There was a lot of buzz last week over the latest venture from mega-entrepreneur Elon Musk. Musk’s private aerospace company SpaceX put an all-civilian crew of four into orbit on Wednesday.
Inspiration 4, as the mission was called, was the first time that private individuals boarded a spaceship without professional astronauts.
Musk’s name is likely to be known to New Mexicans as a participant in Richard Branson’s space launch in July near Truth or Consequences and as the founder of Tesla, an electric vehicle manufacturer whose sales and service center recently opened in Nambé.
The CEO who says it all is both loathed and adored for his bold and arrogant style. His appearance on Saturday Night Live last spring was a rare and enlightening opportunity to understand him better.
In his opening monologue, Musk revealed that he has Asperger’s Syndrome, a developmental disorder that affects the ability to socialize and communicate effectively. People with the disorder, which is on the autism spectrum, are described as generally more productive, with great intelligence and a tendency towards obsessive research.
Socially – and this is what Musk is often called in my opinion – Asperger’s traits include honesty, an inability to understand emotional problems, and abnormal responses to sensory stimuli.
Some of these characteristics provide information about its perceived shortcomings.
In his monologue, Musk mentioned his lack of intonation and inability to make eye contact. I’ve spent a decade and a half teaching my clients the importance of seeing the tone and the eyes.
It is important to emphasize, however, that certain lessons are simply too generalized to be generalized.
Through my research and personal experience, I have endeavored to teach American-specific etiquette that addresses the nuances of different cultures while covering diverse and inclusive topics such as gender pronouns, sexual orientation, and disabilities. My own family has cerebral palsy, Alzheimer’s, Down syndrome, and seniors between 80 and 100. Everyone has unique needs, and this exposure has made me sensitive to others and likely influenced my career path.
If the essence of etiquette is adapting our behavior to the people and places we encounter, then finesse, flexibility and sensitivity are best in your toolbox.
Recently, one of my elementary school friends kindly “trained” me about my lack of inclusion on a certain subject.
I get my fair share of criticism from the public. However, hearing this from someone I have stayed with previously felt deeply personal.
“You may not know that your list of expectations for polite social behavior (for children or adults) is specific to neurotypical interactions … so they don’t and never will work for my child. As an autistic woman, she is often referred to as “rude” because of her inability to abide by the complicated rules of social norms, when that is the furthest from the truth, “said my friend.
Point well received. While etiquette has to change over time, I clearly had to move with the times.
This was a subject I’d never written about and I knew I had a lot to learn. In addition to reading numerous articles emailed to me by my friend, a molecular biologist, I booked an interview with the local autism center Prism within hours of receiving my “wake up call”.
Opened earlier this year, Prism is one of two autism centers in Santa Fe that offer personalized treatment programs for children ages 2 to 10. Registered behavioral technicians use applied behavior analysis. Communication and social skills are trained in collaborative sessions.
Upon my arrival and during my tour of the 6,300-square-foot former Art Smart building near Meow Wolf, several young students looked me in the eye, said hello, and smiled. Understanding eye contact and small talk can be awkward for those diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. I was impressed with how they dealt with me.
Co-directors Topa and Shane Augustine said one of their goals is to improve social skills from an early age to help children make the transition to public school more smoothly. In incremental steps, behavioral technicians work individually with the students on greetings, introductions, asking questions and making eye contact. You introduce the word “please” as a student’s language development progresses.
Early intervention is key, and Prism has high expectations for successful outcomes. Students are engaged in sensory activities during a traditional school day.
It’s a remarkable assistance when you can get in.
Although services have increased across the country in recent years, waiting lists for treatment are substantial, disproportionately affecting rural families. The good news is that New Mexico passed groundbreaking law in 2019 that guarantees unrestricted coverage of the diagnosis and treatment of autism for people of all ages. That means no copays or dollar caps.
For families experiencing similar trips, support groups are key to community building and resource sharing, especially with those awaiting assessment and treatment. Outside of the accepting environments of autism centers, special education programs, and support groups, the world can be a place of misunderstanding.
The irony is that both neurodiverse and neurotypical people adapt their behavior when it comes to etiquette to their surroundings. But to what extent does someone have to camouflage his authentic self socially in the spectrum in order to meet the rules and expectations of a neurotypical world? Etiquette typically puts the burden on the autistic person.
Next time I discuss the social challenges people with Autism Spectrum Disorder often face and tools we can use to identify and adapt to unfamiliar situations.
Until then, when you look up to the sky and envision the journey of the Inspiration 4 spaceflight, you will remember its idea that turned out to be an Autism Spectrum Disorder, and the sky is not the limit.
Bizia Greene is an etiquette expert and owns the Etiquette School of Santa Fe. Share your comments and riddles at [email protected] or 505-988-2070.