Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships: Decoding Social Mysteries Through the Unique Perspectives of Autism: New Edition with Author Updates, by Temple Grandin (author), Sean Barron (author), Veronica Zysk (editor)

Future Horizons, April 2017 (original publication November 2005)

Autism makes social interactions a challenge for even high-functioning autistic people because those parts of our brains aren't wired quite the same as neurotypicals. We have to actively learn things that neurotypicals pick up naturally. And our parents and teachers don't necessarily have a good handle on how to do that.

This book features two famous and successful autistic people, Temple Grandin and Sean Barron (confession: I had never heard of Sean Barron, and had to Google him) talking about their own experiences, what they've learned, and ten "unwritten rules" of social relationships. Linking and amplifying some of the information in their contributions are commentary and explanatory notes by their editor, Veronica Zysk.

Grandin and Barron are two very different people, and their autism affected them in very different ways. (Common comment heard in discussions of autism: If you've met one person with autism, you've met one person with autism.)

Temple Grandin thinks in pictures, and approaches the world and its puzzles and problems in a very logical, analytical way. Sean Barron is very emotionally oriented, As a child, he approached the world in what he saw as a logical way, but when the world and other people didn't fall in line with his logic and his "rules," he would quickly be pushed into emotional meltdowns fueled by anger. Even though Grandin had more logical tools to apply, for much of the early part of her life she didn't have enough information and images in her mind about social interactions and social relationships to come up with the right solutions. This was true despite her mother being very aware of her needs, and sensitive to when she was going into sensory overload, and getting her to a quiet place when that happened. She also very systematically taught Temple basic manners, appropriate behavior, the art of small talk. These things, and the firm insistence that, autistic or not autistic, everyone is responsible for their own behavior, She still had a hard time, but she had some structure to work with. Like Sean Barron, she had to work on controlling her anger--and that's something I had to work on, too. It's frustrating beyond words, when you think you've followed all the rules, and it doesn't produce the expected results.

Sean Barron, because he was much more emotional in his reactions overall, and possibly because his mother perhaps didn't understand his meltdowns and their triggers as well, had a much harder time learning appropriate behavior and managing to comply with it. One of the aspects he talks about most is not understanding the importance of taking some basic care with his appearance--showers, combed hair, appropriate choice of clothing and making sure your clothing is arranged appropriately.

I found Temple Grandin's contributions far more relatable than Sean Barron's, but that's because I found her experience of being autistic much more like my own. That isn't true for everyone; there will be many for whom Sean Barron's experiences will be far more familiar and relatable. That's part of the value of this book. By including both sets of experiences, more people will find enough to connect with that this book will be useful and helpful for them.

After the first portion of the book, introducing Grandin's and Barron's basic experiences and approaches, that latter part of the book takes each of the ten "unwritten rules" in turn, presenting the rules themselves and the two authors' experiences in mastering the lessons embodied in each rule. It's a useful, helpful approach, and enlightening for both autistic adults, and for parents and teachers working with autistic children.

It's also important to note that this revised edition contains in each section additional comments from Grandin and Barrion, written in 2017, for this edition. It updates and further strengthens the book.


I bought this book.

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