Social skills for autonomous people
Speaking up is hard

In just about every group conflict I’ve witnessed or participated in, I’ve seen some version of this happen:

  • Some people will speak up about something
  • There will be a conversation that gets heated
  • Someone else will be very uncomfortable with the fact that conflict is happening (despite somewhat sympathizing with the people who are speaking up)
  • And they will say something like, “Wow, I don’t like this tone. Can we all try to respect each other a bit more?”

And I think part of this is that people who aren’t speaking up really often have no idea how hard it is. It looks much easier than it is.

It’s hard, and it’s scary, to say something that you know will result in conflict. It’s hard to phrase things well, it’s hard and sometimes impossible to stand your ground in a way that makes everyone feel respected. Especially if you don’t have a lot of practice.

It’s possible that people who are speaking up really are being inappropriately or counterproductively disrespectful. That is a real thing that actually happens. But it’s also possible that people are doing the best they can, because speaking up is really hard and there’s often no way to do it which won’t be at least somewhat painful or awkward.

If you’re not in the habit of speaking up about anything other than the tone used by others when they speak up, it’s entirely possible that tone isn’t the real problem. It’s possible that the problem is that you haven’t learned through experience how hard it is to speak up, and how complicated of a skill it is to learn.

That is not always the problem, but it’s usually a possibility worth considering in that kind of situation.

Telling your story without being a self-narrating zoo exhibit
When you are an unusual person, especially if you are disabled, people will often tell you that they “want to hear your story”.
Often, it’s not really your story that they want to hear. Often they have a story in mind that they want, and they want it to come out of your mouth in order to validate their theories about people like you.
Often, what they really want is for you to be a self-narrating zoo exhibit, and satisfy their curiosity without inserting your opinions or having boundaries.
Maybe they want to hear from institution residents who don’t want to leave, so they can decide that institutions really are the best place for people with disabilities. Maybe they want to hear a story that allows them to feel pity for you and bask in their lack of disability. Or any number of other things.
These are ways people use their versions of our stories to take away our power; we can use our real stories to get our power back.
Telling your story doesn’t have to mean telling creepy people what they want to hear. It can mean telling the truth, even when others want to lie.
Telling your story can mean bearing witness. It can mean saying “No, it doesn’t work that way. I was there. I saw.” It can mean saying “I’ve seen people do these things that you say we can never do.” Or “I’ve been there. It was wrong. And it’s also wrong when people do it to you.”
It can mean saying: “I remember watching someone die because others decided to withhold medical treatment, food, and water. I wish I’d been able to save him.”
Or: “Don’t think that my life is pitiable or inspiring. I do meaningful things. We all do. And do you know how amazing it is when the light hits a rock just the right way?”
We don’t have to tell the stories they want us to tell. We can tell the truth. And there is power in the truth, and there is power in the truth backed up by stories about things you have witnessed or been part of personally.
It takes practice to learn to tell the truth in the face of pressure to be an inspiring self-narrating zoo exhibit. It can be terrifying. It can also be very, very hard to resist prompts to say the things other people clearly want you to say.
It takes practice, and in practicing you will probably not entirely succeed right away. Even with practice, you might still inadvertently tell the story others want you to tell rather than the story you believe some of the time. That’s ok. None of us are perfect, and it gets easier over time.
tl;dr Sometimes when people say “tell us your story”, what they really mean is “tell us what we want to hear.” But telling your real story can be a powerful way to tell the truth.

snouted replied to your post “Anonymous said to realsocialskills: Do you think it’s okay to…”

Also some people have theoretical ideas that don’t really seem to match their underlying ideals of love and acceptance. I’d enjoy your friend and how you feel around him and don’t pressure each other to hang out w each others’ other friends.

realsocialskills said:

Yes, that too. People are complicated.

