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Reporting vs Tattling: Teaching Kids With Autism When to Tell a Trusted Adult

April 22, 2021


A young woman with autism offers her perspective on what instances children should share with a trusted adult and what small infractions, if reported, could lead to being known as a “tattletale”.

Reporting vs Tattling: Teaching Kids With Autism When to Tell a Trusted Adult

Hi, my name is Leanne, and I am a young adult who is on the autism spectrum (my diagnosis used to be known as asperger’s syndrome). I know some people with disabilities struggle to know when they should attempt to address a situation on their own, and when to seek help. 

Some individuals might seek help over even the most minor infractions, because they want to make sure everybody is doing exactly as they are supposed to. This is likely to eventually cause a rift between the individual and their fellow students, teachers, and later, their coworkers, supervisors, and/or managers. Other individuals might take it to the other extreme and not inform an adult about even the most serious incidents, because they think doing so is tattling. If a serious issue occurs and an adult is not informed about it, significant injury or other problems can result.  

I hope this article will help people on the spectrum and their parents with learning when and how to report situations. If you choose not to use terms such as “reporting” or “tattling,” you can use terminology such as, “I should tell an adult if…” or “I do not need to tell an adult if…”  

REPORTING (I should tell an adult if…):

  • I am being made to feel unsafe or uncomfortable
  • Somebody else is being made to feel unsafe or uncomfortable
  • Somebody is doing something harmful or destructive
  • Somebody talks about doing something harmful or destructive
  • I am sick or injured
  • Somebody else is sick or injured
  • I have tried several times to address the issue, and have been unsuccessful
  • There is no other way to handle the situation  

TATTLING (I do not need to tell an adult if…): 

  • I am not being made to feel unsafe or uncomfortable
  • Nobody else is being made to feel unsafe or uncomfortable
  • Nobody is doing anything harmful or destructive
  • Nobody talks about doing anything harmful or destructive
  • I am not sick or injured
  • Nobody else is sick or injured
  • I have not tried handling the situation myself, or some of the strategies I have tried have been successful
  • There is another way to address the issue

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Here are some examples of REPORTING (times when you SHOULD tell an adult):

  • “Kyle is running toward the road, and I am worried he might get hit by a car.”
  • “Brianna touched me in an area where she’s not supposed to.”
  • “Dan tried to get me to touch him in an area where I don’t feel comfortable touching him.”
  • “I overheard Joan and Lynda talking about how they are planning on going to the mall this weekend, and ‘accidentally’ take some very expensive items without paying. I told them, ‘No, girls! That’s stealing!’”  
  • “David keeps saying this, and I don’t like it. I have asked him several times not to say it, but he keeps saying it.”
  • “Courtney keeps cutting in line. I have reminded her to wait her turn on several occasions, but she won’t stop cutting in line.”  
  • “Greg just threw up over there.”
  • “Holly hit me and Brian threatened me.”
  • “Ashleigh told me her mom hurts her physically.”
  • “Brandon threatened Jason.”
  • “Noelle keeps teasing me. I have asked her to stop several times, but that just seems to make it worse.”
  • “Mike is showing parts of his body we do not need to see.”
  • “Nicole is trying to get me to show parts of my body I do not feel comfortable showing.”
  • “Charles just fell down and Melissa got hit in the head.”

Here are some examples of TATTLING (times when you DO NOT NEED to tell an adult):

  • “Sharon took the last of the mint chocolate chip ice cream, and Diane wanted it. We begged and pleaded with her to give it to Diane, but she won’t give it.”
  • “Fred said this, and I didn’t like it.”
  • “Maggie is in the wrong spot.” 
  • “Connor didn’t save me a seat on the bus, like he told me he would.”  
  • “Hayleigh won’t let me have one of the muffins she brought with her.” 
  • “Jake is taking more than his fair share of the brownies.” 
  • “Lisa is hogging the ball, and won’t give anyone else a turn.” 
  • “George won’t share.” 
  • “Susan is doodling on her paper instead of doing her work.” 
  • “Bob is doing his work the wrong way.” 
  • “Jessica took my pencil.” 
  • “Kevin and Adam won’t let me play with them.” 
  • “Sarah and Brittni won’t let me sit with them at lunch.” 
  • “Mark cut in line.” 
  • “Stephanie said a bad word.” 
  • “I couldn’t get a drink, because Mikey took too long at the drinking fountain.” 

In closing, I want people with autism spectrum disorder or other challenges to understand it is a good idea to tell a trusted adult about serious incidents, but coming to trusted adults about minor issues should be avoided. As I mentioned earlier, if someone informs an adult about minor infractions, it may eventually cause people not to want him/her around. On the other hand, if someone witnesses a serious incident and doesn’t tell an adult about it, someone could get hurt, or there could be a problem. 

This article was featured in Issue 118 – Reframing Education in the New Normal

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