The blessing and burden of social contracts

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, March 12, 2014, 10:38 PM | comments: 0

One of the most fascinating aspects of our culture to me is implied social contracts. These vary wildly in scope and application, from potentially good things like basic manners to extremely toxic things like racism. Take the breadth of these social contracts as applied to a "normal" person, and then look at them through the eyes of someone who falls in the autism spectrum, and you may even find yourself questioning the value of some of these arrangements yourself.

I think the hardest thing to explain to people about autism is that many kids (and indeed adults) don't process things in the same way that everyone else does. Social contracts in particular become tricky, because there's little interest in adhering to them if they don't obviously serve a purpose. For example, even at a very young age, a child will typically throw a tantrum and look for a response from the caregiver, because that's socially the interaction that is expected. An "autism meltdown" isn't cured by the response, and has to run its course.

I can relate. As an adult, for example, I find chit chat about the weather with strangers as completely unnecessary. Psychologically, I understand that it often happens because people aren't always comfortable sharing silence.

There's a double edged sword, for sure. I think we can all agree that manners and being polite to people is a good thing. But think about some of the more obsolete social contracts, like looking down on people of a different color, or even the classic aristocratic required respect arrangements. The problem is that someone who is wired differently may reject both varieties.


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