Do you think it’s okay to have friends that you disagree with about political issues? I have a close friend that’s much more conservative than me; most of the time we avoid talking about politics, but he listens respectfully when I call him out on something, and even though I’m gay, Jewish, and non-gender conforming I feel very safe around him. Sometimes, though, I feel like I shouldn’t be friends with him, because I would be supporting his problematic views. Thoughts?
realsocialskills said:
Yes, It’s absolutely ok to be friends with people you disagree with about important things.
The only alternative would be to be friends only with perfect people. Which isn’t a realistic option. Everyone is wrong about something important, and it’s not necessary to demand perfection as a precondition for legitimate friendship.
You get to decide what’s dealbreaking for you and what isn’t. You’ve decided that your friend’s views aren’t dealbreaking for you. That’s a decision you get to make; no one else gets to decide that for you.
You’re not supporting his views by being his friend. You’re supporting the idea that, despite his views, you like him, and that he is worthy of your friendship. That is not the same thing. 
Other people also get to decide what’s dealbreaking for them and what isn’t, and it’s important to respect that. (Eg: It’s probably not a good idea to invite this guy to come along to something like Nehirim where most people there are there specifically to be in a space that has a positive outlook on gay people and Jews.)
It’s also important not to pressure friends for whom some aspects of his worldview are dealbreaking to be like “he’s a great guy, really! You should hang out with us some time!”.
It’s also not ok to lecture them on the virtues of tolerance and imply that there’s something wrong with them considering his views dealbreaking. They get to decide they don’t want to be around people with certain views. You have every right to be his friend; they have every right not to.
tl;dr It’s ok to be friends with people who are wrong about important things. It’s ok to decide what’s dealbreaking for you and what isn’t. So do other people. Don’t pressure people to spend time around your friends whose views are dealbreaking for them.
"Don’t let people get to you"

I don’t know about you, but I’ve experienced this a lot:

  • I’ll talk about someone being mean or bigoted towards me.
  • And someone will say something like “Don’t let them get to you”, or
  • "Don’t ever let people get under your skin like that, they’re not worth it"

And in my experience, that always makes me feel worse. This is what I eventually figured out about it:

Things hurt.

It’s not your fault that it hurts when people are awful to you.

It’s not your fault you care what people think of you sometimes. (Everyone does.)

Having connections to others matters. And when people we’re connected to are mean, it hurts.

Self esteem talk can end up being yet another stick to beat you with, and that’s not right either. 

Being hurt by mean people doesn’t mean you’re failing. It’s not possible to be completely invulnerable at all times. When someone’s shooting arrows at you, it’s not your fault for failing to make armor fast enough to stop them.

You’re ok. They’re mean.

"You’re not willing to accept criticism!"

Accepting criticism is important. Everyone’s wrong about something, and it’s important to be open to the possibility that you’re wrong about things. If you’re never persuaded by something someone says that you need to change your actions in some way, something is going seriously wrong.

But sometimes, when people say that you’re not open to criticism, what they really mean is that they’re angry because you don’t agree with them. Or that you’re refusing to change in a way that you want them to change. And sometimes, you will be entirely correct to disagree with them and to refuse to change.

For example:

  • "You’re a terrible writer and should not ever write anything ever again" is not criticism you should listen to
  • "If you’d just try a gluten free organic diet, you’d be cured" is not worthwhile criticism
  • "No one is ableist, you’re just imagining it because you want to feel special" is not worthwhile criticism

And there’s any number of other examples, many of which are far more complex and subjective. Everyone gets criticized in ways that it’s completely ok to reject.

And sometimes, it’s ok not to want criticism, even if there’s nothing inherently wrong with the criticism, eg:

  • It’s ok to make art without wanting to go through an art school style critique
  • It’s ok to write a story, post it somewhere, and decide not to read the comments about it
  • It’s ok not to want to discuss the problematic aspects of a show you like
  • It’s ok to not want your father’s input on who you should date

It’s possible to be insufficiently open to criticism, but that doesn’t mean everyone who accuses you of that is right. No one is, or should be, open to all forms of criticism from all people.

Sometimes people who criticize you are wrong. Sometimes they’re so wrong that they’re not worth listening to. Particularly when they’re saying the same thing over and over that you’ve long since considered and rejected.

