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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