Remember the Magic words, Please and Thank You…unless you’re Autistic.


Alexis and BenBen / Photo by KidZond.

By Js Kendrick


I had a little eye opener yesterday at my daughter’s therapy session. We were discussing her habit of not saying ‘Please’ or ‘Thank You’. I found it rather odd that she seems to refuse to say these common niceties. The reason behind her refusal has always eluded me.

I was raised saying Please and Thank You, my Mother had always demanded courtesy from us, and it would even go so far as to not pass a dish at the dinner table because I didn’t say ‘please’. This was how I was raised, and of course, this is how I raise my children. Even my eldest daughter has carried on this courtesy with her children. I wouldn’t say our family is obsessive about it, but good manners usually opens doors in life. People appreciate being treated politely.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise at my consternation when my youngest daughter would refuse to say those words. She has had this habit for as long as I can remember. When she was younger, I didn’t put much thought into it. Four year olds tend to forget, so you remind them. However it was around seven that I noticed she refused to say Thank You. Please would only come out on rare occasions. I worked with her, withholding items till she said the magic words, but she only did it begrudgingly.

It was last year, when she was eight, that the problem became more than learning, more than some sort of joke to her. She wouldn’t say it for the life of her. Alexis seemed more upset that I wanted her to say Please and Thank You, than I was she didn’t.

“Alexis, if you want me to get you a glass of milk, say the magic word.” I would say. Then one day she looked at me and said the magic word.

“Abracadabra.” She said. I laughed, probably shouldn’t have, but it was funny. That became her ‘Please’. She started to use the magic word every time.

I still worked on Please, even discussed with her that while Abracadabra is the ‘magic’ word it wasn’t what I meant by magic word. But to Alexis, Abracadabra is the factual magic word. 

The term “Magic Words” came from my mother. When my sister Karen was going to Kindergarten there was a sign above the classroom door.

“Remember the Magic Words: Please and Thank You!” 

My mother, always into manners, remembered that phrase and quoted it often. My mother was no Miss Manners, but she did believe in being polite. Until she was mad, then it was best to run. politeness took a backseat for a bit.

I’m not sure how my mother would have handled Alexis’ refusal to say Please and Thank You. Probably would have driven my mother mad I’m sure. I know Alexis drives her sister Jenelle mad by refusing to say those magic words. My grandson BenBen says Please and Thank You, as with other niceties, even as he is being a holy terror. Yet as he holds a bag of potato chips, that he had just dumped on her floor, he will say “I’m sorry”. Jenelle and BenBen are still working on those connections with being polite and acting polite.

Yet while in therapy, when Alexis refused to say Thank You when offered a page from a coloring book, I mentioned this peculiar habit to the therapist.

“Well it’s not literal. If you stop and think about it, why do we say Please and Thank You? It’s an emotional response, a social niceties, but it has no practical value.”

The therapist then went on to ask me if she says Please for specific items. Alexis will say Please for wanting specific things. Yet those are more built into our language. She knows to say Please if she wants us to buy her a toy, or to go to restaurant. However Thank You is harder. Because why do we have to say “Thank You”? What value is that phrase?

In reality, Please and Thank You have little value. Unless you look at it in the terms of socialization. We say these phrases, along with a host of others, to be nice to each other. Many of those phrases aren’t even practical. When you ask someone ‘How’s your day going?’ Rarely do you wish to know how their actual day is going. It’s just a common phrase we use as a greeting. You may exchange a few words, but a detail accounting of their day’s events isn’t expected as an answer.

If you have ever dealt with persons to whom English is a second language, even worse, American Slang as second (practically third) language. You have just had a taste of what it is like to talk to someone with autism.

Alexis isn’t being rude, it’s not like she doesn’t “Know Any Better”, it is simply that she finds such phrases and niceties absurd. Why? Why do we say Please? What is the value of Thank You?

For me, it may be a consternation. Raised with a mother who valued manners, who valued the Magic Words, and now with a daughter that finds such words absurd.


Apples from a friend.


Take these apples in the picture above. As I was writing this blog, Alexis came in to show me them. The young neighbor girl brought over apples from their backyard tree. These two are for my son and grandson. As Alexis handed them to me, being very specific as to tell me which apple was for whom, I said…

“Did you tell her Thank You? Because that would be nice.” Alexis smiled at me like I was a half-wit. I could see her thinking ‘Why should I say Thank You? She gave them to me, I give her things too, we’re friends, that’s what we do.’ She just looked at me and walked off. I went outside to tell her friend ‘Thank You’ to which she replied ‘You’re Welcome’. Alexis looked on disinterested in this little exchange.

