There are many misconceptions floating around in the mainstream universe. One of these is the notion that people on the spectrum can’t and won’t lie. This message is usually shared through a sparkly, shiny image on Instagram or Facebook.
Cats > misconceptions
Always telling the truth sounds good, but it’s not realistic. Labeling a group of (completely different) individuals as ‘always being honest’, sounds positive. That is a problem. It’s a terribly reductive way to look at a complex human being.
There's a big need for more contemporary research around this. There isn't much available covering the ability of those on the spectrum to lie of their own volition (instead of using a scripted lie/competition). However, research by Li et al. (2017) found that contrary to the general belief, people on the spectrum can, and DO, lie. This is good news. Lying is a necessary life strategy.
When it comes to people on the spectrum, we all need to help combat the binary view and embrace the fact that human experience is, as described, a spectrum of individual worlds. These are diverse human beings. That said, there are some interesting links between the ability to lie, and some of the fundamental difficulties of life on the spectrum.
Our ability to lie is born from reaching an important cognitive and social milestone; the understanding that other people’s minds are different from yours, and the capability to apply this knowledge to real life situations (Baron-Cohen et al. 2005; Lee 2000, Sodian 1994). It’s actually very clever, as long as you don’t abuse the power.
Hello Mr. President
The ability to separate your knowledge from your own beliefs from your knowledge of other people’s beliefs is called Theory of Mind i.e;
“…the ability to attribute mental states (beliefs, intents, 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"
- Wikipedia (Yup. No shame.)
Remember the beans song?
Beans, beans, they’re good for your heart The more you eat the more you fart*
Lying is just a mind-fart, a side effect of a mind-bean that’s good for your mind. Once people understand that different people believe different things, they can use this knowledge to strategically deceive others, practice empathy, or attune themselves better to social situations.
Strategically deceive sounds a bit dodgy, but it is necessary to navigate social relationships. Chances are your workplace would be a bit livelier if everyone was completely truthful with their co-workers/bosses. Your other relationships would probably suffer too without the ‘white lie’ buffer.
File this under 'personal favourite lies'
Behind every polite person, there is an ability to lie. We all require this skill early in life in order to function in society and get the most from our relationships. Talwar et at. (2007b) undertook an adorable study showcasing this. They elicited white lie-telling in children by giving them an undesirable gift and asking them if they liked it (pranking children has been around long before Jimmy Fallon, this time it's for science!). They were promised a rainbow slinky but were given a plain bar of soap (LOL). The results showed children as young as 3 years of age could tell a white lie in politeness settings. The older children were more likely to lie and give, what the researchers described as ‘elaborate’ and we will describe as excellent, responses, e.g “We’re actually collecting soap at home!”.
We’re actually collecting soap at home! *argh the cuteness*
The relationship many people on the Autism Spectrum have with lying is more complicated. A large component of the ability to lie and maintain the lie, involves using complex social cues to successfully convince others of the truth of false statements. (Li et al. 2017).This is something that can be increasingly difficult to do when you are not ‘tuned in’ to these tricks, as many on the spectrum can attest to.This of course does not mean that people on the spectrum are unable to lie, just that they may lack the social tools to successfully pull it off. Individuals may attempt to lie, showing they have a developed theory of mind, but some will be unable to maintain the lie. What follows, is that individuals further along the spectrum may be unlikely to identify sarcasm, as well as others’ lies. This make them vulnerable to the complex social games played by others consciously or unconsciously throughout their lives.
We learn more and more as research around Autism Awareness continues. The end goal is to reshape the way society conceptualises the Autism Spectrum, and do the best by all the people that we know and love who fall on it. Open minds and allowing flexibility concerning traditional views will help drive this. It’s so important not to think in terms of black and white when dealing with people. In the words of Elliot Stabler, SVU Detective, NYC):
“The world is grey”
Olivia Benson/ the flawless Marika Hargitay is featured instead because she is way better than Elliot and always will be
So go ahead and revel in your cunning lies and deceit. If you had to tell the truth all the time, you’d be pretty screwed. In summary, here's some kittens hiding in a bush:
* See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beans,_Beans,_the_Musical_Fruit for more versions