Wednesday, 2 December 2015

All the trees are dead - autism, facts and absolutes?

All the trees are dead - autism, facts and absolutes?

Yesterday was the 1st of December, and according to Anthony, who has autism, this meant it was now definitely 'Winter', he had to open a chocolate advent calendar and all the trees were dead.

We were lucky to have an advent calendar as Anthony hadn't mentioned it at all before yesterday and only sort of got the concept last year. We've talked about the season's before and I'm pretty sure we agreed that December was a 'winter' month so this was a relatively normal comment. And if you had been in the car with Anthony on the way to school for the last month then the tree comment wouldn't surprise you either.

For the last month or so, Anthony has spent several journey's to school pointing out all the trees that are loosing their leaves. Then yesterday he proclaimed that leaves fall off the trees in autumn and as December is a winter month they should now all be off and so all the trees are now dead. Throughout the last month we have talked about the fact that it is more like the trees are going to sleep, but Anthony rejected this. To him the tree doesn't look any different in winter to when it looks when it is dead. Instead he thinks about it coming back to life in the spring.

Perhaps this is because Anthony tends to deal in absolutes. When he has asked us what happens when things or people die we can only tell him what we and some people 'believe'. And this is really hard maybe for any child to understand.

He can't understand why we don't know what happens when we die. I've been asked to look it up on the internet, or ask someone who knows. It's too hard a concept to explain that apart from the obvious at Christmas time, I can't physically talk to anyone who has died to ask them what happened and what it is like.

It may be related to the difficulties some autistic people have with Theory of Mind, it could be difficult to attach feeling to something that isn't physically present. 'Theory of mind' is being able to attribute 'mental states' such as beliefs, desires, pretending, knowledge, etc. to oneself and others and to understand that others have beliefs, desires, intentions, and perspectives that are different from one's own.

Anthony for example has a unique application of empathy because he finds understanding others difficult. In this case of understanding about what happens when something dies, it's more about the mental state of belief for Anthony that's challenging.

At the moment, Anthony does not actually 'believe' but simply take as facts what he is taught at school and what we tell him about Christmas and Easter.  Given this, he has then simply generalised the concept to the trees, which die and then come back to life again. In a way it's sort of wonderful.

I have no doubt that over the next few days, several trees will be told off by Anthony for still having leaves and not dying on time. And we will have to finish the discussion on evergreen plants. At least this should lead nicely into putting up the Christmas tree at the weekend.

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  1. Aw, it's a sort of bleak but beautiful viewpoint.

    I'm not looking forward to having to explain about death in more detail. Tyger is a bit obsessed with it at the moment but since he plays 'sword fighting' with his dad where they both 'die', I don't think he has any concept of the permanency yet. These things are difficult to explain to children at the best of times but the ASD adds an extra challenge.


  2. We haven't got to the stage of explaining things like this yet, wrongly or rightly, I don't know? But with the lack of communication there are no questions which means at the moment there are no answers. I think explaining things like death to any child is difficult, but for a child that struggles with feelings and emotions, I imagine it is extra difficult. I do, sometimes like these viewpoints they have though! If only life was that simple eh? Thank you for linking up to #spectrumsunday, sorry I am late commenting this week, it has been a bit of a nightmare week! Hope to see you again this week xx


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