We recently had an episode with our Aspergers child that I’d lake to share. I use the word “episode” to describe something that took place in the context of a larger story, not in the usual “Aspergers’ Episode” context which usually refers to a breakdown.
This episode is set on the elementary school playground with our child walking laps as part of his physical fitness curriculum. At the outermost part of his lap he noticed two children behind a tree. This tree marked the “outside boundary” of the school grounds — the front-side of the tree was in-bounds, the back-side was out-of-bounds. In “kid words” you can’t go behind that tree.
My boy told the boys behind the tree they were out-of-bounds and directed them to come back where they were supposed to be. Words were exchanged, and ultimately my boy said he as called an “idiot” by the other boys. My boy then told the “ground duty” who did nothing, so he went to his teacher. Eventually they all went to tell the boys they were someplace they weren’t supposed to be.
This whole chain of events really upset my boy, the others weren’t obeying the rules, they didn’t listen to him when he tried to enforce the rules, and the ground-duty didn’t seem to care. All of these are very trying on the structured mind of a person with Asperger’s Disorder.
Children with Asperger’s, or other POD NOS disorders, may have a hard time deviating from schedules and an even harder time understanding that different rules may apply in different situations, and some rules carry more weight than others.
In this situation, as I explained to my boy, the boys were breaking the rules, but it wasn’t his job to enforce the rules. In fact, if you look across the playground you’ll probably see a dozen people breaking different rules at any given time. What’s important to realize is that it’s not his job to enforce the rules, it’s someone else’s job. He can just let the world happen around him and not take ownership of other’s actions.
This is where, in my experience, it’s vitally important to go into more detail with the child. Failing to do so can cause more confusion and “stress” in an Asperger’s child life, than had you not talked with the child at all. The reason for this is that the child would then be left to wonder why there are rules at all and may lash out due to this unexplained conflict.
I asked why we have rules, his response was simple and succinct: to keep people safe. I acknowledged this was probably the most important reason why we have rules, and went with that.
“Were the boys breaking the rules?” Yes.
“Is it your job to make the boys follow the rules?” No. But they were breaking the rules!
“Were the boys doing anything dangerous?” No.
“Were the boys hurting anyone?” No.
“Was it a big deal?” No.
“Was it your job to tell them to stop breaking the rules?” No.
“Was it your job to tell the ground-duty?” No.
“What should you have done instead?” Just ignore them and kept playing. “Right.”
Good. We’ve established what happened and what his behavior should have been. Now let’s go into some other scenarios…
Scenario 1: Drugs
“What if the boys were behind the tree doing drugs, then is it your job to tell a grown up?” Yes.
“Why?” Because doing drugs is bad. “And?” And it’s bad enough I should tell a grown up? “Right.”
“What if that grownup doesn’t listen, then what?” Tell another grown up. “Right.”
“If the grownups don’t do anything is it your job to stop them from doing drugs?” No.
“Why not?” They might hurt me? “Right.”
Scenario 2: Danger to themselves
“What if it wasn’t a tree, what if it was a fence that had a sign on it that said ‘Danger: High Voltage’, is it your job to tell a grownup?” Yes.
“Why?” They might get hurt. “Right.”
Scenario 3: Danger to others
“What if the boys were behind the tree beating up another kid, is it your job to protect them?” No.
“Is it your job to tell a grownup?” Yes.
“If that grownup doesn’t help, what should you do?” Tell another grownup, like my teacher, or the principal.
“What if you can’t find your teacher or the principal, then what?” Call the police? “Generally, yes, if they’re beating up another kid, that’s called ‘assault’ and it’s illegal. They could go to jail.”
“Should you try and protect the other kid? This is a tricky question.” Yes. “That’s what makes it tricky. There is no ‘right’ answer that I can give you. I don’t know how big the other kids are, or if one of them has a weapon like a knife or a gun, I don’t know if they’ll start beating you up, too. That’s something you would have to decide. You won’t do any good for the other kid if they just decide to beat you up, too, so you probably want to yell for help and see if that doesn’t make them quit hurting the other kid.” Okay.
Scenario 4: Danger to family
“What if the kid getting hurt is your little brother or sister? Is it your job to protect them?” Yes.
“Does that mean you have to go in and fight the other person?” (confused look)
“Do you have to get in the fight to protect your little brothers and sisters, or should you do something else?” Do something else.
“What should you do?” I don’t know.
“That’s another one that I can’t tell you, that you’ll have to figure out if that ever happens. If it does you need to ask yourself ‘how can I best protect my brother/sister in this situation?’ That might be running for help, or it might be yelling or help, or it might be calling the police, or it might be going in and getting them to safety. You’re going to have to decide that. Hopefully you’ll never have to.”
By going through the original scenario and helping the child know what his/her responsibilities were (using the same verbiage that they were using to recall the incident) helps them review the incident outside of the “heat of the moment” and helps build analytical skills that can help in similar situations in the future.
By going over additional scenarios you help them understand why the rules are there and the different levels of involvement they should (and should not) take when someone outside their control breaks those rules.
Hopefully, by consistently applying this methodology the child will be able to identify when policing is necessary, and when it is not, and “let the world unfold around them” without taking on the stress of internalizing the uncontrollable externalities of the world around them.