For most people, social skills are an important source of information. They help determine a person’s intelligence, mood and competence. In most cases, attention to posture, eye contact and the actual words spoken by an individual, provide a fairly accurate picture.
Saying and doing the right thing can mean the difference between freedom and arrest, getting the perfect job and unemployment, and success or failure in relationships.
Autistic social skills are different and do not accurately reflect what is happening inside the person’s mind.
A person with autism might not want to shake hands, hug or look directly at you during a conversation. They might actually turn away and appear to be disinterested in what you are saying.
Conversely, there are others who might hug and touch inappropriately, stand too close or interrupt several times during a conversation.
With new technology, we have discovered that even non-verbal persons with autism can understand everything that is being said around them. What they cannot always do, is respond appropriately by society’s standards.
Autistic people, who later learn to communicate, tell stories of frustration and hurt feelings when things were said about them while they were in the room. Add to that, the inability to respond to the words, and you have the recipe for an emotional meltdown; an autistic person's response to overstimulation and frustration.
Sometimes a response may come in an unexpected way.
An autistic person at a funeral might walk away from a mourner in distress, then spend the next hour helping set up the food and arrange chairs as a loving show of support. A person with autism, given bad news, might say nothing, but start to rock or flap their hands, a self-regulatory behavior known as "stimming."
Each case is different. Sometimes additional patience and compassion are required to make friendships and other relationships work.
The best strategy is to presume competence and comprehension and to treat a person with autism like a person. The rest will fall into place.