Social Skills for Everyone

ableism, Autism, Disability, Education, Friendship, Infographics, Neurodiversity, Parenting

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[Each of the slides above has its own image description. Slideshow can be paused for ease of reading text. Full transcript at the end of this post, with a downloadable PDF.]

Issues of social inclusion are often persistent throughout a disabled person’s lifespan. Lack of inclusion can be a vicious cycle if non-disabled people are unfamiliar with how to include and interact with disabled people in their community:

1. disabled people are excluded, are segregated to disabled-only spaces, and/or withdraw from community life when they are socially rejected

2. non-disabled people continue to have social spaces and groups that have no disabled people in them, and they never become familiar or intimately connected with disabled people

3. disabled people continue to be rejected or excluded by non-disabled people who are unfamiliar with how to include us


How do we break this cycle? Traditionally, most of the onus has been on disabled people to assimilate and “normalize,” but this not only doesn’t work well, it’s unfair and ableist. Mainstream culture is beginning to realize that non-disabled need to do more to include us without trying to “fix” us, but it’s crucial to understand that acceptance is more than just a feeling. It’s a series of actions, and for most it will require some learning and listening to disabled people.

I have a dream that parents of non-disabled children will begin to talk to their kids about disability, as early and as often as possible. Just as with other issues of discrimination, it’s not enough to trust that your kids will be “nice” – even nice, lovely, kind hearted children may discriminate against or exclude disabled children if they simply do not know how to include them, and don’t understand people who are different from themselves in ways that a child can easily perceive.

This guide is a start. Please please share it with your kids and talk to them about what disability inclusion means. It’s not about pity or charity, it’s about equality.

Social Skills for Everyone PDF


Infographic cover has the title Social Skills for Everyone,” subtitle making friends and getting along.” Above the title are two human figures, one waving their arms with a speech bubble saying hi!” and the other with arms akimbo and a speech bubble containing ellipses. 
Page One.
Infographic text says: You might have noticed… there are all kinds of people in the world. no two are exactly alike. Not even twins! You probably won’t be friends with everyone you meet (and that’s ok!) but learning to get along with people makes life a little better for all of us.” One group of human figures is multicolored, with a green figure waving and saying hello!” A pair of orange figures who look the same as each other stand side by side, one saying I love drawing comic books” and the other saying I don’t draw. But I love Minecraft!” 
Page Two.
Infographic text says: There isn’t only one right way” to socialize… Just like there isn’t only one way to play! Everyone has their own style figure adds, and I think that’s cool!’ and learning someone else’s style is how you include someone new figure adds, and hey, remember… next time, the new person… could be you!’” Bottom image shows a green figure standing in foreground holding/touching their own head, with other figures in the background playing and one waving in greeting to the green new person.
Page Three.
Infographic text says: When you meet someone new… it’s nice to greet them and ever nicer to invite them to talk or play with you.” Image shows two human figures in foreground and two more playing in the background. A green figure waves and says to the orange figure, Hi, I’m Alex. Do you want to play tag with us?’ More text: but what if they don’t answer?” The green figure stands with a question mark thought bubble, while the orange figure touches/holds their own head and stands with a thought bubble containing ellipses.
Page Four.
Infographic text says: It might NOT mean they don’t want to play. Try this! Wait a few more seconds some people just need a little more time to answer questions or think of what to say.” Orange figure has a speech bubble that says …………okay!’ Move so they can see your face some people need to read your lips while you talk.” Two green heads in profile face each other, one with sound waves around mouth. Ask in a different way if they aren’t sure how to answer, using different words might help.” Green figure points to the side and says to orange figure, He’s it.” Let’s run!’ Or maybe just try again later. They might not be ready to join in yet, and that’s okay too!
Page Five.
Infographic text says: Some people do not speak at all (or not very much) but you can still include them! People who don’t speak communicate in other ways, like: Body Language! (orange figure in a variety of poses/gestures), using their voice in other ways (orange laughing face with speech bubble hahaha!’) or even using an app on a tablet! (orange figure holds a black tablet which has a dialog box saying okay. let’s play!’)
Page Six.
Infographic text says: When you meet someone who seems different, you might notice that they look, talk, or act differently than anyone else you’ve met before.” A green figure stands touching/holding their own head with a question mark thought bubble. It’s okay to ask polite questions.” A green figure asks, Does that hurt?’ to an orange figure with a small red mark on their face, who responds, No. It’s just a birthmark.’ More text: It’s good to celebrate our differences AND remember we aren’t all that different on the inside we all pretty much want the same things: to be accepted, to feel we belong, and to have fun doing things we enjoy.” At the bottom is a row of human figures: a green one with arms akimbo, orange one with heart-shaped birthmark, gray one waving arms, green one with headphones high-fiving a gray one with an orange wheelchair.
diversity is beautiful cartoon

Diversity is Beautiful

ableism, Autism, comics, Disability, Education, Infographics, Neurodiversity

One of the most frequent questions I hear from parents of autistic children is, “how do I tell them they are autistic?” They want to explain autism to their child in a positive way; to frame the information as something that empowers.

