Category Archives: ability


(Image is of a series of faces lacking specific features. I was not able to find who made it)

Hey, want to read about another thing about me? Well… I certainly hope you do, because I’m about to write about it.

I have this thing where I am not so great at recognizing faces. One example – remember the Lord of the Ring movies? Remember two of the characters – Boromir and Aragorn? Well, I couldn’t tell them apart. I had to watch the ENTIRE trilogy more than once (and that is many hours of movie watching right there) before I could even begin to tell them apart. Let me tell you, that made for some confusing movie watching. Ok, rugged guy with a goatee is talking to someone, which one is he? I was actually pretty ok on recognizing the other characters. I could even (mostly) tell the hobbits apart. It was really only those two who looked indistinguishable to me. And with even that, the movies could be remarkably confusing at times because I didn’t know who was doing what. 

Another story. This time from middle school. A whole lot of the boys were long and lanky, with short brown hair and a goatee. I couldn’t tell ANY of them apart. School felt like being surrounded by faceless clones – a handful of people were sufficiently visually distinctive that I could recognize them, but they were by far the minority. Anyway, that’s not actually the story, that’s just the background. In gym class we had a bit where we had to run a mile, which had been judged as 8 laps around the parking lot. Either in an effort to keep us honest or just to give the runners one less thing to think about, we were paired off – one person runs, the other person watches and counts their laps. Sounds great, right? Well, I was paired with one of the dozen or so Long, Lanky, Short Hair and a Goatee boys. 

Oh no.

I tried going to the teacher to let him know that I could not distinguish my partner from the other boys, but he was not interested in listening to me. So… I did my best. Which wasn’t that good. I desperately tried to find SOME distinguishing feature so I could recognize him but did not succeed. I stared intently at the faces of the boys running past while the run was happening, trying to see if one of them would click as the one I’m supposed to be watching. Sometimes I would see one of them and think “ok, I think that’s him” but other times I was sure he must have run another lap by then and I missed him. 

This story has no solid wrap-up. I did my best. I called 8 laps when I figured it was probably right, and no one questioned it. I never was able to tell my teacher about my inability to recognize my partner. 

One more story. This one from just a few days ago. I like to explore music that is new to me, and since I live under a metaphorical rock there is a LOT of music out there that I’ve never heard or even heard of. I recently found a song that’s by two singers – Jessia and Bebe Rexha. Having no idea who those two ladies are, I went ahead and googled them and took a look at the image results. They… kinda look identical to me. I spent some time looking at the images REALLY HARD and making a point to check for typical distinguishing features (lip shape, cheekbones, eyebrows, chin shape, things like that) and eventually was able to tell them apart, but it was a very deliberate exercise I had to do. It does not come naturally to me at all.

Well, as I’m sure you have already pieced together since I titled my post after it – this is a condition called prosopagnosia. It is not at all uncommon in people on the autism spectrum. 

I’ve never really gotten better at recognizing faces. I’m honestly not sure that it’s something people can learn. I HAVE gotten better at recognizing people via other means – things like their clothing style, the way they move or stand, maybe something particular about how they do their hair. I am also generally able to recognize people if I’m around them enough. At some point enough about them becomes familiar to me that I can recognize them when I see them. Though maybe I’ll just leave out how long that has taken me at times, or for just how long two of my friends (who were girlfriends of each other, and so together a lot) were completely indistinguishable to me. I just spent that time trying to avoid assuming who was who and waiting until they said something that made my brain go “oh! It’s THAT one!” I can tell them apart now, but damn did it take a while.

It’s not so bad to live with now, but wow was it frustrating and painful while I was growing up. I’m pretty sure it would still be frustrating and painful if I had to exist in an office environment or something like that. Luckily, my life is constructed in such a way that this particular difficulty isn’t too disabling for me, but not everyone is so lucky. 

So consider this your reminder for the day that not all disabilities are visible. They aren’t even necessarily physical. And if you’re one of the allistic people reading this and you have a co-worker who never seems to recognize you? Well, maybe it isn’t their fault, and maybe it’s just as frustrating for them as it is for you, if not more so. I have many, many more stories of not recognizing people – I simply picked a few to share. I also have stories of recognizing people when others couldn’t – by silhouette. No features visible, but I could tell who it was by the way they walked. I process information differently than other people do. This means a lot of things, and one of them is that faces just don’t give me information all that well. 

