Autism Social Accounting Model

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I developed the Social Accounting Model to simplify my policies of social interaction. I began using it when I was drafted into the military in 2002 in order to protect myself from a potentially hostile and alien social environment. Just before my departure, my mother had instructed me to bring some snacks to give to my bunkmates and bring a Swiss knife to loan them. This effort paid off when my entire platoon woke up in the middle of the night to save me from a potential beating by a few other platoons.

After my posting to a civilian unit, I applied the same strategy to my colleagues. Unlike my experience in schools and the Polytechnic where I never used any social strategies, my colleagues eagerly accepted me into their midst. This strategy has compensated for my social deficits and turned potentially negative working relationships into positive ones. Over the next few years working in the Army as well as living overseas, I deepened my understanding of relationships and refined this strategy further. The key idea is that we can improve our relationships to people if we provide benefits to them. Likewise, we will cause our relationships with other people to deteriorate if we cause trouble for them.

  Passing through the tunnel

Let us imagine that each of us has a bank account with everyone else. Let us further imagine that whenever we help someone or do them a favor, we deposit "social tokens" into his or her account with us. Likewise, when we demand help or favors from another person, we withdraw "social tokens" from this account. The balance of tokens determines the state of your relationship - a surplus of token means that the person likes you and you can call on him or her to help you. A deficit means that the person dislikes you and you must add more tokens to the account in order to repair the relationship.

Tokens can take many forms. For instance, the loan of equipment, advice in solving a problem and of course, saving lives. However, tokens have unequal value. A compliment may count as a token, but it is worth very little as words are cheap. [I mean, anyone can praise you at very low cost to themselves.] However, using saving your buddy from imminent danger counts as a very expensive token, as you are saving your buddy's life which he or she values greatly.


The value of the token is based solely on the subjective judgment of the recipient. This means that what you may think is a deposit to the recipient may in fact be a withdrawal, and will be recorded as such. Thus, when you help another person, you should be as sure as possible that you are in fact, providing positive tokens. Although each person values tokens differently, there are some rules on how this is done:

Intrinsic Value Premium: A token is more valuable if it can help another person receive or protect something he or she values highly, compared to something he or she does not value. In other words, if a person values his antique collection highly and you save them from a robbery attempt, you will get a much higher token than say, if you save him from being robbed of his wallet.

Hyperbolic Discounting: A token is more valuable when it is needed now then when it is further away in the future. A token realizes the highest value at the point of greatest distress, such as just after an accident has happened.

Obligation Discounting: A token is more valuable if it comes from someone who has no obligation to give. For instance, we may expect a friend who owes us many favors or a family member to help us. If they help, they get much lesser token than a stranger. However, if they do not help, they get penalized much more heavily than a stranger. Likewise, we will be upset if the firemen did not save us from a fire since it is their responsibility to do so. However, we will not blame the passersby outside the burning house for not daring to risk their lives to come to the rescue.

Monopoly Premium: A token is more valuable if fewer people can provide it. For instance, if you are the only person who knows how to solve computer problems in the office, your help will be valued higher than if everyone else also knows how to solve computer problems.

Opportunity Cost Premium: A token is more valuable if it costs the other person a lot to provide it. For instance, if you use your unprotected body to block gunfire for your buddy (verses say, using a thick steel shield), your buddy will value your help a lot more because you are putting your life at great risk.

Surprise Premium: Help is valued more when you do not expect it to come, and likewise, unexpected trouble is detested more. If you help a troubled stranger at the airport without him requesting your help, your help will be valued more highly than if he asks you first. If someone waits for you at the airport for a few minutes at your request and unexpectedly misses an important flight as a result, you can expect to be heavily penalized.

Intent Factor: Whether a token is positive or negative depends greatly on how the person perceives your intent. Most Neurotypical dramas occur because someone misjudges the intent of another person and reverses the token's value from positive to negative or vice-versa. If you know that someone is strongly prejudiced against your race or country, then your sincere offer to help that person may be misconstrued as an attempt at manipulation or some other negative intent. The resulting token will be negative instead of positive. Likewise, if you create a huge blunder but your intent is judged as positive, you may not be penalized at all.

Feedback Effect: Reinforcing feedback loops play a major factor with the system. If you start on a positive footing, the other person will tend to see your intent as positive on your next token contribution. He or she is also likely to reciprocate positive tokens to you. Thus, as time passes, the positive token exchange strengthens. Likewise, if you start on a negative footing, the situation will tend to worsen as time passes. Thus, it is very important to actively take the first step to create positive social token exchanges in a new social situation.

Awareness Factor: Lastly, if the recipient is unaware of or forgets about your help, he or she will not token anything into your account. He must be aware that you are helping him in order to record the token. This is why, if you are doing overtime as a favor to your boss, that you remind him subtly such as by sending him an email before you leave.

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There are a few important ideas behind this system for autistic people:

1) You can use social tokens to "buy" your way to non-conformity. In other words, if you have enough tokens, you can selectively trade it for the option not to attend social events or fulfill social obligations. This is very important for relief from social pressure while maintaining friendly relationships with everyone.

2) The Social Accounting System can be a win-win system. Unlike normal arithmetic, giving someone a token does not mean that you lose a token of equal value. Tokens are worth what the recipient perceives, not any absolute value.

3) You can create the maximum positive values for the largest number of social tokens at minimum cost to yourself, provided you understand how the system works and you have something positive to contribute. You can accomplish this using strategies such as "skills monopoly" (e.g. being the only person with certain valuable skills) and "token arbitrage" (e.g. the borrowing of a newspaper from one person to lend to 5 people).

4) You can use the Social Accounting System to create a unique niche for yourself in the social eco-system: that of the friendly, neutral third party. If you master this system, you may find yourself the only person who can bridge all the different cliques in a hostile office. With this, you add social value to your office and help bring Humanity a little closer to World Peace.


Taking the best from both the Neurotypical and autistic cultures, the correct application of the Social Accounting System can bring our social interactions to a much higher level. It can also help autistics appreciate why other people dislike them and how to change that situation. Before ending this article, I would like to highlight a few more points:

We must build human relationships with a sustainable, long-term view in mind. This means that whatever social role we play and contributions we give must not tire us. The personality that we show to other people must also be our real personality.

We must also ensure that we know the actual social situation. Many people quarrel because their accounting do not match with each other. A husband may think that buying dinner home is a social token deposit, while the wife may perceive it as a social token withdrawal because it implies that she has inferior culinary skills or is too lazy to cook. Over the long term, the withdrawals can add up and cause problems for the relationship.


Although this transactional view of relationships may not truly represent how relationships work, I believe that it is an effective way to translate concepts such as social responsibility, social contribution and the Golden Rule (i.e. do unto others what you want others to do unto you) for socially handicapped people. I believe that the proper use of strategies based on this model will help autistics get along with other people in a way that typical social skills and (anti-bullying) assertiveness training could never achieve.

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