One big challenge for those with high-functioning autism is mindblindness (sometimes called brain blindness). Mindblindness refers to the inability of people with Asperger’s to understand and empathize with the needs, beliefs, and intentions that drive other people’s behavior, and their own. Without this ability, AS children cannot make sense of the world. The world is constantly confusing them, and they go through life making mistakes because nothing makes sense (mindblindness). They cannot connect their own needs, beliefs, and intentions to experiences and positive or negative consequences, at least not on their own. Many of them are unaware that they even have this problem, even if they know they have Asperger’s.
Yet, they can learn to compensate for mindblindness with a lifetime of constant “counseling” by good teachers, parents, counselors, and therapists. Some adults with Asperger’s can read books and learn, but AS children need others to help them. With good help, they can grow up to lead nearly normal lives.
Parents and important adults must understand that their AS children must be taught to use logic to make sense of the world and the people in it, one personal situation at a time.
Here are some “rules” written by a gentleman with Asperger’s that may help you assist AS children. He named them “Rules to Make Sense” and recommends that AS children are taught them.
1) Every human behavior has a reason behind it, even if I don’t see it.
2) I will not give up my unrelenting, autistic single-mindedness until I find the reason for a behavior or until I am satisfied that I do not have enough information to find it.
3) When I find the reason, all the pieces will fall into place, and there will be no single one left that needs to find a place.
4) After I find it, I will dig further to try to disprove it.
5) If I find a single piece that doesn’t fit, then I still have a problem. Go back to step two with the problem.
6) I will force myself to accept what I have in front of me as the truth, even if I find it hard to believe.
Here are a few more facts that AS children must learn that just come naturally to most of us. Because of the mindblindness they will never just “get” these concepts.
v Most people usually talk about the things they want, and openly say what they believe.
v Women talk more than men and focus on feelings more.
v When somebody’s behavior flies in the face of logic, concentrate on his or her feelings.
v Not everyone is telling the truth.
v Not everyone will like you and that’s OK.
v Some people say what they think you want to hear to get a certain reaction from you. (AS children can be easy to manipulate by others in social settings)
v Some people are so messed up that it is just not possible to figure them out. Know when to give up.
However, you must remember some things while attempting to counsel the child.
· The AS child will take everything you say to heart. While it might not make sense now, or they may not be able to act on it or process it now, it will be filed away with them forever.
· You may say it is not appropriate behavior, or next time, do this. You cannot say to them that you hurt my/their feelings or that that was bad or naughty. While another child will shrug this off an Asperger’s child will again file this away and add it to the stress and depression he/she is most likely feeling.
· It may seem small but sometimes wording is the difference between a meltdown or causing depression and having a valuable opportunity to teach the child a lesson that will last a lifetime.
AS children want to please you. Therefore, while they may appear to be “OK” after an incident like a meltdown, an embarrassing episode or a “dressing down” in a public setting, they are not always alright. It may be because they do not want to be found different by their peers, or because they do not want to cause the person who caused the situation to feel bad themselves. These feelings are very confusing for them.
So what does this mean in terms of what a child with Asperger’s needs?
A parent or other important adult must:
o Teach the AS child to make sense of the world by himself (eventually).
o Constantly explain people’s states of mind to him and what they mean until he learns to figure them out on his own. This means explaining the wants, needs, and beliefs that drive human behavior and the reasons behind all the unwritten rules that are part of human relationships.
o Give the AS child books to read. Books on feelings may relay more information than other people ever could.
o Explain that he should ask you questions about things he doesn’t understand and do not shrug off his questions as unimportant.
o Explain his own needs to him. It is only when he understands what he wants himself that he will have a basis for understanding that others also have wants, and that peoples’ wants are what makes them behave the way they do.
o Protect the AS children from the cruelty of strangers. Some people are not going to pass up the opportunity to treat them badly. You should explain that this is going to happen, and that they should not feel ashamed to go to you for support.
o Explain that they are going to meet people that will try to convince them they are worthless. You must convince them that they can and will make a success of life. You must explain that these people are just cruel and why they do what they do – over and over.
o Explain before punishing. If you punish a child for doing A, all that he is going to learn is that if he does A again, he is going to be punished again. He will not understand why he should not do A in the first place or even remember what you punished him for. This creates an endless cycle with the child learning nothing and the adult trying to discipline becoming needlessly frustrated.
The key word is explain.
If you explain something over and over, and he never ‘gets it’, the reason could be that there is more basic knowledge that he doesn’t have in order to understand. Try rewording your explanation to offer more information. He is not in most cases trying to be purposefully disobedient. You simply haven’t given him sufficient reasoning to why his way doesn’t work. It is this constant explaining and counseling by parents, teachers, and therapists over years and years of living, repeated over and over again, that eventually will help the AS child break through the bonds of mindblindness and learn to handle life successfully, on his own.
Don’t give up; keep trying.