We came across this wonderful blog by Robyn Campbell. Robyn is a mother of three boys who are all on the Autism Spectrum. “He’s not being rude. He has Aspergers.” is something that we can definitely identify with.
He’s not being rude. He has Aspergers.
Imagine for a moment that in your entire life, the only book you had ever read was an encyclopaedia. The only knowledge you knew, were facts. For every situation in life, you would need to search through your database of facts and derive an appropriate response to a situation. Welcome to the brain of someone with Aspergers Syndrome.
My first eye opening experience of this was when my oldest son was in his first year at school. One particular day the class was being too loud for his sensitive over stimulated mind. Casey stood up at the front of class and said, “Shut up you F&*KING idiots!” One of his classmates ran to tell his teacher that Casey had said a rude word. So the teacher asked Casey, “Did you say a rude word?” “Yes, I did”, replied Casey, who also has no concept of lying. Calmly the teacher asked him to repeat what he said, so he did.
Casey had heard those words at a recent play at a friend’s place (first and last play with that child) and although he had stored it on page 2394 of his encyclopaedic mind as “What to say when people are being too loud” he had no concept that it was rude. He didn’t even know what a swear word was. But thanks to his ability to mimic and repeat a phrase, with exact wording, my son was in trouble for swearing. Not a lot of trouble, just some quiet time in the teacher’s office. Mostly quiet time, until another teacher wandered in and asked him why he was there and he repeated his rather colourful phrase to her as well.
We’ve since reworded page 2394 in his encyclopaedic mind and added page 2394a of appropriate responses to loud children. Turns out there are a lot of supplementary pages that need to be added. This week my eight year old told me “You’re fat.” Although it was a correct observation, it was not a very appropriate one. My response was simple, “Yes, I have fat on my body but here’s the list of why you should NEVER call a woman FAT!” It was a long lecture. Long, but hopefully effective. I think I wrote pages 3940-5800 of the encyclopaedia of appropriateness that afternoon.
Appropriate and inappropriate, thankfully can be taught. I recently injured my back. For my eight year old that meant that he must bring me a glass of water. I have no idea where that concept came from. For my husband it meant that he wasn’t allowed to complain when the washing wasn’t done and he was out of underwear. There is very little empathy in my house.
My Three Aspies have a Manny, (male nanny) James, who also has Aspergers Syndrome. James has been taught in many scenarios what are not only appropriate responses but empathetic ones too. I saw a ray of hope when I told him I injured my back and his response was “Oh no, that’s no good, I hope it feels better soon.” Kudos to his Mum, she has taught him well, and inspired me. I enjoyed a few moments of sympathy; then did the laundry.
Bailey’s complete lack of emotional response was interesting. A friend of mine whose son has aspergers told me a story of her son’s reaction when his Grandmother died. He put his arm around her and said, “I see you are crying, I’m sorry I can’t cry with you.” Other children with aspergers dealing with loss have been noted as asking, “Why is it raining in your eyes?” or not responding at all for fear of saying the wrong thing.
I am yet to find a book that explains every life scenario that can be added to my boy’s encyclopedia of facts. Social skill classes and books about Aspergers Syndrome, aimed at their ages, do help. Learning to use their words in tactful well-crafted ways, as opposed to shooting random arrows of thoughts, will help them in the long run. Teaching those skills to My Three Aspies is a never-ending task. Thankfully most of our friends, and their friends, understand them enough to know that.