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Book Review: Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships

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Book Review: Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships
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By Dr. Temple Grandin and Sean Barron, edited by Veronica Zysk; 383 pages. Subtitle: Decoding Social Mysteries Through the Unique Perspectives of Autism

Autistic authors Grandin and Barron share the 10 major rules of social engagement that they've learned through hard experience, complete with corollaries. Then editor Zysk combines their thoughts into succinct rules and suggestions for parents to teach their children well. Those children don't have to be on the autism spectrum to benefit -- the rules will be useful for kids with a range of developmental, behavioral, or learning problems.

About the Guide Rating

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  • The 10 rules are thoughtfully conceived and useful for kids with a variety of special needs
  • "Points to Keep in Mind" at the end of each section give useful pointers to parents
  • Analogies of autistic brains to hard drives or search engines increases understanding
  • Authors' two different perspectives points up range of reactions even among autistics
  • Hearing of authors' younger experiences good for parents whose kids are going through that now


  • Sometimes, all the perspectives and experiences get in the way of the good, solid advice
  • Book is quite a bit longer than it really needs to be to make its point
  • Emphasis on autism might keep away parents of non-ASD kids who could also use this information
  • Having three different voices telling the story makes for some disjointedness


  • ACT 1: Two Perspectives on Social Thinking
  • Scene 1: My World Is What I Do by Temple Grandin
    Scene 2: A Different Perspective on Social Awareness by Sean Barron
  • ACT 2: Two Minds: Two Paths
    How the Autistic Way of Thinking Affects Social Understanding
  • ACT 3: The Ten 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 Is 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
  • Epilogues
    References & Resources

Guide Review - Book Review: Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships

Normally, I'm fascinated by the kind of experiences and observations that Grandin and Barron share here. I've been a big fan of Grandin's books Emergence: Labeled Autistic and Thinking in Pictures, and although I haven't read There's a Boy in Here, the book Barron wrote with his mother, his writing here is compelling and relatable. If you're interested in personal views of autism spectrum disorders from the inside, you'll find plenty of good reading in Unwritten Rules. Oddly enough, though, the part of the book I found myself most interested in, and most eagerly anticipating, was the contribution of the third collaborator here, editor Veronica Zysk. The sections that distill the lengthy observations into specific tips and explanations for parents is the most useful portion of the book -- useful in helping any child who has trouble understanding the social demands of inscrutable peers.

That hard-and-fast tip material, without the lengthy perspectives, would make a nice, tight, quick-reading book, and it's easy enough to skim through and just take in those sections sans digressions. There's a plenty big task in those pages for parents -- not only finding a way to communicate the rules to their children, but to understand where their child is coming from as well. The authors all make the point that, before you can ask your child to do the hard work needed to easily and skillfully perceive the world the way you do, you need to do the hard work needed to easily and skillfully perceive the world the way he or she does. What are the unwritten rules of their social relationships? That's a good place to start.

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