Monday, November 30, 2015

Therein Lies the Truth

Liam waiting outside of his art class, Pastimes for a Lifetime
"Hey, have you noticed that Liam has started to lie?" I asked my husband as we waited for Liam to make one more "escape" from his room after bedtime.


"Isn't it great?"


Parents of neurotypical children don't often get excited when they catch their kids lying.  But parents of autistic kids know what a huge cognitive leap it is.  Lying is not literal statement of fact - it is a deliberate manipulation of another person, and although we teach most kids that it's "bad to lie," the TRUTH behind lies is that it's a necessary social skill.

As we grow up, we learn how to lie to protect ourselves and sometimes, in the case of "white lies" to protect the feelings of others.  Is there anyone who hasn't said that the overcooked, flavorless pork chops were "just fine" to protect the feelings of the host?  And then there's the famous, "do these pants make my butt look big?"  Please, lie to me about that one - ALWAYS.

Autistic kids, especially kids who have had extensive ABA therapy, have sometimes learned compliance to a dangerous degree - putting their own desires, and even safety aside in order to comply.  Although it can be a pain to have to argue about putting on socks, shutting down the computer or doing another level of math, it is a relief that, after a year off from ABA and the compliance-heavy school environment, Liam has found his voice and even posits logical arguments.

The other day, I accidentally gave him three gummy bear vitamins instead of two (they're sticky little buggers).  He noticed immediately.  I told him that it was OK that he had three that day, but that he's only supposed to have two, or he might get sick.  "I got three and am not sick," he replied.

For some parents, that would be "backtalk."  For me, it was watching a synapse fire.  Inside, I was doing a happy dance.

Another important factor of lying is the understanding of a social dynamic.  He's learning that telling us what we want to hear will make us happy and less likely to disrupt his interests.  He's long used a hug or cuddle as an escape from an uncomfortable situation.  Now he uses cuddles "proactively" to get what he wants: sliding in behind Dad at the keyboard for a hug is more likely to get him some keyboard time with Dad than a commando-style run at the keys.

Homeschooling Liam and allowing him the time to really dig into his own interests,  participating in outside classrooms where there is order, but not dogma, and honoring his autodidactic nature has let him shine. I think that kids, in general, need more time to play and discover on their own time, but for autistics, it is imperative.   As he's maturing, he's more interested in sharing his latest creation, asking for help or initiating games. 

Another wonderful development is a genuine interest in joining others outside of homeschool.  Urban Homeschoolers has given him the chance to learn in a structured, but less rigid environment.  He wants to practice the songs from choir and he mentions his science teacher by name.  Thinking "about" people and things that are not present was a rare event.  Now he'll let me know that his teacher or an idea are bubbling away in his brain. 
Liam visiting the local cat, Benny, outside of Urban Homeschoolers

A clay model built in his science class at Urban Homeschoolers, to show how Earth forces create land masses

The truth is, exactly one year ago, we walked away from all of the supports and institutions we had depended on since preschool.  We didn't know what to expect, but we knew we had to try something different.  By letting go, we've discovered more than we could have imagined.  And, in keeping with the season, I can say that I am truly thankful for lies.

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