Today, more than ever we have to read and decode social messages quickly. From quick looks exchanged in a grocery store lineup to multiple extended interactions around a boardroom table, we send and receive messages at rates far faster than any email, text or IM ever could. Most of us do the interpersonal decoding unconsciously, in the back room of our subconscious. They are “neurotypical” or NT. But some of us did not get easy access to this backroom channel: non-neurotypcial or NNT. The NNT person did not get the typical social reader chip loaded onto their neurological “deck”. There are gaps in their innate reception, interpretation and sending of social cues.
These gaps can AND DO create confusion and distrust in those who have them. Depression, anger, and anxiety often follow closely. Often these people retreat into their own, understandable (safer), world. Friends are difficult to find and keep. Families and loved ones are often confused and frustrated about how to relate and help. In their safe space, a Non Neurotypical person can dive into technology, popular culture or their special interest to make sense of the larger social world – train schedules anyone?
What are the signals the NNT is missing? How are they missing what seems so clear to others? And why does this seem to happen over and over again, without the person learning from his or her experiences? This mindblindness is one of the major hallmarks of autism/asperger’s and can also affect those with ADD, OCD and other “D”s. It comes into focus sharply at the very time teens and young adults typically begin to define themselves, first amongst their peer group, then in the wider community and the world at large. What if you don’t understand that others are having a different experience of the world than you? How can you relate to others if you don’t understand this fundamental concept of the social world?
Enter Social Improv© Games. The few basic rules of all improv – building on one another’s ideas, accepting all offers, reading your partner’s unspoken cues – can be taught and address those very gaps in social understanding that are so confusing. Improv games can give order and patterns to an often random and mysterious world of people and their language. Improv CAN be fun. It is easy to break these exercises down into doable “bites” so players have mastery and develop the confidence to interact fluidly with others. Participants have an opportunity to observe what interactive success looks like for others and as a member of a larger group. Over the last 9 years, I have adjusted the focus of standard improv games to relate them to our basic social interactions. More next time on the five families of exercises in Social Improv.