April 11, 2021

The next time a child disobeys or ignores you, consider this: They may not be able, at that moment, to do what you’ve asked.

Yes, even if they’ve done it before.

If you knew, without a doubt, that the demand was too big for them to handle, what would you do differently? Perhaps offer assistance, express patience, review steps – or drop it entirely, and try again another time?

You might be afraid that they’ll take advantage of your lenience, if they really are able to obey. You might be afraid that they’ll miss opportunities to build diligence, willpower, and conscientiousness.

But there are dangers on the other side, too. You might exacerbate a child’s sense of helplessness. They might miss an opportunity to learn what it feels like to need support, and what kind of support to ask for.

I always hear that it’s respectful to presume competence. As a first step, I agree. But when I give my students the chance to demonstrate their ability, and they appear to resist, I try to respond as if they’re sincerely doing the best they can.

P.S. I write from my personal experience as an autistic. What I share is not a substitute for advice from an autistic medical professional. Also, some of my opinions have changed since I first wrote them.