Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Pants on fire

One of the most popular urban myths about autistic people is that they are incapable of lying.  I know for a fact that this is not true.

A fine example of an autistic person lying comes from the story of Donald Triplett. He is the first person to ever be diagnosed with autism. I first read his story in the Australian Financial Review;  I managed to find the exact same article in The Atlantic online. It's several pages long:  I recommend you read it when you have the time.

Donald has always been famous for his uncanny ability to count quickly. As local legend goes, when he was a small boy, somebody asked him to count the number of bricks on the schoolhouse wall, and Donald knew the number straight away. The writer of the article asked him about it:
But he never could count bricks. This, it turns out, is a myth. Donald explained how it had come about only after we’d been talking for some time. It had begun with a chance encounter more than 60 years ago outside his father’s law office, where some fellow high-school students, aware of his reputation as a math whiz, challenged him to count the bricks in the county courthouse across the street. Maybe they were picking on him a little; maybe they were just seeking entertainment. Regardless, Donald says he glanced quickly at the building and tossed out a large number at random. Apparently the other kids bought it on the spot, because the story would be told and retold over the years, with the setting eventually shifting from courthouse to school building—a captivating local legend never, apparently, fact-checked.

Other instances of autistic people lying come from some of the blogs which I follow and love. This Scott Lynn cartoon is about how autistic kids are very bad at lying (it is one of the many cartoons about Scott's own life with two autistic boys). 

I've read similar stories from other blogs, including one about an autistic kid whose first lie was to convince his mother that he is sick and needs to stay home from school (if that was your post, please leave a link in the comments… I can't even remember who wrote it).  The lie fell apart after the school bus had come and gone and the kid was suddenly well and keen to have a fun day at home.

Last year, Anne and I witnessed Gaston lying for the first time. He wanted to lay down next to his uncle's pool (on a frosty autumn morning!) and play with the water while nobody was watching him. Anne made him get back in the house, for safety reasons. But Gaston spotted me heading out for an errand with his uncle. He said "with Daddy", meaning "I want to go for a ride with Dad". So Anne let him out, assuming he'd come running after his uncle and me. He went straight to the pool. When Anne gave him hell, he was laughing his head off!

Today, I'm almost sure Rémi told his first lie, without even using words.

Rémi was upstairs, I was downstairs, and I heard several repetitive slams from the sliding door of our bathroom. He has a very annoying habit of opening and closing doors repetitively: it's one of his stims, and Anne and I always try to stamp it out immediately. I ran upstairs to give him the usual talking down, and found him sitting on the toilet.

He never sits on the toilet on his own: he always takes us by the hand and says "I need to pee" and we have to watch him sit down. I'm almost sure he only sat down that time because he heard me coming up the stairs. He only started peeing when he realised he wasn't in trouble: I wasn't about to yell at him for reaching a toileting milestone (sitting down without insisting somebody watched).

So that was Rémi's first lie, though I'm only 75% sure what I described is what actually happened. He might not have been that clever: he might have coincidentally decided he needed to pee after three or four slams of the door. But he's been having so many breakthroughs lately, I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt.

In a warped and twisted way which only those familiar with autism can understand, the fact that Rémi has figured out how to lie feels like a great milestone.


  1. I think I agree! My two boys who both have an Asperger diagnosis are very good at lying, but it is always quite obvious. We have been discussing it tonight actually with our Master S and his not brushing his teeth issues. It is such a horrible sensory nightmare for him.

  2. My boy's few attempts at lying have all not ended well for him. He fesses up so easily it's almost not even a challenge.

    Btw, he also did the door slamming thing for a while. Now he has a maniacal laugh. I would kill to have the door slamming stim back again. Careful what you wish for.

  3. thats great!! we just witnessed our first lie from Owen this morning!! also regarding using the potty.. little bugger flushed almost to say, "there I went!" and he soooooo didn't! haha

  4. I have read all the articles you named and enjoyed them all. I can't remember who wrote the child pretending to be sick one, I will wrack my brains and if I remember I will let you know. Maybe put a shout out on twitter if you are there? I am thinking @autismarmymom @jillsmo or maybe @bigdaddyautism? don't know why I think it might be them though, oh wait, no it was Roman.........I am sure it was Roman. Will get you a link and come back, if I am right.

    WTG on the toilet thing, for both reasons you mentioned. Doing it on his own and (possibly) using it to get out of trouble, both are huge :D Jen

  5. Nope, not Romans Journey, but I know I know who it is, if I stop thinking about it then it will probably pop into my mind :) Jen

  6. @BD Remi's laugh is cute and pixie-like. It will never be maniacal. Gaston, however, has already creeped me out with a psychotic "heheheheh"

    @Vanessa You totally have to tell us more about Owen's first lie, you old blog-tease.

    @jencull Got it yet?