How to Boil Water the EASY Way


Finally I’ve actually gotten something done. I’ve been really wiped out lately and have been driving myself nuts planning videos and writing in my head and then being unable to make any of them. The following is a video that I based loosely on the How to make a phone call, in 70 easy steps post. Like that post, it’s meant to be funny but convey something real. (And since it’s YouTube I uploaded it to, I felt it necessary to point out that “funny” doesn’t mean people get a free pass on laughing at autistic people to feel superior to us or something.)

It should also prove useful for explaining this sort of thing to people who don’t grasp the idea that even when we’re getting a lot fewer results than most people, we’re working at least as hard as other people, possibly harder. And also to show in a pretty graphic way that this is not the same thing as procrastination. I don’t like or agree with the way these things are formulated medically. But I do know that when a bunch of objects are all triggering a whole lot of actions that have nothing necessarily to do with anything I’m trying to do, and I am trying to steer my way through these to get to the one thing I do want to do and then get that in the right order, while intermittently my body freezes up or sits down (either as a result of overload or pain, or just because that’s what happens), then it’s worse than useless to compare that to procrastination.

It’s also worse than useless to imply that a person who takes five hours to boil water should somehow be able obtain enough food and water to sustain themselves, as well as do all other necessary daily chores, without any assistance at all, within twenty-four hours. Even if they never slept at all and had no need to ever leave the house for any reason, there simply aren’t enough hours in a day for this.

A lot of people also assume these things have something to do with academic abilities. They have nothing to do with that. The implication is that if a person is good in school they’ll have no trouble with these things, and that if a person has great trouble with these things they won’t do well in school. The consequences of both assumptions can be devastating to the person involved.

So yeah, this is funny, and it’s intended to be, but there are a lot of serious points behind it and I hope that people catch those too.

About Mel Baggs

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods, which tell me who I am and where I belong in the world. I relate to objects as if they are alive, but as things with identities and properties all of their own, not as something human-like. Culturally I'm from a California Okie background. Crochet or otherwise create constantly, write poetry and paint when I can. Proud member of the developmental disability self-advocacy movement. I care a lot more about being a human being than I care about what categories I fit into.

28 responses »

  1. So I started looking up autism after my professor said he goes to sleep every night wishing to find a cure for it last Thursday. I quickly found communities with writing by actual autistics rather than ABOUT them from the neurotypical point of view. I have a lot of friends with various “disabilities” and “problems” that cause others to think of them as bad people, disordered, not all there, etc. I also have a few issues of my own which I take pride in personally and yet which others would take away my rights for. However, I am quite good at hiding the more unique aspects of myself. Not that I think I should have to. But I’d rather not have people on my case all the time.

    Anyway. I watched “In My Language” and thought it was one of the best things I’ve watched in quite a long time. I don’t understand why people can’t see autism as something wonderful even though it is so different because you seem to have a constant (and beautiful) dialogue going on with the world around you. Neurotypicals take classes just to learn how to appreciate their surroundings in the moment!!

    What I notice is that people who claim to want to “cure” autism pay more attention to the FAMILIES of those autistic people than the ACTUAL autistics. wtf? Honestly. If families think autism is a death sentence, it’s because of society’s conditioning and their own unwillingness to look beyond their noses. I’m sorry if I sound harsh but I’m surrounded by people who would condemn some of my best friends to psych wards for various things they do and feel. Of course it makes me angry.

    Do you have an email address? If so would you please email me? I would be so thrilled to see a message from you in my inbox because I adore how you are taking a stand about such things and because… I just would. It would make me happy to talk with you more. :)

    -Alex (email address edited out unless you want it put back in — edited it out for spam reasons)

  2. This is a little bit like what happenswith ADD, except magnified. Also, for me, when I get sidetracked by something unrelated, it may be because I got distracted and momentarily lost track of what I was trying to do, rather than being automatically triggered to do certain things as in your case (such as the way seeing the refrigerator apparently triggers you to open the door.)

    There were a few places when I thought I heard a voice but didn’t see captions with them…?

