QUESTION: Hi Laurel – I’ve come across this issue when administering the Social Language Development Test-Elementary. One subtest asks the child what they would say in certain situations that come up with their friends. For example, one refers to…what would you say if someone asked to sit next to you but they smelled bad and you really didn’t want to. To get the highest points, the response expected is to sit by the person anyway. However, I don’t believe this is appropriate. Wouldn’t it be better to politely decline as opposed to suffering next to someone who smelled?! I can see how a person with ASD would be confused by this since it is SUCH a fake response! What do you think?
ANSWER: Aside from trying to do well on the test, I don’t believe there’s a right or a wrong response. To resolve the Great Dilemma, it’s important to be able to make an INFORMED choice. We can’t do that if we don’t have all the information. In this example, we’d likely have a few choices:
1. Sit by the person anyway, finding a way to endure the smell long enough to be socially effective (to make the other person feel good and maybe even to gain something socially ourselves). You can feel good about having made a friendly choice, but know that you may be placed in a similar situation again in the near future if the person continues to smell and again asks you to sit with him/her.
2. Politely decline, knowing that it may make the person feel bad or leave them feeling confused. We pass up on an uncomfortable situation, but may also miss an opportunity to make a new friend or to help that person.
3. Find a kind way to tell the truth, knowing that it might make the person uncomfortable or upset, but it could also help him or her to make a necessary change that could improve their chances of social success…and might lead to a new friendship for both of us.
Social interactions are unique to the individuals who are interacting. We cannot guarantee an outcome (any of the above examples could turn out badly one day and well another day, and can vary from one person to another), but we can provide valuable information about the choices available to us and potential outcomes. This testing situation is difficult, given that the test is designed to look for a particular response. And as indicated in the above correspondence, it may not always be the most socially effective response!
For the last several weeks, we’ve been looking at improving social effectiveness through gaining a better understanding of the needs, abilities, and expectations of the people with whom we’re interacting. It’s important to remember that we will all make social mistakes along the way, but hopefully will continue to learn from those mistakes as we go.
One additional way to experience social success is to work at developing relationships with people who value and affirm us for who we are, with whom we do not need to engage in “The Great Fake,” and therefore are not presented with frequent “Great Dilemmas.” It’s an incredible gift (worth celebrating!) to have family members, friends, and others who listen, affirm, value, and accept us for who we are. And by being an understanding, accepting, affirming, flexible person, you and I can be a tremendous gift to others!
Best wishes as you continue to help your students sort this out…and like me, continue to learn along the way!