I Can't See It From Your Perspective Parenting A Speaking Autistic Child Blog SeriesNov 28, 2022
I can’t see it from your perspective!
It is a typical Saturday morning and the kids are playing. One child decides they want the remote to the tv and they take it from the other child. Then the fighting begins and you can hear it as you lay in bed trying to get the last few minutes of sleep. Then they burst into your room because one sibling has hit the other and they are both upset. After listening to both sides of the story, you settle the argument and ask them both to say sorry. They reluctantly say sorry and return to watching tv. Sounds too familiar…or too good to be true….or not your house at all!
Let’s start with some key terms before we dive in-
Empathy- the ability to share and understand the feelings of others is needed in these moments of apologizing.
Theory of mind- also the idea that we can understand thoughts in others minds and their mental states.
These two terms are fundamental when understanding autistic children and why many autistic children in this situation would not be able to empathize or apologize.
Two Dolls – Sally and Anne
Uta Frith and colleagues conducted a “false belief” study with children using two dolls- Sally and Anne. Sally puts a marble into a basket and then leaves. Anne takes the marble out of the basket and places it inside a box. When Sally returns, the clinician asks the child where Sally will look for the marble. Non-autistic children would state that Sally would look in the basket as she left it there. Autistic children would say that Sally would look in the box, not understanding that Sally would still believe it to be in the basket. This research helped us to understand that autistic children struggle in social situations with understanding the thoughts of others.
Researchers continued to look at the implications of this original study and found other key concerns in the social moments with Autistic children. Mores studies revealed autistic children having difficulty taking another person’s perspective, understanding other’s emotions and being able to understand emotional states of others.
So back to our fight over the tv, what does our Autistic child really understand about the situation? Not all autistic children failed similar false belief tasks tests and the research started to support that spectrum responses that we typically see- some children have social and communication skills that help them to do well in social situations.
Mindblindness is a term that was coined in the book, Mindblindness: An Essay on Autism and Theory of Mind by Simon Baren-Cohen, 1995, helps us to understand the challenges autistic children face in social moments. Mindblindness- the inability to attribute mental states such as thoughts, desires, knowledge, and intentions to self and others, and to make sense of and predict another person's behavior.
Using our original fight over the tv, if I were to ask some Autistic children, what was the other person feeling when you took the remote – the response- “I don’t know”. And this is a true answer. I really do not know what the other person was thinking, feeling or what they want in this situation. The challenge of not being able to predict another person’s behavior is a challenge in social situations.
The book Autism As Context Blindness by Peter Vermuelen explored the difficulty autistic individuals face when they have difficulty attributing meaning to stimuli. Context blindness is defined as a reduced spontaneous use of context when giving meaning to a stimulus. That is, when someone has context blindness, they have trouble responding to more than one thing at a time. Autistic children are literal in their interpretation of context and it only has one meaning!
According to Peter Vermuelen, “The biggest problem in ASD is not social skills (knowing what and how to do) The biggest problem in ASD is knowing where and when to do it and where and when not. Social competence requires contextual sensitivity”.
A real life example…
An autistic client once told me that they were having difficulty at lunch with “small talk”. I asked the question of what do you mean? Her response, “You can only ask someone about the weather so many times before it gets boring.” She was trained in a social skills course that to get someone to talk you talk about the weather. But she had nothing else to say after that. She had the literal context but not the social context of the moment. Talking about the weather was suppose to the be conversation starter not the whole conversation. Literal translation of the skill.
It has been said that autistic children lack empathy. That is not a true statement of autistic children as many are very empathetic. Some of the most engaging autistic children I have met have empathy for others including animals. So, our children are not lacking empathy, they are lacking skills that allow them to read other’s emotions or understand someone else’s emotional state. Again, ASD is a spectrum disorder and this skill we will find in varying degrees in the autistic community.
What is going to be more important than our child being able to understand the other person’s perspective, is our ability as parents to understand our autistic child’s perspective in the moment.
Resolving Conflict with Others
Let’s go back to our remote-control example. Many of you were thinking this episode would actually go on for about 30 minutes with my autistic child. And you would be right. There would be some insistence on what is fair, how they are right and how the other person was wrong, and that they can not wait their turn. With the understanding of theory of mind, mind blindness, and context blindness, what would be important is understanding the situation from your child’s perspective.
I have found in working with autistic children, that if they feel heard about their concerns, they are able to calm faster, able to resolve conflict and be able to work through a solution. Perspective is key. You will always be “battling” perspective with an autistic child. How do they see the situation and how does it make sense from their perspective?
Be mindful, that they do not have the ability to see it from YOUR perspective, their SIBLINGS perspective or ANYONE else’s perspective in the moment. This awareness allows you to meet your child where they are at in the conflict and help them to resolve the situation from their perspective.
“I see you had the remote…tell me more about what is going on….”
Prevention is better than cure….
We may not be able to predict every moment that occurs but we can be ahead of our moments that feel familiar. Do we always have an argument over the tv remote? Do we always have a hard time playing at playdates? Do we have a hard time with sharing our toys? We can get ahead of these moments with problem solving and helping our children create solutions together. I will cover the problem-solving method I enjoy most in another post….
But for now remember perspective is the key….
Parenting a Speaking Autistic Child….
Check out my resources to include our parenting group Parenting with Letters at www.drstacyhayneslpc.com
Check out The Neurodivergent Universe Series, Josh the Neurodivergent Student and Marcus the Neurodivergent Gamer- books helping autistic students navigate their day with daily missions and strategies on Amazon
Check out my Two-Time Award-Winning Book- Powerful, Peaceful, Parenting- Guiding Children, Changing Lives on Amazon.
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