Oct 22, 2013 1 Share

Failure in Judgment

Illustration of man in silhouette with angel one one shoulder; devil on other.

I think it's only fair to report that I didn't have all the facts when I filed my last column about the shoplifting incident involving Reilly's friends. While it was true that he hadn't stolen anything, he was aware and complicit during the event. This came to light a couple of days later in a meeting between Reilly and school staff. The decision was made to suspend Reilly for a week, along with the kids who had been caught with stolen goods.

Reilly had planned to fly home for the long Columbus Day weekend. The suspension meant I had to change his plane ticket to move his flight up from Friday to Tuesday. While I was happy to have him home for more than the original three days, I was, of course, disappointed in him. And he was disappointed in himself.

When I texted him with the new flight details, he responded, "It sucks that I have to come home by suspension, but it will help me learn not to do anything bad anymore." He wanted to know if our weekend plans would still go ahead. A good high school buddy was to come for the weekend, partly to watch the big Cowboys versus Redskins game with Reilly. I decided I would go ahead with the plan—I didn't want to punish his friend, who was terribly excited to spend the weekend with us.

I got some of the details about the incident from Reilly's school counselor, who had talked the police officer out of arresting the kids. She was quite upset about the whole thing, and disappointed in Reilly, who she thinks is a great guy. I thanked her profusely for saving his bacon, though whether he would have been arrested with the other kids is unclear. I imagine she told the officer that the students all had disabilities and that the school would punish them.

For his part, Reilly had no explanation for his or his friends' very poor judgment. He said he knew what they were doing was wrong; he didn't know why he didn't say so. Another friend who is part of Reilly's group wasn't with them and had warned them that shoplifting was wrong. Why didn't they listen? Reilly had no explanation.

One of the students who was involved was not suspended. Reilly said he didn't think she had told the truth. We asked how he felt about that and whether he had reported that to the staff. He said he didn't think it was fair, yet he didn't tell on the student. But the fact that she wasn't punished didn't matter; it didn't excuse what he had done. I found that insightful and encouraging.

He seems to "get it" now. But of course, his dad and I are worried about all the possible ways his judgment could fail him in the future. Young people on the autism spectrum have trouble making generalizations, taking a lesson learned and applying it in a different situation. And Reilly holds on to a sort of magical thinking that is common in younger children. When I remind him to buckle his seat belt, he says, "Oh Mom, we aren't going to get in accident." When I ask him how he knows that, he tells me it is because we haven't been in an accident yet. So because something bad hasn't happened yet, it never will? I think that's a common belief system among teens, but at some point most kids start to understand the potential consequences for their actions or inaction. Don't they? Or am I attributing something completely normal to Reilly's disability again? As usual, I have no idea.

And it raises the bigger worry about young people with ASD living and interacting in a world that might not be so forgiving of their stupid mistakes or failures in judgment and reasoning. NYIT staff won't always be there to save them from themselves. And neither will Mom and Dad. I made him promise me that if he is in another situation where friends are using poor judgment he will call his brother or sister for advice. And take that advice. They've done their share of stupid things. Maybe he can learn from their mistakes, too.

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Great column

All too well said. God give them judgement!