The "Rationale-Dependent" Child on the Autism Spectrum

“My daughter has to analyze and argue over every house rule my husband and I come up with before she decides to finally obey that particular rule. Is this common for children with an autism spectrum, and is there any way to get her to be more agreeable without such lengthy explanations and arguments?”

What if I told you that your daughter may be exhibiting noncompliance for a good reason? Some children and teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) are simply not comfortable with things that don’t make sense to them.

These children, who are “rationale-dependent,” are largely focused on logic. They need to know the reasons for the rules in order to avoid both confusion and anxiety.

Blindly accepting the rules is not the way the rationale-dependent child functions. She needs to understand the reasons behind others’ actions, why something is done a particular way, and it has to make sense to her. Since this child is over-analytical, she often behaves inappropriately because she never gets past the “analysis stage” to the “action stage.”

If a certain rule seems unreasonable, there is no need to follow it in her mind, and she probably won't listen to the person trying to enforce the rule. Thus, parents and teachers will need to give this child the reasoning behind a decision or action – and make it very convincing!

The rationale-dependent child’s coping strategy is to try to make sense of the world through logic and reasoning. In order to minimize emotional stress, she needs the world to be a place with order and symmetry to it.

Thus, she may ask lots of questions about how a particular thing works. Using her well-developed, analytical brain, she eventually makes sense of things and comes to an acceptable understanding of what is going on.

The child tends to be very bright with a high IQ, and she will usually become more flexible when given a reasonable explanation for a particular rule or regulation. But, she may very well have her own reasons and explanations beforehand. Therefore, simply stating the rule is not enough – it needs to be followed with some clarification, in which case, her “misbehavior” will likely decrease.

Tips for dealing with the "rationale-dependent" child on the autism spectrum:

Parents and teachers will most likely need to explain why something needs to be done - or why it can't be done - before they get compliance. For the rationale-dependent child, understanding precedes cooperation.

If the adults’ explanations provide her with information she didn't have, might have overlooked, or didn't understand, they will have helped her clarify why a desired action is beneficial to her. As this child becomes older, parents and teachers will need to do much more explaining, because rules by themselves will have less impact.

When providing an explanation, always match the explanation to the child’s cognitive and emotional level. Don't overestimate how much she knows, because she probably has a large vocabulary.

Always make sure she understands the reasoning behind something before moving to the next step. Also, parents and teachers will have to help this child reduce the amount of analysis by helping her see how “over-analysis” is unproductive.