But it’s part of who I am, and I’m ok.


Filed under ability, personal

Ranting on Autism Purely Defined as a Deficit

The image is kind of random, but I like capybaras, and two capybaras greeting each other just felt right. Because hi!

Hi! Starting with the elephant in the room – I’m trying to be back. Yes, it’s been some five years. Right now I’m just trying to get my brain thinking in blogging terms again. Turns out there are indeed some topics about which I have Things To Say. That said, I am very VERY interested in hearing about what you would like to see me talk about (or see anyone talk about). I can’t guarantee I’ll take every topic, but I really want to get ideas bouncing around in my head, and I really appreciate anyone who can help with that.

And now, on to the post itself.

I have so many thoughts on this particular matter, but in this instance let’s start with a study. (Disclaimer – I have read the abstract, but not the paper itself as reading full scientific papers tends to be a bit above my level) Here is a pubmed link to the abstract. To summarize the summary – some scientists did a study on information transfer between autistic people and neurotypical people. They did this by basically having different groups play a game of telephone with a story, and then seeing how much of the story remained intact by the end of it. They had chains of entirely autistic people, chains of entirely neurotypical people, and chains with a mix of autistic and neurotypical people.

The findings, which I imagine will not surprise a single autistic person, were that autistic people transfer information to other autistic people just as well as neurotypical (NT) people do. The problems happened in the groups that were mixed autistic/NT people. THAT was where information was most often lost. To me, this seems obvious, but I have definitely learned that this is NOT obvious to many NTs.

Now as we all know, autism is defined in terms of deficits, not differences. There are SO MANY aspects of this I could rant on, but I’m really going to try to focus on interpersonal interactions for this post. There is certainly plenty to say even on that.

This concept of autism as a deficit shows in how when autistic people are confused by something NTs do, it’s because we are deficient; we don’t understand. It shows in how when NTs are confused by something autistic people do, it’s because we are deficient; we are confusing. It shows in how often NTs are extremely aware of any tiny thing they do to accommodate autistic people, but are completely unaware of the measures autistic people take to accommodate NT society. Am I uncomfortable in a loud and chaotic environment? Do I struggle with sensory overload? I am deficient. Does an NT struggle and feel uncomfortable in an environment structured for me? I am still deficient. It is ALWAYS my deficiency.

So I like seeing a study like this, which actually does an excellent job highlighting the problems with this way of thinking. I think the best way I have to explain my thinking here is to tell you about some things people have told me in the past.

See, years ago I had NT friends, but only a few autistic friends. I knew I felt very comfortable with my autistic friends and we were able to communicate in a way that I could not with NTs, but it was pretty clear that my NT friends didn’t see that and weren’t aware of it. I would occasionally express that I thought it would be really nice to be in a relationship with an autistic person. From my perspective, it would give me intimacy with someone who thinks and functions much like I do. Someone who speaks the same language as me, metaphorically speaking.

Well, not everyone agreed with me on that. I was told, very bluntly, that that was a terrible idea, because I am just sooo rigid, and require sooo much flexibility from other people to accommodate my rigidity. That was honestly incredibly hurtful to hear, and I never quite knew how to respond to them. (it’s hard for me to get words to work in moments like that. It’s why I write) They were clearly extremely aware of any bending they did for me, and were extremely unaware of all the bending I did for them. And I did a lot of bending for them. But it seems that anything less than fully adapting myself to NT norms and standards counted as “rigidity” to them, and since I am unable to fully adapt to NT norms and standards, only NTs can deal with me. Yeah, I’m a little lost on their logic at this point.

In any case, I am in a relationship with an autistic person now, and it’s going exactly how I thought it would – MUCH EASIER than relationships with NTs. Our communication is better than my communication with NTs, we understand each other better and more easily than between myself and NTs. It aligns very well with what that study showed, which is no surprise to me at all, but might be a surprise to the people who told me that autistic people couldn’t possibly be in relationships with each other. 

I have no idea if those people even remember saying that to me. I’m still close to one of them, and I still remember their words and how much those words hurt. It’s satisfying to finally have science on my side, supporting what I’ve been trying to say all along.

We need new ways to look at autism. The deficiency-only model is flawed at its core, and it seems that science is finally starting to notice. I hope it continues. 


