7 Social Benefits of Autism

teens. teens

Modern Americans (and people of many other nationalities) are dedicated to the belief that a person who regularly socializes in groups and couples is living a happy, healthy life. And all normal Americans are happily social -- if you believe what you see on TV and in the movies.

According to the media, young children run around the playground in loud, cheerful groups.  Tweens play on sports teams, hang out with friends after school, and enjoy their first school dances with their peers.

  Teens are all about coupling up or taking part in group interactions ranging from marching band, teams, and cheerleaders to cliques of "mean girls" and geeks.  Adults pair up, marry (or co-habitate), watch the game with their buddies, go clubbing with besties, take the kids camping with family and friends...

If you believed everything you saw or heard, you'd believe that no normal American wants -- or has -- a moment to him or herself.  You'd also believe that all normal teens and adults have active (often very, very active) social and romantic lives, with plenty of opportunities to enjoy uninhibited sexuality.

The flip side of this perspective is that anyone who spends time alone, finds crowds and noise unpleasant, or has a hard time building social and/or sexual relationships is not only only unhappy but is also abnormal. All too often we hear the words "quiet," "shy," or "different" associated with individuals who are ostracized or bullied -- or who commit terrible crimes.

The reality, of course, is that "normality" and constant social engagement do NOT always go hand in hand.  Many, many people are happier spending time on their own or with just a few close friends and family.  Lots of people avoid nightclubs, school dances, sports teams, and cheerleading -- because they just don't enjoy them.

  And if all normal people found it easy to create and keep positive romantic relationships we'd have no divorce court, no Match.com, and no domestic abuse.

Another reality is that not all socialization is healthy.  Many, many "normal" people of all ages go along with peer pressure in order to fit in socially--even when they are knowingly breaking the law, injuring themselves or others, or taking part in activities they truly dislike or know to be morally reprehensible.  Entire industries and government agencies are built around preventing and/or remediating the outcomes from social interaction gone wrong.

People with autism are, by definition, not "normal" -- and they don't fit into the American vision of healthy socialization. No matter where they fall on the autism spectrum, they have mild, moderate, or extreme:

  1. Challenges with speech and language
  2. Difficulties with recognizing jokes, idioms, and sarcasm
  3. Sensitivities to loud noise, heat, and bright lights
  4. Difficulties with interpreting verbal and nonverbal social cues
  1. Behaviors that are different from the typical norm
  2. Interests that are outside of or more passionate than the typical norm
  3. Tend to enjoy their own company and/or the company of just a few individuals

There are certainly problems connected with social difficulties, which can range from bullying to unemployment to problems with law enforcement.  But there are also some very real benefits.  For example --

  1. Autistic people are far less likely than their peers to do something they dislike or feel is wrong just because "everyone is doing it."
  2. Autistic people are far more likely than their peers to choose people and relationships on the basis of real personal connection rather than on the basis of who's cool or who can provide them with something they want.
  3. Autistic people are very unlikely to become sexually active because their peers look down on virgins.
  4. Autistic people are more likely than their peers to know and like themselves, and enjoy their own company.
  5. Autistic people are very unlikely to intentionally and maliciously injure another person -- physically or emotionally.
  6. Autistic people are very unlikely to abuse power, whether in a relationship or in another context.
  7. Autistic people are unlikely to intentionally spread rumors, tell lies, or otherwise manipulate the truth -- for any reason at all.

Social interaction can, of course, be wonderful.  And no one, autistic or not, should be isolated on the basis that their behaviors are different.  But socialization for its own sake carries real risks--risks that autistic people, in general, are fortunate enough to avoid.

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