The Autism Society Philippines (ASP) is a national, non-profit organization dedicated to the well-being of persons with autism spectrum disorder. The ASP has been in the forefront of providing services and training to families living with autism.

05 November 2012

Reading Social Rules

By: Dang Uy-Koe, ASP Chair Emeritus





A lack of intuitive social ability is a hallmark of autism.  People with autism often have to work at learning social rules, and this can often be confusing for those in the autism spectrum.

In their book “Autism and the Transition to Adulthood”, authors Paul Wehman, Marcia Datlow Smith and Carol Schall listed social skills that can be helpful in the community and the workplace.  Families are advised to work on these skills with their case teams.

• Using Social Amenities. “Many of our students who barely acknowledge other people have to be reminded several times to call the name or tap the person they are communicating with, before asking for what they want. Sometimes adults have to hang on to the item they’re asking for in order to elicit a ‘thank you,”’ said Cecile Sicam, school director of Bridges Foundation, Inc.  It might be necessary to teach phrases such as “please, thank you, you’re welcome” at school, at work, in stores, banks and restaurants.

• Using Appropriate Greetings. Teacher Cecile is mother to Likas, 30, who has been working for Tube Ice for many years now. Likas often exhibits an aloof manner when greeting relatives and refuses to kiss them even when prompted to do so. He says “hi” or just nods his head in acknowledgement.

On the other hand, Teacher Archie David of Independent Living Learning Center tells of a student who had a habit of bidding goodbye to everyone by name. Being polite, people were often compelled to wait for their names to be called before they themselves leave. The problem was addressed when he learned it was alright to just say “goodbye, everyone.”

• Terminating Conversations. A common complaint of peers, supervisors, and co-workers, is that the worker with autism walks away while being spoken to. But the more common complaint is when they do not stop talking about their favorite topics.  Teacher Cecile said her son does not “read” people’s responses and does not readily stop when others give nonchalant acknowledgement.

Teacher Archie said that through role-plays, a student was taught that glancing at watches, lack of eye contact and no follow-up questions are hints for him to terminate a conversation.

• Sharing Workspace. During a practice interview, a PWA blurted out he expects his employer “to give me my own office space.”  But actual workplaces are sometimes shared spaces and even rearranged from time to time. This can be especially upsetting to a worker with autism who relies on consistency of physical spaces.  On the other hand, other PWAs have the tendency to invade other people’s personal and work space.

• Accepting Correction or Suggestions. Most people do not like to receive correction or criticism. People with autism, however, often react more strongly. Teacher Cecile shared that Likas has the tendency to overreact and say “sorry, never again” repeatedly as if he caused a catastrophe. “However,” she said, “several of our students would shout, throw things on the floor or hit when corrected. There maybe a need to focus on teaching these students exactly what to say and do when given correction or suggestions.

• Responding Assertively. People with autism can sometimes be easily taken advantage of. One young woman with Asperger Syndrome was arriving at work each morning quite distraught. The problem was that a strange man had been sitting next to her on the bus and putting his arm around her, and she did not know how to respond. Social skills training was needed to teach her to say “Leave me alone.” (from the book “Autism and the Transition to Adulthood”).

• Waiting in Line and Taking Turns. Teacher Cecile, who is also the current national vice president of Autism Society Philippines, recounted that many of their students will run off the line or jump around after a few seconds (even while waiting seated). “We have to give them fidget toys or weights on their laps to extend their waiting time.”

• Asking for Help and Revealing a Problem. Authors Wehman, Smith and Schall wrote that “one of the most important social skills at work is to ask for help when it is needed. Individuals with autism faced with difficulty at work might become upset, stop working, and even leave. Students with autism might also be reluctant to reveal that they have a problem for which they may need help. In either the work or school setting, social skills training can be used to teach individuals how to ask for help and how to talk to others about a problem.”

This article appeared in  print and online by Manila Bulletin on 04 November  2012.

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