Autism & Expiration Dates

I remember being told by an ex-girlfriend way back in the days of high school, “Leave me alone, and don’t talk to me anymore.” Several years have passed now, but I’ve run into her on very rare occasions. Each time, I’ve had difficulty engaging her in conversation – not due to any ill feeling or bitterness but rather because of that long-standing order of “don’t talk to me anymore.” Even half a lifetime later, that imperative statement lingers in my psyche, and while I have a rational understanding that her statement is no longer binding, the part of my brain that latches on to it overrides said rationality.

How does this apply to our working with autistic children? Well, how many times have we caught ourselves saying something like…

  • …I don’t want to tell you again to follow directions?
  • …I don’t want to hear about dinosaurs anymore?
  • …Never sharpen your pencil without my permission?

All of these statements have weight in very specific time frames and contexts. Unfortunately, our autistic child may be unable to make the distinction, and you may find yourself dealing with a meltdown during a later project about dinosaurs or the next time you give any directions. The child may end up doing no work when you have a sub because he or she cannot ask you to sharpen a pencil if it breaks.

An autistic individual can potentially be extremely literal and will apply statements made by teachers, caregivers, and parents in every context. When teaching children with autism, we need to be conscious of how we say what we do and how that child might apply our casual comments.