Do We Really Believe the Things We Tell Ourselves?

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?

14 responses to “Do We Really Believe the Things We Tell Ourselves?

  1. I just loved what Aspiekid said. What a revelation! I wish the whole world could read this post and see how foolish and idiotic our assumptions can be. Bravo!

    • When he first posted it I had to read it several times. It all makes such perfect sense when you read it. How and why would we assume otherwise, and yet that’s exactly what’s being done all the time. I wish all people in the field of autism could read comments like this one. And I guess the next thought is – Why aren’t they?

  2. It’s not enough to tell the child but we have to start out telling that to our children. Eventually we want the children to internalize that script and begin to tell themselves the positive aspects of their being. It’s also one of the reasons why I subscribe to “No ‘Good Jobbing'”, a practice of parents saying good job to everything the child does. However, I do say “good {action/behavior/effort}” and it sounds really clumsy (“good putting the clothes on the hangers by yourself”) to encourage the effort.

    There is a double edged sword to what aspiekid said, because people even parents often cannot tell the child’s capacity or ability, and unfortunately we rely on blunt instruments administered in a clinical (“objective”) manner. When something doesn’t make sense, we aren’t thinking about this, because we’re looking for a response — any response. If a child like aspiekid speaks up and say, “I don’t understand this question’s relevance,” then it opens up a dialog with the researchers to maybe explain what they are looking for (“the way you’d answer, if maybe we can create some relevance or a story behind this, but I know what you mean — tests sometimes look and sound like nonsense and part of this is because we don’t know how to make a better test, can you bear with us?”) without giving away what the test is trying to measure.

    Although I can argue, what’s wrong with giving away what the test is trying to measure? Let’s say I’m gauging appropriate response. I can tell the “subject” (taking the test), “I’m looking for what you think is the right answer.” If the answer is right, I haven’t rigged the test or given the subject an unfair advantage. In fact I’d have a good idea of, “does this person know what is appropriate to situation?”

    Then if the answer is appropriate to situation, but the behavior is inappropriate, now I have my “gap.” The gap is, “person knows the right response, person cannot deliver the right response — what is holding person back from behaving according to knowledge of appropriate response?” Then I have something concrete to work with.

    But again… the problem with white coats as authority figures, children who are subject to evaluations and not all will speak up or are allowed to speak up in test situations… hence, we parents play a critical role of gauging from observation whether our children has that capacity, then we become the ones who bridge that gap.

  3. Pingback: » We Parents Can Bridge the Gap of Irrelevance Rate of Attrition

  4. Another good post.

    Here is another young man with Aspergers take on the Sally and Anne test.

    Ted took the S-A test when he was 6 and again today, at 21. He answered the same way both times. The ball is in the basket. Now that he is 21 he added… The test is BS. It is asking you to put aside what Sally knows: the ball is in the basket. You see, you must work on the assumption that what you know is correct, even though it probably isn’t, it is at best incomplete, but it is still what you know and will remain so until you are proven wrong. If you don’t consider what you know to be right then what you know is worthless. It’s like Asimov said in the Relativity of Wrong. Originally the earth was flat. We stayed with that theory until more evidence led us to thinking the earth was spherical. We then stayed with that until even further evidence showed us it is more of an oblate spheroid. There will be a day when evidence might show it is a cube, but today we have to go with what we do know, the earth is an oblate spheroid. The take away is you shouldn’t abandon what you think you know, if you do, then what you know is worthless and this test asks you to do just that, to make what you know worthless and that isn’t science.

    He read what AspieKid wrote and could relate. He then had me read this We can learn a lot from our kids!

    • Whew! That link is intense. At a certain point I thought I’ve got to read this while taking notes! Then I saw your newest blog post and just began laughing!

      • 🙂 I wanted Ted’s words to piggy back on AspieKid’s because the issue of respect, both being respected and respecting who he is with, is vitally important to Ted too. He has an intense amount of pride, and values himself and his intelligence and he knows when he is around someone who treats him like, well, an idiot. The link was glimpse to how he thinks, and why he feels there are very few people he can relate to in this world.

  5. AspieKid’s answer was just… Awesome. Thank you both for sharing. And also for the links in the comments! This has been a great read!

  6. Great blog and comment from AspieKid….I have often thought along these same lines while watching Brett during an “IQ” test…..being mostly non-verbal, he was pretty much doomed from the beginning in being able to answer in a way that they would give him credit for…..I would often say that he doesn’t answer because he really could care less. It is things that we know he knows and he really doesn’t get excited about showing you that he knows the answer so he was usually like..whatever! Let’s move on. Like AspieKid stated there were no consequences to being right or wrong or rewards so he really could have cared less. For Brett too so much had to do with the way things were worded and they refused a majority of the time to ask things in the way that he was used to from therapy etc….They would say “show me cookie” while holding a book up of about 6 different pictures on the page…one being a cookie. Brett for so many of these tests would just sit there. Now, this is a kid that LOVES cookies, has a word he uses for cookie…truly knows what a cookie is by all accounts but because he couldn’t point directly to the picture when asked, it was assumed he did not know what a cookie was. By the time he was about 6, he began to do better at this type of test but I really don’t think he knew any more than he did the first 4 or so times he took it….just mastered more the way it was requested from him to show it. We did so many of these tests because he was in a research program for how kids developed language that were on the spectrum. I truly gave up even reading the results because I knew Brett knew so much more and was capable of so much more than the report showed. I cried over the first one they sent and the following years I would just shrug and move on……thinking WHATEVER! :O)

    • What really struck me when I read your comment was how the results from these studies and tests are then used to construct theories and ideas about autism! No wonder there are so many ridiculous thoughts about autism out there. We aren’t looking at it in any way that makes sense to an Autistic!

  7. So true……we orginally got in the program to help others/ourselves understand how language is affected/formed etc…for kids on the spectrum but after realizing that it was just the basic standard IQ tests being given, I knew it would do little to help really understand language acquisition in those toddlers. I stuck with the research program as we committed to it but we were never really told the outcome… chance because they didn’t get to one, I don’t know. It seemed the direction it was headed was that if you could speak, you were smarter than those who couldn’t. We all here know how false that statement is!!! 🙂

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