•    Anonymous said… As my son got older he started to be less argumentative as he had more understanding/knowledge of life. He's 21 & more independent and learning those life answers on his own through his school, jobs, internship and time with friends. But I get to relive it all again with my 8yo ASD son.
•    Anonymous said… Both of my children not on the Spectrum did this. It is generally a kid thing/ human-thing before it is a specifically Autistic behaviour. It is irrational to ask or think that anything is common amongst children presenting on the Spectrum because if you've met one person with Autism or Aspergers you've met only one person In my self contained classroom we hsve the students make the rules and we gently guide them to follow their own rules. They don't argue with themselves
•    Anonymous said… I don't get sucked into such arguments with either my typical or ASD. I'll explain it to you once, hear you out, but once I've made my decision , it's final. After that you get the "Thank you but your request has been denied" line and it is what it is.
•    Anonymous said… My 14 year old daughter did this about everything. She always has. It got worse with puberty
•    Anonymous said… eldest was exactly like this and now diagnosed as somewhere on the spectrum..middle child being aspergers
•    Anonymous said… Soooooooo common and it drives us nuts!
•    Anonymous said… Thank goodness for Facebook so we can connect and know we are not the only ones going through this...
•    Anonymous said… the "authority" thing is difficult for them and even more so if you get into a big discussion. "I am an adult; it is my job to job to designate house-rules- God's design- My Home"; "your job is to follow them with a cheerful heart". Once that is stated, it is not to be discussed again; use a simple phrase and extinguish using picture cards for "your role" and "my role" them authority over other situations will curb the desire to argue everything. Build choices within non-choices and be mindful how you phrase not say "DO YOU WANNA ___________?" or "Don't you wanna _______________?"...that is a choice, but rather, these are the chores (chore chart)- do you want to do a or b...but something will be done. To recap, do not negotiate... explain roles and be consistent. Use visuals, use praise and catch them doing what's right-be specific..."I like the way you _________________". Use positive reinforcers and start where the child is at i.e., if the child can help clean up for 5 minutes increase a bit each time. Extinguish unwanted behaviors by a) naming it and b) fading... i.e., it is not time for "discussion" - flip card over and re-direct...other times, it is ok to "discuss", but you will set the limits. Also, make sure sensory issues are not the blame i.e., my son cannot tolerate the feel of clothes so laundry is not going to be a good fit for him...etc... If the child has been running the show, it is going to take a while to undo the negative, unwanted behaviors and everyone (adults) must be on the same page, using the same language and purposefully ignoring as much as possible. 3 weeks to make or break a habit...may get worse before it gets better... tantrums result in going to "calm down" again, no reinforcement (eye contact, discussion, etc) until the child is quiet/calm, count to three and then release from "calm down"...eventually they will self regulate and put themselves in calm down.
•    Anonymous said… with our 11 year old Asperger son (diagnosed at 5), We tell him, "Obey first. If you still don't understand our rational we would be happy to explain AFTER you have obeyed." He was not happy about it at first and we had some meltdowns (followed by the known consequence for a meltdown). Its funny though that 99% of the time he did not request an explanation after he obeyed. He either figured it out by himself or it just didn't seem important to him at that point. It took a long time, but now he is 11 and has made huge progress: excellent behavior with teachers (most of the time) and can't remember the last time he's had a meltdown. He is also obedient most of the time  ;-) and does not feel the need to get an explanation whenever asked to do .

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  1. welcome to my world hes nearly 17 an still does it lol

  2. my 7 year old does,takes him at least a week to finally agree lol

  3. This sounds like my 5yo, but he's got so much going on in his head it's difficult to get him to listen to and process the reasons for things.

  4. I feel so much better reading this. Thank you for posting this. BTW my rule tester is now 12.

  5. I am going to a Behavioral Class at University of FL tonight. I will be attending two, one to learn how to get rid of the behaviors we dont want, & the next one on the 18th is to get him to do the things we want him to do. Will gladly share if you would like. It is all ABA.....

  6. Thanks for asking this. My 11 year old does this for everything that we ask of him...we work with him on it and work him through it...but its really difficult on my non-aspey 7 year old DD, who doesn't get as many chances before something needs to be done

  7. Is this common? Yes! And now for a lengthy Aspie explanation. :-) My son seems to process written information more effectively than spoken, especially when there is any stress in the air (which is usually when a new rule is being introduced!), so we even have it in his IEP that if a new rule is being established (or an old one clarified!) it must be written down. If it is written down, he'll usually accept it. When he was younger and I'd give him time outs to calm down, I'd sit with him and write down what he should do the next time he is in that situation and I write it as "I" statements from his perspective so he doesn't have to "translate" in his head and he can't come back and say that he thought I mean one of the grownups... So it would say: "I clean up spilled water on the carpet with a paper towel." or "If I am angry and can't find my words, I can draw my feelings" (instead of biting)... At least that's what worked for us, we have to use it very infrequently now... Oh and the post it would go on the big mirror in the bathroom- so he'd see it a few times a day. If the new rule was not violated for 7 days, we could take it down and put it in the recycle bin. This approach also worked for us because he couldn't reach the mirror and one of his rules is that there shouldn't be anything on the mirror... So by following the new rules, he was allowed to "reclaim" the clean mirror, which for him was just another incentive. His dad (our token non-Aspie!) forgets this approach and explains stuff endlessly to get Alex to accept it and it's just dreadful and torturous... The less verbal we are and more tangible & visual the instructions are, the less arguing there is. (It does help that I have Asperger's too... He also faster to believe something I do present to him verbally because he trusts that I really understand him which is not his relationship with his dad (for the most part)....
    5 minutes ago · Like

  8. My daughter is 19yrs old nd still duz that. It causes mltdwns. I evn told her i wuld evn b willing 2 change sum

  9. My 18 year old still does this as well, however; we still haven't mastered a way for acceptance of most of the rules. It's very hard for him to understand the validity of my reasoning when he has his own reasoning in his mind.

