Avoid Playing Chicken!

How often do you end up in a situation with your child that leads to a head on collision? If it’s more often that you’d like, and the outcome is not what you would wish for, this may be why.

Many years ago (too many!), in a politics class at university, we were looking at game theory. Specifically we were thinking about the game of chicken. If you’re not familiar with the game, it basically involves 2 people driving their cars straight at each other to see who swerves first. Obviously each player wants to win the game, but hopefully at least one person will swerve to avoid the ultimate bad result for both parties.


Now, I’m writing this all a little tongue in cheek, as the consequences of a head on crash with your child is unlikely to be fatal. However, the effects of each little collision are cumulative. If you usually win a head to head, what is the short-term and long-term effect on your child? And if, as is more likely, you come off worse in these situations, what is the effect on you?

As we discussed the game of chicken in that politics class, the professor said that a player could increase their chances of winning the game quite considerably if they were to show their opponent that they could not swerve even if they wanted to. How? Well, one way would be to let your opponent know that you have disabled your steering wheel just before you start…

So what’s that got to do with autism? In a sense, a child with autism will have a steering wheel that doesn’t work in some situations, and so he can’t change course. Remember that whole difficulty with being flexible?

Now obviously, the head on collision situations we find ourselves in with a child with autism are not games – we are usually just doing our best to get the child to do something, or not do something. However, if we remember that we are the ones who are supposed to be able to be flexible, and that the child’s steering wheel may be stuck, then perhaps we can choose a different course instead in certain situations.



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About Alan Yau

Creator of Autism Sparks
Author of Autism: A Practical Guide for Parents

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