Filed under ability, opinion, request


So I guess I’m feeling kind of negative. This post could easily be called “things I despair of ever seeing in my lifetime.” These are points about civil rights, diversity, and representation that I would like to see, but are so far from happening that many people aren’t even aware of them, or don’t see them as things we should care about.

~ A politician running for office including disability rights as part of their platform.

~ A campaign to increase minimum wage including special minimum wage as part of the overall issue.

~ A visible campaign that includes politicians backing it to get rid of special minimum wage entirely.

~ Actually getting rid of special minimum wage.

~ A person who is too disabled to work being a protagonist in a tv show.

~ A person who is too disabled to work being a protagonist in a game.

~ A TV show with an officially autistic main character, who is portrayed in a positive light without relying on stereotypes.

~ A main character with a variety of intersectional difficulties. Such as disabled AND female AND a POC.

~ Disability rights being broadly seen as civil rights.

~ A political including marriage equality for people with disability as part of their platform.

Ok, so we do have a few partial wins with some of these. We have Professor Xavier in X-men, who is a disabled protagonist. That’s awesome! However, aside from the wheelchair he is as normalized as possible, being white, male, and straight.

We also have Alternate Astrid, from the TV show Fringe. A woman of color who is officially autistic, and her autism is simply part of who she is, rather than central to the story. However, she is a very minor character and we do not see her particularly often.

More on Fringe – they have a number of characters with differences, and again, those differences are never a central story plot, but simply part of who they are. That’s awesome. Again, though, they are always side characters. Main characters are still on some plane of “normal.”

Mad Max, the character Furiosa, who is a woman, kickass, and a fetal amputee. Actually, this one is pretty awesome and her existence as a protagonist is a HUGE deal

Diversity and representation are important. Diversity of color, gender, and sexuality are definitely important, but they are not the whole picture. Diversity of neurology and (dis)ability are also important, but are still not really seen as serious issues of discussion. A while I am seeing baby steps in terms of representation, it seems as though issues of legal equality and civil rights are still only espoused by small numbers of people who are not particularly well listened to.

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How functional am I?

I’m told I’m high functioning.

As far as I can tell, mostly this means that for short periods of time I pass for normal. When I’ve saved up my spoons and I’m not overloaded, if a random stranger glances at me they don’t see anything unusual. So, to the people who use phrases like “high functioning” and “low functioning,” I’m high functioning.

Now, intellectually, I know that’s full of bunk. I know that “high functioning” means “we’ll ignore any help you need” and “low functioning” means “we’ll ignore any strengths you have.” I’ve seen it in practice many times, and I’ve had people deny my difficulties or insist that I’m just “quirky” based on nothing more than their idea that I’m “high functioning.”

But turns out that as much as I know this way of thinking is incorrect, as much as I understand that functioning is not linear, it turns out that it has burrowed into my brain deeper than I ever realized. It pops out at me and leaves me struggling with… I’m not even sure what.

A little backstory – I was diagnosed as an adult. People can make some very inaccurate assumptions about my childhood when they hear that, though. Basically, by the time I got into kindergarten, it was unmistakable that something was wrong with me. However, no one knew what. Long story short, things tended to jump between trying to figure out what was going on, and just treating me as though my failings were my fault and I’m just weak. I know now what was going on and why, but those messages don’t go away so easily.

Now, a little while back, after a lot of work and many incremental steps, I reached the point of being able to go grocery shopping on my own. It was a huge accomplishment for me and I’m glad I’m able to do it. This involved a lot of working both on driving independently (very difficult both in terms of sensory input and real-time processing) and on being able to handle the intensity of the grocery store on my own long enough to get the groceries.

This is where it gets rather shameful. Where my rather treacherous brain betrays me. The grocery store I go to employs some people who seem to have intellectual disabilities. They are definitely not the kind of people who can pass for normal the way I can. If someone who rates people by functioning came on by, they would surely say that I am higher functioning than some of those employees.

Yet those “lower functioning” employees are holding down jobs that would send me into screaming meltdowns within a matter of days if I tried to do them. And sometimes, when my brain is being uncooperative, when all that inspiration porn I’ve been exposed to and all those messages of moral weakness I grew up with are echoing loudly in my ears, I wonder why they can do it and I can’t. I think I must just be weak or lazy the way people insist people like me must be. I’m failing to “overcome” my disability the way we’re supposed to in order to be worthwhile.

