Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Social Learning Disability

Originally posted on March 15, 2018

I myself am a little bit socially dense—what was given the name “Asperger’s Disorder.”  Characters on television such as Dr. Sheldon Cooper illustrates this condition. I prefer the designation, "social learning disability." Social learning is more closely related to a talent that is innate, similar to sports, music or math abilities. A certain amount can be taught but if a person has a disability their performance in those areas will be limited. I have enough of a social learning disability that it certainly affected my first marriage and marred some of my jobs, too.

This disability was further complicated by my being more talented intellectually than most. So that my social lack of interpersonal sensitivity seemed incongruent with being "smart."  But I wasn’t able to read subtle social cues and respond appropriately. This was a handicap, because if someone needed me to be "sensitive" (which can also be unconsciously a wish for others to accurately guess what a person wants) I would more often fail to satisfy their need.

To compound the interpersonal field, if a person wanted to be "mind read" as a sign of sensitivity and I failed to do that, it was an easy assumption to make that I was purposefully and willfully being insensitive. I have a hunch that this goes on in relationships a lot more than is currently recognized in couple therapy. With the "injured" partner claiming that the insensitive one meant to be hurtful and is fully deserving of reproach.

The idea is that Social Learning Ability or Disability should be recognized as a talent—or lack of it. This idea has not come into most people’s awareness. It is too easy and probably incorrect that a partner’s  "denseness" is evidence that these partners consciously meant to ignore, override, get-back aggressively to some imagined slight,  or was intended to inflict harm (also known as  “just being mean.”) Indeed, the person being “dense” probably had good intentions!

Another aspect of any disability is the tendency to ignore what "spectrum" means. It means that there are grades—severe, moderate, and mild! People prefer clear categories of either someone is socially handicapped or they’re not. So many things in our world today are being discovered to be gradations, having more or less tendencies toward and subtle combinations of elements. The idea that a person can be somewhat or even slightly dense and that this can be a good reason to make allowances in a relationship is hard to comprehend. And yet I propose that it would be a great benefit to explore this possibility when there is friction in a relationship.

In closing, I want to reiterate that social sensitivity is more like a talent for sports, etc. And that there are indeed mild forms that deserve to be recognized and dealt with openly. Indeed, not recognizing or talking about this disability can be a source of a lot of interpersonal friction in close relationships, work, clubs and other social settings.

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