounding like a bastard' is still difficult. But if you keep trying, you will eventually learn something and from there you may move even further. Be yourself, but more importantly, be a person you can be proud of, be brave enough to be you and don't be ashamed of failing. We're all different, neurotypical or not, we all have a lot to learn, and there's no better way of learning than by doing unfortunately. Know your limits, remember to recharge, think about yourself because that will make consideration for others that much easier.

Nanna Juul Lanng is a 21 year old woman living in Randers, Denmark. She is diagnosed with Autism.


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Re: The Social Human & The Art of Positive Communication for Autism (Score: 1)
by RobotGreenAlien2 Friday, March 23 @ 22:00:52 EDT
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It's worth remembering too that NT's have been passing down strategies that work for them for a long time. We are really the first generation of aspies that can pass our tricks down to the next.

Re: The Social Human & The Art of Positive Communication for Autism (Score: 3, Insighful)
by techstepgenr8tion Wednesday, March 21 @ 22:00:18 EDT
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Sage advice. I think it works best once we're out of highschool and past the firing line. Also, I noticed several years back that one of my worst ASD-trained habits was that Pavlov's Dog reflex of 'when it doubt - its me'; beyond being injurious to self-assurance it also gives people a sense that some's a bit of a pushover or doesn't really command their own space.

Re: The Social Human & The Art of Positive Communication for Autism (Score: 1)
by kellywilliams Thursday, March 22 @ 01:30:05 EDT
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Thanks for the information. Great article.

Re: The Social Human & The Art of Positive Communication for Autism (Score: 1)
by LennytheWicked Thursday, March 22 @ 06:01:43 EDT
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Honestly, I've found that interesting people don't hang out in 'trendy clubs.' They hang out in a classroom or in a laboratory, or in a study somewhere. Sometimes in an office. I have a few friends, and every one of them is eccentric. Or a boy. OK, they're eccentric boys. Intellectuals are interesting people, and they're more likely to wait for you to settle in during a conversation. Then it's just a matter of getting comfortable enough that settling in becomes unnecessary.

Re: The Social Human & The Art of Positive Communication for Autism (Score: 1)
by Lonermutant Thursday, March 22 @ 07:09:54 EDT
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NT's = pathetic herd animals

Re: The Social Human & The Art of Positive Communication for Autism (Score: 2, Informative)
by ebec11 Thursday, March 22 @ 10:31:40 EDT
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I completely agree with this article, I have had to work hard to get the friends I have, and it was worth all the "fake" friends I had to navigate through first. I'm lucky in that when I'm hurt, I calm up/be nice until later, so it doesn't muck up my social relationships. Definitely hurts when you open up to somebody and they hurt you though, I had one girl (ironically with Aspergers) who really hurt my feelings when she called me "slow", and then tried to pretend she didn't really mean it the way she did when I brought it up. I know that there are only so many ways you can call somebody slow...I was nice to her after that, but didn't feel very close to her anymore. But for friends like that, I've met some truly amazing friends (and BF) that I wouldn't trade for the world!

Re: The Social Human & The Art of Positive Communication for Autism (Score: 2, Interesting)
by zzmondo Thursday, March 22 @ 13:11:53 EDT
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Great advice. I've really found that a lot of this does work. I've found some of this stuff on my own too, it's good to see someone else found it. I'm still going through some of this myself and it really does work out. I'm mainly focusing on letting my guard down, mostly when talking to girls and such too lol.

Re: The Social Human & The Art of Positive Communication for Autism (Score: 1)
by Oodain Thursday, March 22 @ 17:44:20 EDT
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definately good advice, we all need to take our time to fail. that said, congratulations on the article.

Re: The Social Human & The Art of Positive Communication for Autism (Score: 1)
by AScomposer13413 Thursday, March 22 @ 18:25:47 EDT
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Great article! Some of these points you've made are ones I've taken years to learn and feel there's progress as time rolls by!! Really well done!!

Re: The Social Human & The Art of Positive Communication for Autism (Score: 1)
by aussiebloke Thursday, March 22 @ 20:16:53 EDT
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Are they even worth it?

Re: The Social Human & The Art of Positive Communication for Autism (Score: 2, Interesting)
by TonyW Thursday, March 22 @ 20:35:36 EDT
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This is a good piece on social skills. Thanks, Nanna. I have the hardest time with many Aspies when I argue we should do much more to work on our social skills and stamina, and to build networks which include NT friends --- to help us out, and to help us get out of trouble in many social situations. My big piece of advice to those of us who try and work at this is not to let Aspies who don't work hard enough, or who have given up on NT socializing, or whose Autism is (very sadly!) really disabling to social relations with NTs, get you down. Look at an Andy Warhol and see how far he was able to go in his rich life.

Re: The Social Human & The Art of Positive Communication for Autism (Score: 1)
by Kalinda Sunday, March 25 @ 13:00:17 EDT
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I can so relate to this. I realized recently that I have Aspergers, and so many people misunderstand this. They say that we have no emotional intelligence, when it's really how we express our emotions that is different. Social rules are very important in adapting to a fast paced world. But not everyone has that knack and I personally think evolution is God-driven, and that people who follow the natural order will eventually be the leaders of our generation. It's a matter of seeing the big picture, and Autism to me is not about sickness, it's about genetic adaptations that may or may not have an actual reason or purpose.

Re: The Social Human & The Art of Positive Communication for Autism (Score: 1)
by Lonermutant Sunday, March 25 @ 16:06:55 EDT
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So the truth is that in their teens, Aspie girls are mature and want to be social and have friends and a boyfriend while Aspie boys are still at the lego and action figure stage and totally lack any need for social contact and friends?

