The Sense of “Right”

An autistic individual is “never wrong.” There is a sense of rightness many autistic individuals have (especially on the high-functioning end of the spectrum) that can be difficult to shake once it sets in. If your autistic child is convinced they are right about something – no matter how wrong they might be in reality – he or she is not likely to peacefully accept contradiction.

In these situations, argument will achieve nothing. Your child will eventually walk away frustrated, and you will as well. You won’t convince the child they are in error no matter how vehemently you try. The child will respond in equal vehemence, so what to do? Do you allow the error to persist to avoid conflict?

Not long ago, one of my little friends in fourth grade was frustratedly “correcting” some pictures of spiders on his class’ dry erase board. The spiders had eight legs, and he had it in his head that the spiders should have six legs. When a peer told him that the spiders were supposed to have eight legs, our autistic friend became loudly argumentative about the topic. Instead of joining the argument on the side of the correct child, the teacher merely disingaged the conflict and left the altered spiders alone.

Later, the teacher just casually brought up spiders again, and the subject of legs came up. A student answered that spiders have eight legs, and the teacher praised the student for the answer. Immediately, our autistic friend hurried over to the board and added two legs to the spiders he had earlier removed those same legs from. Separated from the situation of being confronted and challenged for his thinking, the child was able to recognize and correct his mistake.

If you have an autistic child who becomes stubborn about an untrue fact, immediate contradiction will not correct the mistake. Even if you show the child concrete evidence that proves the point, you have still accomplished nothing. All you’ve done is create a frustrating situation that serves to alienate your child from yourself. Instead, fight the temptation to argue. Disengage, and allow time for the child to cool down. Then, subtly guide him or her into discovering the error. More often than not, the child will accept being wrong if he feels he has discovered it himself. Remember, we adults have to be more capable of being calm and in control than our students may be capable of having problems. Let’s not allow ourselves to be drawn into arguments that get nowhere.