Thursday, February 14, 2013

Compliance Issues

I hear people talk about compliance a lot within the autism community.  Autistics share experiences about being taught "compliance" and having that trust violated by way of abuse or manipulation.  Parents strive to teach some degree of compliance and feel intense frustration when their child simply won't do what they are told.

Now, I look at compliance from a slightly different perspective.  Working in the biotechnology sector, I think of compliance as a way to keep people safe.  If my company was not compliant with various rules and regulations, the public might be at risk.  There are rules, laws, and norms our society sets forth not to marginalize us, but to keep us safe.  To help society work together more efficiently.  To keep us from doing crazy things like running red lights just because we want to get to work a few minutes faster.

You see, compliance means different things to different people.  Really, it's all based on your personal perspective.  I can see how compliance might be a long-4-letter word to some people where to others it would dictate a tenet of society.

I think that we also miss that compliance issues aren't exclusive to the autism community.  To the contrary, parents of SN and NT children alike strive to teach their kids "compliance", though you don't often hear NT families refer to it in those terms.  You might hear it referred to as "respect".  "Good behavior".  "Learning right from wrong".

Indeed, isn't this what all parents want for their children?  When a child goes to school and their teacher asks them to keep their hands to themselves and not poke at their classmates, we want our children to comply with this request.  We don't want the other children to get angry and retaliate.  We don't want the teacher to think of our child as being one of the "problem" children of the class.  We don't want our child to suffer the humiliation and upset of being punished.  Our child complying with his/her teacher really is in everyone's best interest.

If we ask our kids to go get their shoes so we can get to an OT session, we want - we need - them to do it.  We don't say it because we enjoy pissing our children off, particularly our children with special needs.  We do it because we want them to be more self-sufficient.  We do it because our families work best when we all work together, because - as a family - we're in this together.

As a result, we teach our children or, as we're experiencing in our house right now, we attempt to teach our children that there are times in which "NO!" is not an option.  In our house, we hear a simple word of dissent - "NO!" or, at times, "ALL DONE!" - a lot these days, but we also respect that our boy struggles to understand our reasoning behind our parenting decisions, largely due to his receptive language and cognitive and reasoning issues.  In these circumstances, I have to put my foot down as a mother and make the decision for him.  For example... cannot say "NO!" to brushing your teeth, taking a bath, or taking prescribed medicine (think antibiotics).  I make you do these things because they maintain your basic level of health. cannot say "NO!" to wearing a diaper.  At the present moment, you cannot - and have not - used the toilet despite all of our efforts and you struggle to control your bladder.  The way to keep you, and the rest of our house, clean and hygienic is to have you in a diaper. cannot run into the street, bolt from my grasp, or wander away.  I keep my hands on you for your safety.  Doing any of these things will potentially cause you great harm, so I will ignore your "NO!" and carry you if I must. cannot say "NO!" to going to school.  It is the "job" of children to go to school, and just as I had to go to work daily unless I was ill or had a really good reason to do otherwise - think jury duty - I was there.  Unless I determine there is a compelling reason for you not to go - and I do investigate each time I notice "NOS!" increase with school or therapy - then you will go.

There are lots of things that I will, however, allow him to say "NO!" to... may refuse food.  I will never force-feed you, despite what anyone tells me to do. may refuse to speak.  I will try to prompt you to repeat social niceties, but if you refuse, that's okay.  I'll defend your refusal and explain your circumstances. may refuse to engage in certain tasks that set your sensory system on edge.  You may still have to engage in the task - like bathtime and tooth-brushing - but I can promise that your "NO!" will be heard and taken as a signal to, at the very least, get it over quickly.  Other tasks, you may still have to engage in, like school work, but I will advocate for you to have accommodations - sensory breaks, compression vests, adaptive crayons or paintbrushes instead of finger paints - to make it easier.  Others, like playing in the sandbox, are okay for you to refuse.  I will try to help you, as you age, distinguish between these circumstances.

And the above lists aren't all-inclusive, either.

If someone were to ask me if I teach my child compliance, well yes I do.  Our world operates best when we all follow certain rules.  We are all asked to do things daily that we don't love.  I hate paying bills.  I'd rather not have to pay the toll at toll booths.  I think it's silly that I have to stop every day at that same red light when no one is coming from any other direction.  I do them all anyway.  I do them because it's what I have to do.

My kiddo will have things that he has to do.  He won't agree with every decision that is made in his life, but you know what...NT kids don't, either.  A NT kid might hate that they have to eat their broccoli before having dessert.  No one likes to go to work.  We'd all love to stay home, but we have to do it.

However, teaching my child compliance doesn't mean teaching him blind obedience.  Compliance means obeying and listening to trusted adults - teachers, family, and caregivers - until you have a valid reason to do otherwise.  It does not mean getting in a car with a stranger.  It doesn't mean allowing someone to do something inappropriate to you.  Like NT parents, it is my job as a mother to help teach my child as he gets older what is and is not appropriate for others to do and ask you to do.  Having a special needs child may mean that such messages are even more difficult - and more imperative - for him to understand, but that is the reason to do it.  It shouldn't be one or the other - non-compliance or facing potential abuse.

These concepts aren't incompatible.  I will teach compliance.  I will teach respect.  I will also - to the best of my ability - teach my boy about danger and how to protect himself.


  1. Thanks, I heard the term but was unsure of what people meant. You are right. There is a difference between complain and blind obedience.

  2. Stupid Autocorrect. I meant COMPLIANCE