i autistic » Relationships » The strange art of social teasing

Teasing is an advanced social skill that uses distortions and exaggerations of facts (e.g., characteristics, quirks, history and interests) about a person to reinforce an existing relationship with that person.

While teasing is often used for bullying, it can also be used to flirt and strengthen friendships. In mid-2018, I teased a female colleague over her attractiveness. Another colleague who heard it was shocked that I managed the difficult tease without causing the recipient discomfort. It was an implicit expression of romantic interest; if she had reciprocated, I would have asked her to date me.


The ambiguous and complex teasing skill can only be mastered appropriately for those able to enter into NeuroTypical consciousness. It is one of the ways NeuroTypicals demonstrate their social skills mastery – like how autistic people flaunt their intellectual abilities and knowledge by reciting knowledge. Experiencing and skilfully responding to it is the final step to full membership into a social group of NeuroTypicals.

Teasing is like improvised drama. Rather than an accept-or-reject interaction, it is an invitation to participate more deeply in social interactions. It creates a desired atmosphere and conveys unspoken intentions, such as to express our romantic interest and allow the recipient to decline without causing discomfort and embarrassment.

Often, recipients choose not to respond to a tease because they are not skilful enough to make a suitable reply on the spot. They can reply with simply a smile, which is fine. It is like asking “How are you?” and getting a default response of “good” instead of something more advanced responses with potentially unexpected effects such as “still surviving“.


Autistic people should pay attention to this unusual quirk of NeuroTypical culture to avoid accidentally offending people.

When people insult or criticise each other openly without getting angry, that does not mean they are quarrelling. Everything they say during that exchange cannot be taken seriously.

Once, I heard a computer shop assistant criticise his colleague for being lazy. When I mentioned this again a few weeks later, I was puzzled when the speaker denied it in shock. Only two decades later did I realise that the person was only teasing.