Wednesday, 25 January 2012

The 'Don'ts' Of Manners

These are what I would consider the basic “Don’ts” of good manners. As with the ‘Do’s”, I’d appreciate feedback.
1) DON’T be deliberately rude or insulting – yes, every aspie on the planet makes mistakes and blurts things out now and again, and just like NTs we can lose our tempers, but ASD is not a ‘get out of jail’ card that allows us to behave however we like, anymore than NTs can.

Even if you really do think (for instance) that someone is so stupid it’s a wonder they can walk and talk at the same time, it’s best to just stay silent or leave the situation. This especially applies to people like your boss, the police, judges, Social Welfare staff, and anyone else who potentially holds your fate in their hands. Making them mad is Definitely Not A Good Idea.

[27/1/2012 Note - My friend Paula has pointed out to me that I should include swearing in the 'don'ts' - I would see this as part of being 'rude and insulting'. Also Not A Good Idea, especially don't do in front of kids, senior citizens, teachers, The Boss, and anyone else in the above Power Over Your Life groups.]

2) DON’T stand closer than arms length when talking to someone. ‘Arm’s length’ means how close you’d be if you stretched your arm out straight, and could just touch them with the tip of your fingers. This applies to anyone you’re not on intimate or close terms with, such as your partner or child or maybe a very close friend. With anyone else, the further the better, really. Put simply, it freaks people out. They’re not sure what you want, but they don’t like it anyway.

3) DON’T talk about or do your bodily functions in public. ‘Public’ means anyone you’re not close to, as above. This especially applies to anything to do with private parts or the digestive system. It’s usually okay to mention things furthest away from these parts – eg that you have a headache or your feet hurt - but don’t (deliberately) belch, burp or fart; scratch yourself in intimate places, talk about your indigestion or how you’ve had diarrhea all week. (Your nearest and dearest probably won’t want to know about the latter either, really!)

Basic rule of thumb here – if you wouldn’t want to hear about others’ bodily functions, then they don’t want to hear about yours.

4) DON’T interrupt other people’s conversations unless it‘s for a damn good reason. ‘Good reasons’ are those that are urgent and/or important - eg “the building is on fire”, “dinner is ready”, or “the boss wants you in his office NOW”. That you’ve just a fascinating thought about The Battle of Waterloo, there’s a butterfly at the window, or “I wonder what ballpoint pens are made of?” are not!!!

5) DON’T comment on anyone else’s appearance unless it’s a compliment. As with some of the above points, this is especially true for those you don’t know well. Out in public, it’s best not to say anything at all about how other people look, especially total strangers. And don’t stare at people either, even if you do find them/their behaviour fascinating, or you’re watching them to learn how to behave. Quick, sideways or cautious glances are better.

6) DON’T ramble on about your favourite topic/special interest. It’s usually okay to give a BRIEF statement about it, but don’t go on and on. It’s a good idea to memorise one or two sentences that sum up your special interest, and use it if anyone asks you what you’re interested in, or what you’ve been doing lately, etc.

Of course you might be lucky enough to stumble across a fellow lover of Ancient Egypt/ dinosaurs/ hubcaps/ trains/ whatever – but they are hard to find, and as we autistics aren’t sensitive to the little clues that tell us someone is only pretending to be interested, it’s best to assume they’re not. If they are truly interested, they’ll ask you more.

That’s about it really. For just about all of these, there are possible refinements, but these are what I see as the basics. If anyone can think of anything else, do let me know.

(NB - for more on this subject, look to my previous posts list down on the right.)

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

The 'Do's' Of Manners

Here’s what I feel are the basic essential “Must Do’s” of Manners. If anyone thinks I’ve missed out something, do let me know, and I’ll add it to the list. Similarly, if something seems too complicated or hard, I’d like to know that too. It may be that all those years of busting a gut to train myself have made my expectations a bit too high.

