Saturday, July 7, 2007

To tell the truth

One of the dubious benefits of autism is that it often comes with a reputation for honesty. Whether due to perceived deficits in the theory of mind or to some mysterious (to me) radar detecting a lack of intent to deceive or to a known history of bluntness or simply to incompetence in lying, Aspies are sometimes granted a “pass” in cases where others might undergo more intense scrutiny. I can’t say this hasn’t gotten me out of a jam or two in my life, as having a reputation for truthfulness can do. Both my parents would swear I was all but incapable of deception and backed up some pretty weak stories at times. The one that comes to mind involves a wrecked car, a wet road and imaginary rabbit. Sorry, Mom and Dad. I lied.

My inability to grasp the importance of “white lies” was a source of distress for them, too. How could I say that I liked the doll my aunt gave me when everyone knew I didn’t play with dolls? At what age is someone supposed to figure out that the answer to questions about looking fat is always (and emphatically) “no”? By now, of course, I know the answers, but that (just slightly extra) hesitation before answering gives it away every time.

Silent deceptions, the kind most non-autistic people don’t even think of as deception, like makeup and hair coloring, these never even occur to me. Dressing up is reserved for job interviews and funerals. Why would a person choose an uncomfortable and/or expensive outfit for the sake of presentation? Maybe this lack of expected pretension adds to the autistic “aura of honesty”, I don’t know.

On the other hand, the “honesty pass” has often been revoked at exactly the wrong times. In the academic realm, I’ve dealt with more than my share of unjustified suspicions. From grades one through twelve, teachers refused to believe that I could not retrieve the answer to a question in class. They knew I had learned the information; it was evident from my papers and tests, so how could I possibly not be able to just say it? Accusations of plagiarism have been leveled as well, though never officially, and the last of these is not yet far enough in the past to alleviate anxieties of future problems in this area.

These are issues I understand, however inexcusable the accusations may be. They are based on familiarity with the motives, abilities and patterns of typical students, and on lack of exposure to many people for whom writing and speaking are two completely unrelated abilities. In an ideal world, one might expect that the current “focus” on autism would lead to these incidents becoming less common. Instead, the patholigizing of different learning styles has more likely led to such students being segregated for individualized instruction and “intervention”. (Thank God I escaped that kind of “help”, anyway.)

There are other ill conceived exceptions to the “honesty rule” about which I steadfastly refuse to be understanding. These are the ones which fall into the category of truths about being autistic. The big one, “you are not really autistic” and all its variations (such as “you’re confused”, “it’s only Asperger’s” and “everybody does that”) is no longer being entertained here, thank you. All such comments are best met with stony silence, a skyward glance, a swift departure or combination of the three. There’s no reasoning with people who are determined to call me a liar at this level. My energies are thus reserved for the many lies about autism and autistic people in general. I’m not even going to get started listing those here.

The idea that autistics always tell the truth, well, that’s a misconception, but is it a damaging one or more in the “white lie” category? I do believe it is harmful, as it contributes to the probably less than accurate “theory of mind deficit” concept. More dangerous still is the way the idea of the perfectly honest autistic child dovetails with the “autistic angel” stereotype. While less clearly hurtful than the “child stealing demon” myth, angels are no more accurate descriptors of the autistic child. Perfect, mysterious, ethereal and mythical, it’s yet another way of implying certain people are not quite human.


  1. Very interesting. I particularly relate to the issue of schooling and not being able to 'come up with' the answer. [slightly off topic] I have long suspected this to be the case for one of my sons in particular. Just recently, his [wonderful] teacher gave him the SAT test [with accommodations] At Christmas he was assessed are barely brushing first grade standards [although non academically he was a star]. Then in June [with the accommodations] he cleared 2nd grade standards. I'm not sure who I was more proud of, the boy himself, or his insightful teacher.

  2. What is truth? said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer. Certainly there be, that delight in giddiness, and count it a bondage to fix a belief; affecting free-will in thinking, as well as in acting. And though the sects of philosophers of that kind be gone, yet there remain certain discoursing wits, which are of the same veins, though there be not so much blood in them, as was in those of the ancients. But it is not only the difficulty and labor, which men take in finding out of truth, nor again, that when it is found, it imposeth upon men's thoughts, that doth bring lies in favor; but a natural though corrupt love, of the lie itself. One of the later school of the Grecians, examineth the matter, and is at a stand, to think what should be in it, that men should love lies; where neither they make for pleasure, as with poets, nor for advantage, as with the merchant; but for the lie's sake. But I cannot tell; this same truth, is a naked, and open day-light, that doth not show the masks, and mummeries, and triumphs, of the world, half so stately and daintily as candle-lights. Truth may perhaps come to the price of a pearl, that showeth best by day; but it will not rise to the price of a diamond, or carbuncle, that showeth best in varied lights. A mixture of a lie doth ever add pleasure. Doth any man doubt, that if there were taken out of men's minds, vain opinions, flattering hopes, false valuations, imaginations as one would, and the like, but it would leave the minds, of a number of men, poor shrunken things, full of melancholy and indisposition, and unpleasing to themselves?

