Sometimes its big things. Sometimes just little things. But, big or small, in can appear to others that my little Miss has an almost obsessional desire for what others might perceive as ‘bold face lying’.
Just recently, to her psychologist of all people, Miss declared, that she didn’t have a white board. Now, anyone who knows anything of Miss knows that not only has she had her very own whiteboard for some years, she uses said whiteboard, almost daily, as a communication tool.
The ‘conversation’ went something like this:
Miss (pointing to psychologist’s whiteboard): “I wish I had a whiteboard to draw on”.
Psychologist: “you do have a whiteboard”.
Miss: “No, I don’t”
Psychologist (perplexed): “I’ve seen your white board”
Miss (indignant): “No you haven’t. I don’t have one!”
So, what is it that is going on here? Is Little Miss lying, being deceitful? Stubborn perhaps? Or, maybe being deliberately oppositional?
In a nutshell, Miss isn’t lying; infact, she is not being dishonest in anyway. Nor is she being, or attempting to be, ‘difficult’ or oppositional.
Rather, as a munchkin on the Autism Spectrum, Little Miss is responding pretty much in a way that shines light on one of the key diagnostic criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorder: – “restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities”.
Restricted / repetitive behaviours are often misconceived as relating only to visually observable behaviours – lining toys up or repetitive motor movements (flapping, spinning, tapping, etc). But, diagnostically, and functionally, restricted behaviours relate to a much broader range of challenges; that cannot be seen and are therefore often less understood – sensory differences for example; and, importantly (in understanding Autistic thinking patterns), inflexibility in thinking / rigid thinking patterns.
In its simplest form, the patterns of thinking processes of the Autistic brain lack, to varying degrees, the flexibility necessary to consider options or scenarios outside of the persons own narrow thought process at that time.
In the ‘whiteboard conversation’ above, Little Miss’s thinking process is restricted to perceiving a ‘whiteboard’ as the large, wall mounted whiteboard on her psychologist’s wall. Her brains inflexibility in thinking outside of this narrow focus, did not enable her to consider that any other type of white board, including her own, portable one, could possibly be what her psychologist was referencing.
This inflexibility in thinking is not a ‘choice’ or ‘refusal’ to consider other possibilities; it is part of the neurodevelopmental disability nature of Autism. It is in effect; one tiny part of how Autistic brains works differently from typically developing brains.
When considering rigid or inflexible thinking, is equally important to understand that ‘inflexibility’ does not, in any way, equate to intellectual inability to understand and consider other possibilities / scenarios / ideas, when those other options / scenarios are explicitly explained.
In the above ‘white board scenario’, the confusion was able to be resolved by explicitly acknowledging the misunderstanding: “your right Munchkin, you do not have a big, wall mounted white board like (psychologists name), you only have a small, portable white board”.
This acknowledgement, explicitly defining the thinking process of both parties, enabled Little Miss to then consider that while she didn’t have a large white board like her therapist, she did none-the-less have a white board; and, enabled both the psychologist and Miss to recognise that neither party was being dishonest with each other.
In a similar scenario, just yesterday, a friend commented to Little Miss, “I love the painting you did”. Miss promptly and emphatically responded, “I didn’t paint it”, and casually went about her business. You see, in Miss’s narrow thinking, ‘painting’ is an activity that uses a brush and paint, which Miss had not done – she had used her fingers and stamps with paint!
So, next time you consider that an Autistic child may be “boldly lying to your face’, consider first, the nature of, and challenges associated with, rigid / inflexible thinking patterns, and weather you are both on the ‘explicitly same page’.
To learn more about rigid / inflexible thinking, click here. To support your child in broadening their awareness and knowledge of other thinking patterns, consider incorporating the following activities and games into your daily routine.
- Tell silly jokes and make puns.
Show your child how to use different meanings of words to make people laugh. For example, you can tell him a joke: “Why are fish so smart? Because they live in schools.” Then you can talk together about how the ‘punch line’ uses two meanings of the word “school.” Encourage your child to come up with funny wordplay, too – not forgetting to explain the use of the term ‘punch line’!
2. Play “What’s this?”
Take an ordinary object like a funnel and see how many different things you and your child can pretend it is: a party hat, a trumpet, a unicorn horn. This activity encourages your child to see things in more creative and different way.
3. Play the Fannee Doolee game.
Fannee Doolee only likes words with double letters. Keeping this rule in mind, you and your child can come up with things Fannee likes and dislikes. For example, she likes bees, but she doesn’t like bugs. She likes jelly but not jam. Thinking about the sense of the words and the spellings can help your child learn to shift gears more comfortably.
4. Make up new rules for games.
Kids who have difficulty with flexible thinking can have trouble seeing that there’s more than one way to do things. Practice seeing alternatives by helping your child make up new rules for games. Have players slide down ladders and walk up slides in Snakes and Ladders. Run the bases in reverse order in kickball. Once your child gets comfortable with simple switches like this, try combining the rules of two games to make a new game
5. Read “Amelia Bedelia” and other books that play with words.
Kids who have trouble with flexible thinking tend to find it hard to understand that words can have more than one meaning. Riddles and jokes that play with words’ meanings or sounds can also be confusing. You can work on these skills together by reading books like Amelia Bedelia, whose heroine takes everything very literally. When she’s asked to “draw the curtains,” she uses a marker to draw spots on them. You and your child can talk about what she should have done instead.
6. Find more than one way to do everyday things.
Your child may be used to doing things in a certain order, so making small tweaks to an everyday process can show him that there are different options. For example, try making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich by spreading the jelly before the peanut butter. If your child is old enough, ask him to help you map a new route from school to home. This can help your child work on problem-solving skills, which involve coming up with different approaches to solving a problem.
7. Teach self-talk skills.
Teach your child to talk his way through solving a problem. As he gets older, self-talk skills will become more important. If verbal, encourage him to think out loud as he solves logic puzzles and other problems. Help him learn to ask questions like: Is this similar to another problem I’ve solved before? Is there something different here that I haven’t come across in other problems? You may also want to ask his teacher what can be done in the classroom to help him work on flexible thinking and other skills.