1) Say ‘Hello’, when you meet someone, and ‘Goodbye’ when you part from them.
How you say this will differ of course according to who you’re with and where. It might be hey, hiya, yo, gidday, chow or see ya for your friends and family, but use hello and goodbye in formal situations like job interviews, or any time when you don’t know the people well.

2) Say ‘please’ when asking for something, and ‘thank you’ when you receive it.
If you’re amongst close friends and/or family, saying thanks or ta is usually okay for thank you, but be more formal with anyone else. Also say thank you when you get a gift – even if you don’t like it. (And DON’T SAY that you don’t like it! Just thank them and quietly put it aside.)

3) Wait your turn, and don’t push in.
Don’t assume you just can walk up to counters, checkouts, buffet tables, etc – look to see if there’s a queue forming or formed, and put yourself on the end of it. Sometimes it’s hard to be patient, but pushing in is truly not acceptable, unless there’s some really, really good reason for it, and the onus is on YOU to let people know what that is.

4) Say ‘excuse me’ in the following situations.
            i) If you have to push past people in a crowd. In a large crowd, you will need to say it repeatedly until you get out of it. It’s a good idea to say sorry or thank you also.
            ii) If you have to interrupt other people’s conversation or activity. (Note I say have to – I will cover the acceptable reasons for interrupting in my ‘Don’ts’.)
            iii) If you have to reach around someone, for any reason. Though it’s best to avoid doing so if you can – if it’s necessary to get past them, ask POLITELY if they could please move, and why.
            iv) If you have to get close to anybody for any other reason at all. (Yes, I know we usually avoid this like the plague, but it can happen.)

5) Be especially nice/polite/helpful to the vulnerable.
This includes the following groups : -
            i) The elderly. Even if they are grumpy. Or especially if they are grumpy!
            ii) Mothers with children. Or fathers, if they’re burdened with kids too.
            iii) The disabled, and those who are obviously unwell or injured.
Being polite to them generally means things like:-
            a) Holding open doors for them.
            b) Letting them go first in queues.
            c) Offering any other help they might need, such as getting pushchairs up steps.

6) Use your table manners.
What is considered good table manners of course differs between cultures – in some, eating with your fingers and burping afterwards is considered polite! However, in Western cultures, the following are usually expected when dining with others : -
            i) Use your knife and fork for the main course, and a spoon for dessert. Use your fingers only for things like kebabs, sandwiches, or ‘finger food’. Watch what others do, if you’re still not sure.
            ii) Chew with your mouth closed, and don’t talk with your mouth full. Truly, no-one wants to see your half-chewed food. Wipe your mouth (or front) if you dribble or spill food.
            iii) Ask for things to be passed to you, rather than reaching across other people. If you must reach, say excuse and sorry, as I mentioned above.
iv) Don’t simply help yourself to the last potato (or the last slice of pie, helping of rice, etc) on the serving dish – always ask first if anyone else wants it, and be prepared to share it or give it to them, if so.
            iv) Put your knife and fork neatly on the plate when you’re finished. (Some say together, some say crossed. Follow what others are doing, if you’re not sure.)

One final word – it’s not table manners as such – but if you’re eating at someone else’s place, it’s often considered polite to offer to clear the table and/or help with the dishes afterwards, but this will vary a lot. Some won’t expect it or even want it. Even if your offer is refused however, it will probably still be appreciated.

In my next post, I will cover the ‘Don’ts’ of Politeness.

Why I Believe We Should Use Manners

Since writing my original post on aspie ‘lack of manners’, a friend of mine has pointed out that what I seemed to mean, largely, was ‘social graces’. In terms of all the complex nuances I struggled to learn, she’s right. They could also be termed ‘conversational skills’, or simply ‘social skills’. Though ‘manners’ does shade into ‘social graces’, like my friend, I don’t think we aspies can really learn the latter very well – as I said, I struggled for decades to do so, at a very high cost. I think it really isn’t worth the effort, as even if we succeed, we simply become polished at being ‘fake NTs’ – and feel bad about our real selves as a consequence.

