One of my father’s Pearls of Wisdom was that “excuses are for losers”. Although I find myself agreeing with that statement fairly often, I’m (very) well aware that humans are, well, human, and that we have our limitations. This is especially true for people on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum.
What complicates matters is that our limitations are different for each of us. What complicates matters more is that our limitations may change from day to day; what we could accomplish yesterday, we may not be able to do today. And what makes the situation even worse is that some of those limitations may be invisible, and thus, unknown or unrealized. This, too, especially true for Aspie/autistic people.
On the surface, we may appear able-bodied and of capable intelligence.
And yet…there are times when our limitations get in the way of something we want or need to do. We get frustrated with ourselves. We beat ourselves up.
What we sometimes fail to realize is that there’s a big difference between “excuses” and legitimate “reasons”. An “excuse” means that I should do something, and I have the capability to do it, but simply don’t want to. In that scenario, I’m performing sub-par, below my functioning capability. Example: I could hop over a wall that stands one foot high. But instead of doing that, I choose to walk along the wall until reaching a break in the wall with level ground, and only then, pass through to the other side.
On the other hand, a “reason” for not doing something implies validity and legitimacy. In that scenario, I might want to accomplish that task, but those invisible limitations are too great to surmount. It doesn’t matter that I could have accomplished that task yesterday. If I can’t do it today, then I can’t. To carry the “wall” example over and apply it to this situation, imagine that the wall grew eight more feet overnight, and now stands nine feet tall, now towering over me. I physically can’t hop over that.
Beating oneself up in the second scenario is foolish, because everyone knows the average person of average height can’t scale a wall that high. No one would chide them for being “lazy”.
Sometimes, some of the people in my life forget about the existence of legitimate “reasons”, and lump every “failure” to do something under the “excuses” category. That’s because they’re not seeing the invisible nine-foot wall standing between me and what I want or need to accomplish. It doesn’t help that until less than six months ago, I didn’t know that that nine-foot wall even existed.
A web search of “Asperger’s lazy” yields some pretty frustrating results. Information is out there, but it’s flat-out wrong. Even some of my (less-enlightened) fellow Aspies blame themselves and each other for their “laziness”. And if those Aspies can’t even have compassion for themselves, each other, or the rest of us, then what on earth do allistic/neuroptyical/NT (non-autistic) people think?
Well, they don’t waste time making assumptions.
They come up with their theories without first seeking any input or objective/accurate information whatsoever, and they run with those theories, turning them into stone-etched “fact”.
Like many Aspies, I’ve been accused of laziness. These accusations came from multiple people, several of whom are closest to me.
Since I believe “knowledge is power”, I’m going to respond to those accusations. And I have “theories” of my own, only mine aren’t theories; they are fact. They may not be true for all Aspies, and I won’t claim to speak for anyone but myself (each of us has his or her own voice, after all!), but they are fact for this Aspie.
I might have appeared to be “lazy”.
“Get up; there are chores to do,” they said.
“Let’s get going! We can’t ‘fax’ you there,” they half-joked.
“Any time now…,” they chided.
“Her grades would be so much higher if she did her daily class work,” they sighed.
“Why are you sitting there, playing with your hair, when you have a deadline coming up?” they asked. (Truthfully, they didn’t really want an answer. It was a critical statement, veiled in a question they wouldn’t have listened to my answer to.)
“Where is she going now?,” I’m sure they wondered.
“Earth to [my name]!” they called, from across the room.
They thought I was just “lazy” when actually, at any given time, I might have been…
Deep in thought or contemplation. Like many Aspies I’ve talked to or read posts from, my brain has a rich internal world, a relentless current of thoughts, memories, ideas, and curiosity. It’s always connecting dots, dreaming up ideas, picking things apart, analyzing and systemizing. It never stops. Physically, I may be sitting there, looking like a bump on a log. But my brain is busy, so busy that I may not even hear someone calling my name. I may not even see them standing in the room, trying to get my attention.
Resting my brain – usually after engaging that deep trance-like thought or contemplation. Sometimes the focus gets pretty intense, which takes a lot of energy. Eventually, my brain needs rest. Most peoples’ brains walk or jog at a pretty even pace all day long, until they get their six-to-eight hours of sleep at night. The brains of many Aspie/autistic people sprint as though they were running a 100-meter dash. Nobody can do that all day long; resting for a bit in between those spurts is crucial.
