We all want our children to be honest and open. Okay, if you’re the parent of a child with Asperger Syndrome, you’ll probably mostly settle for honest.
Children with AS can have real problems when they’re too open with their observations. It can be confusing to make an accurate statement like, “His breath smells bad,” only to be shushed by mom or dad.
I’ve heard it said that children with Asperger Syndrome can’t lie. That has not been my experience. Most tend to be literal and straightforward. Many feel compelled to speak the truth as they see it, especially in describing confrontations with other children. But I also know of kids with AS who have misled or lied to their parents to avoid dealing with something painful or embarrassing.
We need to help our children with AS navigate a difficult social trail littered with the rocky contradictions of "social honesty." Contradictions such as "white lies are okay to avoid hurting someone’s feelings." It can take training to help children with AS see what’s socially expected and what’s not, with lots of examples.
Speaking of examples, we can set good ones, like obeying traffic laws. From an early age, my son, who has Asperger Syndrome, attentively alerted me if my speed crept a mile over the posted limit. Having literal children ready to point out our foibles can be inconvenient, but having to practice what we preach is not such a bad thing.
We also can encourage honesty by monitoring our "infraction reaction." Everyone makes mistakes. Responding calmly and sympathetically when our kids tell us of blunders and miscues makes it more likely they’ll continue to share their errors and not hide them from us.
My family helped me see that my own tendency to immediately lecture often represented parenting overkill. I learned it was more productive to listen and ask questions, then tailor my input.
Back to the training idea. We can help young children become proficient social trail hikers by narrating what we’re doing and why. When driving home from the grocery store, you might describe the conversation you had with a friend you met in the produce aisle or how you responded to the check-out clerk. In this narration, you can describe (with appropriate editing) what you thought and then what you said, to help your child understand the process. For children who have difficulty mastering white-lie compliments about a person’s appearance, you might help them build an inventory of stock social phrases to use instead, such as, "It’s good to see you." Practicing what to say in different situations can help our children act with confidence.
Finally, it’s a good strategy to be honest about our own challenges and the things that are hard for us. Hearing such things from parents can show children that you don’t have to be perfect to be confident. Explaining how we deal with difficulties can help children see that compensating is just part of life.
A major compensating lesson for children with AS to master is that being honest doesn’t always mean being open. Just because you see it, that doesn’t mean you have to say it.
To be honest, helping children with Asperger Syndrome learn when to hold their tongues and when to speak up can be one of the toughest aspects of parenting.
But seeing children succeed is one of the most rewarding.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dan Coulter is the producer of the DVD, "Manners for the Real World: Basic Social Skills." You can find more articles on his website at: coultervideo.com.
Copyright 2011 Dan Coulter All Rights Reserved Used By Permission