However, I do still believe that a basic level of manners is a necessary and essential set of skills for us spectrumites. Some of us might ask why bother, especially if they don’t care about the (opinions of the) other people concerned? I feel there are three reasons why.

1) Because being autistic doesn’t mean we’re ‘better’ than others, any more than it means we’re ‘worse’. It means we have the same rights AND responsibilities as everyone else. As my friend Paula Jessop points out, there are some Aspies who upon diagnosis say ‘I've got Aspergers, I can't change and the world should put up with me saying whatever I want to whoever I want whenever and wherever I want’. This I feel is unacceptable.” I agree. We share the world with others, and if we want respect from other people, then we must offer respect back. That’s true equality.

2) Because it will benefit our own lives, if those around us perceive we’re at least making an effort to be polite, and observing a bare minimum of social ‘rules’. It won’t work all the time, it’s not a magic bullet, but it could ease at least some of the hostility we are often on the receiving end of.

3) Because it will benefit aspies/auties in general. If most of us come across as polite, or making the effort to be, it gives a better impression of us overall, raises our image in people’s eyes – and let’s face it, we get enough Bad Press, why create any more? If you won’t do it for yourself, do it for your autie/aspie brothers and sisters – and the next generation of spectrumites.

In further posts, ( here and here) I will list what I feel are the basic “do’s and don’ts” of manners.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

On Aspie 'Lack of Manners'

I seem to have been hearing a lot about autistic lack of ‘manners’ lately, and it’s certainly a theme that has cropped up in my life many times. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been told I’ve been rude, offensive, uncouth or bad-mannered (or had it implied). I know lots of others on the spectrum have had the same experience. The question is, what should we do about it?

I know what we shouldn’t do. And that’s try to ape NTs, try to be ‘normal’, try to be exactly like them, suppressing all signs of our ‘weirdness’, in order to ‘fit in’. I can speak from experience, as I tried very, very hard to do just this, for many decades of my life. I poured enormous amounts of time and energy into observing others, watching as closely as I could to try and figure out exactly how they behaved, and when, and why, and who with. I tried to imitate them, experimenting with this way and that, aping this person and that - always, always trying to be ‘normal’, or at least develop the facade of ‘normal’. Trying to forestall criticism, and be ‘nice’, and ‘acceptable’ to others.

And you know what? It didn’t work. Oh certainly I learnt many, many things about how to behave, what constitutes ‘good manners’, or ‘the Right Thing To Do And Say’ in a whole variety of situations. I learnt to ‘pass’, in other words. I have a whole library or system of gigantic filing cabinets in my head, of How To Behave Nicely.

But I didn’t gain all that much by it, in the long run. I still got criticised plenty. I wasn’t able to make (NT) friends, or if I did, I soon lost them again. I couldn’t start or sustain a functional relationship. I compromised my health, and at times my sanity and personal integrity. I wasted years – decades - worth of energy that could have been better spent on a career, on my creative endeavours, or simply on my own personal and spiritual growth. I could have been so much better off, financially, physically, psychologically, spiritually. So I would not recommend the path I chose to anyone else on the spectrum - and I no longer walk that path myself. I am what I am, and that will have to be enough.

However we do share this world with other people, whether we like it or not, and have to get along with them. So if we don’t go the path of being a ‘fake NT’, what should we do? What’s the bare minimum of ‘politeness’, that we should aspire to? In my next post, I hope to address that question.

27/1/2012 Note - have written three more posts on this subject, here, and here and here, on 'why we should do manners', and also the 'do's' and 'don'ts' of manners, if you're interested.

