The downside to being (autistic and) “bright”

“You’re so smart; why can’t you do this or that?”

“You could have gotten an A, if only you’d done your daily work/homework.”

“I know you’re capable.”

“You can do better.”

“You’re better than that.”

Uh, thanks?  But when people said these things, I still felt greasy and heavy inside.

Because those statements aren’t actually compliments at all.  The source-person of the comments might intend them to be, but they’re not.

That’s why I felt a little “off” about saying Thank You.  In fact, I just stared, making agonizingly uncomfortable eye contact, trying not to look “guilty” but failing, because I know that somewhere, somehow, despite my most concentrated efforts, I had screwed up.  So as the seconds slowed to a syrupy crawl, I would pull all of my internal willpower together to maintain my composure, the best I could muster being that uncontrollable sheepish guilty look, the only expression I’m consciously aware of when it happens.

I sat there because to thank them for their praise would’ve been inappropriate; I would’ve actually been thanking them for a criticism.  People don’t respond well to criticism.  I respond worse than most.  As much as I may despise being sensitive, I am.  When the design committee of humanity was handing out sensitivity, I got in line twice.  Except that my amplified response doesn’t show much through the tiny cracks in my then-newly-hardened surface; the torrents of emotions and currents of feelings simply ricocheted off the inner wall of that shell, pummeling back into my insides instead.

That didn’t make me glow inside.  It made me wither, just a little, every time it happened.  Which was too often.

And the criticism itself being launched at me is unreasonable, making assumptions that are incorrect.  It’s a hand-grenade that I didn’t see coming, and didn’t feel I had coming.

One skill or ability does not always automatically come bundled with others.

Just because I could read long before kindergarten doesn’t mean I felt like tracing circles on worksheets.  Just because I was ready for multiplication in pre-school doesn’t mean that I felt like adding up single digits in the classroom.

Scoring high on placement tests doesn’t automatically mean that I’m going to ace kindergarten or have slam-dunk stellar scholastic career, with a scholarship to an Ivy League school as the ultimate pot of gold at the end of the academic rainbow.  Because there are arbitrary–and at times, unnecessary–bureaucratic hoops to jump through.  Like daily work assignments.  Like homework.  Like semester projects and papers.  These elements simply threw roadblocks into my learning path, useless and distracting.  I aced my tests/exams, so why bother with the exercises?  The exercises were for practice.  I didn’t need practice.  You don’t need practice when you already know the material.

How sick is a societal system that penalizes you for not needing practice?

How unhealthy is a system in which a quiet, well-behaved child who is eager to please and is comfortable playing, working, studying, and learning independently ever finds him/herself in the disciplinary crosshairs of the teacher?

How demented is such a system in which a child who loves to learn for its own sake actually begins to dread school?

How pointless is a system, educational and otherwise, that penalizes you for being ahead of the pack?  That only gives you an atta-kid for meshing within the mediocrity, for being/acting/performing “average”?

What kind of system is that?  How healthy and constructive can that be?  What kind of messages does that send to a growing, forming child, a budding student?  Or a young impressionable adult, who’s just gaining their footing in the world?  How learning-centered or encouraging is that?  It’s not.

Other peoples’ expectations can be destructive and damaging.

It’s even worse when those peoples’ expectations are wrong.

This excruciating phenomenon carries its roots into current life, having “upgraded” to an adulthood version.

Expectations are made of me that fail to make sense, yet remain exempt from peer review.  The powerlessness can be staggering.  The same assumption is that if I’m outwardly able-bodied, literate, and I’ve mastered the basics of math and life, then I should automatically be able to do anything.

The expectations are higher if you’re perceived as “bright”.  Sure, I may be “bright”, but sometimes that’s not all it’s cracked up to be.  Sometimes its reputation gets a little ahead of itself.  I always feel like I’m adding unspoken–and sometimes unconscious–“fine print” to my life.

For example, just because I’m a hard worker doesn’t mean I can easily switch tasks on a dime.

Just because I can smile, make intermittent and momentary eye contact, and come across as personable doesn’t mean that I can meet with people on short notice.

But people see the surface.  They don’t see the dip in the rest of my cognitive functions and resources as I divert the extra energy toward making that eye contact.  They don’t see the struggles within.  They don’t realize the enormous amount of energy it takes to do the simplest of things in the outside world.

