Once again, I am indebted to Michelle Garica Winner for her ground breaking work in the area of social thinking for persons on the spectrum. I am dedicating this article to people on the autism of all ages, not just children. Although this exercise was started for children on the autism spectrum, it can be applied for everyone.
Ms. Winner, in her book, Thinking About You Thinking About Me, presents a hierarchy fo synergistic steps that occurs when NT’s (neurotypicals) are just sharing space, and most commonly when standing next to a stranger, whether it be in an elevator, a grocery store, or any other place.
When working with her students of all ages, they would tell Ms. Winner that they often did step 1, but not steps 2, 3, or 4. I recommend that you copy down or print out this article with these four steps, so that you can learn to have them at the forefront of your mind.
Here is the ongoing, synergistic process that goes on, and that you need to memorize and practice until it becomes automatic.
1a. I think about you.
1b. You think about me.
2a. I think about your intentions. Why are you near me? What do you want from me?
2b. You think about my intention. Why am I near you? What do I want from you?
3a. I realize you are having thoughts about me.
3b. You realize I am having thoughts about you. You think about what I might be thinking about you.
4a. I regularte my behavior to keep you thinking about me the way I want you to think about me!
4b. You regulate your behavior to keep me thinking about you the wy you want me to think about you!
Now here is the next very interesting and very important concept to remember about relating to others:
There are generally three ways that we make impressions on others:
1. How we look
2. What we say
3. What you do
Imagine that I was talking to you instead of writing these words to you. Imagine that I am standing in the bathtub (fully clothed of course:) and telling you these things. Pretend that I talk to you from the tub with hair curlers in my hair and a dress on. Imagine that I varied my voice from high pitched, to as deep as possible. Then pretend that I keep talking way beyond the time that you would expect. I think you might get my illustration by the way I made an impression on you in this way!
For further tips on understanding the above categories, Ms. Winner put together different variables under each category:
Making Impressions: Variables by Which People Interpret Another’s Behavior
1. How they look (affects others whether they are relating with them or not)
a. Clothes they wear
c. Hair Style
f. Other appearance traits
2. What they say (when they are with others). Just the words (not how the words are interpreted through body language). Exploring the meaning of language, including friendly and unfriendly words.
d. Emotions: anger, fear, kindness, sadness, etc.
e. Literal versus figurative language
3. What they do (when they are with others)
a. Body language f. Tone of voice
b. Eye contact g. Volume of voice
c. Facial expression h. Posture (relaxed? rigid?)
d. Proximity i. Other physical expression or communication
e. Speed/Pace of language
In summary, remember the ongoing process that is at work whenever two people are around each other. For example: a public bathroom, the supermarket, driving, walking in the park. Remember, all NT’s have thoughts about each other. Think of yourself as learning this new language: it will help you in your relating to others.
P.S. The material for this article was originally written to help children with Aspergers. However the principles of communication are the same for any age group on the Aspergers spectrum. So I encourage you to adapt this material, whatever age you are.
For younger kids, there are some very popular comic books that Ms. Winner Garcia has published. I’m going to display one of them here: