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The importance of explaining reasons for rules

As a child of the 1980s, "because I said so" was said countless times in school and at home. Fans of Roald Dahl’s Matilda might be aware of the lines “I'm right and you're wrong, I'm big and you're small, and there's nothing you can do about it.”  

Thankfully this kind of mindless rules and discipline are rare in the current education system, and instead there is an ideal (which is hopefully put into practice) that there is an expectation of a mutual respect. 

When this mutual respect is broken down, or there isn’t a reason for a rule, is when it becomes a challenge for autistic people. 

As a child I lacked confidence and I was blindly compliant. Contrary to popular beliefs, this can be a common response amongst autistic people. As an adult I am less compliant (a skill I have learnt when advocating for my son). I question more and I need to know why something is done a certain way.

If I was a school pupil now, I know I would be in trouble a lot for defying the rules. I know that for a fact from my final years of classroom teaching. I would sit in staff meetings baffled by several pointless rules we were being asked to enforce.

There were rules which made complete sense - the one way system on the winding victorian staircases were clearly there for a valid safety reason. Others were not so logical. Wearing blazers during specific months of the year for example. As this week has proven, September might be meteorological autumn, but that doesn’t mean it is cold.

As a teacher I could chose to wear clothing appropriate to the weather and on a hot day in a “blazer month” I was not going to sit and watch pupils in my lessons overheat simply because of a pointless and unnecessary rule. 

These pointless rules are thankfully much less than they were when I was school aged, but they can still be a massive obstacle for autistic children accessing education today. 

Asking questions about rules and questioning their logic is often seen as rude or disrespectful. Actually, it's just us trying to understand why something is happening. That explanation of "why" is essential to us, especially when the outcome of the rule has a detrimental affect on our wellbeing. If we know why we need to do something, we are far more likely to engage positively if the reason is valid. People think they shouldn't have to explain things, but if you want autistic children to process rules with minimal backlash, you must explain why.

If you can't explain why, then why is the rule actually there?

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