I have had several students whose problem is being honest. The problem itself isn’t honesty, it’s the degree, timing and audience of that honesty that gets them into trouble. We have set ourselves up a bit with reinforcing gems such as “honesty is the best policy” and “always tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”. For our students with ASD who can see rules such as these as black and white, truth can become problematic. To make this concept a little trickier, the world of social media that we live in seems to market the misconception that we have to put it all out there. I often read blogs that state a brutal “truth” and then try to soften it with , “I’m not saying, I’m just saying…”. The southern version of this is to make a blunt comment and follow it with “Bless their heart.”
I have worked with several high school students (all boys btw) who regularly got into trouble with their teachers and peers for their unfiltered truths. They would protest after seriously insulting a classmate’s choice of clothing or publicly questioning their teacher’s IQ with ,”I’m just being honest.” Therein lies the problem. So how do we address this topic? We want to support the idea that honesty is a positive characteristic in people and one that is desirable in a healthy society. But we also need to do is talk about the degree of honesty in relation to other people’s feelings. Being honest does not mean you say everything that you think, and a social filter is critical when you live in community with others. We also need to consider if the timing is right to comment, what our relationship is to the people around us (friends, family, teachers, strangers), and if we were asked to offer our opinion or not.
As an example, I remember working with a very, very bright young man with ASD, who received an F on his paper about his personal views on religion. In our conversation, I asked if he had followed the rubric and had talked with the teacher after receiving the grade to figure out why he had failed. He responded that of course he followed the “rubric so ridiculous that even a simple-minded monkey could do it!” He then went on to say that he spoke to his teacher. “I told her she was obviously too old and stupid to understand what I was saying”,he fumed. He perceived that was the reason why he received a F. Oh boy.
We worked the next few sessions on talking about his perception of the situation and how his teacher may have perceived his comments using a point of view organizer. It hadn’t dawned on him that he may have hurt her feelings (and that his assumption had been completely wrong). When I brought up this possibility, he responded with, “But I thought it was true. I was just being honest.” It took a few weeks to get him to even consider that there were other options, more effective options, that he could try next time that may actually benefit him. We continued to work through different social scenarios to practice these skills and while it wasn’t automatic with him, he could at least consider the impact of his words and begin to modify some of the negative behaviors.
I have created this TPT visual (which would make a great classroom poster!) to talk about being truthful here