There was an exercise I was told about in high school. I was told to hold my arm out, while repeating to myself, “I am strong, I can do it, I am strong,” while the other person tried to push my arm down. Then I was told to rest for 30 seconds, and hold my arm out again, but this time repeating, “I can’t do it, I’m a failure, I can’t do anything,” while the other person tried to push my arm down.
Have you ever tried this? If you haven’t, do. It’s an amazing example of how powerful self talk is. (Richard just came in and I tried it with him. “Wait do it again,” he said. We did with the same results.) I was able to push Richard’s arm down both times, but it was much harder when he was repeating to himself that he was strong and could do it.
It made me wonder how that same exercise would work if the other person said, “you’re strong, you can do this,” even if I didn’t say it to myself. So I tried that and it helped a little, but not as much as when I said it. As I was thinking about all of this, I thought about how Emma will often walk away if asked a question I know she knows the answer to. Such as, “Emma what color is the 4-wheeler?” She will walk away, as if to say, “Why are you asking me such an idiotic question? Why should I even bother answering this question?” I don’t know that this is what goes through her mind, but recently AspieKid wrote in a comment (he gave me permission to reprint his reaction to Simon Baron-Cohen‘s flawed Sally-Anne test) the following:
“Here is what would have gone through my mind if I were part of that study.
The researcher would set up the test, and then ask me where the other kid would look for the ball. My mind would have raced through its usual sets of combinations and permutations and a logical consideration of the question. But I would not be thinking about what researchers would have expected me to think about. I would have been thinking things like, “Why are they asking me this? Sally and Anne don’t even exist. I have no way to know where people would look for a ball, and even fewer ways to know where non-existent people would look for it. Even if the person were real, I have no information about their intelligence or their sanity, and no reason to assume they would look in any particular place. Nor do I care. Furthermore, there is no consequence for guessing the wrong answer and no reward for guessing the right answer, so it doesn’t matter what answer I give at all.
When I was a kid, those thoughts would have gone through my mind in a couple of seconds. But I would not have expressed any of those thoughts. I would have said as little as possible and probably made no eye contact whatsoever. I probably would have felt uncomfortable being there.
I probably would have thought the researcher was both stupid and insane, and he was assuming that I was both stupid and insane as well. I might have felt a little nervous about being around someone who asks such senseless questions. I might have tried to make like an ostrich and bury my head in the proverbial sand so they would just leave me alone, but that would probably not work. In that case, I would have given them any arbitrary answer that would get them to leave me alone as fast as possible so I could return to my own thoughts.
That’s mostly how I treated schoolwork too. I knew I was smarter than most people (even my teachers), but I had no interest in proving it to anyone. I was a genius (by IQ) but I did not do well in school most of the time. I did what I needed to do to get them to leave me alone, that’s all. The Sally-Anne test was based on the false assumption that autistic kids are eager to share their ways of thinking with researchers, but in reality I think most of them would rather just be left alone. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that most of the autistic kids who participated in the Sally-Anne test probably put almost no thought into that researcher’s question, nor did they have a reason to.
Like the old saying goes, “if you ask a stupid question, you’ll get a stupid answer”.
This comment from AspieKid was beautiful in it’s explanation of how we NTs “dumb down” our language, assume incompetence in the face of silence. Assume someone does not understand the question when in fact, as AspieKid so eloquently states, this is not the case at all and is quite the opposite. How do years of these kinds of interactions effect someone? How do you believe in yourself when everyone around you assumes you’re incompetent. How do you fight against those perceptions? Do you even try?
How do we instill positive self talk in another? Is it enough to tell another person they can do it? Is our belief in them enough? When we model that kind of belief in ourselves, are our children able to see that and incorporate those behaviors?