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June 21, 2024

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Socialization is a fundamental aspect of human development, crucial for integrating individuals into their societies by teaching them the norms, customs, and languages of their culture. Developmental psychology has long studied how people acquire these social skills, with the general consensus being that social learning occurs both passively through observation and actively through engagement. However, the ease and manner with which people learn to navigate social landscapes can vary dramatically, particularly when comparing neurotypical individuals with their neurodivergent counterparts.

The Neurotypical Approach: Intuitive Social Learning

For most neurotypical individuals, social skills are acquired largely through subconscious absorption. From a young age, children observe their surroundings, mimicking the behavior, language, and emotional responses of others around them. This process is mostly intuitiveβ€”children are often not consciously aware of learning to interact socially; it happens naturally as they grow and observe.

Neurotypical individuals tend to pick up social cuesβ€”like tone of voice, facial expressions, and body languageβ€”almost effortlessly. This intuitive process is supplemented by direct social interactions through which they test and refine their social abilities. The feedback they receive from these interactions seamlessly informs their understanding and behavior in future social contexts.

The Neurodivergent Experience: Consciously Constructed Social Skills

Contrasting sharply with this intuitive learning process, many neurodivergent individualsβ€”such as those on the autism spectrumβ€”often experience a more complex path to acquiring social skills. For these individuals, what comes subconsciously to their neurotypical peers might require explicit, conscious effort and instruction.

Neurodivergent individuals might not automatically pick up on social cues. Instead, they often need to engage in deliberate study and practice. This can involve breaking down social interactions into smaller, understandable parts, analyzing them, and forming rules and strategies that they can apply in practice. For some, this might mean rehearsing conversations in front of a mirror, practicing facial expressions and gestures, or repeatedly going over social scenarios in their minds to prepare for real-life interactions.

This method of learning social skills can be likened to learning a second language later in lifeβ€”where the learner must consciously study grammar and vocabulary and practice speaking, rather than absorbing it naturally through early life exposure.

The Role of Practice and Repetition

For many neurodivergent individuals, mastering social skills requires not just initial learning but constant practice. The repetition is not merely a preference but a necessity, as each repeated interaction helps to reinforce and refine their understanding of social nuances. This ongoing effort can be demanding and often must be sustained over a lifetime as social contexts and norms evolve.

Understanding and Supporting Different Learning Needs

Recognizing these differences in social learning is crucial for creating supportive environments that cater to the diverse needs of both neurotypical and neurodivergent individuals. Educators, parents, and peers play a vital role in this by:

  1. Providing explicit and clear explanations of social norms and cues to those who benefit from them.
  2. Offering opportunities for safe, supportive practice of social interactions.
  3. Being patient and understanding the extra time and effort neurodivergent individuals may need to navigate social situations effectively.


The contrast between the intuitive social learning of neurotypical individuals and the deliberate, conscious efforts of neurodivergent people highlights the diversity of human cognition and learning styles. By fostering an understanding of these differences, society can better support all individuals in their social developmentβ€”ensuring everyone has the tools they need to navigate the complex world of human relationships.


The myth that most relates to the article is the Greek myth of Prometheus and the Gift of Fire. Prometheus, a Titan, defies the gods to bring fire to humanity, symbolizing enlightenment and the transfer of essential knowledge. This myth parallels the differing methods of social learning in neurotypical and neurodivergent individuals. For neurotypical individuals, social skills are intuitively acquired, akin to fire naturally illuminating their path. In contrast, neurodivergent individuals often require deliberate and conscious effort to acquire social skills, much like Prometheus’s arduous task of bringing fire to humanity. The myth underscores the importance of diverse methods of learning and the value of providing necessary tools and support for all individuals to thrive in society.


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