The question of whether or not we should be trying to “normalise” children with autistic spectrum disorder has been whirling around in my head for the last few hours. My 11 year old daughter (who’s been diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder) began a conversation about lying and whether or not it was ok to lie. I mentioned to her that in all the time I had known her that she had never told lies. She corrected me and told me that actually she had started to lie in order to “fit in” at school.
My initial reaction was “Great, she’s learning some of the social rules!” followed by an overwhelming feeling of sadness that my daughter who at the very core of her being is all about the truth, needed to lie in order to be accepted by her peer group and the adults around her.
She then went on to explain to me that she often found herself doing things she didn’t want to do and saying things she didn’t want to say just so the other school children would play with her (and even then, most of the time they didn’t). She would also keep very quiet around some of the adults so they wouldn’t discipline her for speaking her mind even when she had something important to say.
Now, for anyone who is unfamiliar, children on the autistic spectrum are renowned for their complete honesty - which is often deemed as being inappropriate - and just tell things exactly as they are. They also have a great sense of justice. So if a wrong is being done, they would be the first to say. However often they are viewed as being insolent or rude.
So is it any wonder that children with autism have difficulties with low self-esteem and confidence when they are never truly allowed to be themselves and are constantly left feeling that they have to change in order for society to accept them.
And it’s not just children with autism.
Children with dyslexia, ADHD, ADD, in fact children with any developmental difficulty all have qualities that they are unable to express because it doesn’t fit with the considered ‘normal’ way of thinking. Maybe if we allowed the children to just be themselves rather than trying to “fit a square peg into a round hole,” we could all learn something. Perhaps we should be accepting their differences rather than focusing so much on their difficulties.
And I’m not saying that raising or teaching a child with autism isn’t difficult – it can be very difficult. However all of us know that when we feel accepted just for being ourselves we thrive and grow and are then more willing to adapt to and experience new things.
By telling our children it’s ok for them to lie about a situation or themselves, or that they can be honest some of the time but not all of the time, instead of just allowing them to be who they really are, can we really be doing what’s best for them?
All of this reminds me of an incredible quote by Ghandi, which has always intrigued me.
“Be the change you want to see in the world”.
Well, it seems to me that our children are doing just that. Imagine a world where we didn’t have to lie to one another or ourselves anymore..........How’s that for being special?