Monday, August 22, 2011

Don't Ask About the Ninjas

I was at my campus last Thursday, visiting a special education teacher. Another teacher approached me while I was talking to someone. She looked at me for a minute or two. I looked right back, curious. Then she pointed to my abdomen, reached over and patted it.

"Are you expecting?" she asked.

"No, I am just fat," I replied, smiling. I had to give her an honest answer, but I didn't want her to be embarrassed. She was embarrassed, of course, and quickly made an exit.

We are consistently taught to ask direct questions. You have to ask the questions to learn the answers, we are told. That rule is great if you are asking about Science homework or directions to someone's house. It doesn't work so good for social interactions, however.

There are tons of hidden social rules out there. They're like ninjas. They change constantly, just when you think you know them. Sometimes it's okay to ask a person a question. Sometimes it's not. How do you know which is which? I certainly would not be able to tell you. I tend to wing it, to fool the ninjas. Most of the time, that is a successful social strategy, but ONLY if you are paying attention to the facial expression, eye gaze, voice intonation, and other aspects of communication between two people. The more interactions you have with other people, the easier it becomes for a person to pick up the little hidden rules about life.

Hidden rules such as the correct way to enter an elevator, where to stand, which way to face, how formations might shift as people got on and off the elevator. There is no elevator class to tell you these answers. I know because I looked it up. See--it's a ninja social skill.

But how does a person know that they are supposed to do this? There really should some sort of organized effort to standardize some of these hidden rules. I am not asking for myself. People with disabilities, such as people with autism, don't have an awareness of all the secret social rules out there. They are known to say or do the wrong thing on many occasions just because they are not aware of the visual cues which alert them that they should not run naked across the football field during the game just because someone said that it was a tradition. I think that it is up to NTs to get off our butts and start sharing our dictionaries of social cues with kids or adults around us. For instance, is there a a poster of different facial expression in a classroom? A teacher could use that to teach differences in social cues just by pointing to the faces on the poster. Something simple, but effective.

How do you moms teach your child, NT or not, all those hidden aspects of social interaction?


  1. I've been asked that very same question! Too much Tex-Mex, I guess!

    This is a tough issue. Just the other day, my son told his babysitter that her granddaughter was "annoying" because she kept following him around. He wasn't trying to be mean, just direct and matter-of-fact. There are so many subtleties to teach, it's complicated.

  2. Every day, every waking moment and with every breath. It's amazing to me to see how my 5 year old daughter "gets it" while my 7 year old son misses the boat completely. Just this AM going into school I was telling him something and he said to be "Silent as I'm watching a movie." Um, yeah, we have a lot of work to do!!!


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