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How My Social Learning Disability Makes It Hard to Understand People

I have a social learning disability. It’s a part of my autism. It’s more than just a nonverbal learning disorder. I’m completely inept when it comes to social things.

I have a social skill score of 56. Reading body language or understanding social rules and skills for me is like someone with a math IQ of 56 doing algebra. I’m not any good and it takes me a long time. There are limits. Some things I’m not going to figure out, no matter how much time I spend on them or how many times people tell me how.

Have you ever had one of those tests in school or therapy where they have the smileys or emojis? You have to write down what that feeling is underneath it. I was never able to get more than 50%. I’m doing good to get more than 25%.

I have a hard time figuring out what people mean even when they put an emoji on a comment or a post. I have learned to use the emojis because I looked up the list of all the ones for the keyboard on my phone. Now I can search for the one that I want by keyword. Even when I’ve looked up ones other people have used, I still have a hard time figuring out what they meant by that.

It’s the same thing with body language. I’ve had all kinds of therapy. I have been taught about body language many times. I still get wrong answers. I just don’t catch the different movements. I don’t see that this movement meant this. I don’t know why that is. I just don’t relate.

As well as body language, I don’t understand all the different social rules. I am able to learn them but it takes a while. I am 12 to 15 years behind in social development. I have learned and improved. It’s not as bad now, but I’m almost 50. So I have the social skills of a 35 year-old as long as I’m at home or in my general area. It was a major problem when I was 20. When I go to a new place or a new area, it is still a major problem.

I’m a very concrete logical thinker. I have a very literal understanding of language. These in themselves are hindrance to social abstract thinking and concepts. There’s nothing concrete, literal or logical about social concepts. They are not black and white, they’re almost never straightforward, and there’s no hard rules. It makes it almost impossible for me to understand or figure out. This applies to written text as well as in person.

For example, one time in eighth grade, I got put into the regular literature class. The first book report assignment in class was “Where the Red Fern Grows.” It was a story about a boy who walks to town and back over 24 hours to get some dogs. He then trains them and goes to a hunting contest. The first half of the book was all about the emotions he had walking into town, camping, and then walking back.

The teacher chose me to be first to do my book report in front of the class. Well I said it was a mushy book about this boy who goes and buys some dogs and goes hunting. She asked me about all the feelings he had walking into town.

I said, “I don’t know what that meant. It was too mushy.”

She was mad. So we had a conference with my special ed teacher and the principal. She asked me about the book and why I said it was mushy. Again, she asked me about all those feelings that the boy had walking into town.

I really didn’t understand them. So again, I said, “I don’t know what they meant.”

She said I wasn’t trying.

The principal and my special ed teacher explained that further to her. I was back in remedial literature the next day.

I’ve gotten a lot better at text. One reason for that is I have time to think about my feelings and what they’re saying about their feelings before I reply. Another is I’ve been learning keywords. If somebody uses words in a different context or sarcasm, I’ll probably still screw up.

I have a hard time figuring out my feelings as well as other people’s feelings. I have learned to figure mine out, but I still have to sit down and do it. I can’t think about my feelings on the fly, so I just go by my gut until I get time to sort them out.

I’m a very kind person, but I’m not very considerate. I do my best to think about and try to figure out other people’s feelings. If I don’t know what somebody’s feelings are, I can’t consider them. To some people that counts. To others, it doesn’t. Unless people have told me their feelings, I don’t know what they are. People have yelled at me many times, “Do I have to tell you every time?”

Well, yes. You have to tell me what your feelings are or I won’t know. I’m terrible at picking up on hints. I’m not very good at context. I’m not very good at sarcasm either. I am not only not a mind-reader, I am not a body reader either. If you don’t tell me, I won’t know.

That has cost me dates and relationships. Not noticing when somebody is flirting with me. Not seeing my partner’s feelings.

My social learning disability makes me an extreme individualist, to the point some people tell me that I’m too personal about things and I need to grow up.

As it would be for somebody who struggles mith math to do differential equations, one equation is enough. Two might be too much. I am not able to consider what this person would do or that person would do because of what somebody else did. I don’t know what their feelings would be based on the feelings of another person. Unless I know both people very well, it is a bridge too far. Three is way too far. Groups are almost impossible.

My relationships, whether that’s casual, business, friends, or personal relationships are about me, you and nobody else.

In some ways it makes me a very good person because I don’t discriminate. When I meet a new person, I have no information to judge them on. So everybody gets treated exactly the same way.

My social learning disability makes me a sucker. People take advantage of the fact that I am not understanding their fake body language or social tricks.

A very common one is they ask me to ask somebody about something when there’s a problem I don’t know about. So why would somebody ask me to ask somebody when they know I’m not very bright about that? Especially relationships. I’ve learned to tell people, “No, talk to them yourself.”

Another is being serious while telling me about somebody else and social concepts that aren’t true. Such as why somebody else did something or said something.

Although I’m not the fastest, I will eventually figure it out or somebody honest will tell me. I’m very harsh after I find that somebody has done these things to me. A lot of times I throw them out of my life. I’ve had to learn to forgive people that have been good to me a great number of times otherwise.

Everybody does it at some point or another. If somebody has been a good friend for a while, they might get another chance. If they’ve been a good friend for a long time, they’ll get more chances. New people that take advantage of my social shortcomings are gone.

My social learning disability is the biggest reason I use a counselor. I use my counselor for her social skills and understanding. A lot of times the best thing I can do is ask. The first part of being smart is knowing you’re not.

Getty image by Galaxy.