Repost: Autistic World

Another post dug from the archives. 2004


The Heart of the Problem
Autistic children are not naturally able to understand, or develop, meaningful social relationships in the way most of us are used to doing. Their relationships are often transactional, and there is not enough emotional bandwidth in their interactions for any additional emotional or social payload.

I have had a chance to see this in a different situation with a client of ours who has asked us to develop a community for an internal group of disabled people. A common point we have heard from members of this group is that, as part of being generally misunderstood by the rest of the world (which I have come to acknowledge as being mostly true), they are not able to form any sort of meaningful relationship with the people they encounter. In both cases, the subject either lacks emotional intelligence, or they are unable to accurately communicate their emotional understanding of the interaction.

Usually, an autistic child is taught how they can fake their way through social interactions. They are taught scripts for common situations, and how they must make eye contact and avoid annoying habits. Essentially, they are taught to hide themselves, while still only placing a superficial value on the transactional component of the relationship.

Does our network model suffer?
It may seem like these groups are in a precarious situation. The inability to leverage any sort of emotional intelligence is completely limiting to a healthy understanding, and use, of human relationships. The truth is, however, somewhat more difficult to swallow. We are all surrounded by colleagues, friends, family and even partners who are completely unable to guage, and invest in, the value of a relationship. The implications here are that the links in our social networks can be weakened by people (nodes) who suffer from this.

We must now not only use our own emotional intelligence, but we must measure the EI of anyone we are interacting with. This is our only defense against forming a relationship with someone who simply does not have the capacity to see any real value in the relationship, beyond it’s benefit to them.

The Natural Model

As members of a network, we must learn a few rules of the game. We must pull our own weight, we must not overestimate our load-bearing ability, do not attempt to short-circuit paths which do not exists, and more. Perhaps more importantly though, we must learn that being a member of a network involves social referencing. We must learn that our actions affect the health of the entire network, and that we must exercise due diligence in deciding to act. We learn this as babies, and now we must re-learn it in a new context. The relationships that we leverage must be ones that actually mean something to use, and that we are willing to invest in.

In his model, Steven Gustein does not teach autistic children to go by scripts, or to fake their feelings. He teaches them the real value of a relationship, and they find that they truly are able to value and love those around them.

As we enter a natural network model of doing business, we are becoming babies again in so many way, and many will struggle with the basic difficulties of interaction that so many others in the world fight in their day-to-day lives.