Are Social Norms important?
Growing up, we are taught how to conform to what society deems “normal” behavior. We often pick up these behaviors in our natural environments and imitate the behaviors to blend in with the rest of society, whether intentionally or not. For someone with autism, these cultural expectations can seem unnatural and uncomfortable. Studies show that individuals with autism often experience social deficits. Even with that knowledge, we still expect people with ASD to conform! Sure there are foundational social skills that provide opportunities and open doors for individuals. Still, many of these norms that we expect from others cause extreme distress for people with autism. Rather than asking people with autism to conform, we should be encouraging them to advocate for themselves and find alternative methods that feel more natural. However, not all behaviors deemed “normal” are wrong or unnecessary.
Norms that work
In order to get along with others, some skills are necessary. An example of a valuable social skill is acknowledging another person by greeting them. This provides an opportunity for the child to initiate social interaction and is an essential first step to building relationships with other children. Another example of a fundamental social skill is sharing and taking turns. Parents are expected to teach their children these skills early on; however, the neurodiverse community does not always pick up these skills as quickly as their peers, which is not a reflection on them or their parents!
Norms to reconsider
Most cultures in the United States consider eye contact a sign of respect and acknowledgment. Still, this skill can be especially difficult for a person with autism. In fact, research indicates that eye contact can make a person with autism especially anxious and more distracted. If eye contact prevents your child from accomplishing other goals in their life, maybe reconsider this social norm!
In a study from Indiana’s Resource Center for Autism, a participant reported, “I can concentrate better not having to keep eye contact at the same time. I tell people, ‘You have a choice. Do you want a conversation, or do you want eye contact? You will not get both unless I am comfortable with you and do not have to concentrate so much on the eye contact.”
Here at SOAR, compassionate care is one of our foundational cornerstones. We want to provide a safe space for your child to express their wants and needs and to feel heard! We understand that what is “expected” is not always what’s right.
Watch our latest video discussing what Trauma-Informed Care means to SOAR.
For more blog posts by SOAR Behavior Services, visit soarbehaviorwa.com/family-resources.