While the autism hidden curriculum may sound like a complicated phrase, understanding it is not complex at all. It simply means those unwritten social rules that people seem to pick up instinctively. There are many of these unwritten rules that everyone seems to know, and yet hardly anyone talks about. In this article, we’ll go over some hidden curriculum examples so you’ll get the gist of why this is a lifelong challenge. After all, social rules are difficult enough without having to understand all the complex unwritten rules.
One of the dangers of the autism hidden curriculum is that although they are never taught we’re all expected to magically know what they are. We are also supposed to know what impact our words and actions will have on others, even though at times we have never been in the exact same situation before. For example, most people know that hugging a stranger without knowing them first could make that stranger uncomfortable. But how do we know that? Another example is talking a lot without noticing that the person you’re talking to is bored or not paying attention. How do we learn to notice these social cues when they’re not usually taught or talked about?
Different Behavior Depending upon the Circumstances
Different circumstances call for different behavior. So if your environment changes, so too will how you’re expected to behave. There’s a spectrum of environments that range from casual to more formal, with different rules for each. So on the more casual end would be your home. Your community would be a little more formal, and the community would be towards the formal end of the spectrum. And if you were at a concert or in a restaurant, your behavior would be more formal still. The autism hidden curriculum would change depending upon the age of the person you’re interacting with, too. People who are older tend to be more formal in the way they speak and younger people tend to use more slang. If you’re talking to someone of a different gender, you might be a little more formal and courteous. Of course, there are always exceptions to every rule.
Dos and Don’t of the Autism Hidden Curriculum
Just as there are some things we shouldn’t do, there are also some things we should do to fit in and stay in other’s good graces. For instance, saying please when making a request is a good idea. And to say thank you after someone does you a favor is also a very good idea. Maybe that’s why please and thank you are considered “magic words.” One don’t would be to not insult someone when they have given you a present, but to thank that person. Sometimes that can be very difficult–because you’re saying one thing, but you’re thinking something else. For instance, if you receive a book as a birthday gift, but you already have a copy of that book, you might be thinking “I don’t want this!” But if you said that, you’d risk insulting the person giving you the gift. That could be both unkind and impolite. It might be better to instead thank the person. After all, they had good intentions when they chose the book for you.
Pros and Cons of the Autism Hidden Curriculum
You might be secretly pleased when you understand the autism hidden curriculum. So one pro would be that you feel that you’re in an exclusive club when you understand what everyone expects. But the downside is that you might feel that you’re guessing whether you’re doing or saying the right thing. And that can lead to stress, which is usually a negative thing. One of the characteristics of hidden curriculum is that they can be positive and negative at the same time.
Some of the Autism Hidden Curriculum is Straightforward
There are some rules that are easy to implement, and putting those into play may give an autistic person a sense of mastery. For instance, greetings are important to most people. Saying “hello, nice to meet you” when you first meet someone is a good social practice because it signals the beginning of a conversation. Likewise, saying goodbye when you or someone else leaves is another positive and easy-to-understand social practice. If you see someone struggling because they fell down, you might say “do you need help?” That one is fairly straightforward. Another straightforward example is asking personal questions of strangers. That could be considered rude.
Others Parts of the Autism Hidden Curriculum are More Difficult
Some people think you should always be smiling or looking at people in the eyes when speaking to them, and that may take more practice. There are different rules for different social situations. When you’re speaking directly to one person, most people think you should maintain eye contact. But for an autistic person, eye contact can sometimes be difficult. And the rule about smiling? That is also difficult if you aren’t talking about something pleasant. It’s difficult to always have to consider what effect your words might have on other people. This hidden curriculum is not always easy! You could also call hidden curriculum implicit curriculum because it’s implied, but never spelled out in black and white.
As part of the autism hidden curriculum, being kind and polite are very important. If you’re unclear about whether something you have said might be either kind or impolite, perhaps asking a trusted friend could help. And then that friend could explain why something is unkind or impolite, and what you might have said instead. The autism hidden curriculum is related to soft skills. If you’d like to learn how to improve soft skills, see How to Improve Soft Skills in Your Autistic Teen.