About eight years ago, I read an article by Stephen M. Edelson of the Center for the Study of Autism that said that autistic children usually don’t lie. And no, that isn’t always a good thing. I don’t even mean that autistics don’t lie convincingly, but that they usually learn to lie at all at a much later age than neurotypicals do. I thought of this article, as well as my own experience with inappropriate honesty, when I read the prompt for this week over at mumturnedmom, which is “Rules are meant to be broken.”
I was a bookish, nerdy child in school. I remember learning that you could get away with not doing your homework in ninth grade – and frequently using my newly-acquired knowledge. Before then, I’d not only always do my homework, but I’d remind teachers of assignments if they’d forgotten.
Even though I learned to break the rule of always doing your homework, I can count the number of times I actually cheated in schol on two fingers. Once was on a Greek test in eigth grade, when I looked up how to type a certain character. I knew what the character looked like, and I rationalized my behavior by saying that if the sighted kids knew what a character looks like, they could write it too. (I know this is not completely true for students with say dysgraphia, but that’s beside the point.) The other time was in eleventh grade, when I had underestimated the difficulty of acquitting enough U.S. respondents to a survey on their ideas about the Netherlands (this was before Facebook). I got seven I believe, and needed at least twenty, so I cheated in a horrible way by pretty much making up the other results, multiplying my survey responses by three. I don’t even remember whether we were graded for the project or just had it checked off, but it still feels weird.
I didn’t master the skill of applying rules flexibly till after high school. Still, I find it hard to know when I can get away with breaking a rule and when I can’t. I still probably feel more insecure when breaking a rule than neurotypicals. This isn’t because I have higher moral standards, but because breaking a rule creates unpredictability. I also have a hard time putting a breach of rules into context. For example, how many high school students cheat on exams and projects, and does it affect them later on? I still worry that my high school diploma is invalid because I cheated in eleventh grade. In this sense, rules are meant to be broken, but when and when not, well, I don’t know.