Skip to main content

Aspergers and Rules

Much has been made in the literature about the rigidity of the Aspie. A good example of this is their "resistance to change". Often the observed behavior isn't a resistance to change, but a binding to a particular rule or rule set.

The aspie is, to a certain extent, controlled by rules. The impact of these invisible rules on their behavior should not be underestimated. It is often a source of conflict and can also be the source of aspie depression.

Where do these Rules come from?
The majority of the aspie's rules come from their own environment. They can be communicated directly or implied. In some cases, the aspie will completely misunderstand directions and create an internal rule that isn't necessarily in their best interests. Changing these rules is difficult, especially when they've been in force for an extended period.

An example
When I was quite young, a grandparent saw a boy give me a "suck" on his chupa-chop (a lolly on a stick). Obviously, to an adult, this is quite disgusting. I was called inside immediately and lectured at length about germs and sharing food. As a direct result of this discussion, food non-sharing rules came into being and over time they grew in strength.

This caused quite a number of social problems at school. The other kids would ask me for food if my mother had given me lunch money. I was unable to even share chips. I would point out to the other kids that I never ever asked them for anything but it still caused a lot of problems and I lost quite a few "friends" because of it.

The longer the rule stayed in force and unchallenged, the stronger it got. I quickly got to the point where I couldn't eat food from someone else's plate (I still have great difficulty doing this). Worst of all, it kick-started a period where I couldn't eat my food if it had been "looked at" by a sibling. My mother told my poor sister that she wasn't allowed to look at my food at breakfast.

The worst of these rules disappeared after a couple of years, but I still struggle with the oldest parts of them. I still have difficulty if one of children tries to take something from my plate.

Rules in the Adult Aspie
Adult aspies who are aware of their condition can use their rules to great advantage.

For example; if there is a need to lose weight and the adult aspie creates sensible rules about eating, they will not be able to break them easily. Note: This can be dangerous if the rules aren't well thought out and malnutrition could result.

Other rules could include priorities at work. These are the sorts of rules which are seen by practitioners as "resistance to change". Contrary to opinion, they're not a result of the aspie clinging to the old ways because they want to.

What can Parents do?
Recognize the power of rules and help your aspie children to recognize them too. Understanding these rules is the key to using them wisely.

Try to figure out what rules are in place. This must usually be done by observation as the younger aspie child probably won't realize that they are following rules. Even aspie adults don't have a list of rules handy.

Foster a belief that rules sometimes need to change.

Watch rules carefully to determine if they are "tightening" and challenge them if they appear to be having any negative impact. If possible, try to redefine the boundaries of the existing rule.


Amanda said…
you have a lot of good info on your blog! :) yes, the rule thing is pretty frustrating. i am always trying to learn THE RULE, and non-aspie types do not seem to notice these unspoken 'rules' at all, yet they instinctively know how to behave. but i feel like there MUST be a decoding trick somewhere because i am OBVIOUSLY missing something!
Damo said…
Hmmm. I like my rules. They act as a set of boundary conditions or conditional statements. Once established, they are very difficult to move.
I have thought more on this lately. All my rules are flexible but you just have to know how to manipulate them. The simplest way is to add another variable. This forces the rule setter to analyse and re-evaluate the predetermined rule and modify it if they sense it has intrinsic value. If not, it shall be discounted and assigned a zero value.
Now for my rules, they are mainly unspoken. But somehow everyone else must adhere to them without me telling them. Yes, there's broken logic there. So rather than debate the broken logic just accept that as fact (for me anyway).

Some of my rules. my food must not be mixed togther, it shows disrespect to the cook. Smooshing food is allowed by the eater and not of the cook. Food is to be eaten in a certain order ( I spiral in with rice or curries). Watching someone mix a curry with the rice does my head in. Lasagne I cut the corners, square it up again and repeat from the outside to the centre (cos thats the hot bit). I must have a certain spoon. My daily routine is like clockwork. break the routine, I break the rule for this action must be done then.
So, are rules a bad thing? no, only if you allow them to be. So, if yer watching a rule in action, don't correct it (unless its self harming) and think of it as quaint or just their thing.

A small annecdote. we had three sets of spoons in the house. occasionally I would end up with the wrong spoon. This did not match my routine, so I got up from the table, went to the drawer and got my spoon out. It had a larger surface area and had a nice shape to it. So, in moving out, I took that set with me. In my later years it became a running joke with the family. But when I visit, I no longer have the spoons there. So, i temporarily set aside my rules because they cannot be met at this time. Gotta have my spoons..... :-)
Damo said…
I've been thinking more on my rules. Mainly the food ones. Individually they make sense but when you look at them all there are some inconsistencies.
A good example is I can't smoosh, nor mix but the other night I found myself smooshing, mixing and piling onto my steak.
Somehow my rules do not follow a linear path. But they do to me....