The Magic Words, as with many of our social niceties, open doors in life. They let people know you care, that you have empathy for them. From, “I’m sorry for your loss” to “Congratulations!” we use these phrases to let other know we care. Alexis cares, but finds our language to be a ‘bit much’.

So, I continue to look for the Rabbit Hole, hoping to find it. If for nothing more than to have her say those Magic Words.

8 thoughts on “Remember the Magic words, Please and Thank You…unless you’re Autistic.

  1. An Atheist In Iowa

    I’m 34 and am horrible at this. Having Autism makes us think totally differently than everyone around us and the niceties that many see as good manners, just make absolutely no sense and are of very little importance to us.

    I do try to remember when I can because I don’t want to come off as rude but I still probably don’t say it 75% of the times a neurotypical person would.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Out of curiosity do ever felt this has impacted you negatively in life? Forgetting to say the “right words” at the proper time and have people take it as being rude? For me it’s a trip, I am having to learn how her mind works. She has an amazing mind, yet so different from mind. Obviously the Magic Words are ones I grew up with. So for me it’s almost automatic. Yet I would say I mean Thank You about 90% of the time I say it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • An Atheist In Iowa

        Sure, it has impacted me in negative ways but I think everyone has said the wrong thing at some point or another, only to beat themselves up over it later. I fill my life with people that understand and appreciate me for who I am, so if I don’t thank them they understand I’m not trying to be rude. I’m an accountant so my job is not known for being the most social and friendly people in the world, which works to my advantage as well.

        I’ve had a lot of struggles due to it earlier in life but what was worse was when I tried to fit the mold that society has for what is or is not normal. I think you’ll find, if you ask many adult autistic people about it, they’d tell you that when we are forced to act in the same way as everyone else, we feel less human and more like robots being programmed to do and say all the right things.

        Many times, the struggles with autism are not actually the autism itself, but in trying to appear and act neurotypical. Since recognizing my autism for what it is, I am happy, mentally healthier, and probably a much better person in general.

        Liked by 2 people

      • I appreciate the candor. As I move forward with my daughter’s autism I will keep that in the forefront of my mind.

        Liked by 1 person

      • An Atheist In Iowa

        One thing you can almost always count on with autistic people is candor. lol

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’m finding that out! Lol. I have no problems with candor from a 9 year old girl, getting others to understand is the hard part for me. Thanks, by the way. Nice to hear from those who understand autism better than I.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I agree that having pressure applied to behave in socially “appropriate” ways does have the effect of feeling like being a performing animal or being an automaton. It’s extremely uncomfortable.

        I wasn’t diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum until I was sixty, so I had to find my own way of coping with a world I don’t really understand. And the Magic Words are one of those. I know they are important to most people and they seem to lubricate the wheels of communication for them but they seem so unnatural to me. There is no connection between those words and what I feel.

        The biggest stress throughout my life has not been autism itself, but being required to imitate the non-autistic. By the time of my diagnosis I was moderately successful at it but the effort at maintaining it brought about symptoms often associated with PTSD. Now I allow myself to be different, in other words to be me. If others think I’m rude or otherwise antisocial, well that’s their problem, not mine. I know I’m a lot happier and healthier for it.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Thanks for the insight. That is probably my biggest fear, that in a world that demands conformity, those who do not, like my daughter, will face a backlash.
    It is a tricky thing when you find the everyday niceties redundant or even absurd. Which in truth, they are. As I said in my post, rarely do I want a stranger to tell me of their day, as in the greeting “How are you today?”.
    I’ve noticed with Alexis, facts are important. She thinks along those lines. The gray areas of society seem lost to her. I think it is harder on me than my wife since socialising and all its frivolity was how I was raised. My wife had a more practical upbringing.

    I would like to take a moment to thank both of you gentleman for your insight. Helps me know that my daughter isn’t alone in her struggles with us non-autistic people. It lets me allow, and even encourage her to be herself. My hope is just to have her understand, in a factual way, why people ‘expect’ those social cues, and may react rudely to her if she doesn’t reciprocate. Giving her the abilities to work around those pesky social “norms” and be herself at the same time.


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