For people with neurodiverse, bending the rules of etiquette is anything but enjoyable | Family


There was a buzz surrounding mega-entrepreneur Elon Musk’s latest venture last week. Musk’s private aerospace company SpaceX on Wednesday launched an all-civilian crew of four into orbit.

Inspiration 4, as the mission was called, was the first time private citizens boarded a spacecraft without the help of professional astronauts.

Musk’s name may be familiar to New Mexicans as a recent participant in Richard Branson’s July space launch near Truth or Consequences and as the founder of Tesla, an electric vehicle maker, whose sales center and service recently opened in Nambé.

The CEO who says it all is both hated and revered for his bold and arrogant style. Its appearance on Saturday Night Live last spring was a rare and revealing opportunity to better understand it.

In his opening monologue, Musk revealed that he suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome, a developmental disorder affecting the ability to socialize and communicate effectively. People with the disease, who belong to the autism spectrum, are described as having generally higher functioning, with high intelligence and a propensity for obsessive research.

Socially – and this is what I think Musk is often called – Asperger’s traits include honesty, an inability to understand emotional issues, and abnormal responses to sensory stimuli.

Some of these characteristics inform what is perceived to be its flaws.

In his monologue, Musk mentioned his lack of intonation and his inability to make eye contact. I have spent a decade and a half teaching my clients the importance of tone and eye contact.

But it’s important to stress that some lessons are just too generalized to be universal.

Through my research and personal experience, I have made an effort to share a label specific to the United States, sensitive to the nuances of different cultures, while covering diverse and inclusive topics such as gender pronouns, sexual orientation. and disabilities. In my own family, there is cerebral palsy, Alzheimer’s disease, Down syndrome, and people aged 80 to 100. Each person has a unique set of needs, and this exposure instilled in me a sensitive awareness of others and likely informed my career path.

If the essence of etiquette is to tailor our behavior to the people and places we meet, then finesse, flexibility and sensitivity should be in your toolkit.

Recently, a friend of mine from elementary school kindly “educated” me about my lack of inclusion on a particular topic. “For many people with autism and other neurodiverse, the rules of etiquette you promote are exhausting and tortuous. “

I get my fair share of criticism from the public. However, hearing this from someone I had sleepovers with felt deeply personal to me.

“You may not realize that your list of expectations for polite social behavior (for children or adults) is specific to neurotypical interactions… that’s why they don’t work for my child, and they won’t. never. Being autistic, her inability to conform to complicated rules of social norms is why she is often referred to as “rude,” although that is the furthest from the truth, ”my friend said.

Point well taken. Although the etiquette would change over time, I clearly needed to adapt to the weather.

It was a subject I had never written about before, and I knew I had a lot to learn. In addition to reading many articles that my friend, a molecular biologist, emailed me, I booked an interview with the local Prism autism center within hours of receiving my “alarm clock.”

Opened earlier this year, Prism is one of two autism centers in Santa Fe offering one-on-one treatment programs for children ages 2-10. Certified Behavior Technicians use Applied Behavior Analysis. Communication and social skills training are discussed in collaborative sessions.

Upon my arrival and throughout my tour of the old 6,300 square foot Art Smart building near Meow Wolf, several young students looked me in the eyes, said hello and smiled at me. Understanding eye contact and chatter can be uncomfortable for people diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, I was impressed with how they engaged with me.

Co-principals Topa and Shane Augustine said one of their goals is to increase social skills from an early age to help children make the transition to public school more easily. In progressive stages, behavioral technicians work one-on-one with students on greetings, introductions, questions, and eye contact. They will introduce the word “please” as the student’s language development progresses.

Early intervention is essential and Prism expects a lot of positive results. Students are engaged in sensory activities for the duration of a traditional school day.

It’s amazing support if you can get in.

Although services have increased statewide in recent years, waiting lists for treatment are large, disproportionately affecting rural families. The good news is that New Mexico passed landmark legislation in 2019 that guaranteed autism diagnosis and treatment coverage for people of all ages, without limitations. This means no copays or dollar caps.

For families going through similar journeys, support groups are essential when it comes to building community and sharing resources, especially for those awaiting assessment and treatment. Outside of the tolerant environments of autism centers, special education programs, and support groups, the world can be a place of misunderstanding.

The irony is that when it comes to etiquette, both neurodiverse and neurotypical people adapt their behavior to their environment. But for someone on the spectrum, how far must they socially camouflage themselves to meet the rules and expectations of a neurotypical world? The label usually puts the blame on the person with autism.

Join me next time, when I discuss the social challenges that people with autism spectrum disorder often face and the tools we can use to recognize and adapt to unfamiliar situations.

Until then, when you look at the sky and imagine the Inspiration 4 space flight journey, remember that his idea proved that autism spectrum disorders and the sky are not the limit.

Bizia Greene is an expert in etiquette and owns the Santa Fe School of Etiquette. Share your comments and puzzles at [email protected] or 505-988-2070.


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