I suppose many typically-developing teenagers question why they need to learn certain things in school, or why they need to take a certain class. And you can usually reason with them along the lines of “You need to graduate from high school so that you can go to college. Or if you don’t go to college, you still need to graduate from high school so you can at least get an entry-level job somewhere. And in order to graduate from high school, you need to take some classes that you don’t like.” And they won’t like this reasoning, but they will eventually see the logic.
The autistic teen? Not so much. “You don’t think like I do.” This is what Nigel tells me after I have tried the above-mentioned reasoning tactic. He really does not see the merit in graduating from high school. “I want to live how I want to live. Why can’t we live like our cavemen ancestors? That was when survival was more needed than mathematics.” And he is serious.
This is what I deal with when I try to teach him algebra and essay writing. And I point out to him that at least now he can learn these mandatory things at home where it’s quiet and he is not distracted and harassed by other students. I also gently mention that I’ve made some major adjustments to be able to do this for him. But that’s a concept he can’t grasp. Even though once in a while he’ll take out the trash without complaining and then (!) he actually puts a new bag in the trashcan without being reminded (!) or he scoops some ice cream in a bowl for himself and then – on his own – scoops some in a bowl for me (!), even though he does these things once in a great while, he is still pervasively influenced by the aut, the self. Selfism. It’s not that he only thinks about himself or only cares about himself. It’s not egocentric or narcissistic. It’s that he cannot understand someone else’s viewpoint. He can’t possibly realize that, as a single parent, I go through a lot to be able to homeschool him. He can’t understand why education is necessary, beyond what he already knows. He is governed by the self. “You don’t think like I do” also means “I’m only able to think how I think.”
Mind you, this is just a mom still trying to figure it out. I think I know enough, and then months later I have another epiphany and I realize that I have so much more to learn. I know now that I will spend the rest of my days trying to understand my son’s autism. Trying to think like he does. Many parents say that having an autistic child will make you see the world differently. My son is fourteen and every day I am still realizing just how true – how profoundly true – that is.