My favorite way to approach conversations about autism and other forms of disability, especially (but not only!) with children, is rather than singling out the autistic or otherwise disabled child, begin with the larger context of diversity.

Diversity is, after all, an essential ingredient in a thriving natural environment; it is valuable for its own sake.

What I love about this approach is that it de-centers any one “typical” way of being, unlike the old way of explaining autism as a brain with a set of deficits that makes it something other than normal. There is no one correct or even best kind of brain, any more than there is one correct or best kind of dog or bird.

I have this “Diversity is Beautiful” cartoon for sale in my shop, on posters and mugs and a bunch of other cool products. If you choose to purchase something from there, your support is greatly appreciated! But I am also offering free printable PDFs (see below) so that anyone may use this information. As with all of my infographics, you have permission use these for personal, educational, and any other not-for-profit purpose, retaining credit to me (and any other sources listed in my graphics).

diversity is beautiful cartoon

The Simple version of Diversity is Beautiful gives you more space to create your own accessible explanations for the concepts in the image. I recommend this one for audiences with less complex receptive language and/or reading skills.

Image description: title is “diversity is beautiful.” First row of drawings shows a variety of animals, with the caption “diversity in the animal world.” Second row shows an assortment of kids: from left to right is a person with a limb (arm) difference, person using a wheelchair, person with no visible disability, person signing “hello,” person using forearm crutches, person wearing glasses, person using a white/probing cane. Caption is “diversity of people.” Third row shows four heads with smiling faces and on foreheads are drawings of multicolored brains, caption is “diversity of human brains.” ©Erin Human 2017

Printable PDF:
Diversity is Beautiful (Simple)

"diversity is beautiful" cartoon w explanations

The version called Diversity is Beautiful (Explained) has a more lengthy explanation for each form of diversity shown. This is a nice choice for anyone who does not wish to create their own script, or would like people to be able to access the image’s concepts independently (for example, as a poster in a school classroom).

Image description: title is “diversity is beautiful.” First row of drawings shows a variety of animals, with the caption “diversity in the animal world / there are millions of different kinds of animals – more than we can count!” Second row shows an assortment of kids: from left to right is a person with a limb (arm) difference, person using a wheelchair, person with no visible disability, person signing “hello,” person using forearm crutches, person wearing glasses, person using a white/probing cane. Caption is “diversity of people / people come in a great variety of shapes, sizes, genders, abilities, and appearances – we are all unique!” Third row shows four heads with smiling faces and on foreheads are drawings of multicolored brains, caption is “diversity of human brains / no two brains are alike, but we have names for different types – like ADHD, autistic, dyslexic, typical, & more!” ©Erin Human 2017

Printable PDF:
Diversity is Beautiful (Explained)




#SayTheWord, Not “Special Needs”

Autism, Disability, Education, Neurodiversity

The deeper I go into autistic culture and autistic rights activism, the more I find myself pulled to align my goals, my activism, and my identity with the broader disability rights community.

There’s a social media campaign going on right now to #SayTheWord – it was started by Lawrence Carter-Long, the Public Affairs Manager for the National Council on Disability, and is an active Twitter hashtag. The word, of course, is disabled.

The importance of this campaign is driven home to me over and over again as I see people performing ludicrous and painful contortions to avoid saying it. Reminder that when I make a criticism the way well-meaning people interact with disability, I am not attacking the people (parenthetical reminder that I was immersed in ableism myself not long ago), but inviting people to think about things in a different way.

Instead of saying disabled, nice people say things like:

  • differently abled
  • handicapable (yes, really)
  • physically/mentally challenged
  • special needs

It’s that last one, special needs, that I really want to take aim at, because I believe that seemingly innocuous phrase does serious damage to disability rights.

Every time someone says “special needs,” they reinforce the false notion that disabled people are asking for “extras” when we require accommodations, modifications, and/or support to access the same things that non-disabled people are able to access, such as education, public spaces, community involvement, and so on.

That’s the first problem, because access is not “special” for disabled people. It’s our right. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, modeled on the Civil Rights Act of 1964, protects disabled Americans from discrimination, requires us to be accommodated in the workplace, and grants us equal access to public spaces and institutions. Other countries have laws in place to protect disability rights in similar ways.

