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June 20, 2024

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Social codesβ€”unwritten rules that govern interactions among peopleβ€”are integral to effective communication. These codes dictate not only the amount of information shared but also the type of information considered appropriate in various contexts. For neurodivergent individuals, particularly those on the autism spectrum, navigating these social codes can be challenging, often leading to communication gaps with neurotypical (NT) individuals. This article delves into the complexities of social codes and how differences in understanding them can affect communication.

The Concept of Social Code

Social codes are essentially the norms and expectations that guide social interactions. They include understanding when and how much information to share, recognizing the emotional undertones of a conversation, and knowing how to read non-verbal cues. For most NT individuals, these codes are learned implicitly through social interactions from a young age. However, for many autistic individuals, these codes are not as intuitive, which can lead to miscommunications.

Examples of Communication Challenges

  1. Over-Explanation of Practical Details: An autistic person might provide an exhaustive step-by-step guide on how to set up a TV standβ€”detailing every screw and bracketβ€”because they aim to ensure complete understanding. While well-intentioned, this level of detail might overwhelm or bore the listener who expects a brief overview.
  2. Under-Explanation of Personal Experiences: Conversely, the same individual might underexplain a personal crisis, such as a visit to the emergency room. They might focus on practical aspects (“I fell and hurt my leg”) without sharing enough about the severity of the pain or the emotional distress experienced, aspects that NTs often expect to fully understand the gravity of the situation.
  3. Mismatch in Emotional Detail: Autistic individuals might also struggle with matching the expected emotional content in their explanations. They might either omit emotional details, making it hard for NTs to empathize, or over-emphasize them in contexts where practical details are more pertinent.

The Impact of Not Understanding Social Code

The inability to intuitively grasp and adhere to social codes can lead to various social challenges for neurodivergent individuals:

  • Misinterpretation: Others might misinterpret the intention behind their words, seeing them as detached, overly technical, or disinterested.
  • Social Isolation: Repeated miscommunications can lead to social isolation, as NT individuals might hesitate to engage, fearing awkward or cumbersome interactions.
  • Emotional Distress: For neurodivergent individuals, consistently being misunderstood or corrected can lead to feelings of frustration and inadequacy.

Strategies for Bridging the Communication Gap

  1. Explicit Learning: Neurodivergent individuals can benefit from explicit instruction in social codes, perhaps through therapy, social skills training, or guided learning.
  2. Patience and Understanding from NTs: Neurotypicals can play a crucial role by being more patient and making efforts to understand the communication style of their neurodivergent counterparts.
  3. Leveraging Strengths: Focusing on environments where detailed factual communication is valued, such as in technical or research-oriented fields, can allow autistic individuals to utilize their strengths.
  4. Encouraging Feedback: Creating a culture where respectful, constructive feedback is encouraged can help neurodivergent individuals learn from social missteps in a supportive setting.


Understanding social codes and how they vary between neurodivergent and neurotypical individuals is key to fostering better communication and empathy. By recognizing these differences and adopting strategies to bridge the gap, both groups can engage more meaningfully, enriching their interactions and reducing misunderstandings. It’s essential for society to work towards inclusivity, where different communication styles are not just recognized but truly understood and valued.


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