A Bit of a Grump

Back again after the Xmas Break, and unfortunately starting the New Year with a grump. And it’s not related to anything about autism this time, for once. Except that perhaps I’m being a typically pedantic aspie, grouching about other people’s (linguistic) imperfections…

Most particularly, those to do with basic writing skills. I don’t know if something similar happened with schooling in other countries (though I suspect it did), but between my own school years (60s and early 70s) and my daughter’s (80s and early 90s), something strange happened in NZ education. My generation had the basics of spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc drilled into us. It didn’t seem to harm us any, and did give us a good grounding in language skills. It didn’t seem to harm our creativity either - many of my generation, and previous ones, went on to become some of NZ’s finest writers, poets, playwrights, artists, musicians, filmmakers and so on. Okay, maybe some of it was a little boring, or punitively taught, but it seems like when They (that mysterious They, the Powers That Be Who Decide These Things) decided to ditch those ways of teaching, it seems they threw the baby out with the bathwater, and ditched intensive teaching of language skills too.

I first became aware of this when my daughter was almost ten, and I began home schooling her. Imagine my shock when I discovered that despite five years of education at a supposedly good school she couldn’t really spell, her handwriting was atrocious, she had only a hazy idea of punctuation, and wasn’t too sure what distinguished a noun from a verb, let alone any other parts of speech. It’s not that NZ primary schools don’t teach these things, it’s that they don’t place a lot of emphasis on them, they’re sort of thrown in incidentally, now and again, and the children are somehow expected to ‘just pick them up’.

For instance, when I talked with the principal of her primary school, prior to removing her, I had to lay out what I intended to teach her. Regarding language skills, he didn’t seem to think it important that I teach her about all the above things, almost pooh-poohing them, rather he insisted that she be taught to ‘write creatively’, to ‘express herself’ in writing. NZ textbooks, I also found, were the same. It was so marked that I ended up using a British set of language workbooks, which systematically taught these basics, in what my daughter found a fun and interesting way. (And surely if the Poms can do it, so can we…) (And that's what schools are supposed to do, teach kids, right? ...Right?)

It’s not that I don’t think learning to express yourself on paper is important, or that I would want to see our schools return to the old days and old methods. But you can’t build a house without a good foundation, and you can’t be really good at expressing yourself if you can’t write legibly, or coherently, or organise your ideas into decent sentences. And while perhaps some can ‘just pick up’ these skills, others can’t, and need more intensive training in them. The results of that lack of proper training is being seen at NZ universities, many of which now have instituted remedial programs to teach those basics. And this is for the ‘best’ students, the ones who supposedly are our well-educated highest achievers!!

I’ve since worked in a NZ school, and seen for myself how little focus there is on grammar, punctuation, etc. I’ve seen work produced at higher secondary levels too, for exams, and in many cases it’s pretty bad. I don’t blame the secondary schools – these things should be being taught at primary level, and they simply aren’t. And for years I’ve seen it almost daily, in supermarkets and shop signs and everywhere, growing worse year by year it seems, a whole heap of muddled errors of spelling and grammar and punctuation that renders the results almost incoherent, or at least forcing me to stop and think about what the writer means. (And some of course are just laughable, especially to someone like me with a very literal aspie brain.)

So let’s get a few things straight, most especially to do with apostrophes, as that seems to be what confuses people the most.

1) A simple plural doesn’t need an apostrophe. ‘Tomatoes’, when it’s simply the name of a bunch of the fruit, doesn’t require one. (I wince every time I see “tomatoe’s” or even “tomato’s” for sale.)

2) The possessive form of any word does have one, eg if you’re talking about “the tomato’s smell and shape”.

3) “It’s” requires an apostrophe only when it’s short for “it is” or “it has” – ie, it stands in for the missing letters, as in “it’s been raining”, or “it’s raining outside”.

4) If this isn’t the case – ie if “its” is simply about ‘owning’ something – eg “the cat and its collar” – then it doesn’t need one.

5) If you’re not sure, try replacing “its” with “it is” or “it has”. If the sentence makes sense, then you need to put an apostrophe in. If it doesn’t, you don’t.


Right. Grump over. For now.