Rule Following and Aspergers / Autism

One of the classic traits that many, but not all, people on the Aspergers / Autism spectrum have is that they like to have rules. It is comforting to have rules to follow and it is often upsetting to have those rules broken.

Life is confusing. You get scolded if you don’t do something “right” but often it’s baffling to figure out just what is right and what is wrong. Rules come in. Crossing a street? You have to hold someone’s hand. It’s the rule. Eating a meal? You have to eat the main meal before you can have dessert. It’s the rule.

From the outside, sometimes rules don’t seem to make sense. Have to wash the left hand before the right hand. Have to sort the M&Ms by color and eat them so the piles are always even. But who’s to say that “our rules” don’t seem to make as little sense at times, either? Why is the red light on top and the green light on the bottom? It’s just the way that it is.

It’s important to work with the rules with someone with Asperger’s or Autism. Trying to dismiss a rule doesn’t make any more sense than trying to dismiss the rule that people have to wear shirts to school. It’s just the way things are.

There will be times that a rule just can’t be followed for practical reasons. Maybe it’s 3pm and the power’s out. There’s simply no way to watch their favorite TV show that they always watch at 3pm. So come up with a new rule. When the power is out, we talk about our favorite moments from the TV show and celebrate it. Stay with the spirit of the rule and honor it.

Above all, hear and acknowledge their care for the rules. In the end, we all have rules we follow, about stopping at red lights, and about waiting in line, and the sense that rules matter is important to us all.

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