Re: The Social Human & The Art of Positive Communication for Autism (Score: 1)
by Dillogic Sunday, March 25 @ 23:12:06 EDT
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You ain't part of the flock if you design a projectile weapon. Any animal on earth ain't got nothing on a bow or early firearm. We needn't be social at all; it's only the dumb ones who desire protection from other people that makes them need to flock together.

Re: The Social Human & The Art of Positive Communication for Autism (Score: 1)
by PLA Monday, March 26 @ 10:42:54 EDT
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Yay, Nanna!

Re: The Social Human & The Art of Positive Communication for Autism (Score: 1)
by halfaspieguy Monday, March 26 @ 14:02:45 EDT
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This is good advice for "real time" communication and conversation. I wish I had known how I sounded 40 years ago when I thought being a 14 year old "know-it-all" was somehow a good thing. Over time I just learned to be quiet and smile and nod a lot. That helped me appear comfortable and kept me out of fights but it did not help me feel understood. I also found that my plastic smile would start to melt at some point and I would have to find a way to escape. I recently started doing video of myself to post on Youtube and I was really shocked to see how long and complicated my thought process is when I'm trying to make what I feel is an important point. It might be good practice to record our conversations in a variety if situations and then listen to what it sounds like from a third person perspective. Obviously it might also be helpful, if the persons involved are important enough in our lives, to simply explain who we are and how our mind works so that they might make some adjustment in their expectations that would allow us to just be ourselves every once in a while.

Re: The Social Human & The Art of Positive Communication for Autism (Score: 1)
by biostructure Monday, March 26 @ 15:46:41 EDT
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I was intrigued by the following. I think this is part of the problem why I don't seem to connect well with many of the women I meet on the spectrum. Girls are most often, compared to boys, more cautious, so we observe, ask, learn and imitate in order to fit in. And whenever we commit a social faux pas we are more likely to react with withdrawal, apologizing, trying to appease the ones we have ‘wronged’, whereas the boys react outwards, with aggression, trying to assert his right and role in the group. I strongly feel I am seeking the women who showed an unmistakeable "boy pattern" of dealing with their AS--or other--issues: the outwardly directed, aggressive (whether or not physically) mode. The women I have connected with on here were ALL that type (if there are any more of those, go ahead and message me). The pattern she is describing, I have come to label the "rescue dog" pattern. And it makes me actually feel worse about myself, because they feel like no "match" for my intensity, they tend to come across as rather "blah", and their fragility makes me feel WORSE about my pent-up frustration and empathic challenges, not better, as I'd expect a "kindred spirit" to do.

Re: The Social Human & The Art of Positive Communication for Autism (Score: 1)
by Surfman Wednesday, March 28 @ 20:26:35 EDT
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Full NT emulation mode here I come! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JUz75nc_JRw

Re: The Social Human & The Art of Positive Communication for Autism (Score: 1)
by rondeau Friday, March 30 @ 11:28:44 EDT
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Nice advice, but really doesn’t everybody need that kind of advice. It is not stressed enough when growing up. Though they may not have them for the same reasons, I believe that all the people on the planet have similar difficulties in growing and developing. Years ago I remember somebody commenting on how inferior communication with an autistic person was. I said have you picked up a newspaper lately; have you poured over the stats at all. Quite frankly, your group hasn’t got the corner on communication. Otherwise the planet would be a dramatically different place…or something like that…LOL.

Re: The Social Human & The Art of Positive Communication for Autism (Score: 1)
by Nereid Saturday, March 31 @ 01:40:46 EDT
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Good article! Presents several good rules of thumb to follow regarding social interaction. I would also like to add its helpful sometimes to read up on human behavior/psychology/body language. What cant be understood intuitively you can still arrive at by academic study. Also, if you can get a NT "wingman", someone who you trust and who is tolerant and understanding of your asperers, you can request that they give you pointers when you commit major social faux pas. The wingman has been useful since I've discovered saying many things I thought were neutral/inoffensive apparenlty rub many people the wrong way. Now that I know this, I can adjust my choice of words or actions to be more diplomatic.

Re: The Social Human & The Art of Positive Communication for Autism (Score: 1)
by 1bandicoot Wednesday, April 04 @ 15:48:21 EDT
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Hi enjoyed your post ive just joined wrong planet. Kind regards M

Re: The Social Human & The Art of Positive Communication for Autism (Score: 1)
by jmnixon95 Friday, April 27 @ 21:14:01 EDT
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You seem kind of pretentious. Do you like films from 20th century France?

Re: The Social Human & The Art of Positive Communication for Autism (Score: 1)
by AShadowintheLight Monday, May 28 @ 13:49:17 EDT
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As a man with Aspergers who has had multiple struggles with society, I can honestly say that this did put a smile on my face. Which I'll admit, is rare since I don't have much to smile about these days.

Re: The Social Human & The Art of Positive Communication for Autism (Score: 1)
by CaptainTrips222 Saturday, May 05 @ 17:10:36 EDT
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I just got around to reading this article. Interesting.

Re: The Social Human & The Art of Positive Communication for Autism (Score: 1)
by webstonne Friday, July 27 @ 11:46:08 EDT
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To Alex Plank: Since you ignore emails, I'll post my request here. Maybe you'll read this. Why is there no option on this site to delete your account? The choice needs to be avilable. I've emailed you twice requesting to delete my account. You igoned them. I don't appreciate spam in my inbox. No option to filter. I find these developments suspicious Mr. Plank. Please delete my account. Respectfully, J. Perry Stonne [webstonne]

Re: The Social Human & The Art of Positive Communication for Autism (Score: 1)
by moniqueH Wednesday, August 29 @ 01:56:37 EDT
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Great post! Thanks for giving us suggestions on how to communicate with people having this condition. I believe dealing with them entails lot of patience.

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