Friday, June 24, 2011

Aspie Kids and Lying: The Fantasy World

One of those inexplicable myths about adults and children on the spectrum is that we can't lie but I assure you that we can. I've discussed it before (see: Do Aspies Make Good Liars)

There are different types and levels of lying though and my previous discussions focussed on deliberate misdirection. Today, I want to talk about embellishment.


Everyday Experience
Everyone embellishes stuff and it would be a pretty boring world to live in if we didn't. When someone tells us that they saw a rat as big as a cat, we know that it's crap. (That is; the less literal-minded of us, know that it's crap) but we don't point at them and call out "liar!". We accept that it's a nice way of saying (as Sam L Jackon would say; "It was a huge m.....f... of a rat").

We use these lies casually all the time; "It rained all day", (the whole day, really?), "every time my back was turned, Jack had his hand in the cookie jar", (every single time huh?). "What are you complaining about, it only took a minute" (more like ten).

Our aspie kids are listening to us, soaking up our conversation like sponges and trying to figure out what makes our social world work. It's pretty clear early on that lies are a big part of it but what are these lies for? They're not deception, they're exaggeration, they're "good storytelling". Even our childrens books contain dozens of examples of exaggerations and deliberate misdirection by the most honest of characters.

Is it little wonder that they pick up that untruths are part of the social scene?


Encouragement
Now as our kids start to try to interact socially, they attempt these small lies and are rewarded. "Mom, that car was going so fast that it's wheels weren't even touching the ground", says little Johnny. Of course, every parent is proud that their child has strung together such a good sentence, and we reward them by paying attention and talking to them. It doesn't even cross our minds to say, "well, actually Johnny, you know that cars can't actually fly". We assume that our children have grasped the adult concept of embellishment but what they've really grasped is... lying.

It all gets bigger and better too because when these kids go to school and tell other children that their parents have a Ferrari, they suddenly become a little more popular. Lying provides them with social inroads. Exaggerates storytelling generates laughs and makes them feel like they fit in with a group.

Is it any wonder that the lies become bigger and more frequent?


Damage Control
What do we as parents do as damage control for lies? Well, there are a few options with the most common being;

  1. Confront the child with the lie and prove them wrong.
  2. Ignore the lie
  3. Tell the story of the boy who cried wolf
  4. Force the child to apologise and tell the truth to whomever they lied.
It's difficult because on the one hand, we're correcting our child for telling lies while on the other, we're lying right in front of them. "Babies are delivered by storks", "if you keep eating sweets, you're going to turn into one", "eat your beans, they'll make your hair go curly" etc...

Instead, we need to find a way to explain to concepts of white lies and exaggerations to our children. They need to know what is acceptable and what is not. Lies can be dangerous and sometimes they have real world consequences.

At the same time, the parents of children on the spectrum need to remember that our children aren't lying to be naughty. They're just trying to figure out our complex social customs.

7 comments:

Lindsay said...

Hi, Gavin!

That's a really good point you make, about figures of speech and hyperbole also being lies.

(I actually do have huge trouble saying things that aren't what I actually believe to be true ... it's more work, somehow. But figures of speech and hyperbole are things I use all the time. So I guess I'm not really an Aspie Who Never Lies, though I had thought of myself as one.)

Anonymous said...

All kids are going to embellish at a young age, its a normal stage of development, and all adults also embellish, ie, "Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.." Im personally not too worried about it. I just say to my little one, with a smile on my face, "Are you sure you are telling the real truth?". She usually laughs and there is an understanding there. Most of the time its fairly harmless. By the way, why did you spell 'mum' as 'mom' when you are a Sydney-sider? (not a critisicm, just curious?)

Gavin Bollard said...

@Anonymous You're right. Most kids will lie at an early age and most of the time this can be ignored.

My thoughts here are directed more at the "chronic liar" who doesn't understand that there's a fine line between embellishment and flat out "lying".

As for "mom", it's rare that I use the US spelling and I'm not sure exactly why I did here. I guess I must have been reading a bit too much US material online.

"colour" and "programme" are different though, I use the US versions of these much more frequently because as an IT person, they're reserved words in programming languages which are mainly developed in the US.

Anne said...

came across your blog today after googling adhd and aspergers both of which my 8yo daughter has just today been diagnosed with. (have been avoiding the official diagnosis for years!) My daughter is what i believe to be a chronic liar and her teachers and family are constantly referring to the boy who cried wolf. Most of the time it is severe embellishment,I would never have connected that behaviour with her diagnosis though, so thankyou for shedding some light!

Ashtamangala said...

I am an adult Aspie. Lying is difficult for me; i don't like to do it and typically only will when i am cornered and/or threatened by someone making unreasonable demands of me or starting an argument which i cannot even begin to fathom and want to get away from as quickly as possible.

I'm not a good liar. I don't like being lied to and think it's only fair that i do my best to treat others with the same respect given me. I've been ridiculed for my altruistic outlook. What could i say? I'm altruistic.. there are far worse things a person could be.

No matter how sophisticated my words and my world may appear, there is vulnerability. although sometimes quite painful, i appreciate that wide-eyed innocence in myself.. even at times when no one else does.