I know that this is wrong. I know that there are many, MANY errors in my thinking. I know that functioning is neither linear nor one dimensional. I know it’s only reasonable for people who are weak in ways that I am strong, to also be strong in ways that I am weak. I know that this is how it works. But sometimes, on a gut level, it seems I forget.


Filed under ability, issue, personal, Uncategorized

Talking about horses again

So where I ride, there’s this one horse I want to talk about a bit. His name is Stitch. Stitch is fairly old, fairly creaky and stiff, and does not have a huge amount of energy. He won’t win any races or fly over jumps, and when riding him you can’t push him too far because he just only has so much in him.

And it’s SO WEIRD to write about him that way. Because at my barn, that’s just not how we talk about horses. We don’t bother to spend time talking a lot about what a horse can’t do, because we understand that every horse has something that they *can* do, and that’s what we focus on.

Overall, we do not rely on horses in our society the way we did in the past. We don’t really need horses for our everyday lives. Yet even so, there are still a solid number of tasks out there for horses to do. There are pulling horses, jumping horses, running horses, barrel racing horses, therapy horses, dressage horses, and probably more. Many of those jobs cannot overlap, so a horse that is very good at one job would be terrible at another. We, as horse people, understand that it would be absurd to choose one arbitrary standard by which to judge all horses, so we don’t do that. We don’t even talk about how we should not judge horses that way, because it is a non-issue for us.

So at my barn, when we talk about Stitch, we talk about his strengths. And yes, he does have them. We’ll talk about how he’s sweet and kind and gentle. We’ll praise him for never losing control and being disinclined to spook. We put beginners and brand new riders on him, because he is a wonderful lesson horse, taking things slow and gentle for people who are first learning. He’ll carry disabled riders in his role as a therapy horse. He is very very good at those things.

It just makes practical sense to find each horse’s strength and focus their job around that. To do anything else just be, well, ridiculous.

So why is it so hard for us to do that with people?

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I feel kind of defensive about this

When I see people talking about positive traits in other people, “ambition” tends to rate really highly. We’re all supposed to have ambition, and lack of ambition is seen as a personality flaw.

Of course, “ambition” always seems to be short for “career ambition.” It seems we’re all supposed to have a goal to advance in our career in some way, and if we don’t there’s something wrong with you. Something *bad* about you.

I don’t know, maybe I’m overreacting. Maybe it’s just me being twitchy and defensive, because this is an area in which I do not, at all, fit into how society tells us we are supposed to be. It’s an area that gets me judgement when people learn about it. If I’m lucky, all I’ll get is a “look.” If I’m not so lucky, I get grilled about what I’m doing instead and why I don’t have a job. I rarely want to tell these people that I’m on the autism spectrum or my history with mental illness that has kept me out of work, so it can get really uncomfortable and awkward. I mean, this is why I do not want people to ask me about work as an ice breaker.

So it’s true that I don’t have career ambition. I mean, I don’t have any career. Nor is getting a job anywhere on my short-term goals list (it’s a possibility down the line, but right now? unless something magically falls into my lap, it’s not going to happen). I don’t think this makes me bad. Nor do I think it’s cool to make “ambition” only be about careers.

Sometimes I see people who have greater struggles than I do redefine independence. Instead of independence being about not needing help, independence should be about freedom of choice. Sometimes people need help – that doesn’t mean we should be denying them the ability to have determination over their own lives.

I suppose it may be a lesser issue, but I want to do something similar with ambition. I don’t lack goals, my goals just have nothing to do with my nonexistent career. I am actively working to improve myself in all sorts of ways, and I always am. I have goals about getting more mobile, about finding more ways to contribute to my household, about volunteering at the barn where I ride, about the various crafting things I always have going on, about my writing… Honestly, you don’t get to tell me that none of that counts as ambition. Sure, it doesn’t look “normal.” Sure, things that are “just hobbies” for other people are serious business for me. Sure, I’m struggling with things most people have down by the time they’re my age. That’s kinda how it goes with me.

But it doesn’t mean I’m less than you. It doesn’t mean I’m a lazy layabout. It doesn’t mean I’m not ambitious. It just means I’m not like you, and that’s ok.



