My son’s I.Q. is in the top .05% of all preschoolers, but he attended preschool in a special education classroom. He has Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism typified by a distinctly high I.Q. and a notable lack of emotional intelligence. Asperger’s is thought to be genetic, and it is surging among kids in places like Silicon Valley, that attract math and tech geniuses who often have sub-par social skills.
We know one boy with Asperger’s who taught himself to read books when he was two years old. Scientists surmise that learning to read books so fast consumes the part of his brain that should be learning to read social cues.
My son’s special education classroom was full of kids like that one — who used to pass through the education system labeled eccentric geniuses, only to graduate having never learned social skills and consequently falter in adulthood.
Today, educators take a child’s lack of social skills seriously. Parents should also. For educators, any nonverbal learning disability (like not being able to tell if someone cares about what you are talking about) is treated as significantly as a verbal learning disability (like not being able to speak.) Yet I am stunned by how many parents brush aside recommendations from educators to get help for their children by saying to themselves, “My child is so smart.”
Smart is not an endgame. Even in a toddler.
To understand why, look to the workplace. After where you go to school, social skills are the most important factor in whether you succeed or fail. I link to this research all the time, but frankly, if you need research to understand that the people who are best at office politics succeed at the office, then you are missing basic social cues already.
But here’s more evidence: Nine out of ten business schools consider communication and interpersonal skills “highly underrated as a differentiating factor for students,” according to CareerJournal. And Jeff Puzas at PRTM echos a cacophony of workplace voices when he says, “Most of what I do every day as a management consultant has to do with interpersonal skills, not my I.Q.”
And when you think about someone finding his way to success in the real world, consider the Wall St. Journal’s list of the traits that recruiters look for in business school candidates:
Communication and interpersonal skills
Original and visionary thinking
Ability to work well within a team
Analytical and problem-solving skills
Notice that most of these skills are independent of intelligence. Smart is even less of an endgame for adults than children-and the standard for ability to work well with others is only getting higher, not lower: Generation Y is more team-oriented than prior generations.
So, it’s time for us to stop making excuses for poor social skills and start taking the problem as seriously as educators do. It’s painful for both children and adults who cannot navigate social settings. Kids sit on the sidelines on the playground; adults can’t maintain close relationships. It’s a limited life and it’s limited in the area where people have an inherent need to thrive.
I sense that people are going to argue with me here, but please consider that all the positive psychology research points to the fact that work does not make people happy. Relationships do. But we see the history of people with Asperger’s – Einstein, Mozart, John Forbes Nash – they did amazing work but could not maintain stable, intimate relationships.
Parents: Stop pretending that your child’s I.Q. matters more than their social skills. Get treatment for your child as soon as a professional recommends it. Respect that the risk of not being able to transition to the work world is significant, and so is the risk of waiting to see if your child will fail despite being brilliant.
Human beings learn social skills best at a very young age, when their brain is still forming. So celebrate that the government provides free training for children lacking social skills by using it. Start studying the playground. Respect what often seems insignificant to parents with small children-diagnoses of speech delay or disorder, and diagnoses of sensory integration, for example. Those issues threaten future development of social skills.
As an adult, one of the hardest parts of having low emotional intelligence is that you don’t realize it. People who are missing the cues have no idea they are missing them. So the most unable often have the least understanding of where they fall in the spectrum.
I’m going to tell you something harsh: If your career is stuck, it’s probably because of poor social skills. People who don’t know what they want to do with themselves but have good social skills don’t feel stuck, they feel unsure. People who are lacking social skills feel like they have nowhere to go.
Lost people feel possibilities. Stuck people do not feel possibilities. Ask yourself which you are. And if you feel suck, stop looking outside yourself to solve the problem. You need to change how you interact with people.
Another idea for how to figure out where you fall in the social skills spectrum is to take a self-diagnostic test. Here is one at Wired magazine about Aperger’s, and here is one about emotional intelligence. Or give a test to the people you work with – a 360-degree review will tell you in no uncertain terms if you are being held back because people don’t like you.
Hold it. Did you just say, “If people don’t like me maybe it’s their fault!” Forget it. People with good social skills can get along with just about everyone.
So help your kids to form intimate relationships with peers, and help yourself, too. In fact, as an adult you can learn how to compensate for lack of social skills by watching how schools are teaching the kids to do it.
Pay attention. Because when it comes to our job – no matter what our job is – it’s the relationships that make us happy, not the work. That’s why I.Q. doesn’t matter.