Social Emotional Reciprocity

Discover the importance of social-emotional reciprocity in human development and relationships, particularly its significance in neurodevelopmental conditions like autism. Here we look at how individuals navigate social interactions, express and recognise emotions, to be able to engage in meaningful connections. Explore strategies to enhance social-emotional skills and create more meaningful connections in various social contexts.

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The ability to engage in social emotional reciprocity is very important for building relationships with other people. It is a key part of social chit-chat which is not about information, but about an exchange of emotion. It is about how it makes you feel. Some autistic people do have this ability and want very much to be social. Other autistic people lack this ability and therefore have to connect with people in a different way.

Those autistic people who lack the ability to engage in social emotional reciprocity do not see the point of social chit-chat. They have no idea why people find it so satisfying. To them social chit-chat is meaningless and boring, but this does not mean that they are not interested in other people. Often, they are very interested in other people. Just like everyone else, these autistic people do need to connect with other people and build relationships, they just do this differently.

Essentially, they build relationships by doing things together and by talking about shared interests. Talking in this context is to share information and ideas. Doing things together builds relationship and connection.

There is a very serious downside to the inability to engage in social emotional reciprocity. Many people are confused when they are not receiving emotion from someone. This can lead them to reflect themselves onto the autistic person. This happens particularly in confrontational situations when it is particularly dangerous because the person does not realise they are perceiving themselves and not the person they are talking to. This will lead to them completely misunderstanding the autistic person and coming to all kinds of false conclusions about their character which can include dishonesty. Meanwhile the autistic person is confused as to why the person has come to these false conclusions about them. What is already a bad situation can escalate.

Do you struggle with social emotional reciprocity and find yourself getting stuck in difficult social situations? Do you feel confused when people have misinterpreted what you say? Or worse, accuse you of character traits you just don’t have? Or do you know anyone else who this happens to?

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