23 October 2012

Important Social Rules (for both Autistics and non-Autistics)

After participating in four different "social skills" aimed classes or programs for Autistics or people with similar disabilities over the last several years of my life, I've come to realize that most of the important social rules that I follow aren't necessarily the ones people are usually taught in "social skills classes" that typically aim to normalize Autistics rather than provide them with coping mechanisms and tools to navigate a predominantly neurotypical world. (And ironically enough, many non-Autistics whom I know don't follow many of these social rules that I'd consider to be common sense!)

  1. Don't intentionally interrupt people unless they're being bigots or it's an emergency. If you accidentally interrupt someone outside either of those scenarios, and you realize it or they point it out, apologize.
  2. Don't make promises you can't keep.
  3. Don't ask other people to do things for you if you'd be unwilling to do comparable things for them.
  4. Don't insult people to their faces unless they're being bigots. Otherwise, save the insults for private conversations with trusted friends, a counselor, a confessor, or an anonymous website where you omit both their and your names or other identifying information.
  5. Thank people when they do something for you.
  6. Only ask people questions if you either really care about the answer or you need them to think you do.
  7. Don't ask strangers about their health, religion, politics, gender identity or pronouns, sexual orientation, weight, income, or disability status unless you're in a safe space or themed event/conference (i.e. a queer pride group, an autism conference, or a religious gathering, for example).
  8. Don't invite yourself to parties or outings. If you find out about a private party or outing that you weren't invited to, don't mention it around the people who are invited.
  9. Thank people in advance when you expect them to do something for you.
  10. Always ask if you need anything from anyone.
  11. Default to speaking or acting more respectfully or formally when in doubt about how formal you should be around a particular person or in a particular situation or place.
  12. No means no.
  13. Only talk about people behind their backs to your closest friends, a counselor, a confessor, or on an anonymous website where you omit both their and your names or other identifying information.
  14. Ask if you're not sure if something is offensive (e.g. swearing, smoking, etc) and do so before doing the potentially offensive activity.
  15. Apologize if you accidentally offend or hurt someone and they've told you or you've realized it. But never apologize for your actual opinions or for being yourself.
  16. Admit it when you realize you made a mistake or were wrong.
  17. Ask before touching someone unless you know explicitly that they're okay with it. (If the other person offers their hand for a handshake or approaches you with arms wide open for a hug, that counts as explicitly being okay with that type of touch.)
  18. Never pressure someone into doing something that they don't want to do unless it's a literal life or death matter.
  19. Never intentionally hurt someone, physically, emotionally, or otherwise, unless in self-defense or in a literal life or death situation.
  20. If you have a problem with someone, take it directly to them in private first. If you're not comfortable doing that, talk about it confidentially with someone you trust (if possible, someone who doesn't know the person). Whatever you do, don't spread rumors, talk to everyone you know, or otherwise start drama. If you have to involve someone else for any reason, involve one person whom you trust.
  21. If someone says they're upset, hurt, triggered, sick, or need an accommodation (of any kind), believe them.
  22. If someone says they're a member of any group or community, don't assume that characteristics typical of or common in that group necessarily apply to them.
  23. Don't assume that a group of people are necessarily aligned with any philosophical, religious, or political views when you want to make jokes, snide remarks, or commentary about philosophical, religious, or political topics. If you're not sure, ask if a joke about X is okay. (i.e. "Does anyone mind if I make a joke about Republicans/Democrats?")
  24. If someone is visibly upset, panicked, crying, or having a meltdown, ask if you can do anything. If the person does ask you to do something, do it, as long as it's reasonable, ethical, and within your ability to do.
  25. If someone tells you about something upsetting, depressing, or tragic (such as a loved one or pet dying, a bad day at school or work, or a person who triggered them), tell them that sucks. Don't give advice unless they ask for it. If you're not sure, ask them if they want advice or just for you to listen, and whichever they say, do it.
  26. If you don't understand something, ask for clarification.
  27. If someone calls you out for saying something privileged, think about what you said and ask them for clarification if you need it, but don't become defensive or immediately assume that they're wrong.
  28. If someone tells you something about themself or someone they know, assume it's confidential unless it's already public information (i.e. on a public website or in the newspaper with that person's name) and don't tell anyone else unless you have reason to believe someone is in immediate danger from themself or other people.
  29. If someone calls you while suicidal, stay on the phone.


  1. Love love love love love this. "How to be a decent human being, 101"

    1. In general, I agree with your thought. However, your words could be seen to imply that neurodivergents who have difficulty with these social rules are not decent human beings.

  2. Good practical list. Now, if certain autism "experts" understood some of those simple things like 19, 21, and 22, the world would be a better and less hurtful place.

  3. Yes. And if people actually listened to 25. Oh, my goodness, 25.

  4. Thank you. Printing this out to keep as a reference.

  5. Awesome list! These should be on a big poster to hang in any social skills classroom. You have a gift for directness and clarity of thought.

  6. Thank you! I am constantly following rules like this and when not-autistic people do not I am completely lost if the rule has been replaced and have no idea what the new one is.

    1. These are the rules that people follow when they feel like being polite/respectful/decent. Many people (and this has partial correlation to neuro-type) either choose not to be, or have forgotten that they should be these things at all. In my experience, many people with autism (myself among them) recognize that they frequently make people feel uncomfortable by mistake, and so generally try to be a decent as they know how. Far too many neurotypical people don't care how they make other people feel, even if they would have to work less hard to be likeable if they tried.

  7. What does a person on the spectrum do when they have already internalized this entire list and made it default behavior, and still finds themself to be at a social disadvantage. What does this person do when they feel that they are still "missing something", and wants to participate more fully in social settings?

  8. It's okay to acknowledge that no list of social skills is going to be exhaustive enough to allow everyone who reads it to achieve their social goals. My read on this list is that it's not necessarily a list of ways to become popular or make lots of friends, but a list of ways to avoid hurting others or causing awkward situations.

    I'm sure many people could think of other skills that are important for them, not only to avoid hurting others but to help them make more friends and be more included in social settings. Not knowing you personally, I can't predict which sorts of skills you might find helpful... but maybe, now that we've started the conversation, people can start posting their own lists. I have been meaning to post a list of my own for a while now but don't have the time or energy to write everything as precisely and diplomatically as I like (for example, I find that clothing and grooming choices make a huge difference socially, but not everyone has the financial means to do exactly as I do, not everyone feels comfortable with it, and not everyone has friends who can give them good advice on presentation. So I'd have to make it very clear that it's just an *option* for people who have the resources to take it, and I understand why not everyone would do this).

    1. I like this list. It was put together very well and all of what you said is true. I was in an Occupational Therapy support group in Newtown Square Pa. for 6 1/2 years. A lot of the things that you cover on this this were things that the therapist covered in the sessions that I went to. I can relate to number 18 on the list. I have been in situations were pressure was put on me to do social things.

  9. Wow, you really hit the nail on the head on a wide variety of issues. Incredibly well done.

  10. SomeGuyWithAspergersMay 12, 2014 at 12:19 PM

    A lot of people also forget 29, as far as I've noticed. Although I got into a depression because of medication and it lasted a few months... I guess even ideas of suicide become tiresome for others. I'd add another point saying not to take medication that has a possible side effect of making you kill yourself.


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