  10. For things like safety and homework and such I have to explain the reasoning to my 7 year old endlessly so that he will comply. For behavioral issues like "we say hello and ask to play" or "we say goodbye" I tell him the reason is that it is a rule. My son is all about making and following rules, so he respects that answer. We have set rules for restaurants, parks, movies, etc. these cannot be argued.

  11. We have this with our seven year old son. Typically we are able to talk him through the rules, and as long as he understands the logic, then he does pretty well.
    The challenge comes when Dad (also an aspie) doesn't understand the logic, and is looking at the situation from a completely different angle.

  12. My son is exactly the same!

  13. Thanks for the article... This perfectly describes my son!

  14. Yes my son has always done this too!! He is now almost 22 & I finally got him to own it :) he started a new blog here on FB - The Analyzing Aspie

  15. Aspies would be great lawyers.. at least I think mine can debate and argue with the best of them... drives me nutz!

  16. thanks for posting about this :)

  17. Oh Yes! Mine is 17 and he still has to argue as well as test it MANY times just to be sure that I am gonna stick to my guns.

  18. My 21 year old Aspy does this all the time. The meltdowns can be hell...more so since he's almost 6'8

  19. YES,YES, YES!!! OH MY GOODNESS, mine drives me up the wall with it. It's like next time, can we just put the shoes away without the 15 minute debate?

    1. Here is a good one to try. I always say "Everything has a home..put it in its home" works everytime.

  20. my a/s hubby and daughters all the same,will never change,its how they are,i back off minute i see meltdown coming,

  21. Yep, sounds so familiar with my new diagnosed eight year.

  22. This is so true for my son - thanks for explaining him /it so well!

  23. Mine does, too - welcome to the club! On the upside, I think taking the time to explain the "why" behind the rules really is helpful for him to develop his own decision-making criteria in the future. And once a rule, they do not consciously break it!
    about an hour ago · Like

  24. they of above average intellegence, so probably. Mine is just a stickler for structure, I think its funny how the other kids test the limits, but he knows his rules and as long as they don't change he's good to go.

  25. This actually applies more to my younger daughter than to my son with Asberger's. Mornings before school were incredibly contentious and stressful with tears, arguments and defiance. Clearly her routine was not working. For her or for me. So I changed it. I wake her up 30 minutes earlier, snuggle, read and leisurely get dressed and eat breakfast. Night and day, People. Night and day.

  26. My 8yo daughter argues over everything she is asked to do. She doesnt like rules so the reminding, nagging and arguing is endless in our house. Our 2yo boy is showing some signs of having AS too but he shows different signs n symptoms than our daughter. I'm sooooo glad there are so many others out there dealing with this daily. Sometimes it all gets too much but then I read posts on here and re-learn that I'm not alone. Thank you for this page, it's quickly becoming my good 'friend'

  27. This one hit many of us didn't it. The problem ofen is when the Aspie logic is illogical. My Aspie uncle has been angry with me for 2 years over what I consider a small infraction. No amount of apologizing helps. He ruined a family gathering feeling he was in the right to lay into me over it repeatedly. Will not let it go.

    My own sweet son has a spin on my rules that tires us all out. I do appreciate his kindness and wish to understand things completely. I appreciate his willingness to forgive and release (eventually)his anger when things don't go as he thinks they should. We use Bible stories to explain why this is important. Reading about Eli the priest who let his son's do whatever they wanted.. and look what happened to them, goes a long way to help him understand why some rules are important:)

    When my Aspie spouse says "in my mind...." I know I am going to hear Aspie logic. We talk about remembering what is logical to him, what may get him extremely upset, may not bother most other people. I am learning to explain vs. react. He is learning to understand other's logic is different than his, and to be OK with this. Life long process for us all.

  28. Oh my gosh we are going through this at the moment with the school rules,and why he can not sit over there in the shade "it's out of bounds"
    thank you for giving me a new approach to try on our 13yo aspie.

