What do you say…?
How often has someone said that to you? Or how often have you said it to your student or child? The problem is, the answer is a lot more complicated than just “Thank you.”
Social conventions are so complex, and autistic folk are not the only ones who need tips and practice. These are social lessons that neurotypical folk could benefit from!
Neurotypicals need help accepting compliments
As evidenced by Jacqueline Whitmore’s How to Gracefully Accept a Compliment – written for a presumably neurotypical audience – accepting a compliment is complex. She acknowledges,
Most people love to be noticed, but few know how to accept a compliment gracefully
Some people respond too humbly. They deflect the compliment, or say things like “it was nothing.” They may pass the compliment on to others (“I didn’t do much – it was a team effort”).
This may appear kind—after all, it avoids bragging—but it may go too far. When someone gives a compliment, they generally want to recognize another’s accomplishments. So it’s jarring if someone essentially denies that they were responsible for the accomplishments.
And then other people respond too boastfully. They are quick to accept the compliment and may even add on to the list of their accomplishments. Sometimes they go into detail about how hard they worked.
This usually bothers people, too. It can make the complimenter feel like the other person thinks that they’re better than them.
A complicated skill for all
Because neurotypicals clearly don’t do this complimenting thing all that well, they oversimplify it when addressing it with children with ASD.
A colleague of mine once made a nice comment about the shirt that a student of hers was wearing. The student was on the autism spectrum, and at first glance the exchange seems quite ordinary—
“I like your shirt!”
“Thanks, I like your earrings.”
The only problem: she wasn’t wearing earrings.
What happened? An adult must have taught this young man something like, when someone compliments you, say thank you and compliment them back. He probably got the added tip from a teacher, women like when people compliment their jewelry.
This again speaks to the need for neurotypical professionals working with folks with ASD to accept that they don’t have all the answers about the social world.
It’s about balance
What the advice comes down to is yet another balance, this time between humility and boasting. And it’s one that all people—autistic and neurotypical alike—could be better at.