If you work with individuals with ASD or are the parent/family member of an older individual on the spectrum; Here’s a tip. One of the best ways to explain or teach social skills is to tell an embarrassing story, but not just any embarrassing story. The embarrassing story you tell needs to be about you. The more mortifying the better.
If you’re anything like me, you probably have a veritable treasure trove of embarrassing moments that you’ve sworn to take to the grave. Well I’m here to tell you that all of those moments that make you cringe can actually be very useful.
Here’s why those cringe worthy moments are useful to individuals on the spectrum. It allows you to teach important skills with out directly criticizing someone else’s lack of skill. If you’ve ever had trouble learning a new skill you probably know that direct criticism is sometimes difficult to accept when you’re already self conscious about being less than proficient. Especially, when others around you seem to accomplish tasks you perceive as being extremely difficult with ease.
Any future direct criticism is also more palatable because the individual sees you as a peer and not a model of perfection. Telling an embarrassing story let’s your child, friend or student know they are not alone and you are not perfect. Are there any terrible cooks out there who like to make four course meals for master chefs?
Embarrassment is a part of life for everyone, but sometimes we are so busy trying to teach the correct behavior that we forget to teach that making mistakes is a normal part of the learning process. In fact, both embarrassment and failure aren’t just part of life; they’re part of neuroscience.If you think back to a time when you learned a skill that you’ve now mastered; You may remember a period of time when you failed, were embarrassed of, or struggled with that particular skill. The struggle and frustration you experienced paired with constructive feedback, is what allows your brain to form the necessary neural pathways to encode the correct action or responses that lead you to master that particular skill.
Your brain doesn’t learn by being successful; It learns by failing.
Most neuro-scientists will tell you that you need to practice a task for a minimum of 10,000 hours paired with feedback to be considered a master. That 10,000 hours is going to include a lot of failure, feedback, embarrassment and many, many mistakes. Those individuals we now consider to be true masters, we probably would’ve considered to be true failures prior to their millions of attempts to perfect their technique.
Feedback doesn’t always need to be negative, sometimes it can be funny. Embarrassing stories add humor to your relationship because you aren’t laughing at your child, friend, or patient. You are laughing at you! As an added bonus, your story is usually not only greeted with humor, but also empathy. If you’re an individual who’s felt socially awkward at times; you are definitely more likely to empathize with someone’s embarrassing story. As an added bonus; I often find telling embarrassing stories in session therapeutic. Who doesn’t love an understanding ear? I always say I receive just as much therapy from my kids as they receive from me.
So don’t keep that time you fell in front of all your friends at a party or said something inappropriate in front of the wrong person to yourself. Put it to good use and teach some important social skills!