I don’t know what HE doesn’t know because I only know what I know – and I don’t know how I know it.

As the NT mom of an autistic first grader, I am SO glad I found autistic bloggers.


Why? Because when you’re NOT autistic, you don’t realize how much of our social realities are intuited. When you’re NOT autistic, you don’t really think about how much social behavior is lightly taught, and then absorbed when you’re young – until you have a kiddo that DOESN’T “absorb” it – that has to LEARN it.

Ho. Lee. Crap.

REALLY??? As if parenting wasn’t complicated enough!

Now, I’m a first time mom, so I don’t know if these examples are me being overly concerned and helicopter-y, a regular kid thing, or an “autism/not getting the unspoken rules” thing (I lean towards the last), so bear with me.


I posted about birthday parties and expectations a couple of months ago, where a party game led to a meltdown for my hardly-ever-meltdown-prone 6.5 year old because I had no idea of the expectations that DS had built around how the pinata game worked. For him, the point of the game was to break the pinata; if you don’t – you’re DOING IT WRONG, not strong enough, messing up, etc. He honestly did not get the “it’s just a game” part of the game. WOW!

At summer camp this year, there was a minor issue that was challenging to explain to him. DS still doesn’t quite understand that when a kid is playing a game with him, then wants to play something different before DS is done, it’s not the same thing as “he doesn’t like me”. This one has to be repeatedly reinforced. When DS is having fun with something, it’s hard for him to shift away from it to something new, even if the other thing might be fun too – other kids don’t necessarily get that either 😦


We had another party where he was trying to get his gift opened by the birthday girl – he was SO excited about giving it to her, and he didn’t “get” that the gifts were opened one-at-a-time on the table. Obvious to ME, not to him – but no other kids seemed to care about their gift being opened.

Goodness, how many other pitfalls am I not seeing because it’s been so long for me to remember back to, the number of parties has just started to climb, and I have no real clue of what he knows and doesn’t know about navigating this? AHHHHHH!


Little kids get presents, and you can tell when they don’t like them. We teach them to do the polite “thanks” regardless of how they feel. We’re working on this still, and it hasn’t happened too much because mostly we’ve had family and they ask, so we don’t get “I didn’t want that” too much – though that DID happen last year but luckily the giver wasn’t around at the time (YIKES!). Reminders abound in this situation!

NT kids seem to “pick up” the polite thank you a bit easier (it seems-I could be wrong).

Although, I have to say, don’t you wish you could skip the polite, though, when you know the person didn’t care, or try, or bought you something THEY like regardless of the fact that you told them what YOU like? ; )


I worry about this because it’s so subtle. This is just SO hard.

I think younger kids in general have challenges with assuming that other kids have hit them on purpose while playing rough, but perhaps autistic kids take longer to “get” when it’s accidental vs. when it’s not. We go to the McDonalds play-places on the weekends when the weather is iffy. Sometimes when DS is doing roughhousing type stuff with kids his age, he’ll get hurt BY ACCIDENT – crashed into, foot stepped on, etc., and he often thinks it was done on purpose. It doesn’t help that he seems to respond very dramatically to the sharp unexpected pain of this kind of “ouch” (generally he’s a sensory seeker and sensory input isn’t a problem). The sharp pain is surprising, so he gets upset, cries, is (briefly) mad at whoever was involved in the injury. Once he calms down, though, he’s ready to play again and doesn’t understand that the kids he was just upset with are now leery of playing with him because they think they’ll get blamed, that he’ll cry, etc. This REALLY sucks because it happens most often with his peer age group (not the younger or older kids).

I also worry about his not understanding intent when he gets older, because I fear bullying – especially the sneaky kind where kids pretend they like you and then screw with you. How is someone who DOESN’T ever think like this going to understand that kinds of screwed up behavior? I don’t think like that, so I don’t even know how to protect him from this!

* * * * * * * * *

This is just the tip of the iceberg of things that he’s just “supposed to know”, but doesn’t. And he’s not alone. In reading blogs of other autistic individuals (see “Autistic Adult Perspectives” in my blogroll), I’ve seen that this kind of social “filler” is majorly challenging. Often, they get stuck because they say too much, are too direct, to the point. Typically in the NT world, there’s a lot of extra “stuff” going on in a conversation, so much hidden meaning in words, gestures, etc. In my experience with autistic people, what you see is what you get. NT’s seem to have a hard time believing that – we look for ulterior motives that aren’t there. How frustrating is that?

I’m just going to keep reading, keep asking, being a detective. I’m going to try not to be a helicopter mom, and read autism into everything that’s going on. I’m going to keep working on finding ways to translate those “unspoken” rules, and teach them in an ongoing way so he can internalize them as he’s able to.

I’m going to work to be aware of my own “theory of mind” issues and not assume that he knows what I know.

4 thoughts on “I don’t know what HE doesn’t know because I only know what I know – and I don’t know how I know it.

  1. I think that not assuming that he knows simply because everyone knows certain things by a certain age is already one of the best things you can do. Because that means you’re teaching him new things on HIS level, at HIS pace. And don’t forget, he might be incredibly far ahead of his peers on other things! Not every autistic kid is highly intelligent or gifted or a savant, but our visual, detail oriented thinking does seem to give us an edge in some things.

    Also, and this might sound incredibly pessimistic, but please bear with me: accept that you might not be able to protect him from bullying no matter how hard you try or how much he learns. This sounds awful, I know. But unless you can teach ALL other kids not to bully anyone who’s different, bullying will happen. Because it’s not something he does or you do. It’s something bullies do. And so only bullies can prevent it.

    Your role of protector lies far more in what happens if he does get bullied. Take him seriously, trust him, and tell him it’s not anything he’s done, that some people simply can’t handle differences because it makes them afraid or jealous. That’s it. Make him feel safe. That’s your protector role.

    • Yes, this. You’re not going to be able to stop bullying. Frankly, that’s in the teachers’ and schools’ court – whether or not bullying happens has a lot to do with whether or not adults in supervisor positions tolerate bullying behavior, and most adults find it easier to shut the victim up than to stop the bullies.

      So, when it happens, you need to take him seriously, and you need to do your best to make the school take it seriously, and you need to reassure him that it’s not his fault and that he doesn’t deserve it. Especially, you need to stop any well-meaning adults who offer advice of the “have you tried not being so damn weird/standing out so much/fitting in more/suppressing your natural movement?” sort. Cuz that stuff is not helpful, and it makes the victim feel that it’s their fault they’re being bullied, I say from experience as a person who was bullied severely in school

      • Thanks for this info and validation of how to support him. I’ve been a weird, non-fitting in NT for most of my life so the “why can’t you be more normal” will try my patience. That’s not gonna work as a “solution” for sure. So far his school has been very supportive and I hope it continues for a while.

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