It can be difficult for someone who is Aspergian/autistic to operate within the world at large, mostly because of different wiring.  I’m wired to engage thoroughly with a person, activity, or topic.  While most people are left- or right-brain dominant, I’m both.  This means that my brain has to engage from both the scientific/logical and creative/intuitive hemispheres.  That’s engaging twice.  That takes twice as long.  Thus, Task-Switching Sucks(TM).

And that’s where what seems like my “hyper-focus” actually comes from: the engaging of both sides of my brain.  But it doesn’t stop there.  My brain also wants to put things in order.  Not necessarily a linear sequence (unless that particular situation/topic calls for it), but my brain wants to build what I can best describe as a “thought-cloud” – a 3D array of numerous elements and concepts, proportionately interconnected and hyperlinked, properly labeled, and ranked by priorities and comparisons.  When you’re submerged deep within the abyss of a thought-cloud and someone tries to ask you a question unrelated to the topic you’re swimming in, it’s IRRITATING.

But because I’m “bright”, I “should” be able to switch tasks, right?

I “should” also have great Executive Function.  Given my desire to systemize, it would stand to (conventional) reason that I “should” be able to put my daily tasks in order and carry them out flawlessly, right?

But therein lies a bug in my system, dripping with sour irony: the systemizer (me) with piss-poor Executive Function.  I know.  It baffles me, too.

It blows apart the assumption that just because I can order things into a thought-cloud in my mind, that somehow I’m automatically able to knock out every item on that day’s to-do list.

I don’t often get scolded by my parents and partner anymore (thankfully-yet-surprisingly, that only ended mostly with the Asperger’s/autism diagnosis last year).  I have long known that I had way too many people, around whom I spent way too large a percentage of my life, who were way too all-up-in-my-business.

So why do these ironic system glitches exist?  Why can I do “this” but not “that”?  Why does someone who is “bright” fail so often to do the most mundane things.

Because maybe my brain is on an ego-trip.  Maybe, it subconsciously tells me that “that’s piddly every-day stuff; you’ve got more important things to ponder”.

Or maybe my brain is a thrill-seeker.  Maybe it’s saying, “that’s boring.  Do something interesting instead.  Give me a thrill-fix.”

Or maybe I’m just fine, and it’s society that’s a little screwed up.  Maybe society makes shabby connections between skills, on which it then bases incorrect assumptions, atop which it then builds unreasonable expectations.

Or maybe…

…I’m just human.  🙂


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  1. I got all that crap from my parents, all the way through to the end of high school. I *hated* school, and my parents demanded that I do another year — college. So I flunked out, accidently on purpose, you might say. What school mostly taught me was how to keep my head down and try not to be noticed. And it didn’t even have anything to do with autism, because that was long before it became a “thing.” If anyone had identified some of my problems correctly, it might have been even worse.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ugh, I’m sorry you had to endure that. So glad it’s over (at least I hope?) for you. But yeah, the effects still linger. I know I’m dealing with the cumulative resentment. Hoping sunnier skies come your way; don’t let them win 💙💐💙

      Liked by 1 person

  2. “You’re so smart; why can’t you do this or that?”

    “You could have gotten an A, if only you’d done your daily work/homework.”

    “I know you’re capable.”

    “You can do better.”

    “You’re better than that.”

    To me these expressions never sounded like praise. They always meant that I had disappointed someone, again

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep, exactly. They didn’t sound like that to me, either. Sounds like you were in a similar boat 💐❤️


  3. We are the outliers in a system that was designed for a mass market. The public education system was created to produce, in the most efficient way possible, useful citizens who can participate in the economic benefit of society. And, as with any mass production process, there is a narrow range of tolerance on either side of the required specifications.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. (Applause) Absolutely! You nailed it. I’m always reminded of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” (especially the video, during which the song “Another Brick in the Wall, Pt 2” plays). 😘❤️

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Much of this post resonates with me. I don’t consider myself bright, but I did read before starting kindergarten. I started school in one town, then my family moved, and the curriculum seemed to be things I already knew, and then the trouble started. It bored me to tears to do spelling homework when I knew all the words and would likely get 100% on the test without studying. A lot of math(at least up to 8th grade) was almost intuitive to me.My grades up to about eighth grade were sometimes poor. I remember a teacher almost being angry with me when she reviewed my standardized test scores and they told a different story than my grades did.

