Taking Things and Autism

Last week, I went to pick up The Boy at Grammy’s, and found him playing with his iPad, and pretending to use a TI84 calculator as a game controller. “Funny, that,” I thought. “We don’t own a fancy graphing calculator…”

Because I know better, I didn’t make a big thing of it, instead casually asking where it came from. “I don’t know!” The Boy responded, happy as a clam.  You see, a few years back, he had learned from somewhere that these fancy graphing calculators (that also cost around $80) had the capability of playing games, and you could even download a Mario game on them…  At the time, I said what any self-respecting parent would say.  “No.  You can play Mario on your Wii, on your DS, and even on the computer.  You do not need a graphing calculator for the sole purpose of playing Mario.”  We took a picture of it at the store, and that was that.

Until now.  The calculator clearly belonged to either another student or the school.  The question was, was it borrowed or taken?

Do Not DisturbThe Boy has picked up a few items over the years that have to belonged to him.  We have discussed these items and returned them, sometimes stealthily, without The Boy’s knowledge.  He seems to understand in each case that it isn’t right to have things that belong to other people, but does’t completely grasp why.

So, I looked it up, and found this, which explains that lack of impulse control is a core deficit of autism, and if a kiddo on the spectrum sees something that they want and it doesn’t appear to belong to anyone, in their minds, it can be theirs.  Along with that, ownership and theft are largely social constructs, and recognizing those is a core deficit of autism, as well.

I enlisted the help of his AS teacher, and put the calculator in his backpack so that they could return it to the rightful owner tomorrow (and so his teacher could find out what had actually happened).  In the meantime, The Boy’s neighborhood friend came over and they played quietly with legos until it was time for supper.  When his friend left, The Boy could not find the blue car they had made and immediately pronounced that his little friend had stolen it. A-ha! Teachable Moment! We located the car within a few moments, and after supper talked about how he had felt when he thought his friend had taken it, and didn’t he think that might be how the owner of the calculator was feeling… He seemed to understand, and knew it had to be returned the next day.

It turned out the calculator had been left in band by an 8th grader, and The Boy had found it and made it his.  It was returned, and all was well.  By no means do I think this will be the last time something like this will happen, but this is yet another commonplace occurrence for those on the spectrum, one that could easily be misinterpreted by neurotypical peers and authority figures who don’t understand about impulse control and ownership as a social construct.  Yes, we still need awareness about all the facets of autism, so that others can use these as teachable moments, as well, and not just be met with punishment and misunderstanding.


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