Filed under ability

How Do I Adult: Cooking

Continuing with my experimental “How do I adult?” series, I thought I would tackle cooking. I am only at level 3 cooking myself, so that is as far as I can describe to you. If you are trying to figure out how to adult in terms of meals, this might be helpful to you.

Reminder to everyone: It’s ok to ask for help! Whether you are asking or being asked, please don’t treat the question as something that anyone should be ashamed of. If we didn’t get the help we needed to learn these things when growing up, we should still be able to get help to learn these things as adults, and we should be able to do it without feeling ashamed.

Level 1: Sandwiches and the microwave

If you are completely at a loss on how to make food for yourself and find yourself always dependent on other people to make your food for you, this is probably the easiest place to start.

Things to have

Microwave-safe dishes: a bowl, a plate, and maybe a casserole dish
Eating utensils: a butter knife, a fork, and a spoon


I think microwavable meals are the easiest way to get into feeding yourself. Many microwavable foods are not necessarily the healthiest choices out there, but it is food and you will eat. Options for foods to microwave include noodle bowls, canned pasta, and small frozen pizzas. They will all have microwave directions on them – simply follow the directions using your microwave-safe dishes if necessary, and you will have food!

Edited to add: E (The Third Glance) has reminded me that I really must explicitly point out – no metal in the microwave! No utensils, no aluminum foil, no metal dishes, and no dishes with metal trim. No metal WHATSOEVER goes in the microwave.

To get a bit more healthy, look in the frozen vegetables section of your grocery store (is this overwhelming? Don’t worry, a grocery shopping post is in the works). Many frozen vegetables can also be microwaved – look for cooking instructions on the bag.

Also in the frozen section are what I call bag meals. As with the vegetables, many of them have the option of cooking them in the microwave. You will need your microwave safe casserole dish for this. These can be healthy or not-healthy, depending on which ones you get. I usually try to find diet or low-fat bag meals, because meals with a lot of fat, oil, or grease give me stomach aches. Along with bag meals there are also pre-made microwavable meals in boxes that a designed to be heated in the microwave.

Getting away from the microwave

Maybe you don’t have access to a microwave. Or maybe you want to make simple foods that don’t require one. The simplest options I know of are noodle bowls again, and sandwiches.

Noodle bowls can often also be made by pouring boiling water into them, rather than heating them in the microwave. This does call for a kettle to boil and safely pour the water.

Then there are sandwiches. You will need bread and your choice of sandwich toppings, and probably a butter knife to spread toppings. A classic is peanut butter and jelly – spread the jelly on one slice, peanut butter on the other slice, and put together to be a sandwich. Lunchmeat sandwiches are a bit more involved, but can be very good.

Hey, how about I write out how to construct a basic lunchmeat sandwich?

You will need

a plate (or paper towel or simply a clean surface to make your sandwich on)
a butter knife (if you are planning on using mayonnaise or ketchup or mustard or other condiment)
optional: lettuce or other greenery, mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard
(salad bags in the produce section can be a good way to handle your greenery)

Putting it all together

Take out two slices of bread and place them side-by-side on your plate (or other food-prep surface).

Start with your condiments. If you are wanting to use more than two condiments that can get a little tricky as you will need to layer them. I usually just use mayonnaise. You can use whatever you find tasty.

Take your lettuce and put it on one of your slices of bread. Take your lunchmeat and put it on top of the lettuce. Top it off with the other slice of bread, and presto! You have food!

Remember to close your bottles of condiments and put everything back where it was, and make sure your dirty dishes get into the dishwasher or sink or counter to be washed.

The nice thing about sandwiches is that they offer a very smooth way to level up if you want to. A sandwich can be as simple as peanut butter on bread, or can have all sorts of ingredients like pickles, tomatoes, peppers, and whatever else you want.

Want something a little more involved than this? Move onto level 2 – basic stovetop cooking. (you may need to scroll down to find the page buttons)


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Communication and Comprehension

If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.   -Albert Einstein

The above is a quote commonly attributed to Einstein. Like many quotations, it’s challenging to find a primary source to reference. However, I’m really more interested in the line itself, the fact that many people seem to respect it, and the underlying assumptions that go along with it. A friend of mine recently mentioned the quote to me; it got some part of my brain bubbling over it, and eventually I realized that I was having thoughts and feels about it. So, of course, I share those thoughts with you now. I’m a blogger, what else would I do?

