Jacob’s Social Cues Story

Mysterious Social Cues

Jacob often had the feeling that his mother was mad at him, but he didn’t know why. Every time he asked her, “Are you mad?” she always denied it. Still, he couldn’t help but notice that when she came home from work, she looked around  with a frown on her face, eyebrows together, shook her head and sighed. It really seemed like something was wrong, but Jacob had no clue what it might be. Finally, he decided to write her a note to try to clear the air.

Jacob wrote:

Dear Mom,

When you come home from work, I feel like you are mad at me, but I don’t know why. You say nothing is wrong, but you don’t look happy. This is confusing. Is it me? Have I done something you don’t like? Please tell me, even if it’s something bad, because I worry that something terrible must be wrong. I have trouble figuring out stuff like this on my own, and the confusion makes me anxious.

Love, Jacob

His mother read the note and asked him to sit down for a talk. She told him that she wasn’t mad at him, but she was disappointed that he never did the things she asked him to do around the house.

Jacob was surprised. “When did you ever ask me to do anything?”

“Just this morning. Before I left for work, I asked you to pick up the books and newspapers scattered around the living room, but they’re all still here.”

Hints Don’t Work

“You never told me to do that. I remember, you said, ‘There are too many books and newspapers all over the place, those need to be put away,’ which was true. That’s a statement, Mom. You never asked me to pick them up.”

“I assumed you would know you were the one I wanted to put them away,” she said. “Your father and I are at work, and you’re home all afternoon. You’re old enough to start pulling some weight around the house like an adult.”

The social glitch was because of Jacob’s literal way of thinking. His mother assumed that by pointing out a job that needed to be done, he would realize she wanted him to do it. He would have been happy to help out if he had understood what she wanted. He didn’t get it, though, and then he felt embarrassed about missing the message.

Plan A

Jacob’s mother agreed to leave him a list of jobs to do around the house before she left for work in the morning. That was their Plan A, because having a physical list on paper was something Jacob could easily respond to.

Plan B

Sometimes she was in too much of a hurry to write things down, and she would mention something else for him to do as she was going out the door to work. The problem was, she was used to phrasing things gently, such as, “Dinner’s over. Don’t you want to load the dishwasher now?” Jacob saw this as a literal question about whether or not he actually wanted to do the job, not as a request for him to do it. He was an honest person, and would truthfully answer, “No,” if he didn’t want to, but he had no problem doing it if he knew it was his job.

Plan B was that if his mother thought of something else she wanted him to do at the last minute, and she couldn’t write it down, she would put it in the form of a direct, non-ambiguous request, such as, “Please unload the dishwasher before I get home.” He agreed to do jobs around the house while his parents were at work, as long they told him what they needed.

Jacob’s Social Cues Solutions

Jacob solved his social cues problem of misunderstanding his mother’s feelings by writing her a letter and then talking with her about it. They came up with a Plan A (making a list of chores) and Plan B (using direct language rather than hinting when she couldn’t make a list). Being clear by making lists and using literal language was a good solution for them.


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