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.
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?
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?
What do we as parents do as damage control for lies? Well, there are a few options with the most common being;
- Confront the child with the lie and prove them wrong.
- Ignore the lie
- Tell the story of the boy who cried wolf
- 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.