First of all, it bugs me. It took me a while to process and figure out why it bugged me, but bug me it did. Eventually, though, I realized something. This quote is based on the idea that there is a direct correlation between one’s ability to communicate, and one’s ability to think or understand.

Oh dear.

I’m going to start with words. While the attitude is slowly changing in some corners, there is still a strong idea that words are required in order to think – and, by extension, to understand. It’s an assumption perpetuated by word-thinkers (who happen to be fairly dominant in society), who have apparently decided that since they think in words, everyone must think in words. And since they cannot envision a method of thinking that does not involve words, clearly all thoughts are word-thoughts.

So if we extend it just a bit more, maybe the idea is that if we have a thought, and it is in the form of words because all thoughts are words, then all that is required to communicate that thought is to simply say those words. For all I know, this method works really well for people who think primarily (or exclusively) in words. Since I only occasionally think in words, I wouldn’t know.

When the idea for this blog topic bubbled out of the recesses of my brainspace, I tried to share it with Nee. I didn’t have anything to write it down with at the time and I didn’t want to forget, so I was hoping getting it into two brains would make it easier to remember. The idea seemed pretty clear in my head. I had a pretty good idea of what I believed, what I wanted to say, and a rough outline of how I wanted to say it. Actually verbalizing it, though, was rough. Like whoa. I stumbled over my words, had lots of partial sentences, and was having a really hard time getting the concept out in a word way. Why? Because the thoughts were not in word form in my head. I was needing to translate them from their conceptual form into talking form, and quite frankly, I’m not very good at that. This occurred only a few hours ago (from the time of writing this) so I don’t think it’s that I didn’t really understand it before and just had a lot of time to clarify the thought. It’s that the thought was not in word form, so saying it out loud was not working very well. Also, my brain has trouble with that sometimes.

Now, for me this is only an inconvenience. I write fairly easily, and given time I can usually work out words in talking form too. However, not everyone is verbal. Not everyone can speak, and not everyone can communicate in words at all. If we assume that thoughts must be in the form of words, and if we are faced with a person who has no words, then the only logical conclusion is that they also have no thoughts.

That is a terrible conclusion.

Those who speak already have significant privilege over those who do not speak. Our response to that privilege should not be turning it into a way to deny the intelligence of those who do not speak or do not have words. Happily, there is more and more attention being paid to examples of people who did not have words for some portion of their lives, eventually found words, and have then been able to tell the world that yes, thoughts existed before words. A particularly famous example is Temple Grandin, and her explanation of how she thinks in pictures. More and more people are speaking out about having thoughts that are not in the form of words. Just because I sometimes have difficulty translating my thoughts into words, that does not mean those thoughts are any less real than someone else’s word-thoughts.

Speaking of which, this is not just about words. This is about communication, and means of communication, and the fact that some of us have limited communication. Not everyone on the autism spectrum speaks. Not everyone on the autism spectrum types. Some people can only communicate via picture boards or electronic devices that help to communicate basic needs and such things. Sometimes a person’s ability to communicate is very limited, for instance, a person who communicates with a picture board would probably be unable to communicate some types of thoughts and concepts. Assuming that a person’s ability to communicate directly reflects their ability to understand an idea or a concept is to say that these people never have thoughts beyond “I’m hungry” or “I need to use the bathroom” or whatever is possible using whatever communication devices that have been provided. This is not an ok thing to assume. Frequently, it is not an accurate thing to assume. This is why we push to presume confidence. This is (one of the reasons) why I talk about how what you see on the outside does not necessarily reflect what is happening on the inside.

These assumptions are harmful. Casually tossing around such quotes as though the reflect some constant truth is harmful. Intended or not, it’s ablist. I want to see people approach these assumptions more thoughtfully, with more care about what’s implied, and the impact it might have on people who have more severe disabilities.

Because thoughts are not always words. And our ability to communicate our thoughts does not necessarily reflect on our level of comprehension.


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What you see is not necessarily what you get

There is something that I really want to see more people accept. This is probably true in much broader contexts than autism, but autism is the place where I feel it the most.

That being – what you see when you look at me and what is actually going on do not necessarily line up. People assume that whatever is going on in one’s head will automatically show on one’s face. That it just *happens,* all on it’s own. Which means that if a person has a blank facial expression, there must not be anything going on in their head.