  29. My 11 year old son was just diagnosed yesterday. A friend suggested this website when I expressed that I needed to learn as much as I could about Asperger's. This information really hit home. My son loves the computer. It got to the point that he would have a meltdown when he was told that he was to log off. We had set tome limits on him last week. He would sit in front if it with his lunch and forget to eat! He has his own account on the laptop with parental controls that lock him out during times that we agreed on. My account is password protected. I got up in the middle of the night to use the restroom at about 1 am. He was on the computer! He actually guessed my password, and it wasn't an easy one! I couldn't believe it! He was sneaking the laptop after I was asleep and would stay up all night! I am going to try writing the rules down with clear explanations as to why we have these rules. He is a sweet boy and his defiance shocked his father and I. Hopefully this helps with the issue. Thank you very much for the suggestions!

  30. Ditto here. The problem is when my 15yo DS makes poor choices and then blames me for them. "Well, YOU didn't TELL me I couldn't do that!" How do you teach them integrity??? SO frustrating...

  31. I'm 27 and I still get into debates like this. The thing I wish my partners, parents or roommates could understand is's not personal. There's no power play happening most of the time. If I have to follow a rule that I feel is arbitrary, it's harder to remember. If I can see a reason for something, it becomes more intuitive the next time I need to do it.
    Ice cubes, for example. I think as long as it has more than a few cubes left and there's a second tray you shouldn't have to refill it immediately. Because the next time I want ice (say to refill my drink 20 minutes later) that top tray will have water in it and I use the other tray and follow the rule of immediately refilling it then the next person may not be able to get any ice...

    *example of aspie logic*

    Sorry. Ahem. Ok.

    Simply put, I am eager to please most of the time but to enjoy living with me you have to not care about little things like that, or have the ability to present your case like I do. I've had a partner like that in the past, who could meet me half-way. We got on very well in that area, and having debates like that weren't taken as a personal attack or being controlling. When he was right, I would acquiesce and simply change my behavior. It happened frequently. I'm pretty sure he was an aspie too.

    Just try to be patient with us. I love what this article says about how it is a coping mechanism. Yes, it is, and throwing it out and saying something is a rule "because I say so" or "because it's just the way it is" throws a wrench into the works. The "rules" aren't as intuitive for us, so without a framework of logic our chances of guessing correctly goes down substantially and it is very stressful! :)
    I'm an adult and I've adapted very well going undiagnosed for so long. Logic an "over analyzing" has kept me sane but also alienated some people.


    1. Try it with a rule like 7 out of 10 times you explain and 3 times not. You should choose the 3 times out of the 10. Explain that sometimes it is too clumsy to go into long discussions, and that you are very tired of it. (Flexibility-within-structure).

    2.That trust between people is an extremely important thing, and so is accomodating to others, and trying to avoid making others angry. doing others a favor without any reason other than making him or her feel better. Exemplify with lots of little stories, whenever possible. Or point to when people do favors to others, ad what it means for the other person.

    3. Try to develop her feeling for your level of anger with an emometer, and tell her how she can read your feelings. Give her from time to time also a feedback about other people s emotions, in particular if she is puzzled by the reactions of others.Tell her that most of the time, if people are getting angry it is because they are rightly upset, and only sometimes it is in order to hide a fault of theirs or to intimidate others.

    4. Make a puppet theatre where you stage all the conflicts that you had with your daughter over the last months and where she has now got the rules. Let the parents get more exhausted from conflict to conflict exaggerating the exhaustion. Replay the same with anger instead of exhaustion.

    5. Make her understand how often you accomodate to her, without her even having to say anything. If she expects you to do something urgent and quite, but not terribly important for her, refuse it, and say that she did also not accomodate to you this morning, or only after a lengthy discussion.You should not discuss, you could listen to a song, and then do what she wants you to do). Tell her that this is the revenge for her not doing you a favor, and that it is to make her understand. Do this quite often during one week.Then make a pause of two weeks, then do it again.

    6. It is also necessary to make her guess the reason for a rule.

    7. Crucial: Give her a feeling for that other people get it more easily than her and without explanation.You could also tell her something like, that she might not get it now but probably in 2 years, and that she has to wait so long, or ask someone else.