  3. When Ben was in second grade, I remember him spilling water on the bed. Rather than tell him to go get a towel, I decided to just watch him.

    He left the room, came back, felt the wet bed, left the room again, came back, sat down, and felt the bed. On the third try, he got a towel and soaked up the water with it.

    I remember thinking at the time, he must do that hundreds of times a day, and told his teacher about it. It was no wonder it took him so long to complete a paper…one of his diversions was to look through his book. The teachers could never understand why he did this.

    Strangely, when he was in his resource room with a teacher he loved, he had no problem completing vast quantities of work. This same teacher felt it more important to get to know his children before asking anything of them. He also cleared out a place for Ben to sit, and made no demands of him.

    Do you find some places easier than others?

  4. I keep forgetting to caption noises other than words. Sorry about that. But no there’s no speaking other than when it’s captioned, unless YouTube yet again screwed up the formatting and moved the video and audio apart.

  5. This is why I own an electric teakettle, especially one with an automatic/emergency cutoff switch. That way, if I get off track/distracted or even forget that I was boiling water in the first place, I’m not going to start a fire or ruin a kettle.

  6. I don’t mind that you removed my email addy. I just wanted to make sure you saw it so you could email me if you want to.

  7. I made a note on Facebook about autism and tagged most of my friends to read it. I want to show it to you since your blog is helping me to understand so much about these things:

    So a few of you were present at CL this Friday night to hear my “People are ignorant about what autism means + their ignorance has been the proverbial cherry on my crappy week” rant.

    Therefore, a warning. (I only think it’s fair) I will BITE YOUR HEAD OFF (or at least be wary of talking to you ever again) if you ever say something like “autistics are retarded” or “autistic people probably can’t feel love” in my presence.

    And, um, “What are your sources for your assertions that those wackos really have rich mental processes and lives, Lex?”

    blog by “low-functioning” autistic woman:

    CNN article about her, just in case you were about to say, “But yeah, anyone could’ve posted that”:

    Writing BY autistics rather than ABOUTthem:

    The list goes on and on and on… and on.

    I don’t understand people. How can they be so incurious that they never discover things like this? How can they not want to know? How can they not want to understand? I’m beginning to agree with the assertion of many autistics: Neurotypicals are freakin’ weird.

  8. An excellent video. And I suppose it could be construed as funny but it rang all too true for me. I don;t have as much of the planning needed to co-ordinate my body, but if I go to boil a kettle this is what happens.
    1: Think that a cup of tea might be nice. Decide to get off the sofa.
    2: Spot a loose thread on the sofa and start looking at it, looking at it turns out into thinking about medieval England and what my house would be like and whether I would be accused of witchcraft, being from the future and all :D.
    3: Snap out of daydream and concerted effort made to get up. Realise that whilst my mind is telling me I need to move, it’s not telling my body.
    4: Manage to get up.
    5; Go into kitchen and forget what I’m there for. See lad’s giant yellow tennis ball and start bouncing that around.
    6: Have a slight chew on fingers and twist fingers about.
    7: Copious swearing as I realise I came in the kitchen for something specific.
    8: Decide not to worry about what I came in for and talk to the lads who are in the kitchen with me. Tell them the 12 labours of Hercules and who the nine muses were and sing lots of nursery rhymes with actions in them with the lads. Can’t remember about boiling the kettle.
    9: Spot kettle. Vague realisation dawns. Go over to sink. Fill water in kettle.
    10: Leave water filled kettle on window sill as I do washing up.
    11: Go after oldest son who is heading upstarirs to the computer.
    12: Realise I’ve left youngest son downstairs. Head back and carry him upstairs with me.
    13: Read book to lads and show episode of Button Moon on computer.
    14: Vague remembrance of drink.
    15: Go downstairs with lads and make them a drink.
    16: Spot kettle on sill.
    17: More finger twistintg and hand flapping and then long monologue to self about potential life in Medieval England.
    18: Put kettle onto boil.
    19: Let it cool down. Let it cool down too much and have to boil it up again. Make tea.
    20: Forget about tea until stone cold.