I have issues trusting people (i came by these honestly). i tend not to open up easily, although i give the opposite impression. some people have never known that i'm autistic: i don't wear an Aspie badge, but when asked on occasion i simply say: "Yes. You're correct. And?" I've had some very cruel people play "what's WRONG with HER?" guessing games: generally Neurotypical narcissists who believe they are Prince Charming or Don Juan.

I've worked with innocent children and young adults who were or were in the process of being corrupted by their apparently compassionate, well-meaning and educated parents or "advocates". As with any flavor of autism, Asperger's contains a percentage of more emotionally dependent individuals.

Genuinely loving an Aspie means not being overprotective with or allowing them to walk through the world imagining they're Tinkerbell. It also means not shooting down any potentially good ideas they express.

I've seen very loving, honest people turn to manipulative, gossiping brats because they considered a parent or other close family member in some sense godlike and followed same person's less than sterling example.

I've heard a Mother shout: "My kid is INCAPABLE of being manipulative!" and "My kid doesn't KNOW how to lie!" The Mother was a 24kt by-the-book basket case. The smirk on "the kid's" face was priceless. My sincere thought: "Enjoy the monster you're creating."

Some Aspies lie when they've done something of which they're very ashamed. eventually these people reluctantly tell the truth, because the lie increases the weight of the burden on their conscience.

One must take into account the brutality that some of those with Asperger's were raised. PTSD comorbid can be very unpleasant, indeed. It is conceivable that an Aspie would lie out of fear they'll be mistreated.

I've not dealt with any Aspie who is a pathological liar (yet) and tend to question what else might be troubling them.

One of the consistent features i've noticed in Aspies is a guilelessness that can get them into trouble at times.

I can be tricked, for all of my experiences. And I do melt down, sometimes quite intensely, when there's way too much human stimulation and i'm attempting to cope with emotions like grief. when i learn i've been played for a sucker in a way that is strategic and cruel, i never forgive the perpetrator(s): i work very hard to forget them.

When dealing with an Aspie who is lying, look beneath the superficial to learn if something much more deeply disturbing is occurring.

As an Aspie, I'll often tell you that "I'm fine" when I'm not, really. This is not a deliberate lie or desire to mislead people. It's just that I've learned that people most often ask things like "How are you doing?" as a matter of course. They don't really care.. it's just idle chatter, like talking about the weather.

Anonymous said...

I have never been diagnosed and will probably never will be. So please forgive me if you feel I am interferring. I would like to thank "Ashtamangala" as it brought back the memories of my life that I would rather forget. And everything written was exactly how I have always thought of myself.

When I was 17 my parents had to sit me down and tell me how to tell "white-lies" and when I could do so! I did laugh, it wasn't as though I could not lie, I just couldn't because it was against my nature. However, I could if really pushed for sruvival. It would have saved them paying international fees for my university education if I had lied about the date of selling the house in the UK!

The guilelessness thing, always used to get me into trouble. These days, I have a job that allows me to be....well, er honest and direct and people don't get offended, or at least if they do, we are protected by the transparency work value.

I only lie when pushed or through fear. You then mentioned PTSD which made me investigate the PTSD link. Some people say I just have "unresolved" issues. I cannot remember my childhood and the small amount I do remember (my own memories) are not very pleasant. I did not have supportive parents. My father labelled me the devil child and told me I should have been locked up....because of my "temper" tantrums.

I am an eternal daydreamer on one hand. I had to learn to be "sensitive" to other people's feelings and to wehther they were interested. The only place people listen is in my job, in my personal life, everyone turns their...oh dear she's off again... I can't fight it 24 hours a day, I need to stop controlling & watching every move I make for the sake of others. This is perhaps the first time I have managed to write about it.

Anyway, to make matters worse I have now found myself working in the ADHD field....I feel like a spy, ASD and ADHD are often mentioned as comorbidities. Everytime a patient presents themselves and their story starts sounding familiar, I want to run out of the room!

I am not a psychiatrist. But lets just say I am a scientist working in the field. So patient contact is not frequent and usually avoided for varying legal reasons.

Sorry, for off-loading I just needed to write it somewhere. And well, to do a full circle. My parents, in my younger years spent time telling me that I must never lie, they did not tell me stories (although I may be mistaken my mum might have once upon a time...my memory just isn't that good). I was told forcefully, it was scared into me...the problem was sometimes the punishment was worse if I told the truth as they thought I was lying. I was apparently responsible for my younger brother's actions... so if he lied, which he did as he was and still is a master manipulator...I got it in the neck. I basically learned that it didn't matter whether I told lies or the truth. So I woudl amuse myself by telling the truth, because I couldn't do anything else anyway, just wasn't me, and compiled the statistics on how often I was not believed! It was rather daming. As you can expect, I have huge problems trusting people, and letting people into my world. Thank you for putting up with this ranting...

Anonymous said...

"When someone tells us that they saw a rat as big as a cat, we know that it's crap." ----------- Maybe your "basic" rats, but have you ever seen a wharf rat? They can get BIGGER than the average cat. Damn near raccoon or possum sized - and MEAN !!