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Autism – needing clear instructions

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Executive function and short term memory

I’ve always found written instructions easier than verbal. In school I felt like I sort of zooned out if there were long verbal instructions. Before I was autistic I had no idea why. Turned out this is part of my brain being differently wired. Due to cognitive executive functioning problems, autistic people can have problems with short- term memory and keeping a lot of information in the brain at the same time and/ or for an extended period of time. Processing information takes more energy and time. When verbal instructions are in several steps, I might still be processing the first step when the teacher is on step two or three. That can result in me giving up on listening since I simply can’t keep up. It’s always like this for me. But a little extra if I also need to process other sensory impressions at the same time, such as a noisy sound environment, if I’m stressed out, tired or if I need to interact socially at the same time, meaning decoding underlying meanings and such.

Interpreting information literal

Sometimes you might hear that autistic people interpret information literally. This has to do with the brain needing to decode the meaning of the sentence sort of more manually than automatic. It’s like I see an immediate picture in my brain of the literal meaning before my brain decodes the actual meaning.People often think I’m funny when my brain doesn’t catch up immediately and I interpret things literally. I’ve learned to take advantage of this and often offer my literal interpretation which people think is me just trying to be funny. It’s not that I don’t understand that “Can you open the door?” often isn’t a question of whether I can actually do it or not, but rather that I am being asked to open the door. It just takes my brain that extra step of interpreting.

Learned skills that requires energy and presence

I’ve learned not to take things literally, much like I’ve learned to interact socially in a particular way. This doesn’t mean that the process is simple. It’s a learned behavior that doesn’t happen automatically, but requires energy and presence.

Misunderstandings created hypersensitivity

Over the years, however, it has inevitably become the case that I interpreted things literally when I was meant to read between the lines. I have found myself in situations where I followed instructions but then felt people were not happy with me or the result since I missed underlying messages. This created an alertness in me where I constantly looked for hidden messages, feeling like I either missed something, or read too much into what people said.

Helpful for me

For me, it helps if instructions are clear, concise and cannot be interpreted in more than one way. It’s also easier if I get written information because then I can go back and read it again if I get lost. Now that I know I am autistic, I try not to take full responsibility to always try to decode everything. Instead I ask for more clear instructions and the real meaning of things.So if I ask you to clarify or ask follow-up questions on things that you may think seem obvious, it’s not me being inattentive, it just makes it easier for me to keep up.

If you want to read what other autistic people think about this you find it here where I first posted this text —>

Thank you for reading.

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Autism – can you at least try to..

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Well meaning people tell me to exercise my brain

I know I’m not alone being told that maybe I should try without some adjustments. To kind of exercise my brain and maybe get a little better at certain things. Increasing my tolerance for noise, for example, by not always using my headphones. Some well meaning people have told me I need to build up tolerance. Otherwise I will end up not tolerating any sounds at all. I get the idea that exposure can be a strategy if there is anxiety for certain sounds involved.

Autism and sensory sensitivity is not something you can train to go away or to tolerate better

But my sensory sensitivity is not something I can expose myself to to make it go away. It’s always there and aids like headphones prevents my brain from being easily overloaded. Maybe I could have done without headphones for a while in a noisy sound environment. But at what price? Using up a lot of energy to filter out disturbing sounds can result in not being able to do more that day. Or, to end up in meltdown or shutdown later. But you don’t see that. All you see is a person who seems to function well without headphones.

Autism is not social phobia

I sometimes get told that I should be out a little more around people, for example, go shopping etc so that I don’t become completely isolated or shy. Again, I understand the idea of exposure when it comes to anxiety in eg social phobia. But I don’t have social phobia. Not as described in the DSM. I am not afraid of social situations. They just take a lot of energy from me because I don’t read the social game the way neurotypicals do. My brain gets completely exhausted trying to interpret different codes, signals and emotions that people send out. Possibly that in turn gives me anxiety. But it’s not anxiety in the first place that dictates that I prefer not to meet so many people.T

How to help autistic people

The best way to help an autistic person, imo, is to encourage them to learn to identify their needs, to express them and to ask for help dealing with them in a way that is best for them. You wouldn’t ask someone who uses a wheelchair to come up to practice the 100m sprint without their weelchair. Why is it so hard to accept differences when it comes to the brain and things that are not immediately visible? Why so many opinions instead of asking how and why certain aids such as headphones for example, are helpful for an autistic person? Don’t assume that an autistic person can handle something well just because you don’t see an immediate reaction. The reaction may come when you are not looking.

More nuanced knowledge about autism needed

Better and more nuanced knowledge of autism is needed to prevent others to push themselves into a template they don’t fit into and the consequences of that. If my experience can contribute to that, well I wouldn’t go as far as to say it was worth my suffering, because I think that would just sound cheesy, but it does give it a new meaning. For me, that meaningfulness has to coexist with sadness and anger over what could have been. But perhaps mostly over what could have been avoided.

Do you want to see what other autistic people have to say about this subject, click here where I first posted this text –>

Thank you for reading.