Inflexibility and Rigid Thinking in Kids on the Autism Spectrum

"How can I break through the rigid thinking that prevents my child (high functioning) from making a connection between his misbehavior and negative consequences? Once he gets an idea in his head, no amount of evidence to the contrary will persuade him."

One big challenge for kids with ASD Level 1, or High-Functioning Autism (HFA), is mind-blindness. Mind-blindness refers to the inability to understand and empathize with the needs, beliefs, and intentions that drive other people’s behavior. Without this ability, these young people can’t make sense of the world.

The world is constantly confusing them, and they go through life making mistakes because nothing makes sense. These children can’t connect their own needs, beliefs, and intentions to experiences and positive or negative consequences. Many kids on the autism spectrum are unaware that they even have this problem, even if they know they have the diagnosis.

In any event, HFA children can learn to compensate for mind-blindness with a lifetime of constant “counseling” by good parents, educators, and therapists. Some grown-ups with the disorder can read books and learn, but HFA kids need others to help them. With good help, they can grow up to lead nearly normal lives. 

Moms and dads must understand that their "special needs" kids must be taught to use logic to make sense of the world and the people in it, one personal situation at a time. Here are some “rules” that can help parents assist their youngster in making sense of things:
  1. Every human behavior has a reason behind it, even if I don’t see it.
  2. I will not give up my rigid thinking until I find the reason for a behavior or until I am satisfied that I do not have enough information to find it.
  3. When I find the reason, all the pieces will fall into place and not a single one will be left that doesn’t fit.
  4. After I find it, I will dig further to try to disprove it.
  5. If I find a single piece that doesn’t fit, then I still have a problem. I’ll go back to step 2 with the problem.
  6. I will force myself to accept what I have in front of me as the truth, even if I find it hard to believe
  7. Most people usually talk about the things they want, and openly say what they believe. Women tend to talk more than men and focus on feelings more.
  8. When somebody’s behavior flies in the face of logic, I will concentrate on his or her feelings.
  9. Some people are so messed up that it is just not possible to figure them out. I must know when to give up.
  10. I must be patient when trying to make sense of things, because my first assumption will probably be faulty.

Put the concepts above in words that your child will understand. Also, you can make up additional rules that may be more applicable to your specific situation.

A parent’s strategy should be to get their HFA children obsessed with the need to make sense of the world and help them understand that the mysteries of human behavior disappear when one understands the appropriate states of mind behind them. Also, to help them realize that once the state of mind is understood, people’s future behavior can be anticipated. But, how does a mother or father do that when their child isn’t motivated to do so because they don’t realize there’s a need?

Parents should do the following:
  1. Teach the child to make sense of the world by himself (eventually).
  2. Constantly explain people’s states of mind to him and what they mean until he learns to figure them out on his own. This means explaining the wants, needs, and beliefs that drive human behavior and the reasons behind all the unwritten rules that are part of human relationships.
  3. Give the child books to read. Explain his challenges and that he is in a state of confusion without being aware of it. Explain how each person feels about the world and about his own life. Explain that every person has a different set of values and that their behavior is driven by these values. Explain also your own state of mind and emotions constantly. Explain why you explain things to him. Explain that he should ask you questions about things he doesn’t understand. Do these things over and over and over.
  4. Explain his needs to him. It is only when he understands what he wants himself that he will have a basis for understanding that others also have wants, and that peoples’ wants are what makes them behave the way they do. If you explain something over and over, and he never ‘gets it’, the reason could be that there is more basic knowledge that he doesn’t have in order to understand.
  5. Protect your HFA kids from the cruelty of others. Some people are not going to pass up the opportunity to treat them badly. You should explain that this is going to happen, and that they should not feel ashamed to go to you for support. They are going to meet people that will try to convince them they are worthless. You must convince them that they can and will make a success of life, as many individuals on the spectrum have. Explain the states of mind of these people and why they do what they do – over and over.
  6. Explain before punishing. If you punish a child for doing behavior “A,” all that he is going to learn is that if he does behavior “A” again, he is going to be punished again. He will not understand why he should not do behavior “A” in the first place.

