Teaching Autistic Kids the ‘Hidden Rules’

Image courtesy of Flickr user ricardo.martin

Image courtesy of Flickr user ricardo.martin

From the Spectrum of Developmental Disabilities XXXI, at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore

For kids with high-functioning autism (HFA) and Asperger’s syndrome (AS), “there are lots of hidden rules in the world,” Brian Freedman, Ph.D., said during a talk on interventions to improve social skills. Dr. Freedman is the director of the Center for Autism and Related Disorders at the Kennedy Krieger Institute.

For physicians and therapists, this means explaining the etiquette of delicate situations to kids with these disorders.  However they came to be, there are unwritten but mandatory rules of public restroom behavior, particularly in the men’s room.  “You really look odd if you don’t follow these rules,” said Dr. Freedman, who included a slide showing these rules in clear language for boys with HFA and AS.

Rule #1:  Always leave at least one urinal between you and another person.

Rule #2: Do not look at others while using the urinal.

Rule #3: No touching.

Everyone in the audience laughed.  These “rules” are kind of silly and they sound really funny when spoken out loud.  But we all get the joke.  There’s a lot of codified behavior that we take for granted that these kids just don’t “see”.  It had never occurred to me that you would have teach these “rules” to anyone. But these kids are already labeled as being weird, odd, strange, and just plain “freaks.”  Can you imagine the additional abuse that you’d get at school if you didn’t follow these restroom rules?  And all because you’re not wired to pick up the cues and no one thought to explain them to you.

—Kerri Wachter
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Filed under Family Medicine, Pediatrics, Psychiatry

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