The second problem is, the phrase “special needs” flies in the face of the social model of disability. The social model says, the disabled person’s inability to access things is due not to the disabled person’s failings, flaws, or deficits, but on the environment’s failure to provide access to the things. For example, a Blind person is not disabled because they can’t see, they are disabled because the world was set up by seeing people for seeing people and is made of many things that are inaccessible to non-seeing people.

To make a metaphor of it, imagine taking a brand new car and submerging it in a lake. The car is disabled; there’s nothing wrong with the car itself, it still does everything it’s designed to do, but it cannot operate in its current environment. If were in an environment well suited to its needs and purposes, like say a road, it would be able to do all the things a car does.

Or, take a look at this short (1 minute 26 second) animation explaining the social model – it has captions for those who have auditory processing or hearing disabilities.

So, when you say “special needs” instead of disabled, you are saying, this person needs all sorts of special things to help them do what we can do. We, the people who designed the buildings, the curriculum, the programs, the services, so that they are tailored to our needs – we don’t need anything special to access those things. Well of course!

Some people shy away from the word disabled because they feel that it’s stigmatizing. (Some people feel the same way about the word autistic.) But you don’t remove stigma by dancing around it and being coy and hush-hush about it. That actually increases stigma. Disabled is not a slur and never was; it’s a neutral description. I believe that the truth is people are not just uncomfortable with the word, they are uncomfortable with disability itself.

Disability is a normal part of human diversity; somewhere around 15-20% of the human population is disabled. Like other forms of diversity, the presence of disability in the world enriches humanity in ways that we probably can’t even imagine. Being disabled is not something to be ashamed of, and it’s not something to be scared of; it’s just a fact of life.

I #SayTheWord because I believe that only by saying it over and over again, with pride, with confidence, can we accept disability itself. Say it with me.

(Another great post on this topic is Disabled? I Am Legend! by unstrangemind. And if you are on Twitter, be sure to check out the #SayTheWord hashtag, which is full of excellent.)

buy me pizzaImage says “#saytheword / / disabled not ‘special needs'” on a blue background.

The Clay vs The Seed

Education, Parenting

The Clay

A lump of clay has the potential to do or be almost anything, but until the intent, creativity, and pressure of a higher being is applied, it just sits there. Generally it quite willingly gives to that pressure and molds to the shapes desired, but if left to its own devices, it will just sit on the table, inert, with no ideas or motivation or momentum of its own. With the steady and goal-oriented guidance of more intelligent hands, it can be shaped into a thing of beauty and purpose.

The Seed

A seed also appears to be an inert object, but is actually a small bundle of energy and potential that just needs a fertile environment in which to grow. It needs some nurturing, but it does not need to be told how to grow, how quickly to do it, or what to grow into. Its full potential and eventual form are all contained within the seed. Funny thing, many seeds can even grow in a crack in the concrete; but it’s best to start with a nourishing soil, and sunlight and water as needed (another funny thing, too much watering can cause the budding plant to wilt). The seed needs opportunity, but not motivation; it is born with the drive become the mature form it will someday be.

I firmly believe that children are very much like seeds. I agree with author and father of unschooling John Holt when he says,

We can best help children learn, not by deciding what we think they should learn and thinking of ingenious ways to teach it to them, but by making the world, as far as we can, accessible to them, paying serious attention to what they do, answering their questions — if they have any — and helping them explore the things they are most interested in.

I’ve heard many arguments against unschooling that go something like, “without adults to tell children how to behave, it will be Lord of the Flies.” Lord of the Flies is an allegory about the essential evil of human nature (by the way, NOT children’s nature specifically! It’s meant to be about people generally, much the way Animal Farm is not actually about the natural instincts of barnyard critters) that ties in with the concept of original sin (and the name “Lord of the Flies” is a synonym for Beelzebub).

Golding believed that people were basically cruel and evil, and if the veneer of higher law and order were ever stripped away, we’d fall back on killing and eating each other. When people use the Lord of the Flies argument for controlling children, we should interpret that not as a parenting or teaching style but as a certain kind of fundamental worldview.

It seems to me that many people who are not necessarily religious or Christian nevertheless have absorbed this concept of original sin – man’s sinful, evil nature. And actually it seems a little dangerous to me that atheistic/agnostic people can retain that concept of man’s evil nature while rejecting the theology of redemption. Christians, at least, are saved by grace. What do you have to save you if you aren’t religious but believe that humans are inclined toward murder and destruction? (Maybe worth noting at this juncture that Golding died by suicide.) I suppose all you have is the idea that we can choose to be civilized and live under a higher authority that forces us all to behave and not be too murdery, and so it stands to reason that we have to do this to children (mold them, shape them, control them, and convince them it’s better not to stab people). (As Modest Mouse once sang, “who would want to be such a control freak?”)

