Q: If I ask my child to help me with some chores, sometimes he says okay but doesn’t stop what he’s doing. How can I handle this, as it can be very frustrating?
Paul: Again, that’s one of those instances where I don’t know the exact situation. It sounds like if you said, “I want you to help me take out the trash,” you didn’t say you want it done right now. Maybe they’re thinking, “Okay, I’ll come to you and say in an hour when I am done with whatever I am doing, hey, let’s take out the trash now.” Part of it could very well be that there’s an actual literal misunderstanding of what’s going on. That’s a very real thing that can happen.
Another part of it is, again; he could just not be paying attention. That’s very possible. The problem with dealing with a child on the autism spectrum is that it’s sometimes hard to tell what is or isn’t’ autism. If you’ve got a 12 year old who’s like, “Okay, Mom, whatever.” You still get that from those on and off the Autism spectrum. It’s a tough mix to figure out what’s going on. That’s why you go back to that concept of “pay attention to the why’s of everything,” and help them understand why you do things and try to understand why they do things. Never be afraid to ask.
Q: What would be the best way? If I wanted you to take out the trash right now, do I have to explain why, or just I want you to take out the trash right now?
Paul: It depends on whether you want them to do it sullenly and irritated or happily. If you say, “I want you to take out the trash right now,” and it’s interrupting something they’re doing, neurotypical or autistic, they’re going to be annoyed with it being interrupted. I think if you say, “I want you to take out the trash right now because the garbage truck could be coming in five minutes,” then that may help alleviate some of it. This isn’t necessarily an autism thing at all. Them not doing it right away because of communication issues, that’s more likely with autism, but being frustrated about it, that’s going to be any kid.
Q: What I think I am picking up from a lot of these questions is that apparently children with autism have a tendency to appear to be a little bit more stubborn.
Paul: They often do. That’s one thing that you get. Kids on the autism spectrum, they often ask “why” a lot more. A lot of times, they may have a hard time understanding authority. And doing it just because someone says to do it is really an emotional thing. It’s a cultural thing — parents having a specific authority over the child, a teacher having a specific authority over the child — those are all sort of cultural institutions. Doing something because your parents do it, the autistic child may be just thinking, “Well, you’re standing there right now. You’re closer to the garbage can than me. Why don’t you just take it out? It would take you less time to take it out, rather than it would to come upstairs to ask me about it.” Overall, there can be challenges understanding that dynamic between parents, child and authority.