In my book The New Normal: Autistic musings on the threat of a broken society I have a chapter about Autistic social nature. Autistic people have widely been represented as being asocial, which is patently absurd. Autistic people have a rich and diverse social culture that has been ignored for a long time.
“One of the prevailing misconceptions is that as Autistic people we are overtly asocial beings. It is taken as common knowledge that we are the friendless weirdos who don’t understand social cues but can recite every train we’ve ever seen.”Quote from The New Normal
A brief look at the research
Upon perusing the existing literature surrounding Autistic sociality, there is limited research into the social nature of our community. I might first start by situating us within the remit of The Double Empathy problem.
“It is also vital to remember how the double empathy problem as initially conceived was heavily influenced by sociological theory and that such social interactions happen within a continually negotiated and mutually constructed context”Milton et al (2022)
The double empathy problem within the context of Autistic communication essentially positions us as having a different way of communicating and relating to language rather than a deficit. This difference arises from cultural differences and the relationships we have with the world power structures.
Due to structural oppression, our style of communication is often centred as an issue to be fixed.
“The notion that autistic people lack sociality is problematised, with the suggestion that autistic people are not well described by notions such as the ‘social brain’, or as possessing ‘zero degrees of cognitive empathy’. I then argue, however, that there is a qualitative difference in autistic sociality, and question to what extent such differences are of a biological or cultural nature, and to what extent interactional expertise can be gained by both parties in interactions between autistic and non-autistic people.”Milton (2014)
So we now have a position whereby Autistic people do not lack sociality but instead experience a different form of sociality. This is what I refer to as AuSocialility or being AuSocial.
Despite indications to the contrary, the emphasis is often directed towards teaching Autistic people to learn non-Autistic social culture, despite this being uncomfortable or even harmful for us. Some research has argued that this should be the other way round.
“We recommend teaching not autistic people but rather non-autistic individuals about autistic sociality, in order to lower the burden on autistic interlocutors in cross-neurotype interactions and socialization”Keates, Waldock & Dewar (2022)
What does being AuSocial mean?
Autistic sociality or the AuSocial presence of Autistic people can be conceptualised by the growing cultural practices of Autistic people. We have our own customs, use of language, moral values, and even recognise what would be the cultural equivalent of public holidays in the existence of things such as Autistic pride day and the reclamation of Autistic acceptance month.
Such cultural practices as body-doubling (a firm favourite for AuDHD people) where we use video platforms such as zoom to be present and parallel with others while working on separate tasks are a key feature of Autistic professional culture and sociality. One might also look towards our differences in the way we understand and process language as the formation of a dialect.
A key feature of AuSociality is the cultural practice of moral defence of minority groups. While the Autistic community is far from devoid of bigotry, there is a general atmosphere of protectiveness towards the multiply marginalised that isn’t experienced within the non-Autistic cultural space.
In summary, AuSocial culture is a complex and highly developed set of communication, language, and socialisation skills that can only be witnessed between Autistic people. Rather than being deficient in our social exchanges, we often achieve a great deal and naturally fight to try and improve the world for our neurokin.
Autistic people, like most humans, are inherently social beings. Despite testimony to the contrary (usually by non-Autistic professionals and researchers) we have developed our own AuSocial culture that stands diametrically opposed to those who would label us as asocial. Such cultural practices as those within the Autistic community serve to diminish the burden of existing with in a systemically violent society and serve an important protective function for our wellbeing.
I invite people to add their own examples of AuSocial culture .