Children with autism have the uncanny habit of speaking the truth all the time. This results in really embarrassing situations sometimes!
Autistic children (and even adults) have minds that tell them that being honest is more important than being polite. So you may hear sentences like “You’re fat”, “You’re ugly”, “I don’t like this Christmas present” or “I hate this grilled chicken.”
The book reading
When my son, Jonathan, was in the fourth grade, we took him to the library, which turned out to be quite an eventful trip! All the little kiddies and their moms were sitting on the library floor listening to a new author, Mrs. Spalding. She was reading a children’s dinosaur story that she had just finished writing and had not yet published. The children were all behaving so nicely, sitting with their legs crossed in perfect form. When Mrs. Spalding was talking about the dinosaur book, she asked the kids a lot of questions as well. The children would raise their hand and reply and it was all very interactive and engaging. At the end, the children started raising many of their own questions.
During this time, Johnny, who was in the back of the room, was frantically waving his hand in the air trying to get Mrs. Spalding’s attention. Finally, she called on him and out of his mouth came words that not only embarrassed me, but probably embarrassed her as well. “Mrs. Spalding, well, um, this is boring.” I looked around to see what all the other parents were thinking and, sure enough, they were glaring holes through me! I’m sure they were thinking, “What kind of a mother does this child have?” Jonathan was just being very truthful and said it the way he felt it, which is so typical of kids with autism.
Teach them to apologize
I took the opportunity as a way to teach Jonathan how to apologize to people for things that might hurt their feelings. I also explained to Mrs. Spalding a bit about autism and how there was nothing meant to hurt her feelings. It all worked out well in the end, even though the parents probably still thought I was in need of parenting skills! Well it was never going to be the perfect situation now, was it?
Sometimes, the truth just makes you laugh
But it’s not all bad. This literal telling of the truth also means that autistic children expect that everything you say is literally true too.
In the first grade, Jonny was just learning how to apply sentences to a context and not always take them literally. He did not like to go outside to play, probably because of the social challenges on the playground. One day, he decided to tell his teacher, Mrs. Shincaryk, that he was too sick to go outside to play because he had a tummy ache.
Johnny’s aide, Caraly, heard this news, went to him and said “Johnny, a birdie told me that you don’t want to go outside to play because you have a tummy ache. Is this true?” Johnny replied “What? I didn’t know Mrs. Shincaryk was a bird! It’s really cool to have feathers though.”
Johnny’s literal understanding of what Caraly said was very endearing to us all. It’s times like these when you thank God for having such special little ones.