  9. Hi Amanda –
    Thanks for another great video. But I am curious – what causes you the most difficulty in these situations: forgetting what you started off to do/getting distracted along the way, or getting your body to do what you want it to do?

  10. It’s sort of like… especially if I walk in there on foot, the different objects “tell” me to do different things with them, and then I get lost doing all those different things. And then there’s attempting to get to the tea kettle and still being “told” to do those different things, and my body more easily does those different things, than goes for the tea kettle. But there’s also an element of forgetting, but only because of being immersed in whatever I’m doing right then, and all the coordinating of thinking/perceiving/acting etc. leaves not enough room for coordinating the “tea kettle” part so that gets shoved out.

  11. Have neurotypicals ever told you that similar things sometimes happen to them? I mean it’s not as extreme, but I know I’m not the only one who goes into a room to do something and gets distracted ten times before I actually do it.

  12. Yes, but I’ve never met a truly neurotypical (in all ways) and non-disabled-otherwise person who literally cannot do enough things like this in a day to survive.

    There was a post on Lady Bracknell’s blog recently that described the… inadequacy in many ways of such comparisons though. A quote:

    The problem for us crips is that almost all impairments are an extreme form of something which everyone experiences at some time. Which means that they think they know what our lives are like. Either because, as in the example above, they are so much the centre of their own universe that the concept of there being anything they haven’t experienced is inconceivable to them, or because they can’t understand experiences which are outside their own frame of reference. (Which is where the, “Well, she can’t be in very much pain if she’s laughing that much” reaction comes from, I think.)

    Once a year, as a result of my diabetic retinopathy screening test, I spend several hours with my pupils artificially enlarged, which means that I only have peripheral vision, and that the light hurts my eyes. This does not entitle me to contact my visually-impaired friends and colleagues and tell them I know what their impairment is like. I don’t. I know my vision will be back to normal in a couple of hours. I lie down in a darkened room until that happens. I take time out from my daily life until I can see again. I don’t have to develop strategies for every minor task so that I can complete it safely with restricted vision. The only thing I have learned is what the view is like when you have no central vision.

  13. Hi Amanda,

    Thank you for this wonderful submission for the next Disability Carnival on “Laughter, The Best Medicine”. Goodness, I wish we had the technical know-how to do half of what you do, both online and with your videos. Hey, I couldn’t help but notice the harp standing in the corner of your living room. That is a harp isn’t it? Do you play? It is such a beautiful instrument…

  14. It is indeed a harp. I don’t know if I play or not. I was learning as a preteen, at a time when there was a lot of upheaval in various skills. Then in a few years after I’d started being in institutions regularly, my startle reflex got so pronounced I couldn’t stand to be near it in case the strings snapped. Then in my late teens I played a little again, during music night at a day program for teens in the psych system (I also sang and played bass and hammered dulcimer, although not all at once).

    My parents finally sent me my harp, and it’s still getting used to the humidity change, so I haven’t dared fully tune it up yet. And as such I have no idea if I can still play or if I’ll have to relearn the entire thing, things have been too unstable to know for sure.

  15. Imaginary television comedy sketch starring two men, Jim and Tom, who each speak in a deadpan voice.

    ” What’s that woman in the video doing, Tom?”

    “She’s boiling water, Jim.”

    “Why she’s taking so long?”

    “She’s autistic.”

    “So autistic is taking a long time to boil water?”

    “Seems like it, Jim.”

    “But there wouldn’t be a name just for taking a long time to boil a kettle.”

    “S’ppose not, Jim”

    “Why is she autistic?”

    “Dunno, maybe she was born that way.”

    “But newborn babies don’t know how to boil kettles.”

    “Maybe doctors tested her when she was older.”

    “Yeah. The boiling a kettle test for finding out if someone is autistic.”

    “S’ppose so, Tom.”

    “I’m making a cup of tea, would you like one, Jim.”

    “Not if you take as long as her.”

    ” I won’t. I’m not autistic.”