It’s important to be open to criticism some of the time from some people. It’s also important to be selective about who and what you listen to, and when. You do not owe everyone who thinks that you are wrong your unconditional attention.

people might not understand your body language

Body language that comes naturally to some autistic people can be completely invisible to most neurotypical people.

For example, many autistic people respond to questions by nodding their head very slightly. It can feel like a bigger movement than it actually is, and sometimes people don’t notice it. If you’re nodding and people are ignoring you, it might just be that they don’t understand your body language.

Similarly, neurotypical people don’t usually understand the range of things that flapping and various forms of stimming can mean. They tend to read it as distress or as annoying behavior. They don’t usually understand it as body language. Since they lack the skill to understand body language correctly, it can be worth telling them things explicitly.

For instance, if someone doesn’t understand the kind of flapping that means hello, it might be worth saying hello with your voice when you want to greet them.

Sometimes NTs intentionally ignore autistic body language, but sometimes they just don’t understand it.

Shana Tova

I’m going offline for a few days for the holiday. Posts are queued, but I won’t be replying to anything until probably Sunday.

Shana Tova to those who are celebrating.

Help save the life of an autistic activist


They’re telling my friend she can’t get routine cancer surgery…




They’re telling my friend she can’t get routine cancer surgery

1.  Because she’s fat, and they’re afraid to operate on fat people.  (Well, they’d be fine doing much more invasive weight-loss surgery on her, but the less invasive and much more straightforward hysterectomy, they’re scared of.  That tells you everything.)

2.  They spent a long time eyeing her wheelchair and yammering about quality of life, which is always, when dealing with disability and healthcare and life-saving treatment, a euphemism for “You have no quality of life so saving your life isn’t a priority.”

Once she blogs about it, I’m going to be reblogging the fuck out of it, as often as I can.  This is one of my closest friends on earth and she saved my life through tumblr and I’m going to do my damndest to save hers through tumblr.

So once she posts what to do, I’ll be reblogging it several times a day if that’s what it takes, I know how many followers I have, and I know that tumblr saved my life, so it can save hers.


webmuskie said:

I do think it would be a good idea to let Fletcher Allen, and its oncology department, know that people know about this crap.

The hospital has a contact form at

 But if you prefer other ways, here are the critical cut-and-pastes:

Customer Service: (802) 847-0000 or (800) 358-1144 (toll-free)


To speak to someone about your experience at Fletcher Allen: contact Patient and Family Advocacy at (802) 847-3500. Or you may use our online contact forms to share a compliment or share a concern.

  • Gynecologic Oncology
  • Medical Center Campus
  • Main Pavilion, Level 4
  • 111 Colchester Avenue
    Burlington, VT, 05401
  • Phone: 802-847-5110
  • Fax: 802-847-0496

youneedacat said:

And remember:  Her name is Laura Tisoncik.  

And for my autistic followers:  She was instrumental in the politicized autistic community, way back when.  Chances are if you’re autistic and you’re into self-advocacy, you owe something to her and don’t even know it.  She created, the Institute for the Study of the Neurologically Typical, and the Autistic Liberation Front… back when there were no political autism websites at all.  And for a long time ours was the only one.  The others were social or support group oriented, even if some of the members were more political than others.  Ours was the first overtly and only political one, and for a long time it was the only one.

So if you can give anything back to her, now’s the time.

realsocialskills said:

If not for Laura Tisoncik, I do not think that I would be here writing this blog. I owe her a lot. We all do.

If you can help her, please do.



Finding out about nicknames respectfully


I recently started substitute teaching, and I’m wondering about calling students by nicknames. Specifically, I’m wondering when to ask if a student has a nickname. So far, I usually just ask “do you go by (name on the roll)?” when a kid’s…

soilrockslove said:

Yeah, I’ve worked in elementary schools before, and asking the whole class if they have any nicknames usually works fine!

But asking specific kids can be hurtful.  Especially if they have a name from another culture, because sometimes they’ve had lots of people complain how “hard” their name is and it becomes a sore point. :/

And there will probably be an occasional kid who asks to be called “Batman” or something - but that usually works out fine too!  Usually they really enjoy getting to be “Batman” for a day and have a lot of fun!