Just another tidbit to confuse the masses.
Anonymous said…
Reading about this gives me some doubts about whether I have Asperger's - but as you mentioned elsewhere, every Aspie is different.

It seems from childhood stories that I was pretty rigid about rules. But I've had major changes in my life brought on by moving to different countries. In addition, my extended family culture was very different from my classmates' cultures, even in the same country. Finally, I went to a very supportive liberal arts college, where my general rigidity as a freshman resolved by graduation.

Life was full of upheavals and struggles, but in the end I became totally flexible. Now my problem seems to be that I'm rigid about being flexible!

Seriously though, I think it's interesting how life events change a person, especially an aspie.
Mish said…
Thanks for this. I was always impressed by my Aspie husband's "discipline" and after reading this I understand that it is just his strict adherence to the rules he has. Now, if only I can use these rules to make him do what I want... :) Cheers!
Anonymous said…
"in the end I became totally flexible. Now my problem seems to be that I'm rigid about being flexible!"

You're joking, but can you not see the truth behind it? The drive behind this rule-following behavior is deeply set, and will shift according to circumstances. "Be flexible" is as much a rule as any other. Meta rules are still rules. And therein lies a way out for Aspies suffering from near OCD symptoms from this compulsion.

The trick for control freaks is to practice delegating control, and to deem that delegation itself as an expression of their power/control. I have chosen to have you choose the restaurant, etc etc.
Anonymous said…
I'm 40 and just recently realized I likely have asperger's. It's the only thing that explains my behavior all these years. This rule thing is a b*tch, I tell ya! I've tried so hard to change my rules to no avail. I can't take it anymore. I know I created them, to keep me safe, but now I want to see things differently and I just can't convince myself its okay to break these rules. I'm suffering something awful and just don't even want to continue as I am anymore. I really need to figure out a way to change my rules. How stupid that I made them yet I can't change them - f'n asperger crap. I believe we get it as a result of what our parents eat over their lifetime before having us... all that crap in food is causing illness' and disorders yet no one really cares yet. 50 years from now they'll look back and say omg look what we did to all these people with the crap we allowed in our food supply. Whatever, I'm stuck in aspie rule hell with no escape. Replies welcome at
Anonymous said…
My husband & I just got back together after many years of being apart. He' in his sixties. Noticing he has developed a nervous humming habit when we are quiet. It is the same made up tune made up od five notes, always hummed in the same order. Reminds me of a guilty child that is trying to appear innocent....what could this verrrrry weird and annoying habit mean?
Gavin Bollard said…
The humming tune you're describing is most likely stimming. It's harmless but could be annoying to others around him.

Just make him aware of it when it happens and he may be able to stop.
Anonymous said…
I have a 3 year old who has always (since she came home from hospital) has kind of stared into space and make "happy noises" when she makes these noises, she's always smiling. She is very healthy, socializes with other children and creative. She is still not talking and we have an appointment to see a speech therapist soon. I'm a little concerned because she has been getting up in the middle of the night and makes these noises and will stay up for hours (though she hasn't always slept through the night anyway). Should I be concerned?
Gavin Bollard said…
You shouldn't be too concerned at this stage but making an appointment with a speech therapist is the right thing to do.

