Sunday, January 17, 2010

Deliberate Behavior

I am always put off when I hear the tired statements about a child with Asperger's Syndrome (AS) along one of these lines:

"Oh, he just won't behave."

"His parents just aren't tough enough."

"All the kid needs is to do what he's told."

"He just needs an attitude adjustment."

I remember an IEP where a teacher, after hearing the parent complain about the teacher's utter lack of knowledge about AS, blurted out "[Johnny] doesn't have Asperger's he just can't sit still, won't stop talking about whatever he wants to, and won't follow directions." After the tirade I calmly pointed out that she had just given a fair description of the symptoms of AS (the school psychologist nodding along with me). I then had to explain to all present one reality of the condition:
It isn't that [Johnny] won't follow directions it is that he can't. He does not know how to show respect for authority because he has not learned that social skill and adapted it to his everyday life (he barely followed his mother's directions at the time). Because he has AS [Johnny] has an impairment in the area of social learning which means he will have more difficulty learning the skill. Some children have trouble learning how to multiply, [Johnny] has trouble learning how to follow directions.

In answer to the cliches at the beginning of the post:

It is not that a child won't behave but they can't. They do not know what good behavior means. Teaching them this will require some patience.

Parents need to be understanding. Their lives would be a living hell if they did not give their child some space to grow. Naturally, they are teaching the child skills at what speed the child can learn. Even the "best" parents by social standards have a great deal of difficulty raising children on the spectrum. In fact among parents of children with Autism there is an 80% divorce rate.

Finally, doing what you are told, and having a good attitude, involves a good number of social skills. First they have to trust the person telling them to do the thing; knowing whom to trust is an acquired skill for any person. Next they must understand why the directive is given. If [Johnny] is comfortable with his room being a mess, what of it? Mum wants it to be organized; that's her problem, why should he care? People expect one's home to be clean and neat; why? Who cares what other people think?

These characteristics are not just the result of bad attitude, they are the result of acculturation. A child with AS will have his own culture and it will take time to teach him the value of adopting ours. When [Johnny] wants to have friends, he will learn that having friends means having consideration for their thoughts and feelings. It will be a long struggle, but he will eventually learn as long as someone believes in him enough to be patient and work through it.

No comments:

Post a Comment