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Truth and lies with an aspie on the side

Let's be clear: by nature, aspies are stoutly honest. Often brutally, harshly, unflinchingly honest. If you ask them a straight question, you can bet the answer will come back fast enough to hit you between the eyes. That's just how it is and it's the big bonus and drawback of living in close proximity with aspergers.

Now, replay that track a little and it soon becomes clear why an aspie would also be less than truthful and, over time, learn to lie to get themselves out of trouble. Some of us make quite good liars too, depending on the circumstances.

Let me explain.

If an aspie doesn't understand the question, you may get a wrong answer. If they were thinking about something else, you may get the wrong answer. If your question too strongly reminded them of sheep, your answer will be wool.

That's the simple side of aspergers and honesty. Dishonesty usually only comes into play by accident. That leads us naturally to...

Those occasions when the truth doesn't work.

As a child with aspergers, you are onto a losing streak when it comes to getting yourself out of trouble. If you do something wrong, and understand you have done something wrong, it won't occur to you to lie when asked about it.

If you do something wrong and don't understand it's wrong, or don't understand the question, then your answer won't match what the other person wants to hear, so you get accused of lying.

For example, you break the thing you were told not to touch. Except, you weren't told not to touch it - you were told to be careful with it. You were being careful with it, you held it very carefully and then, suddenly, you weren't holding it any more.

When the other person comes back to find a guilty looking child amongst the pieces of something which used to be whole, their first reaction will usually be anger, followed by the question: 'Why did you touch it?'

The conversation will usually follow these lines (assuming the mini-aspie isn't too shy to speak up).

Adult: Why did you touch it?

Mini-aspie: I wanted to hold it.

Adult: I told you not to touch it!

Mini-aspie shakes head.

Adult, becoming angrier: I told you not to touch it!!

Mini-aspie: No, you didn't.

Adult, infuriated, egged on by sight of broken pieces of beloved thing: 'How dare you lie to me!'

And so on, until the mini-aspie is convinced the adult has memory deficit disorder and the adult knows the mini-aspie can take responsibility for nothing and is willing to lie to cover their tracks.

You see, in the adult's mind, it's obvious when saying 'be careful with it', that they mean 'don't touch it'. To any child, but especially an aspie child, these aren't the same thing. Other children learn the connections between what is said and what is implied. They learn to marry up different phrases to mean the same thing.

So, 'it's hot,' 'it's too hot to eat' and 'be careful, it's hot' all come to mean that the food is too hot to eat right now and you need to blow on it before you try to eat it. To an aspie child, if you manage to catch them before they burn their mouth off shoving it in, you must say, 'blow on it before you eat it'. You can't go through the whole rigmarole of explaining it's hot so you must blow on it, because they'll probably stop listening halfway through. They can see it's hot, there's steam coming off it!

And I think some of you may be working round to thinking that the aspie child will learn what those phrases mean when they burn their mouth off eating hot food; am I right? Yes, that would be nice. Except, when the mini-aspie does chew the hot chicken and burns their mouth off, the next time they are served hot chicken, or cold chicken, or luke-warm chicken, they won't eat it. Do you know why? Because chicken burns your mouth off.

Serve them hot beef or soup or porridge with steam rising in Gandalf-esque shapes towards the ceiling and they'll eat it right up - and, naturally, burn their mouths off.

If you don't step in (you cruel parent) and always warn them about hot food, you may reach a stage where all they'll eat is cornflakes and crisps, and no one wants that.

I exaggerate slightly, as most adults would warn small children about hot food, even when it's served at a temperature that's quite safe to eat straight away. Another reason for me going over this is that aspies are very temperature sensitive a lot of the time, so something that is safe to eat for everyone else may feel too hot to them, and that means you'll still get the negative reaction re the chicken above.

So, forgive me the small diversion into literal descriptive language there; I wanted you to see how language is so very important with aspies, especially when it comes to them knowing what is expected and so learning how they can be honest all the time with you.

Back to when they were small and hardly anything made sense. If you have otherwise sane and loving adults who suddenly lose their tempers for no good reason, that can be very disconcerting. One minute you have a nice Granny who thinks you're fab and the next you hear her shouting at you from across the room because you left the cupboard open again and the dog ate a week's worth of dog food in two minutes.

You deny leaving it open, not because you know you should have closed it (you're not stupid), but because you can't remember leaving it open in the first place. Aspies forget things - a lot. The grandchild will remember they're always meant to close the cupboard. That important lesson will have gone in after the kerfuffle over the other times the dog ate a week's worth of food. What went wrong was that they became distracted this time and forgot they had left the cupboard open. That's not exactly the same thing as being willfully naughty.