It will give her the work she needs on her speech while also exposing her to professionals who will be able to make recommendations or reassurances based on what they observe.
Anonymous said…
I live with a friend who has AS. He doesn't know that I know he has AS. His mum told me after I had a chat about strange behaviour.
I am finding it really really hard to cope with him and it's affecting me negatively.
My friend:-
- masturbates constantly and leaves 'mess' everywhere.
- asks inappropriate things about sex and rape.
- worries about sex and rape all the time (he is a virgin and is scared that if he does have sex they will accuse him of rape).
- he has obsessions with 'rape', 'money' numbers (11221122 etc)
- he is fascinated with serial killers (especially where the victims are children)
- he is depressed but doesn't want help - he is not on medication.
- he constantly goes through my personal belongings when I'm not around.
- he lies constantly about everything. He will either lie so as not to offend someone or because he has done something wrong.
- he often breaks things and tries to cover it up.
- when he lies he first denies. He then swears on his grandads life. He then says 'what if I did ...?!' I'm not hurting anyone! I'm not a rapist or murderer! Then he admits and breaks down in tears.
- he obsesses over my cat and touches it inappropriately. When I told him it was wrong he said that she was the only female to ever show him affection.
- he constantly rocks, sucks air through his teeth, does hand movements, makes funny noises, clicks fingers, touches himself through his trousers, spaces out.
- he recently aske me to put his dirty clothes into the washing machine as he was away. The plastic box he used had faeces smeared around it, had urine in the bottom. It was disgusting. I didnt say anything about it.
- he often wets the bed.
- he prefers to be alone.
- he is constantly poking his eyes and sucking his fingers and knuckles.
- he sucks most things around the house.
- he talks to himself at night using different voices.
- he borrowed some herbal sleeping tablets and gave them back the next day - he had sucked the colour out o every one and put them back!
- he has appalling hygiene. I have hinted about shower gels. He only uses plain soap and rarely washes face and hair.
- he prefers an sink wash with a flannel instead of a bath or shower.
- he says he's an expert in music and film. He remembers things but doesn't really understand them.
- he eats a lot an it is mostly junk.
- he opens and hides or eats my post.
- he was seen masturbating by my neighbours through the window. And was caught mastyrbating in the toilets at his work.
- has OCD.

His mum said he has aspergers but I think it is a lot more.
We have lived in the same house for 3 months. For a few days he will be happy enough. For a few days he will stay hidden away in his room and won't talk. A few times he has scared me and made me feel really uncomfortable.

Before I lived with him I thought he was a little strange but harmless and he would never speak socially if more than one person was around. Now I've lived with him I think he is on the verge of something really bad. I have a sickening terrible feeling a lot o the time the way he behaves and dies his obsessions.

I need help and guidance.
He needs help or guidance.
Should I tell him I know about his AS?
How can I get him to get help?
Am I right to be worried? his symptoms seen so much worse than anything I've seen on any website about as and autism.
Are there any decent dating sites in the uk for people with AS?
He is 26 by the way. He had a bad childhood ( so he says ) and he lost a brother in law to the war in Afghanistan 3 years ago. Just before I met him.

Sorry this is so jumbled and unplanned - I'm just at my wits end with him!

Anon uk m 27
Anonymous said…
your friend is very likely a psychopath. Leaving "mess", feces etc.. around -- he does that to see where your boundaries are and how much he can make you let him get away with.

Get the heck away from him. I have A LOT of experience with psychopaths. Yours is classic. Yes, he may and likely does have aspergers too, but that doesn NOT preclude him from being a psychopath. They are extremely dangerous in ways that you cannot even imagine. Even if you do escape with your life, you will not escape unscathed.

Do NOT tell him you suspect. Wait until he is gone, pack your things and go where he can't find you. It is the only way.

Also, NEVER let him see any emotion from you. Use the "Gray Rock Method". Google it. It may save your life.
Unknown said…
holy crap! that's serious advice. look it sounds bad but I dunno about the advice. This guy, to me, just sounds like bad ocd aspergers, and Real Bad social skills, but I wouldn't wasn't to live w him! So yea, "move" certainly sounds good.
Anonymous said…
your Husband MostLikelyHas Aspergers. My Grandson Has It And He Makes Noise Like That. So Read Up On Aspergers.
Unknown said…
i just found this blog, read a couple and the rules really stuck out to me as i've always been very weird about mine... for instance, i didnt eat chicken from the time i was 13 to 23 because i had a theory it was wrong to eat something that couldn't stand up to me in a fight (also i didnt eat fish for several years but later decided if a shark could eat me i'd count it because i like fish fingers) but as i'm nearing 30 i still have an avoidance of poultry... but i seem to have trouble explaining to my wife that somethings just have to be the way they are, any suggestions?
Anonymous said…
Thank you for this post. I have just recently been diagnosed. I've been searching for years to figure out why I saw the world differently than other people, and all my anxieties and issues which seemingly had no cause, other than just being there.

I, apparently, don't present as most Aspie's, as I am more comfortable IN social situations than alone, but only if I am comfortable in my environment. For example, I can attend a party if there is someone there who I'm likely to be able to converse with, but I can't walk into a restaurant or coffee shop alone, to meet someone.

I have always been overly concerned with following rules and social (and criminal) justice. It's common to have the police scanner, I always want to follow police cars and/or firetrucks, I worked as a reporter to give me access to 'red light' events, etc.