It is this constant explaining and counseling by parents, educators, and therapists over years and years of living, repeated over and over again, that eventually will help the child break through the bonds of mind-blindness and learn to handle life successfully – on his or her own. Don’t give up, and get others to help you.

Resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:

==> Videos for Parents of Children and Teens with ASD

What other parents have had to say on this matter:

•    Anonymous said... I have Aspergers and a son, who is now twelve, has Aspergers. My wife isn't diagnosed but I'm fairly sure that she has ODD. My mother in law lives with us and she has OCD to an extent I've only seen in television. It has taken me four years since I was diagnosed to work at getting to the point where I don't have meltdowns. The constant struggle over trying to be a parent to an Asperger's child, maintaining the household financials and maintenance, and learning to understand how the chemical and neurological aspects fit into almost all environments we are a part. It has taken me some time but I have worked at watching an listening to my son to understand where and when I have reached a barrier. With the filmographic memory that many people with Aspergers have, I can remember all the struggles with no one to help and always being yelled at to fit in. I am being patient and working with him to understand that this neurological difference is just that a difference. It has it days as I have neared meltdowns due to the stress because no one will believe that an adult with Asperger's can maintain a normal life by watching an mimicking normal behavior. I with his mother are working with him so that he understands he is doing a good job while imparting the importance of letting my wife and I know when he cannot understand even the smallest of details. It is a work in progress that I pray that I get better so my son has all of the understanding and resources he needs to succeed in life
•    Anonymous said... it definitely takes some getting used to! people have no idea what it's like to be a mum to an aspie! The thing to remember is that you dont control them any more than any parents control thier kids! In fact aspie kids often have better manners because once they learn a rule, it sticks and they dont do things like showing off and all that. I find that I'm my own biggest critic. I think that we have or should have the same expectations for behavior but have a completely different way of getting there. That's how I've always tried to view it. I just keep plugging away at teaching social thinking and how to interact with others. I guess I'm sort of old school about manners and decorum and that's been part of the game all along. I do however think no one can understand what a hard and sometimes seemingly insurmountable thing it is until they are in the same boat we are.
•    Anonymous said... My son is 17 and we still struggle with this. It has gotten a lot better but it is something to work on continuously
•    Anonymous said... My son old constantly hits and squeezes babies in an effort to either get them to cry or to stop crying. The other day he hit a five month old in the head with a really heavy ball to get it to stop crying, however that wasn't even the baby that was crying; the sound was coming from pretty far away. I've tried explaining a million times that all babies don't cry all the time, that they don't all say, "goo goo ga ga" specifically, etc. Once mine latches on to a "rule" he can't let it go. Anybody ever had this? What did you do?
•    Anonymous said... firstly, curtail any more baby exposure before someone gets badly hurt. ( if you can, not always easy). Then get embarked on the lifetime of teaching you have to face up to. There are no quick fixes. every minute of every day needs to be an example and a teaching experience. I would recoomend strongly to see a professional who provides social thinking and therapy of that nature. It's too much for just one mom!!! Dont give up, you'd be surprised what they can learn.
•    Anonymous said... This is my 10 year old, so difficult as those that don't understand Aspergers are quick to judge you as a bad parent, who is unable to control your child xx
•    Anonymous said... My daughter is 17 now ..still has her way of thinking but amazes me everyday.. was a very hard time for her growing up and me as a parent. . Now I m going threw the same with my 6 year old son... I see the long road ahead yet again but a beautiful light ... it's a rough n tough world out there already... all us parents can hope for is any child asd or not to be happy and take lil steps to be proud of who they are.... ahhh emotional mommy over here.. good luck to all!!
•    Anonymous said... There way or the highway! No change of mind! Hard work
•    Anonymous said... They really do have their own way of thinking
•    Anonymous said... We can video our son doing something to help show what he did and he still says he didn't do it because n his mind he was doing some thing else
•    Anonymous said... We try to see his differences as gifts as everyone should. Just because someone can't walk doesn't mean they can't contribute in society. Same with all children with these difference. Even if it's just teaching someone else tolerance and compassion 
•    Anonymous said... Yes.... This is my life. One day at a time.

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