Unspoken Rules

Is it possible to be on the Autism Spectrum and manage it well enough to be a pubic speaker? Meet Sean Barron. I listened with interest to his life's story about being a child with autism. It intrigued me because I'm working with a student who very well could have been him. After telling us about the challenges and celebrations on his journey, he walked us through what we as educators can do to help children on the spectrum with social skills development. His point - Even the best floor plan won't endure with a weak, faulty, or non-existent foundation. - resonated with me; he emphasized how critical it is to help students on the spectrum build a solid foundation. I connected with his list of ten unwritten rules and think you'll agree that these can easily be generalized to most children (and some adults!). Here are some highlights from the notes I took.

1.  Rules are not absolute. They are situation and people-based.  But since children with autism want rules to be iron-clad, this is confusing to them.

2.  Not everything is equally important in the grand scheme of things.  For example, offending someone isn't as bad as hitting a pole with your car. Both are bad, but not equally bad. The same goes for positive and pleasurable things. We must teach them, for example, to pay the bills with their money before buying something fun.

3.  Everyone makes mistakes and it doesn't have to ruin your day.  We need to help those on the spectrum with their perfection perception. They have problems with gray area and their low self-esteem keeps them from wanting to be wrong or corrected. Piano lessons, for example, can be very difficult for a child with autism because he can't always appreciate the process.

4.  Honesty is different than diplomacy.  Children with autism will not give you the PG version of the truth; they do not sugar-coat things.  Teach them to filter their thoughts.  Sometimes they have to shelf their feelings in social situations until later.

5.  Being polite is appropriate in any situation.  Manners matter.

6.  Not everyone who is nice to me is my friend.  Children on the spectrum don't understand social cues and 60-65% of our communication is non-verbal. They take things at face value and don't read social implications into situations because they can't.  They can desire friends so badly that they might do bad things for someone just to be their friend. Show them how true friends behave and teach them discernment.

7. People act differently in public than they do in private. Nobody wears a t-shirt advertising his/her faults.

8.  Know when you are turning people on and off. There are different ways to get to a single destination. Use a road map. Teach them not to pontificate.

9.  Fitting in is often tied to looking and sounding like you fit in. It's all about learning to make adjustments.

10.  People are responsible for their own behaviors. Teach children to quit glorifying blame and take responsibility.

Click here for more information about the book he co-authored with Temple Grandin.


  1. Barbara,
    Thank you so much for this post! These are wonderful points that can help us as educators to see the challenges that students on the spectrum face. Also, insight into why teaching social skills is important! This helped me a lot!

  2. What a great post!!! Thanks for the food for thoughts!

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