If anyone is in trouble, I know (apparently intuitively) exactly what steps, in what order, they need to take, in order to get out of a situation, keep themselves safe, remove themselves from a domestic violence situation, etc. It's almost as if I've been born with this information chip, on which has every situation in the world, and I call pull it up into my 'database' of information.

I have a penchant for saying that something isn't legal, and I'll randomly start citing reasons. I'll create a scenario where something can lead to an arrest, and describe it in detail, so the reader (or listener) is pretty well convinced that this is a crime (which is almost always is). Sometimes, to make a point, I'll throw in how something could potentially turn illegal and someone will end up in jail.

If I see someone being slighted, or somehow abused or mistreated, I'll write letters to complain. (Of course, I also write them to compliment). If I'm unhappy with service I've received, I've had people fired. I do it quietly, behind the scenes, no one knows between me and their company, etc. It's not vicious or malicious, and it isn't used to harm, but I have a strong sense of what Customer Service is, and a talent for writing, and I can make my point well enough that others can empathize with me.

The slight change of one word in a sentence can mean the difference between signing a lease and completely rejecting it. How *I* understand something is extremely important to me, so that I will insist that so be changed to then because (in my head?) the 'rule' will only be absolutely maintainable if I can read the sentence and reference it as my 'code of conduct.' I would/could actually stand before a court of law (I'm sure) and argue my case between so and then and end up winning -- either because no one else recognized the difference and just agreed with me (to keep me quiet) or because I (usually) eloquently made my case so that, in my head, I could say, I was right.

I do selectively break rules -- some which are somewhat controversial, but only if *I* have a reason to do so. I remember once, as a child, I was taught that it didn't matter what I did in my life, as long as I had a reason for everything. I have often wondered why my interpretation of things was so literal, even though intellectually, I *know* how to tell the difference. So, I was told to have a *reason,* and I will obsess for weeks about whether or not my reason is good enough to act, which delays my decision-making process to an almost unbearably long time. Other times, like a cancer diagnosis, I go into auto-pilot and it appears the rest of the world is making my decisions for me, and I blindly proceed, as if in a daze.

I could go on, but I'm noticing that every research paper and/or personal account reflects what's in my head, but I'm already breaking rules, because I don't present well enough to even attend a support meeting without being an outsider within an already-alienated world.

Thank you for the post.

Popular posts from this blog

Why Do Aspies Suddenly Back-Off in Relationships? (Part 1)

One of the most frequent questions I'm asked is why an aspie (or suspected aspie) suddenly goes "cold" and backs off on an otherwise good relationship. It's a difficult question and the answers would vary considerably from one person to another and would depend greatly on the circumstances. Nevertheless, I'll try to point out some possibilities. Negative Reasons I generally like to stay positive on this blog and assume that people are not necessarily "evil" but simply misguided. Unfortunately, I do have to acknowledge that there are some people out there who take advantage of others. I read a book a few years ago on "sociopaths in the workplace" and I was stunned by the figures. They suggested that sociopaths were so common that most workplaces (small business) had at least one or two. The fact is that there are lots of people out there who really feel very little for others and who are very manipulative. I'd like to say that aspies aren

Aspie Myths - "He Won't Miss Me"

I apologise for the excessive "male-orientated" viewpoint in this post. I tried to keep it neutral but somehow, it just works better when explained from a male viewpoint. Here's a phrase that I've seen repeated throughout the comments on this blog on several occasions; "I know that he won't miss me when I'm gone because he's aspie" Today, we're going to (try to) bust that myth; Individuals I'll start off with a reminder that everyone is an individual. If all aspies were completely alike and predictible, they'd be a stereotype but they're not. Each is shaped by their background, their upbringing, their beliefs and their local customs. An aspie who grew up with loud abusive parents has a reasonable chance of becoming loud and abusive themselves because in some cases, that's all they know. That's how they think adults are supposed to behave. In other cases, aspies who grew up in those circumstances do a complete about-fa

Time Management on the Autism Spectrum

One of the things that people on the spectrum do really poorly is manage their own time. This is because people with autism often suffer from poor executive functioning.  They have difficulty planning out their day or estimating how long a task will take. They're also very easily distracted.  Time management is a critical skill, particularly after your child had left school and is expected to take charge of their own day. In this post, I want to look at some of the reasons why time management fails and some of the changes we can make to train ourselves to be better at it. Who Manages Your Time? In your formative years, you do very little time management and it's usually your parents who set alarms and cajole you out of bed, harass you into getting dressed, slog through the breakfast routine, push you into the car and drop you off at school. Once at school, you're at the mercy of the timetable but apart from getting the right books to the right classes on time,