Thursday, December 21, 2006

Expectations for Asperger's syndrome

There is an interesting set of letters at Dear Abby about socially acceptable behavior and Asperger's Syndrome. At issue, is the question of how to react to a teenager who can't keep his mouth shut. One reader assumed it was overly permissive parents who'd rather be friends with their kids than discipline them, based on his own experience as a "Disappointed Grandfather."

Two other readers wrote in to suggest a disability, Aspberger's Syndrome, as a possible explanation for the teenager's behavior. Interesting to me on two fronts: first, notice our tendency in the Therapeutic Culture, to suggest a medical explanation for behavior. Without taking anything away from the difficulties of Aspberger's as a disability, I feel confident in saying that IN THE VAST MAJORITY OF CASES, THE "DISAPPOINTED GRANDFATHER IS CORRECT THAT THE MOTHER IS LETTING TOO MUCH SLIDE.

Even if your child does have a disability, you may not be doing him any favor to let socially obnoxious behaivor slide. Actually, ESPECIALLY if your child has a disability, he needs your help in learning good social skills.
We too, have an Asperger's son, whose behavior was very difficult to understand until we got an accurate diagnosis. But we were blessed to have many gifted teachers, including one who insisted that all her Special Ed students absolutely had to learn good manners. Her theory was that these kids will need to ask for help all their lives. They will have much better success at enlisting help if they are polite than if they are obnoxious.
We took that teacher's message to heart and have always insisted on good manners. The ultimate standard is the "Fun to Be Around" test. If the child isn't fun to be around, they flunk. If the child is fun to be around, you can overlook a lot!
We are proud of the fact that our son will graduate from high school this year, and that he is employed at the local supermarket. He has a CUSTOMER SERVICE JOB! Parents of kids with Asperger's will appreciate what an accomplishment it is for him to be a Courtesy Clerk. But the fact is, that good manners requires that you follow the rules, follow a script, which Asperger's kids can easily do.
There can be a very fine line between demanding something of a child that he really can't do, and helping him learn to do all he can. I'm convinced that Asperger's kids can learn courtesy, and that it is hugely helpful to them to learn it.

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