I reject this worldview completely. I’m an atheist, but I’m a humanist with an essentially rational, not dogmatic, belief system. I believe that humans are social animals whose driving force is to form groups and support each other to perpetuate the species. My belief is almost the opposite of Golding’s, who felt that culture had the ability to sort of tenuously suppress evil; I think that culture often stirs up and perpetuates evil (see: racism, misogyny, ableism, classism, et al), while the essential nature of humans is sort of neutral-good. We are built to learn and thrive.

It’s my view that children do not need to be taught how to think; they are born knowing this. What usually happens is that adults convince them they don’t know how to think, and that we must teach them. Some kids acquiesce to this more easily, and struggle with a lack of self-confidence as they believe the message that they quite incapable of thinking on their own; others resist it, and struggle with a lack of self-worth as they are continually locked in battle with adults who tell them they are defiant and disrespectful.

These feelings don’t magically evaporate as we push grown children out of the nest; they persist into adulthood and so those children become adults who have fully internalized the belief that they were once children who, if they hadn’t been molded, sometimes forcibly, by adults, would not have amounted to anything – or worse, would default to delinquents and monsters. It stands to reason then that these are adults who, in turn, insist that children are lumps of clay who must be molded, taught how to think, shaped by outside hands into functional beings. As with many things in human culture, a cycle perpetuates itself.

I think that being autistic gives me a kind of advantage when it comes to critically thinking about cultural practices. I am as susceptible as the next parent (and homeschooler) to the emotions of fear and feelings of inadequacy, but I don’t adopt cultural attitudes automatically. It’s not in my nature to do what everyone else is doing (in some ways doing so would actually help me, but it just isn’t my way). In parenting and in homeschooling I’ve taken a leap out of the cycle of molding Clay. Providing a nurturing environments for Seeds makes more sense to me, better suits my worldview, and is more conducive to the kind of mutually respectful relationship with my children (and any other children for which I am in the position of caring and teaching) that I desire.

Image shows a sprig of maple seeds with the text: a seed needs some nurturing, but it does not need to be told how to grow, how quickly to do it, or what to grow into. –

Infodumping is My Love Language vol. 3


Infodumping* “With writing, though, none of this applies. I’m so free. This whole post, for example, would have been very hard to convey if I had to ‘tell’ it to you aloud. When my fingers are on a keyboard, or screen, or writing utensil, the real me emerges so readily. I’m free. Not that the ‘me’ that is there when I’m in person isn’t real; it is. But just less certain, less meaningfully communicative, less…me. Kind of like a person speaking a foreign language. You can live in a country for 20 years and the language of that land is now very familiar to you. You now speak that language quite well, but it will never come with the ease and natural comfort of your native tongue. In your second language you might be ‘good,’ but in your native tongue you are almost ‘great.'” – Why I Don’t Like All Those ‘Get Off Social Media and Into the Real World’ Posts, at Just Being Me… Who Needs ‘Normalcy’ Anyway?

Emma: I believe this is a picture of that subtle, female emotion called “mascara.” Melanie: “If I blink, I might die.” Actual Test Answer: “Desire” – The ‘Reading the Mind in the Eyes’ Test: A Collaborative Critique, at Lemon Peel.

* “But as we see in the last scene, more and more of Riley’s memories are colored by two emotions at a time. That got us wondering what the many blends of Riley’s five core emotions might look like. What happens when fear is combined with disgust? Or when anger is combined with joy? Here’s our best guess, in graphic form from Christophe Haubursin.” – Chart: How Inside Out’s 5 Emotions Work Together to Make More Feelings, at Vox Culture.

* “It turns out that unexpected things drain my spoons via a slow-drip leak. The sound of hammering all day as my neighbor’s house is getting a new roof? Sensory spoon leakage. Sitting in one position for too long? Physical activity and sensory spoon leakage. Listening to a radio program while I work? Language spoon leakage. Cursing out the bank’s confusing phone menu? Executive function spoon leakage.” – Conserving Spoons, at Musings of an Aspie.

* “Another Nobel-winning economist, Amartya Sen, posits that political repression impedes economic growth — that prosperity requires that social and economic well-being be tethered to democratic values. Escuela Nueva turns the schoolhouse into a laboratory for democracy. Rather than being run as a mini-dictatorship, with the principal as its unquestioned leader, the school operates as a self-governing community, where teachers, parents and students have a real say in how it is run. When teachers unfamiliar with this approach are assigned to these schools, it’s often the students themselves who teach them how to apply the method. ‘In these schools, citizenship isn’t abstract theory,’ Ms. Colbert told me. ‘It’s daily practice.'” – Make School a Democracy, by David L. Kirp at The New York Times.