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Breaking Down Misconceptions About Teaching Social Skills

Group of student talking.

At a Glance

Debunking common myths about Autistic individuals, such as the belief that they are not interested in social interactions.

Emphasis that Autistic people may have different ways of socializing and different social goals than their Allistic peers, underscoring the importance of respecting these differences rather than enforcing Allistic social norms.

Discussion of the negative impacts of forcing Autistic individuals to adhere to Allistic social norms, including mental health issues and loss of self from masking.

Welcome to the Teaching Social Skills series, where we will be honing in on how to create autonomy-centered opportunities for social skills practice for Autistic students. 

In part 1 we will be breaking down some common misconceptions around practicing social skills in an educational setting. Later on in the series we will talk about how to teach social skills with a neurodiversity-affirming approach, embedding Autistic social norms in social skills practices, and prioritizing social experiences and opportunities over rigid training.

If you are an Autistic person who wants to share your experience learning social skills as a student or a teacher who wants to see this topic covered more in depth then we would love to hear from you! Just drop us a line at , and we will get started with some common misconceptions around teaching social skills.

Misconception 1: Autistic people are not interested in social opportunities.

One common stereotype about Autistic people is that they prefer to be solitary and are not interested in friendships, romantic relationships, or social opportunities. 

While this may be true for some and we should always listen to what Autistic people have to say about themselves as individuals, Autistic people by and large are interested in friendships but may have fewer opportunities to pursue them than their Allistic peers.

Misconception 2: There’s a “correct” way to socialize that Autistic people need to learn.

When we accept that Autistic people are interested in friendships but may not have as many opportunities to make them, our train of thought might lead us to another misconception about socializing, which is that there is one “correct” way to do it and those who don’t do it the “correct” way need to learn and practice until they “fix” their habits. 

People who buy into this misconception might not be actively conscious of what they are doing when they express this attitude, and they may be so accustomed to one way of socializing being normalized at the expense of all others that they don’t realize they are mostly enforcing and imposing allistic social norms on their Autistic students. 

These norms might range from specific habits like eye contact to the way we perceive or approach friendships. Studies show, for example, that Autistic people may “ perceive friendship differently ” and have different friendship goals from their Allistic peers, and it wouldn’t improve their quality of life to make them pursue a version of friendship that they are not interested in! 

At bare minimum we need to recognize that there are many different ways to approach socializing, and Allistic social norms just happen to be the ones that society treats as the most important, rather than the ones that are objectively “correct.”

Misconception 3: It’s not a big deal to adhere to Allistic social norms.

While it is understandable that not everyone will realize that this is what is happening when Allistic norms are so deeply embedded in the way we socialize, this lack of awareness can be all the more harmful to Autistic students when we tell them that the modes of socialization that are most comfortable to them are “wrong” and need to be “fixed.” 

Not only is this untrue, as there are many ways a person can socialize, it can be a harmful process for Autistic students. While some Autistic people can convincingly adhere to Allistic social norms, it can be painful for others or require so much energy that it leaves them unable to accomplish other important tasks. 

Even for those who can adhere, the process of doing so is often referred to as “masking” and can have harmful long term consequences for an Autistic person’s mental health and sense of self. As educators we need to be aware that when we try to “fix” certain social behaviors we are not only enforcing one specific mode of socializing, we run the risk of doing real harm. Of course that doesn’t mean we can’t take any action… 

Misconception 4: If it’s bad to “correct” Autistic social behaviors then we shouldn’t be teaching social skills at all.

While we think it is incredibly important to be clear about the stakes of this discussion and acknowledge that many Autistic people have suffered real harm from attempting to “correct” particular social habits, we also want to emphasize that we can still play a role in imparting valuable social skills to Autistic students. 

That is a major reason why we are excited to share this series, and we will be getting into more positive and beneficial ways of practicing social skills in the coming weeks. 


In the meantime if you have an experience related to learning or practicing social skills that you would like to share or if there is another topic you’d like to see us cover in the blog sometime, just drop us a line at and we will be back next week to discuss teaching with a neurodiversity-affirming approach in part 2.

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