Do We Expect More from Autistic Kids Than from Their Typical Peers?

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If you think it's easy being a kid with autism, think again.  Not only are you faced with all of the challenges related to a serious developmental disorder, but you're ALSO faced with a raft of raised expectations that other kids are spared.

You read that right.  It's true.  Kids with autism are very often expected to behave better, focus better, and interact with more social graces than kids withOUT autism.

  And if they don't the consequences can be severe. Rather than receiving a "pass" as typical kids might ("he's having a bad day," "she's just a little shy," etc.), kids with autism who don't present themselves in a manner deemed "appropriate" can receive consequences or be quickly relegated to "special" classrooms, segregated sports teams, and yet more intensive therapies.

What do these increased expectations look like?  Here are a few comparisons that may surprise you.

  1. Typically developing children are often "addicted" to cell phones, iPads, and other devices. When addressed, they may give fleeting glances to the peers adults around them. This poor social etiquette is generally given a passing shrug, as adults note how times -- and expectations -- have changed. Not so for children on the autism spectrum.  When they fail to look an adult or peer in the eye, they are challenged to do so -- and may receive consequences such as the loss of a privilege if they fail to do so.
  1. Etiquette is, let's face it, a dying art.  Very few typically developing children are asked to shake hands firmly with adults while making direct eye contact and saying lines like "it's a pleasure to meet you."  Children with autism, however, are taught just these somewhat archaic skills -- skills which are not only age inappropriate but which mark them as even more "special" among their peers.
  1. Conversation among children, particularly boys, is typically very basic.  Kids may say little more than "lookit!"  "Cool!"  "Can I try?" for long periods of time.  And that's fine.  Unless the children happen to be autistic.  In that case, assuming they are verbal, they are asked to ask and answer questions that are utterly inappropriate for children of their age.  What 10 year old -- except an autistic child in a social skills group run, almost always, by middle-aged women -- says "how was your weekend?  did you have a good time at the zoo?  which animals did you like best?  we went to the movies.  I enjoyed seeing the new Disney film."
  2. Plenty of typically developing children are shy or have a tough time reading body language and social cues. When that happens, adults may note that the child is shy, and either accommodates their preferences or gently encourage more social interaction.  Autistic children are not so lucky.  A preference for quiet and/or solitude is rarely seen as a personal preference and instead is viewed as an autistic symptom.  As a result, it must be "remediated" through a course of social skills training, peer "buddy" events, and other therapeutic programs.
  1. Many typically developing children have behavior issues at school.  They may blurt out answers rather than raise their hands, lose focus during tests, or have a tough time sharing or collaborating.  When that happens, for the most part, teachers respond with brief admonitions to "raise your hand," "play nicely," or "work with your partner." Children with autism, however, have a much tougher standard to meet. When they "blurt" or lose focus, they are subject to various consequences which may range from losing privileges to actually being transferred to a segregated school setting.
  2. When a typical child comes home and spends time alone to wind down, parents are usually very accepting.  After all, everyone needs a little alone time -- right?  When a child with autism does the same, however, parents are concerned: is he making friends?  Does he need more social skills therapy?  There's a good chance that alone time will not be tolerated.

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