A Zometool analogy


The following is a simple Zometool structure. The way Zometools connect to each other, there’s only one way that they fit together well. The rods each have a different shape at the end, and the balls at the ends have holes for that shape in a geometric pattern that allows you to build large structures out of them. Provided that you start correctly. The following structure is put together correctly. Note the length of the red rod.

The following is what it looks like if you try to put the wrong length of red rod in. The yellow rod is trying to connect to the red rod in the middle of it, instead of at one of the ends.

However, it is possible to force-fit that longer red rod, in a way that even looks stable at first glance. All you have to do is bend the yellow rod a bit out of place.

Here is the beginnings of a structure built on the foundation with the wrong length of red rod.

That location of the red rod at the bottom requires modifications to the structure all around. Zometools aren’t built to be force-fit.

More and more of the structure has to be forced into place in order to make certain connections, because the original connections were not the right ones.

As you can see if you look closely, the structure begins to come apart in places and is harder to put together.

The following illustrates a blue rod that won’t quite fit into the ball.

And the structure falls apart.

Here’s that initial red rod again in that structure.

Here, again, is what it should look like. The red rod should be shorter. This is a sturdier thing to build a structure on top of.

After putting enough pieces of the structure into place, you can physically feel with your hands that the structure is trying to fit everything else the way it is supposed to be. The tension leads the end of the rod to exactly the right hole on the ball.

And you end up with a structure like this, that in some ways looks more precarious but has a better foundation so it stays together better:

Now think of the way autistic people learn. Much of the time, people try to force-fit us, like that red rod, because it seems more intuitive to them. And they don’t see anything wrong with it. But further down the line, that causes all kinds of instability and collapse. But if you go with how we are actually built, and how we actually learn, you can get a structure that may look different than you intended, sometimes different than what you were taught “growth” looks like, but is sturdier, and serves our own functions better.

Or as Donna Williams puts it:

Though others may have had some say
in building up their book of rules,
I had mine given without want,
I couldn’t build one, had no tools.My book has not, my name upon it.
It feels unlike mine in hand.
If not that I relied upon it,
I’d let it fall like grains of sand.(from Not Just Anything)

About Mel Baggs

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods. Crochet or otherwise create constantly and compulsively. Write poetry and paint when I can. Developmentally disabled, physically and cognitively disabled. I'm not really part of any online faction or another, even ones that claim me as a member. The thing in the world most important to me is having love and compassion for other people, although I don't always measure up to my own standards there by a longshot. And individual specific actions and situations and contexts matter a lot more to me than broadly-spoken abstract words and ideas about a topic. My father died in 2014 and that has changed my life a lot in ways that are still evolving, but I wear a lot of his clothes and hats every day since he died and have shown no sign of stopping soon.

5 responses »

  1. Recovering from my latest and most spectacular collapse, and finally allowed and given the opportunity to find my own way, I’m pretty much living proof of that.

  2. A seriously apt analogy. I’m bookmarking this one, certainly. Such a simple thing, really — the notion that the structure of humanity needs certain shapes to go in certain places rather than being forced into others, but so many people don’t get it. I’m actually still in the process of trying to figure out why, because NO benefits come to mind when I imagine a world of people who are all alike.

  3. I’m bookmarking this too, I think. It might be a useful reference in future, when confronted with people saying “But you used to be able to do that. Why do you have trouble with it now?” The whole mental structure that enabled me to do certain ‘normal’ things was based on unstable construction in the first place, I’m fairly convinced, and was bound to fall apart in the long run, or at least collapse into something less precarious.

    There’s a concept used in geology called ‘metastability’– in a nutshell, the idea is that minerals can exist under temperatures and pressures where they aren’t intrinsically stable (for instance, diamonds at the Earth’s surface exist in a metastable state), rather than at a lower-energy, more stable state, due to the presence of an activation energy barrier between the initial and final states. The way I see it, *every* time I behave in a way that appears ‘normal’ to the dominant culture, I exist in a metastable state. It’s not my most stable state, but I can run on my own inertia for a while.

    People seem to insist on clinging to WYSIWYG assumptions, however– that what they perceive to be my ‘level of functioning’ under any given circumstance is representative of how I am ‘naturally’ and all the time. The assumptions are usually skewed in a specific direction for me, because most of the time I’m perceived as being relatively ‘high functioning.’ Thus, if I’m visibly ‘acting odd’ or having a meltdown, this tends to lead to exhortions to ‘snap out of it,’ because this *can’t* possibly be a natural state for me.


  4. I always think of that as WYTYSIWYG: What You Think You See Is What You Get. The distinction is a minor one, but I find it important to point out to others that their perceptions of me are not just governed by how I look, but by what their brains do when confronted with someone who looks like me.

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