    It frustrates me that schools want to use a one size fits all policy when it comes to homework etc. My daughter is now in her first year of college. When she first started school doing rote memorization of math facts and homework in general was out of vogue. She needed extra practice. I recognized that it would be up to me to provide it. She struggled with reading but no one would suggest that she needed phonics because it wasn’t in fashion at the time.

    It surprises me that our educational system doesn’t do better in recognizing the individual needs of students, they just want everyone to conform to a cookie cutter mold.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Amen to that! Thank you for your comment 😊.

      If you started reading by the time you did and you were bored in school, yeah, you’re bright 😊 Of course, we didn’t know that as kids, nor did we really care; we just knew what we knew and we were just doing what we did. (And of course, I’ll also state for the record that there are multiple ways to be bright; ours is one of many. 😊)

      The education system is indeed disappointing in its failure to recognize “bright”, “gifted”, or otherwise “above average” aptitude. It takes an exceptional school district to come close to adequately serving those students, and that type of district is really few and far between, tough to come by, and often, exists mostly in the upper levels of socioeconomic strata. Essentially, a privilege. Which is really unfortunate. ❤️

      Liked by 3 people

  5. Reblogged this on The Misadventures of Mama Pineapple and commented:
    This post resonates with me SO. MUCH.

    I’ve often labelled myself as “stupid” because there have been times when there was a mismatch between my academic and intellectual ability, and my ability to “apply myself”. Situations which puzzled me – why couldn’t I “just bloody well get on with it”? And other situations where I was required to document “progress” towards something, which seemed pointless to me, as I’d got to the end point without having to practise or plan beforehand (I put together my entire GCSE Art portfolio, making “connections” between all the individual pieces, AFTER I’d actually produced all the artwork – listen, the art just came to me, alright?). And situations when I come across as horribly bad tempered and rude because I find interruptions and task-switching so damned difficult.

    This post explains things so well.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Wow, what a beautiful intro! I love what You wrote 🤗😘. Thank you very very much for your kind words and for reblogging 😘❤️😊💜

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Thanks for this wonderful post. I love your description of the “thought cloud”. I call mine a “thought blob”. Concepts in my head are in this big, complex organism, with lots of interconnecting areas. I can’t necessarily articulate it verbally, which makes me appear stupid, but the understanding in my head is perfectly clear. It’s so frustrating knowing that I understand complicated ideas better than most, but not being able to verbalize it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words! 😊❤️ I can totally relate, too, to what you said! And I love your term “thought-blob”! That’s too funny and very accurate. Mine, too, are absolutely nothing that I can articulate, which is frustrating for me, too lol. But then, spoken language is so clunky and inefficient anyway 😉💞


  7. Your words were articulate and engaging and described my life as if we were walking the same path together. I can’t adequately tell you how comforting it was to read this. I usually feel so alone and alien, thank you for sharing and helping me believe that there are others out there that think and feel the same why I do.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for visiting and commenting! I really appreciate your kind words. 🙂 They are very comforting to me ❤ I'm really glad you found peace through the post! So honored, humbled and touched. I can very much identify with what you said – feeling alone and alien can be extremely saddening and desolate. Please know that you never have to be alone again – you're in plenty of company, and I'm always surprised at the parallels my path shares with that of others – it's pretty amazing! <d


  8. This is the part that scares me most. My own piss-poor executive functioning has ruined every work experience I have ever had, and also now ruins educational experiences, as I believe I have burned out. The excessive brightness (my fancy school degree) makes it even less likely I can get a job at a lower level – and very suspicious as to why my work history looks the way it does. I am really struggling to find work now, and I really need it…..and still worried about how I will manage once I get it, due to the executive functioning issues, plus burn out – though I have had some time to rest at least.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aww, I’m so sorry that you’re going through this! Ugh, I feel you 💐💐. I wish I knew what to say, friend; I wish there was something I could do to help. It’s a tough situation no matter how one slices it. What I can do is offer mutual support and a listening ear whenever you want or need it 💞. You’ll get through this, my friend! Please please let me know if I can help in some way. I might be able to give you ideas, or I’m also always happy to shut up and listen anytime you need to vent ❤️❤️


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