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Monday, July 29, 2013

Justice Oriented

I have drawn many of my blog posts from my experiences in elementary school, when my Aspie traits were the strongest. Here is a story from my fourth-grade year, prompted by the following quote. The quote was posted in the Facebook group Asperger's Syndrome ASD by my Facebook friend MJBH, with his comment:

"He or she will not accept a particular school rule if it appears to be illogical, and will pursue a point or argument as a matter of principle. This can lead to a history of significant conflict with teachers and school authorities" (Dr. Tony Attwood, The Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrome).

"MJBH: It's not that Aspies are rebellious; it's just that they are attempting to behave or act out behavior that reflects what is logical or makes sense. Aspies, in fact, are very justice oriented."

When I was in fourth grade, my teacher was very strict and very fun. She gave us plenty of movie time and extra recess time as motivation to get our work done quickly. She took us on lots of field trips. She also required us to hide our answers to discourage cheating. And one time I got in big trouble with her. 

It was very unusual for me to get in big trouble, even though I attended a strict, conservative Christian school, where kids got in trouble as a matter of course, for fairly minor infractions. As mentioned in Emotional Meltdowns Part Two, I liked following instructions. Rule-bound behavior is a common trait for Asperger's syndrome. However, knowing the reason for the rule can be essential to the Aspie's obedience to the rule. Since I was an only child, my parents had the available time to explain the reasons behind their directions, and I was typically compliant, even what you might call a people-pleaser.

So when I repeatedly forgot to return my parent's signature on papers that had been sent home from school, I didn't feel that guilty, because it was the result of simple carelessness and not defiance. But it did mean I had to stay in from recess. Another girl who was my classmate had to stay in from recess for the same length of time - and it was pretty long - 15 minutes, if my memory serves me. Our teacher then left the classroom to do an errand, telling the two of us to come out to the playground when the timer dinged.

I knew that recess typically lasted only 20 minutes, so when the timer went off, I looked at my classmate and said, "They'll be back in 5 minutes. We might as well wait here." She agreed, and so we waited and watched the clock. But after 9 minutes had gone by, the room was still empty except for us two. "Maybe we'd better go outside," I said, and again the other student followed my lead.

Just as we were exiting the building, our teacher came striding across the playground and scolded us sharply for not coming out exactly at the time she specified. Then, when we were shepherded back to our classroom, she continued to scold us in front of the rest of our class. The words she used over and over were: "Direct disobedience!"

Frankly, I was dumbfounded, even amused, at my teacher's reaction. Here I had voluntarily extended the length of my own punishment, and I was judged as being defiant to my teacher's explicit directions. 

For years, I wondered what was so wrong about what I did. Just as I was preparing to write this blog, the answer suddenly occurred to me. My teacher needed to know exactly where to find each of the students she was responsible for at any given moment. If she could not rely on us to be where she thought we were, she could get in serious trouble herself for not making sure we were okay. Maybe it took becoming a mom (which happened to me four months ago) for me to finally see my teacher's perspective and realize that her response was not an overreaction after all.


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