Excerpt: Not Understanding How the World Works

Your HFA or Asperger's child has a neuro-cognitive disorder that affects many areas of functioning. This includes a difficulty with the basic understanding of the rules of society, especially if they are not obvious. Life has many of these rules. Some are written, some are spoken, and some are learned through observation and intuition. Your child only knows what has been directly taught to him through books, movies, TV shows, the Internet, and explicit instructions. He is not able to sit in a room, observe what is happening, and understand social cues, implied directions, or how to "read between the lines," and as he is growing up, he does not learn how to do this. Instead, he learns facts. He does not "take in" what is happening around him that involves the rest of the world, only what directly impacts him.

Many of the conversations he has had have generally been about knowledge and facts, not about feelings, opinions, and interactions. As a result, he does not really know how the world works and what one is supposed to do in various situations. This can apply to even the smallest situations you might take for granted. Not knowing the unspoken rules of situations causes anxiety and upset. This leads to many of the behavioral issues that appear as the youngster tries to impose his own sense of order on a world he doesn't understand.

The HFA or Asperger's youngster creates his own set of rules for everyday functioning to keep things from changing and thereby minimize his anxiety. Sometimes, he just makes up the rules when it is convenient. Other times, he attempts to make them up by looking for patterns, rules, or the logic of a situation to make it less chaotic for him and more predictable and understandable. If there are no rules for an event or situation, he will create them from his own experiences based on what he has read, seen, or heard. He will often have a great deal of information to use in reaching his conclusions and forming his opinions and feelings. As a result, some of his conclusions are correct and some are wrong.

He will rarely consider someone else's point of view if he does not consider them to be an "expert." The fewer people he sees as experts, the more behavioral difficulty you will see. He might consider teachers and others to be experts, but his moms and dads will rarely be seen as such. Therefore, he will argue with you about your opinions if different from his own. He thinks that his opinion is as good as yours, so he chooses his. This represents his rigid thinking. He finds it difficult to be flexible and consider alternate views, especially if he has already reached a conclusion. New ideas can be difficult to accept ("I'd rather do it the way I've always done it"). Being forced to think differently can cause a lot of anxiety.

You must never overestimate your youngster's understanding of a situation because of his high intellectual ability or his other strengths. He is an individual who needs to figure out how the world works. He needs a road map and the set of instructions, one example at a time.

Frames of Reference—

In trying to understand how the world works, your child tries to make sense of your explanations, but sometimes is not able to do this. As a result, your effort at intervening falls short. This can occur because your explanation has no meaning. Each HFA or Asperger's youngster can only understand things for which they have a frame of reference, meaning they have a picture or idea about this from other sources or from prior discussions. They cannot understand what you will tell them without this frame of reference. For example, when I asked a very bright teenage boy on the spectrum if he missed his mom and dad when he was at overnight camp for a week, he replied that it was not all that long. When I asked him again if he missed them, he said he could e-mail them whenever he wanted. After my third attempt to get an answer he finally said to me, "I can't answer that question. Since I have never missed anyone before, I have nothing against which I can compare my feelings to know what missing feels like".....

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