It’s an easy conclusion to reach. It’s easy to assume this, and there may be plenty of circumstances where it’s true. There are, however, also plenty of circumstances where it is not true.

For instance, when I am particularly focused on something, my face tends to go blank. I knew that my face tended to go a bit slack when I was focusing, but up until recently I was not aware of the extent of this tendency. Not too long ago my SO took some brief video of me during my riding lesson. During the time that he was doing so, I was focused and concentrating and actually working quite hard. As it turns out, I did not look that way at all.

I imagine that when people think about someone who is really focused or concentrating on something, they picture something like this:


I, however, look different. I looked blank. Completely blank. I mean, my jaw was slack and everything. Keeping expressions on my face takes a certain constant amount of attention. Usually it’s a small enough amount of attention that I don’t actually have to worry about it. However, when I am strongly focused or really tired, my facial expressions just seem to fall off. I imagine it happens in more contexts than just riding, too.

Sometimes people treat me as though I am, shall we say, not so smart. There are any number of reasons why they might, including that being just their default way of interacting with people, but I imagine part of it is that slack-jawed, empty looking stare I can get sometimes. And when people see me with that blank face, they assume that my mind is equally blank, when, in fact, it’s the other way around.

I’ve had similar “what you see is not what is happening” incidents in my life. For instance, when doing things like card games, I like to sit and visualize moving the cards around before making a move, so that I can get an idea of which moves will work and which moves will not. If someone happens to be watching me, all they will see is me just sitting and staring motionless at the screen. I have had people try to point out moves to me, thinking that I must not be seeing them. What I am doing does not show, but that does not mean that I am doing nothing.

I know that keeping this sort of thing in mind in the moment can be challenging. This is one (of many) reasons why autism advocates say to assume competence. We don’t always look or act the way you expect intelligent people to look or act, but that does not make up stupid. I often listen best by looking away and having a small fidget or stim with my hands. Other autistic people may listen best by flapping their hands or by humming or otherwise doing things that do not look like what people expect listening to look like. Forcing me to look like I’m listening will only result in poorer listening from me.

Instead, I would rather people accept those of us on the autism spectrum as we are, even if we don’t look or act the way you think we “should.”


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In defense of obsessions

I’ve always been an obsessive type. Apparently this is just how my brain works, both for good and for ill. I have noticed that the conversation about obsessions often seems to be how to prevent them, or divert people from them, or get people off them. Instead, I am wanting to talk a bit about how obsessing does not have to be bad – and especially about how obsessing does not have to be narrow. And this may be a thinly veiled excuse to talk about one of my obsessions. You know, just maybe.

Let’s say someone is obsessing about, oh I don’t know, crochet. Crochet is a lovely craft that can be quite soothing to do, but it does not have to be ONLY about using a hook to make fabric. I mean, ok, that is it’s primary function, but there can be so much more. Figuring out gauge (making sure whatever it is you’re making turns out the correct size) involves math, typically geometry and algebra. There’s also calculating yards used, sometimes based on weight.

Or maybe that someone wants to exploring designing their own things. On top of the maths there’s creativity and construction, and if they want to share that design there’s learning to properly write it out in a way that other people can understand. Easier said than done.

It’s also possible that maybe they will become curious about making their own yarn. Presto! Now we have learning new skills on how to spin. Which means learning about spinning different sorts of fiber. Which could mean learning about where those fibers come from, geographically, and why they come from those places. Wool isn’t just wool, there’s all sorts of different kinds of wool that behave and feel differently from each other, not to speak of all the non-wool fibers out there.

Then maybe they’ll get curious about how fiber gets prepared and dyed. Then there’s learning both how to turn untreated fiber into something you can spin, and learning how to dye. Which means learning about chemistry, and how different sorts of dyes work on different sorts of fiber.

It also wouldn’t take much to perhaps become curious about the history of fiber crafts – what did people do, how did they do it, how were different regions different and how did the craft(s) change over time?

We just had what started as a simple obsession go over math, history, geography, and science. Yes, it’s certainly an obsession, but it isn’t narrow. I can remember growing up having people try to redirect my obsessions into other things. It never worked particularly well. But as an adult I’m learning that obsessions themselves can be broad enough to get me thinking about all sorts of different things, and just how enjoyable it can be to do that. Let’s celebrate obsessions, and just how thorough they can be!

What obsessions do you have, and how have they contributed to your life?


Filed under ability