Processing emotion. Every so often, emotion overwhelms me with its richness and intensity, and I have to press “pause” on my life for a while. I might be elated, excited, wistful, grieving, irritated, heartbroken, shocked, petrified, content, or reflective. I may retreat, go off by myself, and sit on a curb or under a tree for a while. Or, I might only venture as far as the next room, laying on the floor with my feet and arms spread in a star-shaped formation, staring at the ceiling. I might sit on the couch and play with my hair or stare out the window. Or I might sit down at the computer to journal or blog, or simply type notes about what I’m feeling.
Frozen by anxiety. Especially when having a C-PTSD (cumulative post-traumatic stress) flashback, I may curl up on the couch under a blanket, do little, and say nothing. I may appear calm and “normal”; don’t be fooled.
Trying to prevent a meltdown or shutdown…which may be closer at hand than it looks. Sometimes I don’t even know just how close I am, and I might be much closer than I realize. Doing nothing may be my last-ditch effort to derail a volcanic eruption. Here, again, I may look calm and “normal”; don’t let that fool you.
Recovering from a stressful event, a meltdown, or a shutdown that has already taken place. For me, separating myself from everyone else, turning off the telephone ringer, and giving myself permission to do nothing is absolutely vital. No contact, no dilemmas, no additional stressors. No additional stimulus, either–no TV, no talking, and I’m very selective about my music; some music helps this process for me, but it’s a very narrow portion.
Recharging – this could be mentally (similar to “resting my brain”), emotionally, physically, neurologically, or even energetically, or any combination. The “energetic” component, for me, usually involves having reached a point of social exhaustion. The “neurological” component usually refers to having been stimulated and needing to “reset” my nervous system.
Trying to get motivated. I definitely have executive function issues. It takes me a while to bring myself to do something, and even once the desire has been established, I now have to plan it out, which takes longer for me than it does for others.
Mustering courage to do something. Even after my partner returns to the pickup with the groceries in hand, I may sit in the truck in that grocery store parking lot for a few minutes, fiddling with my hair or mumbling, because I’m not exactly excited to get back out into the thick traffic that awaits me. It’s similar to “trying to get motivated” but with a strong element of anxiety added in.
Silently rebelling against excessive pressure or demand. “Clean your room.” “Come get me.” Do this; do that. Sometimes my brain launches into a civilly-disobedient sit-down strike. In my mind, I’m silently folding my arms across my chest and saying, “no” through clenched teeth. This happens especially when I don’t feel that I’ve had enough time to myself or to carry out important activities mentioned above (such as resting my brain, getting lost in contemplation, processing emotion, or recharging myself).
Switching gears, between two different tasks. Most non-autistic people can simply stop what they’re doing and engage in another activity right away. The time required for this is a few seconds to a few minutes, and the mental energy required is negligible. Conversely, the time required for me might run five minutes to maybe an hour, and the mental energy required is enormous. Task-switching is extremely taxing and draining for me, a phenomenon that intensifies the faster I’m pressured to switch tasks. During the time it takes me to switch from one activity to another, I might appear lazy. Hell, I might even feel like I’m being lazy. But that in-between time is necessary.
Fleshing out creative ideas (similar to being deep in thought or contemplation), only this is specific to the creative aspect. I often get lightning bolt-like inspiration, which must be addressed quickly, lest it evaporate and slip away forever. I must write it down and see it through at least an elementary stage of development. This holds true whether the creative inspiration is a musical melody, a lyrical passage, a saying/quote, the outline of a blog post or article, an idea for a business-related printed material, or anything else.
If your brain doesn’t work this way (or in a similar way; maybe the same basic concept applies to you, but you experience different variation of the specifics), then it’s hard to understand our need for simply stopping and doing nothing for a while, or our need to “grind to life” slowly and gradually. Congratulations, your nervous system works “averagely”. But with any luck, you now understand why we might just seem to “sit there” sometimes. Whatever you do, don’t judge (those to whom the above do happen/apply), especially if you can’t possibly know what it’s like. Don’t think less of us; we’re not losers.
If your brain does work similar to the ways I’ve mentioned above, do respect your needs and address them. Give yourself that permission. Show yourself that compassion. You’re just as valuable and your needs and the way your system works are just as valid as everybody else’s.
After all, sometimes you’re trying to scale a nine-foot wall. 🙂
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(Image Credit: sythesite (featured; footer is Pink Floyd “The Wall”)