When we talk about autism, we also talk a lot about equality. We want our children to have equal rights and opportunities. We want them to get an education that is equal to their peers, by receiving support and accommodations.
Even though my son is categorized as “high functioning,” he will need the tools and skills to make his way in society when he is grown. His disability is invisible in that it is not easily distinguishable. It’s my job to prepare him for the world, and teach him social rules.
Equality is a two-way street. Of course we want him to have the same opportunities as anyone else. But we also have to expect him to understand basic rules of social conduct. If he is truly to be “equal” then he must also be prepared to be called out for his actions. Just like the rest of us.
Just like the rest of us.
Social skills are important, and we’ve been working on them for a long time now. We work on them because he won’t be wearing a sign around his neck that says, “I have autism, please excuse me when I’m inappropriate.”
Some social concepts that we’ve been working on:
1. If you bully someone (and it IS possible for someone with autism to bully others), they will eventually stand up to you. Or their friends will.
2. If you call someone names, they will usually respond in kind.
3. If you put your hands on someone, eventually they might get mad enough to hit you back. And if you do this when you’re grown, you can get in trouble with the police.
4. You are responsible for your words and actions.
5. Your words and actions affect other people.
6. Your challenges don’t excuse your behavior. That’s why we practice coping skills.
7. You can’t call someone else out for doing what you have done yourself. If you shoot a Nerf dart at me, I will shoot one back. You don’t get to have a hissy fit when it happens, otherwise you shouldn’t start the play-war to begin with.
When he is grown, people will presume competence. That’s important because we don’t want people assuming that, because someone is different, because they have special needs, that they are inherently unable to be an equal, contributing member of society. To presume competence means that someone will be treated as an equal, with equal expectations. To lower or alter one’s expectations of someone because of autism is not treating them equally. It’s one thing to provide accommodations to someone so they can complete a task, but one cannot expect accommodations for social skills and behavior, because the golden rule applies to us all.
But we worry. We worry that he will want to hide behind his label and use it as an excuse for not learning or being accountable. Temple Grandin didn’t achieve all that she has by waiting for someone to accommodate her. That’s why we work hard at teaching these concepts, and we teach them in many different ways so he can grasp them.
Yes, it is possible to be autistic and a jerk at the same time. But we will work our butts off to try and make sure that’s not our son’s outcome.
Let’s face it, there’s no shortage of jerks. The world doesn’t need one more.