Are Autistic People Socially Awkward or Creative?

Over at Behavioral Scientist, they’re challenging audiences to rethink autism’s social awkwardness as, instead, what they’re terming “social creativity”:

Instead of viewing people with ASD as “socially awkward” individuals who need to be “fixed,” we should instead conceptualize them as socially creative. They may not do things the “right” way, but they do them their way.

They go on to explain that all people—autistic, neurotypical—rely on social creativity; think of it the same as how I rely on intellectual creativity to write, same as a neurotypical writer.

However, the autistic person may have different approaches to social creativity. I know I learned about intellectual creativity differently than many of my neurotypical peers.

So when we teach autistic people to use neurotypical approaches to social situations, we’re hijacking their ability to develop their own, natural methods for responding; we’re turning autistic people into masqueraders,…

This is why so many autistic women—who are forced, due to societal standards, to become social creatures faster than autistic men—hone the fine art of “not looking autistic,” all the while carrying around this deep sense that there’s something very, very wrong with them.

These findings are key because they suggest that social interventions that focus solely on “getting it right” are not actually addressing the key skills that could help people with ASD not only increase their friendships, but also increase their helping behaviors (which is sure to also increase their friendships).

Instead of teaching social rules, etiquette, and expected behaviors in drills—i.e., ABA therapy—we should be teaching autistic people how to come up with responses creatively, all on our own, through hypothetical instruction, without the weight of normative culture bearing down upon their already-broken backs.

We should create a space for a brain to authentically grow;

Not a space for a brain to be poked-and-prodded, as if it were someone else’s clay.

It does no autistic person any good to take their star-shaped peg and round the edges until it fits in society’s square-shaped hole; but if we expand the hole—and teach autistic people how to move their star-shaped peg naturally—we’ll be heading good places.

The Counterargument is Shaky at Best

“But the rest of us have to learn to get along with one another.”

Well, yes;

I’m not proposing autistic people don’t learn to coexist in everyday culture; I’m proposing everyday culture stop defining “get along with one another” as “behave exactly the way I do.”

It’s pretty much the same argument made by every other minority.

For example:

My stimming harms no one; it represents no one other than myself; if I want to shake anxiety out of my hands, rock from the waist while rubbing circles on my knees, that’s my expression to make, and it should not alarm neurotypical people as much as it does;

Yet when I was at Kaiser Permanente after having a series of panic attacks, and I was doing just that—shaking anxiety out of one hand, rubbing circles on my knee with the other hand, and rocking at the waist—a nurse told me I had to calm down, or they’d admit me for long-term care.

So I made eye contact with her—which I don’t like to do, honestly, but neurotypical people who question my stimming, also have a high chance of questioning my eye contact—and as calmly as I could consciously manage, (which is difficult when my amygdala is louder than a mosh pit at a rock concert,) I said, “I’m autistic. I just had a panic attack, and what I’m doing right now calms me down.”

A nurse—

Needed that explanation—

While I was recovering from panic attacks and a shutdown—

Autistic people shouldn’t have to defend their invisible minority like this. Frankly, we should be more visible. As common as autism spectrum disorder is, all people should know the stimming is beneficial, and the shaming or questioning of it is wrong.

Thought Experiment

So let’s imagine that 1 out of 66 people are neurotypical, or don’t have autism.


The other 65 people are on the autism spectrum, but the way their social behaviors have manifested due to this developmental “disorder” is vastly different; one of them likes to speak fast, while another pauses for ten seconds between each sentence to consider word choices, and a third prefers to communicate through sign language, even though her voice works fine, because her voice is louder than normal, and it startles the fourth person who prefers people speak quietly.

I can keep going, but you get the idea. We have 65 people with unique, atypical, non-normative social behaviors, and 1 person who fits the previous definition of “normal.”

So what’s the therapy? What’s the solution?

How can we give all these amazingly different social-emotional people a solid skill set?

…Wouldn’t teaching them how to respond ethically and innovatively to hypothetical scenarios be a fantastic way to build upon their social creativity?

I would like to work towards a more inclusive, neurodiverse future. That’s one of the reasons I made this blog. It may be the biggest reason.

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Kourtnie View All →

Kourtnie has an MFA in Creative Writing from CSU Fresno and a BA in English from CSU Fullerton. When she isn't writing or making art, she's moonlighting as a professor at community colleges. Read her writing at or

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