Social Creativity in Autism

Lerner, M. D., & Girard, R. M. (2018). Appreciating and Promoting Social Creativity in Youth with Asperger’s Syndrome. In Scott Barry Kaufman Editor (Ed.), Twice Exceptional: Supporting and educating bright and creative students with learning difficulties.

Reading this chapter was an eye-opener, and seemed to explain several of my own observations in regards to social interactions with my Autistic son. One of the findings reported by Lerner and Girard (2018) related to their finding of no relation between knowing effective prosocial behavior rules and their use in the Autistic population.

From our experience in Special Education (SPED) in the public school system, the main social communication skills seem to be teaching Autistic students social rules and the practice of turn-taking. In our personal situation, my son knows all the rules and what he SHOULD do, but he does not seem to do that in the real world and I felt that it is the in-the-moment communication skills he would need more guidance and practice. In addition, he is very quick to recall whether he has already done the exercises the instructor is going through during the sessions.

Lerner and Girard (2018) also found no relationship between social creativity and knowledge of “correct” social responses.  Their idea was that the ability for flexible social responses may be a key ingredient in developing real-world social communication skills. Their writings here provide some research support on the need to focus on flexible creative social responses during  “in the moment” situations.

The second item of interest from this chapter is the possible interpretation for the bimodal view of social interaction in the Autistic population. Social interactions are either minimal or more profoundly connected. Their writings here provided a great elaboration of one of the ways I describe my son. I often describe him as a light switch – either “on” or “off”,  hardly any in-between state or actions. I often note the wide differences in the quality and “ability” to interact extensively with others. I noticed significantly highly social interactions (according to dominant prevailing cultural standards) only occurring under specific conditions such as when he initiates the interaction, or when he asks the question when in a larger group (versus when we ask him a question).  Lerner and Girard (2018) reported a previous study that found a marginally significant (r= -.25, p=0.06) negative correlation between social creativity and lifetime Autistic symptoms. In addition, they reported a modest positive relationship between social creativity and prosocial behavior (r=.32, p<0.05). With a small sample size of 41 participants, it will be interesting to see if the correlations are replicated with larger sample sizes and whether the relationship varies as a function of different IQ levels and sub-scales. I can use such information to help parents, educators and Autistic students find better terms to help others understand what is going on inside Autistic minds.

The third item gained from reading this chapter, is the Socio-dramatic Affective Relational Intervention (SDARI), with the goal of social creativity promotion. Developing improvisational skills in a safe environment using SDARI allows social scenario responses to be practiced in a more dynamic way that is closer to real social interactions. This sounds like an interesting technique that would be something parents and educators can consider as an option for an appropriate scaffold for individual students. I can imagine this type of intervention to be novel, attention-grabbing, emotionally safe, interesting, and potentially positive for ALL students in a school setting. One issue we faced in public school was the lack of similar intellectual peers within the SPED setting for group social skills intervention to be of any practical use. Our school lowered the goal setting for my son because they said they did not have any students that would be able to form a group that can help him achieve his goal at the level he required. With SDARI, I imagine this can be modified or implemented with drama students or any students in the context of a creativity unit in general education.

One big picture issue I continue to struggle with in the current public education system is the unintentional harm brought to students in the guise of providing appropriate services. Students that get pulled to go in and out of SPED and even Gifted services often get labeled and viewed by peers, teachers, and even the student themselves in terms of those “services” with unfair stereotypical expectations imposed by or projected onto the labeled students. We have to be aware of the importance of always being cognizant of potential socio-emotional impacts of the uses of terms/labels in program design, and implementation.

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