Unwritten Rules Of Social Relationships

by Dr. Temple Grandin and Sean Barron


Dr. Temple Grandin and Sean Barron use their colorful life stories to explain the unwritten rules and patterns of social relationships. They create guidelines for living and working with others and illustrate their infinite applications, in even the most complex situations. The authors’ brilliant insights are invaluable to anyone who has ever felt "outside the norm" in school, at work, or when relating to people in general.


They worked together to create:   The 10 Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships:


1.        Rules are Not Absolute. They are Situation-based and People-based

2.        Not Everything is Equally Important in the Grand Scheme of Things

3.        Everyone in the World Makes Mistakes. It Doesn’t Have to Ruin Your Day

4.        Honesty is Different than Diplomacy

5.        Being Polite in Appropriate in Any Situation

6.        Not Everyone Who is Nice to Me is My Friend

7.        People Act Differently in Public than They Do in Private

8.        Know When You’re Turning People Off

9.        “Fitting In” Is often Tied to Looking and Sounding like You Fit in

10.      People are Responsible for their Own Behaviors.


 1: Social rules are not absolute they are situation & people based

"Always and never are two words you should always remember never to use"

Everyone needs to be taught to think flexibly and to learn why rules

exist and the functions they serve.  There are no black and white, or

right and wrong rules. Every rule has an exception.  For all  these

reasons children need to be taught rule guidelines that will be stable

across settings and continue to apply as they get older.


Temple's  System for Ranking Social Rules:

    1. Really Bad Things: Society prohibitions: murder, arson, rape, lying

    2. Courtesy Rules: Rules that make other comfortable, Say please &

        thank-you not cutting in line, decent table manners

    3. Illegal But Not Bad:  Varies greatly from one society to another and

        in families. The rules can at times be broken depending on situation

        Ex: speeding law is to prevent accidents, can bend the rule a bit if

         the risk of an accident is low but may still get a fine.

    4. Sins of the System: Rules that must never be broken in certain

      cultures but in other cultures there are different rules,

      In the USA sexual misbehavior  and drug offenses can result in

       time in jail and in other cultures there are minimal fines.


  1. Not Everything that Happens is Equally Important in the Grand Scheme of Things


  1. Everyone in the World Makes Mistakes; it does not Have to Ruin Your Day


Children with autism hate making mistakes because those mistakes often make them feel like a mistake”


Children need to learn to accept and learn from their mistakes.

Positive teaching teaches children what to do as opposed to focusing on what not to do.

Children need t learn how to handle a mistake; accept it, learn from it, and move on.


  1. Honesty is Different than Diplomacy


“Remember do not teach young children to always tell the truth”

“Teach children that they should be diplomatic, rather than too honest”.

“Honesty is mainly about what to say, and diplomacy is about when to say it”

        In all interactions with people:

First ask: How well do I know this person. 

Unless the person is a good friend use very general comments and find something positive to say. Never start with negative comments.  When giving any feedback or guidance is honest but diplomatic, “I really liked what you said.  You pointed out some great things and I have some other ideas that you may be able to use.

Remember:  Offering unsolicited comments is not always welcome


  1. Being Polite is Appropriate in Any Situation

“Being polite and having good manners gains every person entry into group social interactions”

“Mastery of social skills takes time, practice and patience”

“People with autism can be so busy with their own thinking that they fail to see

       the effect their words and actions have on people around them”


Remember: Teach basic manners in natural settings.  Teach the skill and then teach why. Emphasize the behavior not the person.  Find the function of inappropriate social behaviors and then teach a replacement behavior.  Children learn through experience.  Teach the skills needed for the child’s age group and culture


  1. Not Everyone Who is Nice to Me is My Friend

“There is a difference between someone acting friendly and being your friend”

“Friendship trust has to be earned”

“True friendships are based on shared interests, ideas and principles that both hold meaningful”

Friendships take time to develop

People can disagree and still be friends

You can have friends with different beliefs without changing your beliefs

Friends are genuinely concerned about each other

All people have relatively few close friends

Relationships with people are never perfect

All people can and usually do feel more than one emotion at the same time

Not all teasing is bad, sometimes teasing is a sign of affection

Trust the opinions of family and close friends more than any other


  1. People Act Differently in Public Than They Do in Private

“The smaller and more intimate the social circle, the more private words and actions can be.” 

“The wider the circle, the more public/impersonal they need to be.”


Many people do not appreciate the level of stress children with autism live with constantly. Imagine having never skied before, and standing at the top of a ripple black diamond expert run, one of the most difficult expert ski runs.  It’s narrow, icy, with huge moguls and a near vertical drop.  As if that’s not enough you know your balance is unpredictable and everything around you is uncomfortable: the ski boots, standing on skis, the poles in your hands, the bulky ski clothes, the sun in your eyes, and the glare off the snow.  Sheer panic sets in because you realize there’s no way you’re going to get down that slope without hurting yourself; the real question is whether or not you’ll even survive.  Yet, you can’t just stand there—you know you’ll have to step off the edge.  That’s what daily social interaction can feel like for many children with ASD.  Sheer panic and no skill set to handle the interaction.


Teach children to understand that the surface behaviors of people do not always reflect what they are thinking or feeling inside.

People are not always consistent in what they say and do even when they know better

All people in a social situation contribute to its success of failure

People talk differently in public vs. private settings and this can be confusing


Remember; children with autism often blame themselves for social encounters that go wrong and this can lead to low self-esteem.



  1. Know When You’re Turning People Off

Most people are quick to call attention to what you are doing wrong

         and slow to praise for what you are doing right”


When you are turning people off during a conversation they:

 Fidget with a nearby object

Appear distracted and give only fleeting eye contact

Get up or shift their weight constantly

Yawn or show few facial expressions

Look angry, irritated or confused

Not asking open ended questions

Looking at clock or watch

Silence or little participation


  1. “Fitting In” Is often Tied to Looking and Sounding like You Fit in


                  “Social conformity opens the doors to group interactions


        People many times throw out questions as part of chit chat that they do not want answered

        Teach language and expressions that “fit in”



  1.  People are Responsible for their Own Behaviors.


“In social relationships the only person you can change is yourself”


                “People who participate in social interactions are responsible for their own behavior”


                “Functioning in the world is a life long educational process.  Life is a process, social interaction is a    process; there is no “end of task”  to strive for, no one magic bullet that when learned, turns social confusion into social understanding.”


              Anger Management is a critical skill to develop.  Learn to:

                Recognize anger, take responsibility for anger, problem solve ways to defuse anger, understand why anger    happens.  Use problem solving to resolve conflicts and remain calm.