Right and wrong, black and white, there are no areas of gray. This is the way individuals on the autism spectrum see the world. I like to think of it as autistic justice.
Everyone should always follow the rules. There should never be any sort of exception or lenience. This is exactly how my oldest daughter views others in her world. There was the time she told one of her classmates to pick up after himself and push in his chair (Actually, it wasn’t one time, it was more like 75 times.). Or, the time she told someone to walk more quietly in the hallway. Or even the time she she told a woman at Target that she was extremely overweight. Yes, horror of all horrors, she told a stranger she was too fat. This is where autistic justice becomes a huge social blunder. I like to think the woman at Target didn’t hear my daughter (the woman never said anything). Either way, this way of black and white thinking can get people on the spectrum into some serious social trouble.
In my daughter’s mind, she was just reminding the woman that it is unhealthy to be overweight. She thought she was simply stating a fact. It never occurred to her that this comment might be upsetting or inappropriate. This happens to be a trait many autistic individuals possess. I will confess that the ‘fat’ comment was prompted by a WII Fit game. Mainly because the game asks your weight and makes your character either thin or weight challenged according to each person’s weight and height. My daughter was curious why some people on the game were thinner than others.
After a lengthy explanation about good nutrition and exercise, my daughter concluded that being overweight is breaking a health rule. You might ask why? In her mind, eating healthy and exercising are good rule following behaviors. People who are overweight must be breaking rules. As a result, she felt she should let the woman in Target know she wasn’t following the rules. You see, she wasn’t trying to be mean or disrespectful.
Obviously, it would be totally inappropriate to allow her to blurt out every rule breaking offense. This is when being an autistic mom comes in handy. I know what she is thinking when she feels a person is not following the rules. The key is to stop her from shouting out whatever pops into her head.
So, I taught her a new rule! I told her she can think anything she wants, but she cannot say it out loud. She can quietly whisper to me what she is thinking. I have also told her that not everyone sees the world in terms of black and white. People on the spectrum tend to be extreme rule followers. Often this need for rule and order outweighs any possible social consequences.
Those with children on the spectrum will need to teach their son or daughter about the rule grey area.
Sometimes you have to let go of the rules. Sometimes people break or bend the rules and do not face any consequences. This is part of life outside the circle of autism. Individuals with autism can learn to thrive in the world that is foreign to them, while still being content with their autism. It is a tricky tightrope to navigate. Not everything is black and white.
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