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Inappropriate honesty

'Inappropriate behaviour' - the number of times I heard this when my son was growing up, mainly from his teachers. Now, don't get me wrong, he wasn't doing anything really bad here, at least not the kind of things which always sprung into my mind when they used the word inappropriate. And, compared to me trying to burn down the school, I always thought RT teen's childhood exploits were pretty tame.

I guess the thing is, as a little boy, he kept on with the inappropriate behaviours. He was very inventive and each day would bring some new thing he had done. Some of them were dangerous, some were funny, most were simply annoying - no one can be annoying like an aspie can. Nearly every day, after school, I would stand and listen to his catalogue of disasters, with the teacher talking about him while he stood there, head bowed as he listened.

I had two main gripes with this: that she always talked about my son while he was present and that she always told me what he had done when it was too late for me to act on it. Perhaps if they'd called me in when he was plastering the little girl head to toe with mud then I could have impressed upon him that it hadn't been a great idea?

The problem is that most schools expect children to behave themselves a certain way and to be semi-independent of their parents. By semi-independent, I mean they don't want the child to bawl or throw up when separated from mum and dad and they do expect the child to hold their water until they reach the toilet. The other thing schools mainly want is as little parental involvement as possible, while maintaining an illusion of the parents being involved in their child's schooling.

This was never more apparent to me than when mini-RT teen got up to his high jinks. Yes, I sympathised with the teacher that it wasn't safe to leap from the top of the toilet cubicle (a 6 foot drop to the floor), I knew she resented him blocking the sinks with the little towels all the children took into school with them; I would have resented it too. I know it was bad that he loved to make a flood (having used the little towels as makeshift plugs). I realised it was bad form to play with the light switches while she was out of the room. And I understood how difficult it must have been to explain to the little girl's mother how her daughter came to be some miniature mud-kip who had to be sent home in borrowed clothes.

I don't know if you've spotted the constant which links all these events together? Yes, besides mini-RT teen himself. I always used to wonder, where was the teacher when this was happening? I did make some noises to this effect when she told me, but was too young and nervous to ask her directly. Now I would speak out and say, in my best English battle-axe voice, 'And where were you at the time?'

It's not that I expected her to take responsibility for my son's misdemeanours, I really did think he was uniquely responsible for each one of them. But was it too much to ask for a class of 4-5 year olds to be supervised by someone, even if it wasn't their teacher? Also, I always came away with the impression that she would have much preferred teaching the older children - she had been moved down from the oldest class to the youngest. Perhaps with more mature children it's easier to 'nip out' of the classroom, or ignore it when they have elongated trips to the bathrooms.

My proudest day of mini-RT teen's inappropriate behaviour came when he stood up to the school bully. The child in question was well known for being a horrible bully who singled out the youngest children and would get them out of sight and properly hit them. This was a boy of 6 years old, so goodness knows what he was like in later life.

He looked forward to each new class coming up from Nursery into Reception. In Nursery they had a protected, separate playground. In Reception they joined the main school, who all shared the same areas. He chose children from Reception and picked and would hurt little girls as much as little boys. He was despicable.

Yes, the school knew about him but nothing was really done. The headmistress was the same one who had been my teacher when I was there and she didn't like any bad press for the school, so, rather than dealing with it out in the open, it was brushed under the carpet.

One day, the bully decided to pick on my son. As usual, mini-RT teen was doing something inappropriate: this day, he was swinging, monkey-style, on the metal bars on the ramp next to the school building. Curling himself up, he was spinning round on them in a way that would give health and safety people a panic attack.

Bully-boy saw him doing this and came to teach him a lesson, using the swinging as an excuse. He came up behind him and challenged him. I don't know what he said to my son as no one was close enough to hear and my son couldn't remember. It must have been pretty bad, whatever it was. My excitable, sociable, kind-hearted mini-RT teen swung off the bars, whipped round and charged the bully, head-butting him in the stomach.

At the end of the day, the teacher came out, as usual, to 'have a word'. This is the only time I saw a glimmer in her eye. She explained about the latest inappropriate behaviour and said she had told min-RT teen how it was unacceptable to be violent to people. She told me they were overlooking it this time as other children had stood up for him and said he was being bullied.

All of this was said with a twinkle in her eye and a softer tone to her voice. This slightly cold, humourless woman was barely concealing her delight at my son's actions. He had done what they as teachers were not allowed to do. She couldn't condone it but she could be pleased at the final comeuppance of the school bully.

This changed my son's notoriety in school, at least among the children. He was looked at with admiration and they were proud of him. I was proud of him too, even though I knew he had acted out of instinct and could never have inflicted harm on the bully if he had thought about it first.

