4C, 4 Momma, 4D, 4A, and 4B

4C, 4 Momma, 4D, 4A, and 4B
Most of the Four me (and you) fam

Friday, March 2, 2012

Helping NT friends navigate an Aspie

I received the following question about my "AS, encapsulated" post, and I will share my response here. Partly because I am too long-winded and Goggle rejected my response to the comment itself because it was too long! But, mostly because I feel that it nicely frames and raises questions that others out there in cyberspace may have.

The question
"Hollie, I knew that it was 4A saying that, and I was wondering what you thought of how the other leader "reprimanded" her. I'm guessing she didn't know 4a's background, but just wanted to discourage other girls from chiming in. 

So, what would have been the correct way (for 4a) to explain this to her? I'm just curious? Something along the lines of, "Yes, I noticed that he was using the wrong hands too. But saying this out loud in front of everyone made him feel bad." ?? 

My daughter asked me about the situation at home, and i explained that because of the way 4a's brain works, things go right from her brain to her mouth and we need to understand that about her and love her the way she is. Was that an ok way to put it?"

My response
Ah, Laura. You're a good mom to support your girl when friendship is confusing. 

When encountered with Aspie friends or classmates, NT kids need some extra support. It's hard to be friends with someone who's different when you yourself, as a preadolescent, want so desperately to fit in. NT kids need support to have a thicker skin when being friends with an Aspie (because they often don't mean what they say in the social sense of the word "mean") and to see themselves in the role of helper or teacher.

While what 4A said appears mean-spirited to most folks, her brain actually isn't always capable of letting her know that what she said was mean. To her, she made a simple factual statement when she saw a rule being broken; she wasn't trying to be mean. So, while your NT daughter does need your reassurance that it's okay to love 4A even though she doesn't have that filter, you could also encourage her to help 4A when she hears 4A say something that sounds mean-spirited or embarrassing (to herself or others). She could say something like, "4A, don't say that out loud. People think that stuff like that is rude."

When my NT kids ask questions similar to the one your NT daughter asked, I say something like, "Because she has autism, her brain has a hard time knowing when something is mean or rude, and her brain doesn't always stop her from saying what it thinks. It's okay for you to respectfully tell her when she is being mean or rude; that will help her learn." Most often, 4A's statements are facts (in her mind) that are socially unfiltered. When she spouts off a "fact" to a sibling (most often it's a statement of her skill compared to their own), I add the following to my little diddy above: "It's important to love and forgive even if you are hurt or mad." And, to be clear, there are times when she's just downright mean on purpose; all siblings are.

As for the "right" way for the reprimand by an adult to be given in this particular instance, it's not really a question I can answer. Because all the girls were being disruptive, she was right to call all the girls in the room on their behavior. Because we can never know the abilities or quirks or motives of those around us, I always try to make more blanket statements. Something like "girls, please don't call out during the presentation" will likely do the trick without overstepping.

As for a grownup who would attempt to correct 4A in that situation, I would offer this. Words and explanations and lectures are often hopelessly ineffective on an Aspie. Lectures and explanations are given for the purpose of scolding the recipient, in a "you know that wasn't nice, but you did it anyway and that was wrong" kind of way. Many, many folks make the mistake of thinking that if they just explain to the Aspie that she was rude, as they would to a NT child in a similar situation, she'll get it. This is an inaccurate assumption. The Aspie lacks the social wiring that a NT has to be motivated by such a correction. The NT child won't make that mistake again after the "talking to" because she's embarrassed or doesn't want to upset you again or doesn't want people to think she's mean. Those are all social connections that render the "talking to" effective on the NT child.

The Aspie child doesn't have that social wiring. As such, she's likely not going to be motivated to self-correct after the "talking to." As for teaching her intuition about when to keep her mouth shut, social stories may be helpful, but because she treats all of these things factually, it becomes hard to address every possible situation, setting, and scenario. To motivate her to keep it shut, a good solid, overall behavioral system can often reduce problem behaviors while increasing appropriate ones. This is what we use for 4A.

In this particular situation, the reprimander likely didn't notice but also certainly would have never said, in front of the whole group, "Yes, he is using the wrong hand position, but it's not nice to call him on it." If she said that, she, too, would have run the risk of embarrassing the poor kid. She was right to quiet the girls from disrupting the presentation; as for her addressing or assigning motives to the disruption, I choose not to address or think about or comment. I operate on the plane that all kinds of things happen and are said in life. Rather than worrying about the statements or things, we, in this family, worry about our own choices and behaviors and responses rather than calling others out on theirs.

There is a really super cool book, The Autism Acceptance Book. It's a spiral-bound workbook with exercises to help a NT kid understand autism and how best to be friends with someone on the spectrum. I use snippets from it all the time when I teach about autism at the kids' school.

And, I thank you, my friend, for being willing to learn about autism. Your daughter and mine are better off for it.

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