Like many children with autism, Bud's never been much of a liar. As I've written before, over the past year or so he has honed the ability to be evasive - to avoid speaking the truth while not overtly telling a falsehood. But I'd never seen him really tell a lie and weave a story in an attempt to wheedle his way out of something.
Let's face it - lying, as distasteful as it might be, is an important skill to acquire. Life is much more pleasant - much easier to navigate - when we can successfully crawl inside someone else's brain long enough to make a prediction with some degree of accuracy regarding what that person's response to a scenario might be. We need to be able to weigh that likely reaction against the relative merit of honesty in the situation. We need to be able to determine whether telling the truth in the scenario is important enough to trigger the reaction that is almost certain to follow.
In other words, we need to be able to figure out whether or not to tell someone their new haircut looks terrific even if it doesn't, and we need to be able to do it without preparation, in the moment, as it happens, with very little time for reflection. And for many of us, the development of this skill begins in childhood when we learn to spin a yarn to get ourselves out of hot water. But I had never seen Bud display anything close to this particular skill set.
Today, I walked into Bud's room and I smelled something. I wasn't sure what it was, but I was sure that I shouldn't be smelling it in his room. I looked around quickly - nothing seemed out of place - so I began following my nose in pursuit of ground zero. It didn't take long to find the source of the odor - a very uncharacteristic swirling pattern on the wall, in a substance that appeared to have human origins. I was startled, as this is not at all typical of Bud of late, and I took a minute to try to figure out what to do - Should I call his attention to it? Is this an important topic for conversation? Or would it simply embarrass him? Would it establish this as an effective way to gain my attention? I decided to just clean it up without comment, and I headed to the bathroom for the 409 and some paper towels. Just as I was poised for the initial spray, Bud entered his room, looked at me, and asked "What are you doing?"
I looked at him and looked at the wall, and said "I was just going to clean this up."
"Yeah," he said.
"What do you think this is?" I asked.
He looked at it carefully, thought a moment, and said, "It's mud."
"Really?" I said, "What is mud doing on the wall?"
"It's covering the mirror," he explained. "And the walls, too."
"But how did it get there?" I asked.
He paused briefly, then said "The elephants sprayed it there."
"The elephants?" I asked.
"Yeah," he replied. "The elephants sprayed the mud on the wall."
"Well," I said, "Please tell the elephants that we shouldn't put anything on the walls. We need to wash in the sink. Okay?"
"Okay," he said cheerfully.
As I sprayed the 409 and began to clean the mess, I heard Bud turn to a toy elephant, a handy scapegoat on the shelf beside him, and launch into a lecture. "You silly elephant," he said, "You don't spray mud on the walls!"
My boy has learned the fine art of fabrication. I know it's a good and important thing. But like many developmental milestones, this one is double-edged: it seems that from this point forward, I may never really know what he thinks of my haircuts.