The inappropriate behaviour, in society's terms, has continued. These days, RT teen is at college, doing his Art course. His behaviour is exemplary; in most ways he is a model student. Except that now, his mouth is inappropriate. No, I don't mean he curses and he isn't mean to people. What he does is Speak His Mind. He also speaks out for other people, in his own quiet way.

His tutor, a woman who is often at cross-purposes with him (no changes there, then), is fond of explaining things many times, to her 'special' students. I'm sure she is a woman of the best intentions and only explains things a lot because she thinks her students will understand it better that way. I don't know about the other 'specials', but as far as RT teen is concerned, as soon as he hears the repetition coming, he switches off.

One day, she asked him to show the other students how he had done something on the computer, as she was pleased with his work. She wanted him to explain the steps he had taken. So, the group gathered round and he started to explain. Except, like some aspies, he tends to hesitate before speaking - a non-verbal full stop between sentences. Each time he hesitated, his tutor jumped in and said what she thought he had been going to say.

After a few goes at speaking for himself, RT teen asked her, quietly, if she would come out of the room with him. Once in private, he explained, with suppressed fury, that he did not want her butting in, that every time she did it he lost track of what he was saying and what was the point of asking him to explain to the others if she was going to do it for him? She flinched and apologised. They returned and he carried on as he wanted, giving the group his undivided attention.

I know this is standing up for himself and, I must admit, I flinched a little myself at the anger it must have taken for him to speak to his tutor like this. But it's still counted as inappropriate in some way because it's seen as rude, or too forthright. I mean, the tutor should always be right and be respected and if the students are in the assisted learning programme, then her way is best, right?

I feel that RT teen should continue to be inappropriate. He has an inappropriate way of only ever seeing the person and never their looks, disability, or age. They are always a person first. Inappropriately, as far as assisted learning is concerned, he treats them just as he'd like to be treated himself and explains things in a quiet, demonstrative way that gets to the heart of the matter.

I don't know if he always explains things to them in a way all of them can understand. I do know that his soft voice, kind eyes and willingness to show rather than tell will probably have them listening to his every word.

I have mentioned inappropriate behaviours a lot today and I realise that the last examples, with RT teen at college, will seem very different from the little boy plastering his classmate with mud. It is different, as we all grow. As we get older, our behaviours change and so do our challenges. In the written and the spoken word, RT teen can still struggle to express himself, unless it's a subject he holds dear. But that means when he does express himself, he gets to the point and is honest.

I know there are many aspies out there who suffer from inappropriate honesty - I'm one of them. And this is often coupled with expressing yourself in a way that seems designed to cause offence. How can it be acceptable in a civilised society to speak to people in a direct, no-nonsense way that might hurt their feelings? Isn't it better to be subdued and kind instead?

I'm not sure. I've tried the subdued and kinder route and ended up gnashing at the furniture once I'm home. I've also tried inappropriate honesty (usually by accident) and then worried afterwards, but had a curiously satisfied feeling too.

When you are honest, brutally, genuinely, inappropriately honest, people will almost always flinch. If you happen to be that way with another aspie, they might gasp, then agree with you, then tell you something about yourself that you don't want to hear.

If it's obvious you meant nothing by it or it was an accident, then you're more likely to have it overlooked and be forgiven. If, like RT teen, you fully intended it but spoke in a soft voice, people are unnerved. They don't know how to deal with explicit honesty dealt out with a gentle voice. It clashes in their heads that you could say something uncomfortable to hear in a kind tone.

In my experience, you will always keep the friends you're meant to have and get along with people who would like you, no matter what. The ones who find such honesty too off-putting are probably already put off by your other little ways so there wouldn't be too much harm done there.

I also think that society as a whole is rather like the school system: we are meant to be semi-independent within it, while always obeying the rules. As adults, society will not run to our parents if there is trouble, but it will challenge us and expect the right kind of behaviour. If you separate this behaviour from obviously criminal acts, you have a social code that we're all meant to follow.

It may vary from country to country, but in general we are not meant to tell Mrs H that her dress has three night's worth of supper down the front or explain to Mr P that his breath smells like the cat slept on his tongue.

We are meant to fit in with the rule, the norm and be like everyone else so that society can function. There are large types of inappropriate behaviour which clash with this, such as stripping in the chippy or shouting down the street at other people's dogs. There are also smaller inappropriate behaviours, like brutal honesty and laughing at things no one else finds funny.

Well, there we are. I can safely say, most aspies are tilted to the wrong side of peculiar when it comes to complying with all the social rules. Sorry, that's how it is. Whether aspie or not, there's nothing you can really do about it.

What comes to me the most is, if we are faithfully honest, as much as possible, be it on purpose or by accident, people will relax more and forgive it, especially if it isn't meant unkindly. There may be a temporary taking aback, but we will feel much better in ourselves for being the full-on aspie who tells it like it is. In this instance, if no other, it pays to be inappropriate.


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