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Fairness and Justice

I want to talk a little bit about the concept of fairness or justice from an ASD child's point of view before I continue with grade one.

ASD children will hit the developmental marks that more neurotypical children do -- they just hit them later, and some of their earlier experiences, if not mediated or explained, harden the way they interact with the world even when they have developed the capacity to better understand it.

More specifically, I want to consider my son in his junior kindergarten class. Had the teacher or teacher's aid not accepted that he was incapable of lying for developmental reasons, he would have continued to bear the brunt of the blame for anything that went wrong, and he would have continued to be hit/etc. -- not solely because of premeditated malice, but because of the social dynamics of his class.

He would have also felt enormously persecuted, because he would be the only child for whom the rules did not apply. He would grow into that role, and his sense of gross injustice would harden, and that's what would remain with him as he developed the theory of mind necessary to understand that asking for teacher intervention would have a good result.

As a result of this, even when he did reach the developmental state necessary to ask for intervention, he'd be unlikely to seek it because he would know--would have known in his case for almost three years -- that no one cared what happened to him.

That's the sense of the world he would carry with him, and it's very hard to dislodge that. So that was one of the things I was worried about, and I think it's one of the things that makes adult ASD sufferers so difficult to deal with at times. They shoulder a lot of anger, and it's built from an internalized context that has its roots in the delayed development of theory of mind -- i.e. the understanding that what they know and what others know is not the same.

I also tried to make very, very clear to my son, as he was growing up, that the world is not intrinsically a fair place. Because, face it, it's not. Bad things happen to good people all the time, and I wanted him to take as little of the world personally as possible; for obvious reasons by now, it was already very easy for him to do so.

I think there's a difficulty inherent in the "be a good child" model, especially for ASD children. Frequently, the model is presented this way: If you are a good child, good things will happen for you; no one likes a bad child.


Good is a subjective word. And with ASD children, who are frequently procedural, a growing sense of anger at the injustice of the world can really pile on, especially if they are being good children, and there is no reward or acknowledgement of that. If they can see that "bad" children are doing fine, thank you very much, it throws everything they know into question.

So I tried the "do unto others" and "do no harm" model instead.

When he was six years old, a number of different things occurred, and they lead to a discussion about both fairness and justice. We were, together, watching the anime series, Rurouni Kenshin, at the time. My mother, I hasten to add, was appalled at the level of violence of the show, because we were watching the fansubs (I hate dubs, so that was, of course, my choice). When we started watching them, he would sit in my lap and I would read the subtitles quietly into his ear; by the time we'd finished, he could read them himself (and pointed out that I wasn't perhaps reading everything that was being said; I replied that the words I wasn't reading were considered Very Rude by teachers and parents in general, and that if he actually used them, they would think I was saying them to him at home, and they wouldn't be very happy with me.)

What he took away from the show over all were two things: Never give up, and never kill anyone because it will either drive you insane or you will have to spend the rest of your life atoning for your crime. Which, overall, aren't bad things to take away, although admittedly slightly unusual.

But he was concerned about the overall concept of justice in the show, and about working to uphold justice, if the universe was not a fair place and the weak could just get trampled all over.

I said to him, "The world is not a fair place, and this can be very upsetting sometimes. But here's the thing: You can either add to the unfairness, or you can add to the fairness. Justice is a concept that was created by humans, and it is entirely supported by people; if you don't support it, the world becomes a little less fair. If you do, it becomes a little more fair--but it is entirely in our hands, no one else's."

This made sense to him.

I also foolishly said "But remember, this show was written about a period several years in the past, when there were no real laws to protect people." Yes, this was a gross generalization, but he could understand the idea that we grew and learned. This, unfortunately, came back to bite me later, in grade one.


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 25th, 2010 01:32 pm (UTC)
Why I read this
even though my children are not ASD, is that quite a bit of what you write is still applicable. I have seen the same sort of dynamic with my children at younger ages, where the risk was of people who didn't understand insisting on behavior that they just weren't ready/capable/developed enough yet.

If I can remember the Perl Buck (great author, English Missionary child during the Boxer Rebellion) quote it went something like "The Chinese believed that there were stages to development, and trying to force a child to behave before they'd reached the stage where that was possible would only hurt the child and frustrate everyone" (This was quite a contrast to the English concept of "discipline" as practiced at the time).
Oct. 26th, 2010 02:31 am (UTC)
Re: Why I read this
where the risk was of people who didn't understand insisting on behavior that they just weren't ready/capable/developed enough yet.

This is a good point -- even for normative children, developmental stages occur at different times, and yes, it's probably just as difficult on the child to expect or demand behaviour that isn't yet a viable option.

Which, in some ways, is why I'm really not a big fan of street-proofing children.
Oct. 25th, 2010 02:06 pm (UTC)
OT. I just read Cast in Chaos -- just fantastic!
Kaylin is really growing. And while I'm personally a Team Nightshade fan :), I really enjoyed both the Nightshade and Severn developments.

Thanks for writing such an engrossing, wonderful series.
Oct. 26th, 2010 02:29 am (UTC)
OT. I just read Cast in Chaos -- just fantastic!
Kaylin is really growing. And while I'm personally a Team Nightshade fan :), I really enjoyed both the Nightshade and Severn developments.

Thank you :)
Oct. 25th, 2010 11:03 pm (UTC)
I think this is enormously useful even for a non-ASD child. I already find myself slipping into the "be a good child" model, and your post a) crystallized for me that I was doing so, and b) showed why it's not a good idea. So thank you! I'm sure my daughter will thank you, too, when she gets old enough ;)
Oct. 26th, 2010 01:10 am (UTC)
I really, really love these posts. I think I've mentioned this. Even as someone who pretty much never interacts with children (and doesn't plan to), it's fascinating, and actually speaks to some of my own experiences and makes them make a bit more sense, thinking about them in a different light.

In an unrelated topic, I saw on Locus the belated drama surrounding Elizabeth Moon's LJ post (http://www.locusmag.com/News/2010/10/wiscon-withdraws-moons-goh-invitation/), and wondered what your thoughts on that sort of thing from authors was.
Oct. 27th, 2010 06:17 pm (UTC)
Just to say that papersky suggested I head over -- I'm adding you as a friend.
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 3rd, 2010 04:33 pm (UTC)
He lies when he thinks he can get away with it, and I can look at this post and _see_ some of the reasons that behavior developed :-(

As I always tell parents of more neurotypical children, the ability to lie is actually a really good developmental sign, because until a child develops solid theory of mind, a lie is something that makes no sense at all.

So, ummm, good sign, yes. But having said that, I do also offer sympathies because absent the positive indications of development, it's frustrating and does have to be curbed =/
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )