Friday, October 22, 2010


 We have all been embarrassed by something our children have said in public. When they are little they don't realize that they are being impolite. They are just saying what pops into their precious little heads. I went grocery shopping with my daughter when she was about three years old. She saw a cute little baby girl sitting in a cart. Her proud father was pushing the cart and shopping. My daughter looked at him and said, "Your baby has her ears pierced." He replied, "Yes she does". So my daughter exclaimed, "Jeepers Mister! That's not a good idea!" I quickly apologized to the offended stranger and then she yelled, "But Mommy that's what you said!”

She was right. I did say that a few weeks before. I wasn't talking about the man in the store or his baby though. She asked me why I didn't have her ears pierced when she was a baby and I simply said because I didn't think it was a good idea. If you are a parent something similar has probably happened to you at least once.

Neurotypical children usually learn not to say everything that pops in their heads. It's one of those life lessons that develops with age and a little instruction. Sometimes children with ASD really struggle with this. They can make a very innocent observation and say something that is terribly offensive. They are not trying to hurt anyone's feelings. They just haven't learned what can be said out loud and what they should keep to themselves. To address this issue I like to use what I call my Mr. Coffee lesson.

Pull out your coffee maker and show him how it works. Show him where you put the filter and the coffee grounds and show him how the water goes through the filter and becomes delicious hot coffee. Now show him what's left in the filter after the coffee is made. The coffee maker keeps the strong offensive grounds in the filter but allows the pleasant warm coffee to come through.

We can learn to do the same thing. Anything that pops into our brain is OK. We can think anything we want. But we should only let the good things come out in our speech. Therefore we filter our thoughts just like we filter our coffee. To filter our thoughts we need to ask ourselves some questions. If the answer is yes to any of the questions we should not say what we are thinking. We should say something different or nothing at all. You can write the following questions on a coffee filter as a visual reminder.

1. If I say this will it hurt the person's feelings or make them sad or angry?
2. Is this something they already know?
3. Would I be upset if someone said this to me?

Present your child with various examples and ask him what he might say in this situation. If what he says is inappropriate tell him to filter it and try again. People with ASD are not always able to understand how another person is feeling. Their brain doesn't always work that way. They often have to be taught how to put themselves in another person's place.

 The coffee filter may be a useful tool in accomplishing this. Try not to take inappropriate comments or behaviors personally. Your child on the spectrum is probably just making an observation or repeating something he's heard. These moments are opportunities to teach a social lesson.

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