Daily Archives: November 16, 2006

Why we don’t do what we don’t do.

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This is another post from my archives, most of which I wrote in July:

I’ve been thinking about assorted reasons that autistic people don’t do what we don’t do. And how often even auties seem to confuse those reasons with each other.

There are people who do not know how or why to do something, but are able to do that thing once they understand it. An example is an autistic person who never speaks because he did not know it was required of him, but suddenly starts speaking when he sees the point of it.

There are people who do not know how or why to do something, but would not be able to do that thing once they understood it. An example is an autistic person who never spoke before because she did not know it was required of her, and now knows it’s required of her but can’t manage to do it for any of a number of reasons.

There are people who know how or why to do something, but still can’t do it. An example is an autistic person who’s always seen other people speak and tried but can’t.

There are people who are perfectly capable of doing something, but are afraid to or don’t want to for any of a number of reasons. An example is an autistic person who knows how and why to speak and could do so if they were not self-conscious, or afraid of being punished, or afraid that if they showed they could do it once they’d have to do it all the time.

There are people who are only sometimes capable of doing something. An example is an autistic person who can only speak some of the time, and may even only be able to understand why to speak some of the time.

These are, of course, not necessarily separate people. Many people are a little of most of them, even in the same area.

What I notice though is that most of what people write with regard to helping autistic people do stuff, has to do with people who would be able to do something if they knew how. Even stuff by autistic people often has the implicit idea that things are just a matter of knowing in your head how or why to do something. Then a minority of what’s written has to do with lacking confidence, being afraid, or being lazy.

I have a ton of stored knowledge. I can’t just call that stored knowledge up at random and get it to work for me. Even if I do manage to get that knowledge triggered, my brain may not be up to doing whatever it’s trying to do. There’s no consistency to this.

There’s no wonderful training technique that will miraculously make me able to do various things on a consistent basis. There’s no piece of information that, if I had it, would make my surroundings and body always resolve into something comprehensible in the exact right way to be able to do a number of things. Overload, shutdown, and differences in perception do not miraculously vanish the moment knowledge, motivation, and calm appear.

Right now (as I am editing this post, in the present, not the part that I wrote in the past) I can’t sit up and read or write at the same time, so I’m flat on my back. I can’t usually ever stand and read at the same time. All the “knowing how to read and write” in the world doesn’t change that. I am not afraid to read, lacking confidence in my ability to read, or too lazy to read.

(I have spoken once with someone who uses a definition of “anxiety” so broad that it extends to the concept of having trouble multitasking, or in fact having trouble doing anything. Personally I think when you expand a word so broadly, it becomes useless, confusing, meaningless, and incomprensible to your listeners, and gives false impressions.)

At any rate, there’s a number of reasons that autistic people (and other people for that matter) don’t do what we don’t do. Not all of them are about lacking knowledge, being afraid, not feeling like it, or being lazy.

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