    One of the fathers, in great severity, called poesy vinum doemonum, because it filleth the imagination; and yet, it is but with the shadow of a lie. But it is not the lie that passeth through the mind, but the lie that sinketh in, and settleth in it, that doth the hurt; such as we spake of before. But, howsoever these things are thus in men's depraved judgments, and affections, yet truth, which only doth judge itself, teacheth that the inquiry of truth, which is the love-making, or wooing of it, the knowledge of truth, which is the presence of it, and the belief of truth, which is the enjoying of it, is the sovereign good of human nature. The first creature of God, in the works of the days, was the light of the sense; the last, was the light of reason; and his sabbath work ever since, is the illumination of his Spirit. First he breathed light, upon the face of the matter or chaos; then he breathed light, into the face of man; and still he breatheth and inspireth light, into the face of his chosen. The poet, that beautified the sect, that was otherwise inferior to the rest, saith yet excellently well: It is a pleasure, to stand upon the shore, and to see ships tossed upon the sea; a pleasure, to stand in the window of a castle, and to see a battle, and the adventures thereof below: but no pleasure is comparable to the standing upon the vantage ground of truth (a hill not to be commanded, and where the air is always clear and serene), and to see the errors, and wanderings, and mists, and tempests, in the vale below; so always that this prospect be with pity, and not with swelling, or pride. Certainly, it is heaven upon earth, to have a man's mind move in charity, rest in providence, and turn upon the poles of truth.

    To pass from theological, and philosophical truth, to the truth of civil business; it will be acknowledged, even by those that practise it not, that clear, and round dealing, is the honor of man's nature; and that mixture of falsehoods, is like alloy in coin of gold and silver, which may make the metal work the better, but it embaseth it. For these winding, and crooked courses, are the goings of the serpent; which goeth basely upon the belly, and not upon the feet. There is no vice, that doth so cover a man with shame, as to be found false and perfidious. And therefore Montaigne saith prettily, when he inquired the reason, why the word of the lie should be such a disgrace, and such an odious charge? Saith he, If it be well weighed, to say that a man lieth, is as much to say, as that he is brave towards God, and a coward towards men. For a lie faces God, and shrinks from man. Surely the wickedness of falsehood, and breach of faith, cannot possibly be so highly expressed, as in that it shall be the last peal, to call the judgments of God upon the generations of men; it being foretold, that when Christ cometh, he shall not find faith upon the earth.

  3. My ability to 'tell the truth' is known about me professionally. I recall the facts really well. I keep meticulous records and archives. When I am deposed my story never changes. I sometimes recall more facts. However, I say pretty much the same thing no matter how the question is phrased.

    I also get served a subpoena every six months or so for my records from some branch of law enforcement doing forensic accounting on criminals they are prosecuting. So far my records have a 100% indictment factor-most people take the plea once my excellent records and clear depositions are brought out.

    I am capable of lying. I am able to sometimes tell when someone else is lying. I think of it as a probability analysis.

    When I tell the is indeed the truth down to the most exacting details.


  4. mcewen,
    Have I ever told you how much I like your liberal sprinkilings of parenthetical comments? Because I very much do. Kudos to your son and his insightful teacher!

    I do appreciate your style and ability with language, though not every part of your argument. I realize you have been dead for some time and are therefore likely not aware of this, but for a comment of this length, you might want to consider posting it at your own blog next time!

  5. check this out: I am very uncomfortable with the whole title line....autism enough is enough and solve the puzzle thing going on at the top. I am a person not a puzzle for one thing and I have also had quite enough of NT people saying they have had enough of autism.
    Autism...for the uneducated

    This person says they are in training to be an autism educator or some such. Ack.


  6. Sarah,
    Double Ack. The title and banner are nothing compared to the content. Just what the world needs-- another blog full of devastation references, vaccine bashing and yet another link to Autism Everyday. autism4theuneducated, yes, perfectly named. Who else would read this stuff?

  7. I posted to that uneducated site that Autistics (NOT people with autism-gee thanks! She feels the need to quantify my humanity before my neurodiversity? Whoooopee 4 me!) generally do not like some of her stereotypes and she just happily defended her outlook while agreeing with me. Triple ACK.

    Forgive my passion on this subject.....but Katie McCarron was MURDERED because her own mother had 'enough' of her. The mother's defense attorney is making mom out to be a martyr who had a 'burden' that she could not 'carry' anymore.

    I post as anonymous because I don't have a blog. I have contractual and legal obligations in my career that prevent me from participating in certain activities. My personal life is to some degree my professional life.


  8. I looked at that ignorant site, and the author has turned off the comments. I guess she can't take the heat...

  9. I once had an autistic boss who mastered the art of "lieing thru his teeth" if he had to. For the most part he was blunt. And interestingly he was critical of others with disabilities and intolerant of people with lower IQs. He was not diagnosed and not very self-aware, but I could definitely tell because of all of his other traits.

    At this point, it's like I can tell an autie a mile away.


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