  16. How to Look up Phone Number on The Computer

    1. Sit at computer
    2. Decide to just, real quick, look at a cool blog you haven’t checked in a couple days
    3. Get absorbed in reading posts that make you re-evaluate old attitudes about human behavior
    4. Remember you’re at work and open
    5. Page takes a while to load. Follow interesting link on blog
    6. Get re-absorbed
    7. Feel inspired to write a comment that you just have to post RIGHT NOW
    8. Boss walks in
    9. Minimize window quickly and re-open yellow pages
    10. Mention to boss that internet sure is slow, takes 20 minutes just to look up a phone number



  17. I think that microwave and fridge doors are particularly rewarding distractions because they light up when I open them.

    Lady Bracknell’s excellent point notwithstanding, it’s important to remember that almost everything our (Western, white) society knows about “normal” comes from studying those of us who aren’t. Doctors discovered the different functional areas in the brain by testing folks who had steel pipes driven through their brains in accidents.

    So it’s not surprising that those of us who aren’t “normal” and those of us who are share experiences — we’re all human.

  18. Thank you for sharing your experiences.
    Almost every post you write gives me new insight and education. This one was particularly helpful, because it may help to explain why my son does certain things. Knowing the “why” of something helps determine a more appropriate reaction/interaction to what he may be doing instead of what was asked.

  19. The ability to make a cup of tea reasonably quickly is regarded as a skill ‘everybody’ should have. The absence of that skill is regarded as a sign of abnormality. But a person who cannot make videos is not regarded as abnormal or lacking in any essential skill. However having the ability to make videos but not to make cup of tea quickly is regarded as something which needs explanation. It subverts conventional categorisation of skills in which people who have a higher order skill, such as video making, should also have a lower order skill such as tea making.

  20. I don’t know if that kind of guide is useful for other people, it wouldn’t be for me. Too much memorization of word-concepts that I wouldn’t be able to apply in the real world.

  21. Hi Amanda,

    I hope you don’t mind but I recommended your video to the folks at with[tv]. They are looking for video submissions for the web site they are developing and of course yours came to mind. If you haven’t discovered with[tv] I encourage you to take a look. I’m sure they would appreciate hearing from you.

    They have a guest book folks can sign as well.

    And while I’m thinking of it, have you tuned your harp yet?

  22. Wow–after seeing that, I’m never going to complain about my own executive dysfunction again–I thought it was bad that I took five hours to clean a room!

    I’m going to be an engineer–I wonder if more automation would help; and if so, could I create it? If there were a button to push that said “Boil Water”… then you’d only have to plan and execute one thing. Still working on a robot to clean my room for me, though! :P

  23. I would settle for something that could somehow make me focus on the right parts of the task and sort of put me on the right path and not all the wrong ones that always crop up and trip me up.

    I mean, sometimes I boil water in a much shorter time, I don’t want to give wrong impressions here, but it really can take that long too.

    I don’t think I’ve ever cleaned a room in five hours, though. How long does it normally take to clean a room? I can clean parts of a room, but doing a whole room is really hard (trying to think if I’ve ever done it). We had room inspections in the college dorms and I mostly coped by throwing nearly everything I owned into boxes and vacuuming like crazy, and that took me over five hours in itself. And room-cleaning is not helped by the fact that the messier it gets, the more disoriented I get, and therefore the less capable of cleaning I get.

    And yet in a more ordered environment… I once walked into a Blockbuster and alphabetized their entire classics section because I was being driven crazy trying to look for Marx Brothers movies and not finding them. But I’m not sure I could do that on command. Oh well.

    I’m thinking back, and they used to make me clean my desk, which is much smaller than a room, and that I couldn’t do without taking hours at it even if I was seated right in front of the desk the entire time.

    But no, I wouldn’t say you shouldn’t complain or whatever. The existence of someone who has more difficulty with something than you do, doesn’t mean that you don’t have difficulty with it. I know of people with way more trouble with things like boiling water (like can’t ever do it, at all, in any circumstance) than I do, and I still have trouble doing it.

  24. Hey, I play the harp too! I have a panic disorder and the vibrations from holding the harp against my body are really powerful in keeping the panic attacks at bay. It’s a real nuisance to tune and stuff, but I love how physical it is. I just like to touch all the parts of it in different ways and explore the sorts of sound it can make.

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