For people with autism, rules are not meant to be broken! Rules bring structure and predictability. The world can be a confusing place for someone with autism; social situations are unpredictable, it can be tricky to workout what a person will do, what they will say and how they will feel. Rules eliminate some of the confusion – “I know how this person will act in this situation because they should be following the rules & if they’re following the rules I know how to respond appropriately, I know what to expect because I will also be following the rules”. Rules bring a feeling of safety, they bring order to the chaos but only if they are not broken!
For the last two days I have collected Caleb from school & he’s been upset – in his mind some rules have been broken. The first one – “mum something isn’t right, my teacher has broken the rules.” He starts acting really distressed – he’s quoting movie lines (something he does when he doesn’t know how to express his own feelings) and he’s telling me he’s trying to figure out how he can “fix” this problem. He finally tells me “my teacher went into the boys toilet & she’s a girl – she shouldn’t be in there it’s against the rules.” We have a discussion about why his teacher may have needed to break the rules and go into the boys toilet – maybe someone was ill, maybe someone was in trouble, maybe someone hadn’t come back to class, maybe someone was calling for help, maybe it was an emergency. I try to reason out all these situations with him and no matter what I say his response is “well she should’ve called a man teacher.” In his mind there is never a situation that is appropriate for this rule to be broken. We spoke about it all the way home and when we finally got in he asked me to leave him for a while because he just needed quiet time.
The second incident – someone got into trouble when it wasn’t their fault. It was one of his friends and someone told her to break a rule but then told the teacher and she got in trouble. He’s distraught. His friend shouldn’t have got a row, it was the other persons fault, they told her to break the rule. He cannot process this – it’s all to confusing – someone told you to do something then that same person has got you into trouble. When I collected him he told me his heart had been broken by seeing his friend get into trouble – he told me he had to find a solution to this and he had to make it better for his friend. Again when we got home he told me he needed quiet time. That was a few hours ago and he’s still saying he can’t stop thinking about how the rules were broken. We’ve spoken about it, we’ve looked at all the different perspectives of the other people that were involved, we’ve checked his friend is ok now but he’s still got a broken heart about it.
These are just two little examples of things that can happen in every day life and for most of us they don’t stress us out or cause us any pain – we usually get over it pretty quickly and move on. For some of us rules are made to be broken, but for my little guy I’m afraid they must be followed and followed to the letter!!