So they get told off for doing the bad thing again and this time they deny doing the bad thing. Granny, faced with yet more money down the drain (or down the dog), is furious, made worse by the denial of any wrongdoing. She checks the mini-aspie remembers about closing the cupboard. Yes, mini-aspie assures her, of course they remember about the cupboard. A row ensues, during which Granny is driven to heights of temper by the blank expression of her grandchild and the sound of the dog burping in the background.

At the end of all this, it becomes clear to Granny that mini-aspie is lying to get themselves out of trouble. What other explanation could there be? She knows mini-aspie is clever as anything, and closing the cupboard is a very easy thing to do. You can't just forget to close a cupboard, not when you're standing right next to it and the dog had to push past you to steal the food!

Mini-aspie makes things worse by not owning up to the lie and insisting they have done nothing wrong. They can't remember how the cupboard came to be opened again. It must have been the dog!

After this, there is an issue of trust between Granny and mini-aspie. The kitchen becomes out of bounds until the grandchild can learn some responsibility and the dog has lost some weight. The next time Granny asks mini-aspie to do something, she will supervise and check and ask annoying questions to make sure the thing is done. This leads to more arguments.

Eventually, trust will build again, the grandchild will be trusted once more and all will be fine - until mini-aspie forgets to do something, or misunderstands and denies all knowledge of simple instructions. And away we go again.

It is very, very difficult to explain to a non-aspie how something simple and immediate can be forgotten so completely. I don't really blame them for thinking it is lying and nothing else. It doesn't make sense for someone to forget the thing they were just talking about. How can it slip the mind in so little time?

Given enough instances of this kind of row and getting into trouble, the growing aspie will dread being given things to do. For all the times it goes right, there will be a humdinger of a time when it goes wrong enough for them to be put off ever trying it again. It's the hot chicken all over again (and remember, that chicken only seemed hot, just like the instructions seem easy).

As the aspie ages, they learn a little of what people want and expect when trouble flares. They learn pretty quickly that what they do not want is a gormless expression, shoulder shrugging, a hapless smile and an 'I forgot'. They certainly, definitely, absolutely hate it beyond any rational limit, if you relay back to them exactly what they said and how they said it, showing the aspie wasn't in the wrong after all. As far as non-aspies are concerned, a failure to understand the instructions within the instructions (be careful, it's hot meaning the same as blow on it before you eat it), is as bad as not listening to the instructions at all. In fact, it's the same as doing it on purpose!

Fast forward to your adult aspie and they've been in the doghouse so often, they've chosen curtains and a new rug to make it seem like home. So when they get into trouble, their natural honesty has been pushed aside and subverted into a need to give people the answer they want. It's not lying so much as fitting in.

As an adult aspie, if you break the precious thing because you held it when you weren't supposed to, you won't explain you forgot or say you misunderstood. You'll see instantly that you've done it again and you need to stop the other person from being upset. You'll say something on the spur of the moment, like I tripped and fell against it, or I thought it had a crack so wanted to check.

To be honest, most excuses and fake answers will be pretty lame and not very convincing, and so the mistrust and belief in the aspie dishonesty grows. Your reputation for not being able to explain yourself and give a straight answer is stronger than ever. And still, when the other option is to say, honestly, 'I'm sorry, it looked so nice and I forgot I wasn't supposed to touch it,' you know the person wouldn't accept that as the truth either. By lying, you run the risk of being disbelieved but you also aim for those times when you achieve the goal and make the person less upset. Telling the truth never seems to stop them being upset, so it becomes the lesser option.

This view of aspie honesty/dishonesty is important for anyone dealing with aspies of any age, but I'll direct this last part to people living with the adult versions. The adult with aspergers has had many years of trying to save feelings and avoid upsetting scenes and noisy arguments. They come to you as a made thing, a creation of their upbringing and their experience, where truth has so often equalled trouble. If you ask them a good, honest question about something they did not affect, like whether your new hairstyle looks good - then you'll get an uncompromising and honest answer, or a sad little smile as they try to be kind (which is almost the same thing).

The difference comes when the question relates to something they have done wrong, or even feel they have done wrong. Then you should listen a little more carefully to the answer and see if any translation is necessary. If you really want the truth about what happened to Aunt Ivy's prize cockerel, you shouldn't ask, 'What happened? What did you do?' Instead try something more forgiving like, 'Did something go wrong? Do you need my help?' A gentler form of questioning may bring the right response.

If not, you'll just have to learn to translate and show your aspie in word and deed that they are safe with you, that the truth is also safe with you and help them return to that clear, clean feeling of never having to say the wrong thing again.


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