Autistic resilience: talking up competence.

February 25, 2017 § 18 Comments

Version 2

(Work in progress on the theme of resilience, © Sonia Bouè 2017)

This week has been rocky. I want to talk about anxiety.

Anxieties collide sometimes don’t they? Stuff can accumulate and escalate. World events, a health glitch, a seriously upset neurotypical (NT) friend.

(For the sake of clarity. I should stress here that my friend was not upset with me but rather shared their distress with me).

For an autistic person this can rapidly begin to feel ‘disproportionately’ dark.

What I mean is that for autistics the confluence of events within a short time frame is often what proves disorientating, and I’m trying to analyse the cause. I think that probably some of our anxieties are related to what I think of as imperfect information in the moment. I find this a useful phrase when applied to autistic styles of perception in a neurologically  biased  world. It’s the difference between playing poker or chess – in the former the cards are concealed during play and in the latter the whole state of play is visible throughout. In an NT world we’re playing poker.

I’ve added ‘in the moment’ to my sentence signalling the potential to disentangle events in time.  We are not incapable and we are not helpless – with enough space (and/or support) to do so we can process life’s social and emotional  vicissitudes in our own ways.

Autistics process sensory data and social interaction in a multiplicity of different ways from the majority neuro-normative population. This (logically) creates a very different bank of information from which to draw inference and make decisions for autistics. The world hooks up differently around another set of priorities.

But its even more complicated for us than just this – as this majority population is (of course) made up of individuals. Result? A mountain of permutations of ‘missing’ data for autistics to deal with in ‘real time’.

A literal mountain, which I’m going to call Mount Blank. Yes.

And it really is a BLANK until processing kicks in. This can feel like a dense fog laced with school girl dread. But I find that it’s often possible to simply push the feeling away and move on. We can be resilient like that. Perhaps we underestimate just how hard we’re working everyday to keep afloat in a world which does not support our divergent neurologies – and it is this effort which exhausts us.

But back to Mount Blank. Standing at the bottom can make you feel terribly small (echoes of my school days again). Perhaps this is why a series of unfortunate events within a short space of time have the potential to crush the soul – you are a child again. As the mountain of imperfect information grows it can feel as though you’re shrinking before it.

World events overshadow all out lives at present, but I think that for autistics it’s often the ‘micro’ incidents which stack up without us realising their impact.

And the causes of our confusion are not sensory or perceptual alone, they also lie in never knowing if people are saying what they mean – rather than just being polite, trotting out platitudes or worse. These habits of neurotypical obsfucation add to the scale of Mount Blank. Worse still (I might add) is being versed in this culture as an autistic. Oh the tangles! As you venture your polite falsies (as I’ll call them) and tie yourself in lying little knots.

And because no-one quite tells social ‘truths’, when things go wrong or just feel wrong (in the moment) there’s a  tendency to self-blame. Which is especially debilitating. I think this is the point at which self-compassion must intervene. Imperfect information flows from the majority game of choice and not the individual. Withdrawing from play (taking time for processing) and/or researching* the other player’s hand (many ways to do this including talking things over with an autistic and/or NT friend) are strategies  I would consider next time I hit Mount Blank.

But unpicking and thus identifying this pattern* has got to be one hell of a route to resisting it’s effects. Resilience is often knowledge plus practice.

The road to resilience is all about talking up competence – and this begins with me.

*autistic strengths

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§ 18 Responses to Autistic resilience: talking up competence.

  • VisualVox says:

    Reblogged this on Aspie Under Your Radar and commented:
    “when applied to autistic styles of perception in a neurologically biased world. It’s the difference between playing poker or chess – in the former the cards are concealed during play and in the latter the whole state of play is visible throughout. In an NT world we’re playing poker.”

    That’s it exactly. Great post!

    Liked by 4 people

  • This field was intentionally left blank says:

    Brilliant writing as usual, my friend! Your writings are truly inspiring, and I also find their logic refreshing. Bravo to you! 😊

    Cheers!
    ~The Silent Wave Blog writer/Laina 🌟🌟

    Liked by 3 people

  • Elin says:

    The poker/chess analogy is so apt – hidden cards indeed.
    In a recent conversation with my sister I described it thus: in social interactions, you often have several options, of saying something, or reacting to something. And I can never figure out which is the ‘correct’ option. It seems that for other people the options are clearly weighted, they see the correct one and discard the others. To me, all the options looks equally likely. I pick one, because you have to say or do something, and immediately doubt sets in: was it the correct one, or should I have picked a different one? But with imperfect information, as you put it, I can’t know.

    Liked by 5 people

  • Catana says:

    “The road to resilience is all about talking up competence – and this begins with me.” Yes! That’s an issue I plan to write about in the near future. Whatever the external inputs and stresses, it’s up to us to learn how to handle them. No one else is going to do it for us.

    Liked by 2 people

  • whether or not I’m actually autistic, and I suspect I am on the spectrum, THIS rings very true for me.

    Liked by 3 people

    • soniaboue says:

      Trisha I used to be uncertain like you – but I now believe autism is a core variant of the human genome. So that we either are or aren’t autistic – somewhere on the spectrum as a phrase perhaps reflects the difficulty NT often have with understanding what autism is. Much of my uncertainty was due to the extraordinary degree to which I have learnt to mask my autism. It’s been nearly a year since I was diagnosed and I’m still peeling back the layers. I wish you so much luck in arriving at answers about your neurological status, and TY for reading and commenting. Sonia

      Liked by 2 people

  • autistatwork says:

    Just got back from my day and read this! Perfect. Brilliant post. Reflects the many routes of my thinking today. Went to workshops at the Tate (Mount Blank!), partner accompanied me and got me to the right floor, and left as planned but frazzled because of my anxiety. Tate – a scary place, huge, intimidating difficult to navigate, crowds of people – panic. Not enough information before to know what to expect – panic. Getting there, not clear where to sit/what to do – panic. Workshop started – creative stuff – calmer. Then the ‘never knowing if people are saying what they mean’ panic. Good in the end, but definitely poker!

    Liked by 4 people

  • autistatwork says:

    ….breathe xx Love the new painting – beautiful.

    Liked by 2 people

  • Reblogged this on private person surfacing and commented:
    REBLOGGED from THE OTHER SIDE; Autistic resilience; talking up competence by Sonia BOUE.
    Wonderful expose in paint and in words thanks Sonia.
    Love the texture in your work in progress Sonia and the way strong structural elements lie beneath and emerging to front, at times obscured beneath the fluid improvised feelings in yellow on pink. The solidity of the opaque pink revealing their cracks.
    What a wonderful expose of the resilience we autistics are required to demonstrate daily in a predictably unpredictable world especially when we negotiate a blank canvas, page or empty space that presents both a huge challenge and great potential to express ourselves as artists.

    Mount Blank indeed…. our daily encounter.

    Liked by 3 people

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