I’ve been thinking lately about the assumptions that get made when one’s condition is “invisible”. My husband and I were once as guilty as anyone of making dangerous assumptions. It was clear early on that our son, Coleman was quite bright. He was speaking in sentences at 14 months old, and had taught himself to read by age 3.
So before we knew Coleman was on the Spectrum, we met his shortcomings like fine motor deficits, and poor executive functioning with ZERO patience and, at times disdain. We said things like, “Coleman, most kids your age can dress themselves by now, this is ridiculous.” Oh the multitude of things we did wrong, and handled badly. Yep. Lots of life long parental guilt from stuff like that.
I think what leads people to believe a child “won’t” is that the child’s lack of ability in a particular area is inconsistent with what they know to be true about the child. It’s weird. I think most of us do it. Instead of thinking, “This is inconsistent, where’s the problem and how can we fix it?” We think, “This stinks! I hate it when he’s _____(fill in the blank: willful, resistant, lazy) like this!”
What’s really sad is when it happens even AFTER the child has been diagnosed and has an IEP in place. This is especially true for kids at the higher end of the Spectrum, like NLD and AS because:
- a) they look perfectly capable
- b) most of them are of average intelligence (or above) with ridiculously large vocabularies and
- c) most lack the social savvy to NOT debate with adults as if they are peers
So teachers, and administrators assume, often after some verbal exchange they’ve perceived as disrespectful, that the NLD/AS child in question is really just a “master manipulator” or worse.
When I was in the sixth grade, a guidance counselor called me in to her office and informed me that my teachers were telling her I was obnoxious. I’ll give the benefit of the doubt to everyone in my entire life who misunderstood my behavior and intentions. Way back in the olden days it was a firmly held belief that girls didn’t get Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome. However, I’m still trying to understand how that was supposed to be helpful to an 11 year old. Let’s see, at a time in a child’s life when the most important thing in the world is to be liked and accepted, let’s call her in here and tell her all her teachers think she’s a jerk. That’ll be good. (ugh…) Still, it was moderately excusable almost 30 years ago.
But we know better now. And it should be that once we know better, we do better. Yet the biases and dangerous assumptions continue. I call them dangerous assumptions because of what they can lead to. If we assume the worst about a child, we will often “fish our wish”. Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.” The same holds true with what we think of our children. I truly believe that children will do what we expect of them. If we assume the best about them and expect their best from them, that’s what we’ll get.