Today I'm not going to tell you all the reasons why people who have autism have difficulty with this skill.
Today I'm not going to tell you how I think you can teach people to "fix" this difficulty in learning. Today I'm going to share (with his permission) an interaction with a young man who I have worked with on and off over the past few years.
I have worked with this young man (who is now teenager) in his home and community on developing his social skills. I am not currently working with him, however he does email me from time to time to check-in and to ask questions. Below is part of the email correspondence between us.
(Please note: I have permission to share the following from Z and from his mother. I have also slightly edited the text as Z prefers to email me using all capitals and does not choose to use any punctuation. I have added punctuation and lowercase letters but the rest is his.)
Z: Hi. I read what you said to my question. Yes this is making me angry and I do know what other people would do and what I should do because we learned it. I am doing what you said. I am remembering what a thought is. I know I am not the only one who has a thought I remember that my friends have thoughts.
ME: Wow Z. You really have me thinking... First of all I never want you to think that you have to think like other people I just want you to understand that other people think differently than you do and feel differently than you do. Everybody has different thoughts.
You can and should have your own thoughts and you should share your thoughts with others and allow others to share their thoughts. Sometimes you have to take a chance and just see what the response will be but I don't want you to feel like you have to think what other people think. I want you to be who you are.
I know this is really confusing and I need to take some time to either meet with you or write more later in a way that you understand. I have a meeting now but will try to call you later or email tonight. I'm sorry this is so confusing. I think it is confusing too.
Z: Welcome to my world. Are you autistic?
Z and I talked on the phone and hopefully I was able to give him some guidance that wasn't so confusing. He said he felt better after we talked. This whole interaction really got me thinking and to be quite honest it got me feeling guilty.
All people should never be afraid to think what they think. Social norms are "rules" but we all (especially me) need to remember that nobody follows all the rules all the time. If we did life would be really boring.
I sent Z an email last night asking him if I could share our conversation on my blog because I thought it could be helpful to other people. (His mother also gave me permission to share.) This was his response.
Z: Yes you can talk about me on your computer stories. My mom showed it to me. You should talk about me because you are talking way to much about your family on your computer. You are supposed to change topics so people don't get bored. Also I don't think your son is a pirate. Are you a pirate?
Dear Z if you are reading this story, no, I'm not a pirate.
You are correct I should probably change topics every now and again on my blog because too much of anything is usually not good.
Be who you are and remember that I never wanted to change who you are as a person; I just wanted you to understand that other people might think differently than you. Thank you for reminding me of that and for giving me the opportunity to think about how I do my job.
Perspective. Wow. This is why I do what I do. I get to meet some pretty amazing people and I get to be a part of their journey.