Friday, May 19, 2017

101 Ways to Teach Social Skills - Neurodiversity Comments (Activities 45-59)

This is the third part of my review of 101 Ways to Teach Social Skills.

Section 4: Caring About Yourself And Others

The intro to this section demonstrates generational prejudice, reporting that 80% of adults believe children today are ruder and less respectful. They neither provide any references, nor question whether those adults' perceptions are accurate. Rudeness and respectfulness are subjective, and different norms may result in the perception of rudeness where none is intended. Just as different cultures have different standards, so do different generations - for example, it's no longer acceptable for an older person to insist on preferential treatment simply because of their age. Plus, many people are likely to try to present themselves in a more favourable light, including claiming they behaved better as a child than they actually did. More objective measures of caring actually suggest that people are getting nicer - crime rates, including violent crime rates, have declined dramatically in both Canada and the US over the past 50 years. It's simply not justified to make claims like this without evidence, especially if you plan on working with a younger generation.

Activities 45-46 are about asking adults for help and understanding how your actions impact others. These activities both look great.

Activity 47 is about understanding that others have reasons for their behavior and trying to figure these reasons out. This is a valuable lesson for everyone. In my opinion, many adults working with neuroatypical kids need to learn this possibly more than the kids do. Never assume the child is only acting a certain way because they don't know any better. Always consider whether there may be a more pressing reason, such as sensory issues, why they specifically behave in that particular way.

Activities 48-52 focus on showing empathy, showing interest in others and helping others. I have no problem with any of these activities - they all look great!

Activities 53-54 are about giving and getting advice. I have a big objection to their portrayal of unsolicited advice as a well-intentioned act that you shouldn't object to. Personally, I see unsolicited advice as often being harmful and used to enforce social conformity.

This is especially true for disabled people. Visibly disabled people get assumed to be incompetent and given advice on how to manage their disability and on regular everyday tasks. Invisibly disabled people get advice from people who don't know they're doing something unusual because of their disability, or in some cases flat out refuse to believe that this behavior is due to a disability even when told. And both kinds of disabled people get constant advice about quack cures they should try. Not only is this advice unwelcome and annoying, but it frequently reveals hurtful assumptions, such as that the disabled person is incompetent, inconsiderate or really desperate for a cure. In short, much of the unsolicited advice disabled people get end up being microaggressions. Good intentions don't mean your actions can't hurt others.

Instead of teaching kids that they should receive unsolicited advice positively and dish it out to others, children should be taught to only give advice if they have explicit consent or if there's an immediate risk of harm ("don't touch that - it's hot!"). If someone asks for advice, that's consent. You can also ask "would you like some advice?" and don't push it if they say no. Very often if someone is complaining, they don't want advice, they just want empathy. Comment about how it made them feel, not what they should do.

Obviously, many people these children will meet won't follow these rules. They should be taught to respond to unwanted advice two ways. If it's a stranger, or someone who has been a poor listener to them in the past, they should simply say a one-liner like "I will take that under consideration" or "I have my own reasons for doing it this way, which I'd rather not get into". If the person tries to push for more response, they should simply repeat that same line until the person gives up, or seek help from a supportive person. If the advice comes from someone they trust to listen and learn (everyone makes mistakes), on the other hand, they should explain why that advice isn't helpful to them, and possibly also challenge the hurtful underlying assumptions (for example, if someone I trust is offering me a quack cure for autism, I will explain that I don't want a cure because autism is part of my identity).

Activity 55 talks about being a good friend. Most of this advice is good, but I do have a concern with the item about keeping your friend's secrets. This is usually a good idea, but if your friend tells you about something that is hurting or could hurt you, your friend or someone else, you should tell a trusted adult. Many abused children, children with serious psychiatric issues such as eating disorders, or children contemplating violence either tell their friends or drop strong hints about what's going on. Breaking your friend's confidence in those situations can save lives, or prevent someone getting badly hurt. This lesson is especially important for teenagers, because they're more likely to face really big secret problems, but even younger children might know about abuse going on - or even be recipients of abuse from a 'friend'.

When he was about 8 or so, my brother was playing with a friend of his and one of her friends, and her friend talked him into letting them tie him up and try to French kiss him. He got uncomfortable and asked to be untied, and when they refused, he pulled free (he's always been extremely strong for his age) and ran home. He told us right away, and my Mom relayed the story to his friend's mother, who decided to limit her daughter's contact with this troubled friend. By telling, my brother did the right thing and enabled the adults to protect him and his friend from a girl who was engaging in mildly sexually abusive behavior.

In addition, the attached worksheet is not really suitable for a child who doesn't have any friends.

Activity 56 is about borrowing and lending. Their advice is fine for kids with normal executive functioning, but for children with executive dysfunction, borrowing and lending is a lot more challenging. Discuss strategies for making sure they remember to return a borrowed item (such as storing it in their backpack so it's handy when they next see that person), warning the owner before borrowing that they might forget and asking for a reminder, or using an electronic device to remind them. If they can't be certain of success using those strategies, they should avoid borrowing things.

Activity 57 talks about respecting others. This activity is pretty good, but it's important to keep in mind that "treat others the way you want them to treat you" doesn't always work out well for kids who have atypical desires in social situations. For example, just because you hate surprises doesn't mean you should tell someone else what their birthday present is!

Activity 58 is about offering people help, and it's great! I especially like that they listed asking if the person wants help as a crucial step before helping them. Unneeded help can be intrusive and problematic, especially for people with visible disabilities.

Activity 59 discuss asking others for help. This activity looks great to me.


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