Have you ever tasted divinity? Divinity in itself is a fluffy, creamy candy made from egg whites, sugar, corn syrup (aka liquid sugar), and vanilla. It’s what I imagine a sugar cloud tasting like…but boy, oh boy is it hard to make…kind of like Tucker telling a lie.
It was actually one of the very first indicators that we knew something was different. His preschool teacher contacted me with her concerns about Tucker. Her first concern? His inability to tell a lie. Apparently he broke something. When she asked the class the fateful ‘Who dun it?’ He raised his hand. “I did. I broke it.” It didn’t take any coaxing, any threatening, and it took less than 15 seconds for him to fess up; this admission of guilt wasn’t a one time thing.
I know, seems silly right? That not being able to lie is a concern? Only it’s not silly – not at all. Telling a lie is actually a cognitive milestone. Lying is a signal that you can understand what others are thinking and the consequence(s) that may go along with those thought(s).
Contrary to what I originally thought – his inability to lie had nothing to do with my stellar parenting (insert laughter here). I taught my children if they told the truth I would never get angry. Nope…had nothing to do with me and everything to do with the ‘theory of mind.’ The theory of mind begins to develop around age three – the time when language development and the ability to control mental skills intersect. Tucker was four and a half.
In a 2001 research paper, Simon Baron-Cohen describes Theory of Mind as “…being able to infer the full range of mental states (beliefs, desires, intentions, imagination, emotions, etc.) that cause action. In brief, having a theory of mind is to be able to reflect on the contents of one’s own and other’s minds.” (If you are kind of nerdy like me, here is a link to the article: http://docs.autismresearchcentre.com/papers/2001_BC_review.pdf)
There are two sides to that coin:
- Most individuals with autism have difficulty understanding that other people have their own thoughts, feelings, plans, and point of views – this is just one of the reasons that ‘winning’ an argument is nearly impossible (that will be covered in another post).
- On the other hand, they also assume that others know their own thoughts, feelings, plans, and point of view(s).
Deficiency in Theory of Mind can create major barriers to communicating and forming relationships with others. We, as NT’s, (see Day #35 – I’m a Neurotypcial) may see the person as lacking empathy or kindness. That is not necessarily true. Tucker is one of the most empathetic people I know. While watching the opening scene in Guardians of the Galaxy, Tucker began walking out of the movie theatre. I caught up to him as he got to the concession stand where he yelled, “Any movie that begins with a boy’s mama dying is not worth watching.” How do I argue against that? (a box of candy worked, and he eventually loved the movie)
This is not a post about empathy though – that will come on another day. This is a post about the inability for Tucker to recognize there would be anything to tell but the truth, regardless of someone else’s feelings. He takes information for what it is…and cannot recognize that there is always a ‘context’ involved in communication. An example:
During the DARE program at school he came home and told me we really needed to talk to his dad about his drug use. WHAT?!?!
I mean, we hadn’t lived together for a couple of years…but I couldn’t imagine or believe his dad was using or abusing drugs.
I asked more questions…I finally realized that Tucker was referring to nicotine in chewing tobacco. Go ahead – laugh, because it is funny. The DARE officer referred to nicotine as a drug (which it is), so Tucker easily made the jump between nicotine and say, heroin. Drugs are drugs. All are equally bad.
It seems being on the spectrum doesn’t allow for a ‘spectrum of thinking.’
Yes or No
This or That
Right or Wrong (according to logic)
It does help in our ability to parent. Often we make ‘rules’ in an attempt to help him assimilate. Remember Day #138 – The Red T-Shirt? It’s our newest rule. Only gray or black shirts can be worn under a uniform.
This morning when he was getting ready for school? “Mom, don’t forget I have to wear a gray or black shirt under my jersey, it’s a team rule.”
Now…just hoping that another boy doesn’t wear a white or yellow shirt…then I’ll have to have a conversation about how it’s not Tucker’s job to enforce the rules. If it’s not one thing, it’s another.
Sometimes parenting Tucker reminds me of making that divinity. It has to be a day with the right humidity, right temperature, right syrup consistency, and a whole lot of time and patience. It’s about having the courage to throw it out after spending time and energy or taking the time to simply treasure the sweet results.
He’s worth it though…always worth it.