In this essay, autistic mom Megan Amodeo writes about autism honesty and the importance of teaching social cues and ‘appropriate’ honesty.
Honesty is such a lonely word (thank you Billy Joel!). Although we are not all alike, it is a spectrum after all, many of us on the autism spectrum often share similar qualities. Honesty seems to be a common trait among us.
Telling the truth isn’t necessarily commonplace in our society today. Politicians, celebrities and athletes (even everyday folks) frequently lie without consequences. Not to say that the people on this planet are a big bunch of liars. It is just that the truth can be so easily skewed, twisted, or manipulated to fit our needs and desires. It is widely accepted that it is perfectly acceptable to tell white lies when the need arises.
Lies are not always bad. Sometimes people lie to spare another person’s feelings. On the other hand, people on the spectrum tend to often be brutally honest. To some, this can come across as insensitive at best and downright rude at worst. It is certainly not the intention of someone with autism to hurt others feelings. The need to tell the cold hard truth, however harsh it might be, comes from the need to see everything in black and white.
It is not unusual for autistics to not notice, even flat out refuse, to see any gray areas. Rules are rules, no ifs, ands or buts. This hardcore honesty can be confusing and difficult for those not on the spectrum to comprehend. My oldest daughter has gone to great lengths to correct her peers “indiscretions”, even at the expense of social ridicule. She once told another student, in a very abrupt manner, that he was very messy and needed to keep his desk area clean.
She frequently reprimands students for talking too loud. She is an extreme rule follower. In her mind, she does not feel she is being rude or abrasive. She simply thinks everyone should follow the rules. She wants everyone to be as honest as she perceives herself to be. Breaking rules is a form of dishonesty in her mind. This can be difficult to navigate in junior high school (my oldest is currently in 7th grade).
As her parent, it is of utmost importance that I teach her social clues. The older children become, the less desirable it is to be considered a tattletale. Honesty can penetrate every area of life. It simply goes back to the fact that the majority of people with autism see the world in black and white, honest or dishonest or right and wrong. It is an incredibly difficult task to teach children, even those not on the spectrum, what it means to live or think in the gray areas sometimes. I am certainly not saying you should teach your children to lie. What I am saying is, children on the spectrum need to be taught the nuances of social interaction.
It is very important to take baby steps when trying to teach this skill. Creating social stories for specific situations is very helpful. However, teachable moments will occur literally everywhere. Once my youngest daughter saw a little person shopping in the same store where we were shopping. She proceeded to blurt out, “Is that his real size? Will he grow?.” She was simply being honest. It was a great lead in to tell her about little people, but it also gave me the opportunity to teach her not to shout out everything that pops into her head.
Honesty really impacts every area in our daily lives. It is awesome that people on the spectrum rarely lie. Still it is important to teach ‘appropriate’ honesty.