Children with autism typically have trouble telling the difference between what should be done in private and what can be done in public. This confusion is caused by a cognitive impairment, but since most children with autism have virtually no privacy themselves, the concept may be even harder to convey! Children who struggle with how to behave in public versus private are also likely to have trouble recognizing the difference in how we treat friends versus strangers. But don't worry; even if their (in)ability to perceive the nuances stays the same, you can teach these things just like other practical skills. The key is to start when they are young. — Marilyn M. Irwin, "Sexuality Education for Children and Youth with Disabilities"
As you teach your child the rules about what is appropriate in private and in public, think about what he knows of privacy. The constantly evolving team of people around him give him an unusual experience of this issue. While you're explaining, be sure to let him know that he has a right to his own boundaries as well.
Let's face it, you don't need an Advocacy Principle to remind you to teach your child how to live. It's an implicit part of good parenting. But when you teach him how to handle himself in public, to speak up for himself and maintain his own boundaries, you are preparing him to be an advocate for himself in the world.
While your child may not be able to perceive all the social nuances himself, most children can learn some of the basic rules, if you spell them out. The Hidden Curriculum: Practical Solutions for Understanding Unstated Rules in Social Situations is filled with practical ways to help the daily life of your autistic child run more smoothly. These are only a few of the social rules for going out in public.
- Zip up your pants before leaving the restroom.
- Avoid placing any part of your body over the armrest into someone else's seat.Sing quietly to yourself, not out loud.
- Stand facing the doors in an elevator, not the back or side.
- Do not stare at other people.
All children need to be taught these rules at some point, but for most of them, the lessons are relatively easy, particularly because they get reinforced daily through the reactions of other people. Since that will not be the case for your autistic child, he will need specific reinforcement from you. It may take a combination of explanation, modeling and persistence.