Teaching Honesty to People with Aspergers and Other Social Language Challenges

For as long as I can remember, the very popular phrase “Honesty is the Best Policy”.  While there are many others, I remember hearing this one frequently in classrooms, in church, and at home.  It is true, honesty equals peace. And peace is priceless.  Recently on a list serve to which I belong the question was posed “Do we Teach Honesty is the Best Policy” to people with social language challenges such as Aspergers.  The person who posed the question went on to illustrate how this particular population may be too honest when following this rule based policy regarding honesty.  While it is true that honesty does not always make everyone feel comfortable, it is needed.

So my emotional, personal, and professional answer to the question “Do we Teach Honesty is the Best Policy?”  is a resounding Yes!

The challenge to the provider is how you teach, the underlying brain processes that are necessary to address, and much more.

In the HOW  of teaching honesty.  It’s important to move towards teaching Perspective Taking and Theory of Mind.  Here we want to teach the learner to understand the perspective of another from an Emotional and Situational Perspective.  When we teach from a systematic, schema building, and fluency standpoint ( the brain building process of perspective taking); we are bringing to light the common phrase “Think Before You Speak”.

With Theory of Mind and the thought process of Perspective Taking, we can begin pairing “thinking about how another person may feel” and using language with another person in mind.  This is when the application of the speech-language therapy targeting sentence forms, reasoning, vocabulary specificity, tone of voice, and body language all become very important.

Honesty that hurts is often a combination of truth, words, vocal tone, and body language.  With learners and people with ASD the tone of voice, body language may not appear to be as empathetic; and when combined with the clear truth…it becomes an OUCH! situation for the conversation partner.

When teaching formal and informal language, SLPs will often work on the HOW from a language perspective.  In teaching honesty, it is never (or should never be the goal) in taking away or dampening a learner’s ability to tell the truth.  It is teachign them HOW  and WHEN to deliver the news and to know the intent:

Here’s an example:

Samantha is with her mom at the grocery store.  She sees her neighbor Mr. Bill.  Samantha says hello and begins small talk.  Mr. Bill is enjoying the conversation with Samantha and her mom.  At the end of the conversation, Samantha tells Mr. Bill that his breath stinks.  Mr. Bill is embarrassed and mom is mortified.

Do we teach Samantha NOT  tell another when their body odor offends her?  NO!

What do we do:

1. Examine her intent.  Did you want to embarrass him?  She answers No.  (side note: If embarrassment was her intent…change focus of teaching).

2. Thought bubble and speech bubble exercise.  Fact: Mr. Bill is in the store.  Fact: You enjoy talking to him.  Fact: His breath stinks

3. If your goal is to NOT embarrass (turn his stick figure yellow…credit to Carol Gray conversation color)….then what can you do…

4. Let the problem solving begin!  (Here are a few choices generated by Samantha: Whisper to her mom after Mr. Bill leaves, purchase mints for Mr. Bill and tell him why you are giving them to him and you did not want to hurt his feelings by talking about it at the grocery store).

Side note: We did not teach her to just randomly offer a mint (that can be rejected) to Mr. Bill.  Her Verbal Behavior was telling him the problem.  You have to teach her to use that same modality to continue to the current relationship. That is, you must teach her to pair a solution with her stated version of the problem. Employ the use of an empathetic voice for HIS feelings not hers.

This was a real scenario and a real HONESTY teaching experience for mom, Samantha, and me (her therapist).  This happened in her Keep the Conversation Going social group 🙂

Resources:

Teaching Children with ASD to Mind Read

Great Video by Dr. Uta Frith – Autism and Brain’s Theory of Mind

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