As the school year is days – or hours – away, I have already been jarred from my summer heat haze. “Explain to me,” a person requested, “the line between his manipulation and his Asperger’s.” This question has been posed to me several times, and that might be an understatement. My usual response is a careful explanation about how so-called manipulation can be better understood as an indicator of skill deficit that needs to be addressed.
But tonight, perhaps my sunburn reached my brain or perhaps I had a moment of clarity in this break in the heat wave. Either way, I realized something. What is manipulation? I haven’t consulted Webster, but in my mind, manipulation is a synonym for escape or avoidance of a non-preferred activity. It is pejorative because manipulation implies volition, purpose, planning, forethought. Some little voice saying, “Yes, if you throw yourself on the ground, you will be granted escape from that horrible math class.” At its root, manipulation is still escape and/or avoidance, which are both very commonly accepted functions of maladaptive behaviors. So commonplace that on many standardized tools used to guide a commonplace practice called a Functional Behavioral Assessment, one will find escape/avoidance as a category amongst attention-seeking, sensory seeking, fairness, power/control, etc.
So, my question is: What happened? Or, less vaguely, when did avoiding a situation become manipulation in the eyes of others? And, more potently, when did manipulation become the other explanation for behaviors of individuals with Asperger’s Disorder? The point is not about the capacity for manipulation. Rather, the point is why is this term being used in the first place? Why is the assumption that our kids with AS are purposefully scheming?
In the end, I could make a lot of fairly informed guesses about the answers to these questions, as I’m sure you could. But, even with those so-called answers, I’m still frustrated for our kids.