Thursday, October 8, 2009

Honesty is the Only Policy

A curious trait that my son shares with most of those who have social communications disorders is an innate inability to lie. He is usually incapable of even the harmless white lies people tell in order to spare feelings, avoid arguments, or for whatever reason. Once when he was about twelve or thirteen years old, my husband and I were joking about our looks and I commented something like, “I know I’m not a ten – probably an eight!” My son chimed in with, “I think you’re more like a six.” OUCH! Imagine when he meets that special someone and she says to him, “Does this dress make me look fat?” Oh, we got trouble…right here in River City…

The first time my son lied to me he was in sixth grade. (In stark contrast, I think my daughter was in second grade the first time she told me that of course she had brushed her teeth, when she really hadn't). He was sitting on the couch as I was going to get the mail and I asked if he was wearing his retainers. “Yes.” Then as I continued to the mailbox I heard him running to his room to get the retainers. By the time I got back, he was sitting on the couch again. Some parents would be annoyed; I was delighted – and laughing out loud!

Because it is hard for people with social issues to feel empathy, they frequently don’t think about how someone would feel when they hear a truth that casts a negative light on the receiver. My son did not intend to hurt my feelings (and fortunately I have thick skin!) – If you’re a six, you’re a six. It was as though he saw it as a label, not as a description, so why would it hurt your feelings? On the other hand, he himself is very sensitive to criticism. I think this inner sensitivity that he has should eventually help him to understand better the impact his words might have on other people.

The social acceptability of white lies that serve the greater good is an important lesson to learn and practice. Don’t tell your Mother she’s a “six;” don’t tell your significant other that, yes – that dress does make you look a little fat. Before you tell anyone a truth that has a negative perspective, try and categorize it and decide if the person might think it’s nice or not so nice. Putting it into either of those slots might be easier to do than trying to determine if it will result in hurt feelings. It is really an art to be able to lie a little, just enough to avoid a misunderstanding, without sounding insincere. For better or for worse, most neuro-typical people are quite adept at this.

For my son, telling the truth is usually the right thing to do; why would you lie? However, in sixth grade, he discovered that lying could come in handy!

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