Friday, December 28, 2012

The "Truth" About Autism and Honesty

Thank you. I already got this!

Thank you. Why does everyone get me the same thing?

Chances are you have probably heard this from my ever so sweet and darling 6 year old if you’ve been around him much in the last month or so.  And you’ve probably seen the look of horror on my face or my awkward whispers in his ear as I’m trying to convince him (unsuccessfully) that he doesn’t have that 

e-x-a-c-t one or that two is always a good idea.

And there’s a good chance that you have wondered if I am raising a spoiled brat with no manners.

Let me add a few caveats before I try to defend Caden (and my parenting).  Let me be the first to say that I wish Caden wasn’t so fascinated by his own toots or his burping abilities. We live on the frozen tundra so I wish he wasn’t always running around the house in boxer shorts and nothing else (but I should point out that if it were summer he’d probably be completely naked so be careful what you criticize here).  It’s only in my dreams that he actually wants to brush his teeth or wash his face.  And I’d absolutely love if he wasn’t currently terrified of utensils so that he could eat with something other than his hands. Having said that…..

I know that his responses to receiving duplicate gifts aren’t exactly acceptable or commonplace in polite society.  But here’s the thing: polite society allows room for “little white lies.” You know that thing that allows you to smile and say fine when someone asks how you are doing in the midst of a crisis. Or the thing that has you say oh I don’t need anything when you could really use all of the help that you could get.  It’s that thing that has us say oh I’m full when we’d love to have the last brownie on the dessert platter but know it is more polite to leave it in case another guest wants it.  It’s the thing that has us say oh it is really no problem when in fact it is a huge gigantic glaring problem.

When you really think about it, those little white lies can complicate our lives. You have to remember that you said them in the first place and you have to work pretty hard to make sure your nonverbals and delivery match the words that are coming out your mouth.  You have to work to not sound sarcastic or judgmental or insincere when in fact you are telling a flat out lie—polite or not. 

I guess this is one regard in which autism actually makes Caden’s life easier.  He doesn’t lie.  He says exactly what his mind is thinking in whatever words he has available to him.  He sees the world in black and white and not coincidentally he speaks in black or white.  Communication is hard enough for him—trying to find the word and figure out how to pronounce it causes all kinds of anxiety and sometimes even an anxious stutter.  If he had to navigate a “polite” filter on top of that, I think it would all be too much for him to process. By the time he had it all figured out, the situation would be over and done with.  Not having a “filter” removes one more communication challenge for him.  

It has nothing to do though with being polite.  He always starts with thank you before he makes his observation.  And that’s all it is---an observation.  It isn’t a critique or a judgment or any type of poor behavior. It is just an honest reflection of what Caden knows to be true.

While this level of honesty isn’t much appreciated in “polite society” it does ensure that I always know exactly how and what Caden is feeling.  If I ask if he likes something and he says yes then I know he genuinely does and if he says no then I have that information as well.  I know that if I ask his opinion, it is his honest and unfiltered opinion that I am going to get.  I have to say most days I really appreciate that.

Although he could have kept quiet about mommy having “old eyes”……..