Children and teens with Asperger's syndrome (AS) often have a hard time reacting to compliments. I recently talked with one mother, Cheryl, of a 14 year old Aspie. A neighbor told Frankie he liked his shirt and Frankie had just stood there, without responding. She prodded him and whispered that he should say "Thank you." He did but didn't really understand why.
Later, Cheryl talked to Frankie about the exchange. She reminded him it was important to acknowledge a compliment. Frankie said he hadn't realized it was a compliment, he thought the neighbor was simply stating a fact. He hadn't realized that any response was required. Cheryl explained that others may feel Frankie is being rude if he doesn't say something when he is given a compliment. She asked him to say "Thank you" whenever someone said something positive about him.
Frankie, as do many teens with AS, thought in a logical, linear way. He wasn't very good at reading facial or body language and tone of voice and took words at their face value. He has to determine the meaning behind the words, wondering if someone is being sincere or sarcastic. Because he often doesn't know the difference between serious and joking, he needs to figure out which category the statement fits into. He needs to see the hidden meaning of the words and this is often a difficult challenge for Aspies.
Most Aspies will also weigh their own personal feelings and information against any statements others may say. In the case of compliments, he looks at what he thinks about himself, or in Frankie's example, what he thinks about his shirt. He might not like his shirt and so if a friend tells him it is nice, he doesn't understand why and doesn't agree with the statement, therefore, he doesn't respond. Another common scenario might be that your son is a perfectionist, when he does something, anything, it has to be done perfectly. Imagine he is playing basketball, overall he played a good game but missed several baskets. You tell him, "You played great!" and he looks at you and says, "No, I didn't." Because he didn't play "great" according to his measure of the game, he doesn't see what you said as a compliment.
As you can see, the first step to helping your Aspie learn how to graciously accept a compliment is to explain what a compliment is. Explain that compliments don't necessarily match his opinion, but is a reflection of the other person's opinion. Let your Aspie know that he doesn't need to agree with the compliment and doesn't need to explain why he doesn't agree with it. He only needs to accept that the other person has said something nice.
The second step to talking about how to receive a compliment is to explain that by not responding, your child may be seen as rude. Because of the conflict, whether from not knowing whether a compliment was sincere, or because he doesn't agree with it compliments can cause embarrassment, sometimes making both the person giving the compliment and the one receiving it feel awkward in the silence that follows. When you give a compliment, you expect some sort of reply and when you don't receive it, you aren't sure what to say and may think the other person is rude or ungrateful.
Finally, explain to your Aspie that the simplest, best response, is to simply say, "Thank you." Even if your child isn't sure whether a compliment is sincere, a "thank you" suffices. Remind him that whenever someone says anything positive about him, his clothes or his actions, he should say "thank you." Doing this closes the exchange and allows your Aspie to move on to a less awkward situation. This may take some practice. Start by giving your Aspie compliments on a regular basis, letting him know when you are proud of him, showing appreciation for his hard work, pointing out whenever he does something good. Each time, gently remind him to say thank you. You can also role play or create Social Stories to show how he should act in different situations.
Published On: November 28, 2011