Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Workarounds Are Our Friend

Some of the excellent answers on the last blog post about crossing the street, which I'll repost HERE in case you didn't get a chance to read the comment thread, led me to write this other article about workarounds.
[Visual is a graphic drawing of a hammer superimposed on a blueprint, with the words "Workaround Workshop" surrounding the image.]
Everyone learns differently, and when you're teaching things to people, remembering to presume competence, it sometimes comes to the attention of both of you that there is some kind of real block against that particular type of thing.

A word about presuming competence.

To presume competence is to give someone the benefit of the doubt instead of just saying, Oh, Alas, This Person Is Obviously Incompetent In Every Way And Practically Not Even Here. Because your person is more than likely there, and can hear you do this.  I talk about that some length HERE toward the end of this article. But on the other side, it also doesn't mean assuming anyone is a magic superhero who is terrific at everything. Nobody is like that.  Autistic people such as myself often have particular areas which are super extra hard for us, and we cannot get past a wall in them. That is what some of the commentators in that last post were talking about, and what I can talk about in this post, regarding time.

And it brings us to Workarounds. Workarounds are our friends.  Workarounds are what you come up with to get around, over, or some other kind of way past that wall instead of bashing your head against it.

I'll talk about myself.  Time is a thing I do not really get properly, despite the fact that I can appear to "tell time" although I am not very rapid at it.  I can read to you off an analog or digital watch.  I also always wear one because the alarms are helpful for me.  But I do not feel time elapsing in the proper way, and I am sure this is the case because I have interviewed many people about the real way time is supposed to feel.  From my perspective, time seems so arbitrary as to be fake, like a trick.  When I wrote THIS, I was doing what my grandmother called "kidding on the square," which is kind of joking, but kind of telling the truth.

It is not as if I was never taught how to tell time properly.  I was.  As a matter of fact I have such a deep and vast knowledge of time-telling pedagogy that I can teach teachers how to teach time-telling very effectively to a wide range of children and this is a huge part of my job.  It is just that there is a block in my brain about it for some reason.  I have other friends who are opposite of that, who can tell time better than clocks.  If you had a clock and Bridget who blogs HERE saying different things, you should fix your clock.

So now I come to the Workaround.  Whatever it is that you or your kid just can't seem to get past, be it crossing the street without a light because it feels like mindreading cars, or having a feel for time, there are ways around it.  Come up with plans and you will be golden.

For me, I get that commercials are shorter than movies, so I have some sense of not saying "I'll be back in a minute" if I am going to do something that is more like going to a movie than the time span of a commercial. And a ball game is longer than a movie, so. Another part of my workaround system is technology.  I have a lot of gadgets helping me, alarms, talking computer, etc.  People help me too.  Since I am a professor and people look to me to be in charge of when break-times and things are, I openly tell them it is OK to remind me, and I tell them why, but I also use great software for the iPod like the Visual Timer that is quick and easy to customize and set and doesn't make noise. In airports, I alert the flight personnel that I am there so I don't space out too much and miss the flight. They are very kind about this.

Another thing I do is try to be early rather than late, but to be honest time is still a large source of anxiety since it is a thing that I am relatively clueless about. When I get the chance to be interdependent about it instead of trying to rely on all my own self, I am much more relaxed, and that's OK today. It wasn't always. I wish I had learned this younger.  This is different from learned helplessness.  I am not helpless; I am getting help for myself in real ways that will really work, and in turn I am helpful to others in other ways that play to my various strengths. I just no longer have to injure myself out of false pride, because I now understand that I don't have to try and act "perfect" all the time, which just breaks me down and makes everything worse.

So if you are a parent or a teacher, you might be able to help younger kids who are Autistic find out workarounds for themselves based on checking out what they are good at and what they are interested in and tying that into a way to get success working around the problems of what is not happening for them, which in my case is time and in some other people's case it might be recognizing faces or what not. Or crossing the street.  You could decide to really always cross at lights, or when there are no cars.  You could live in a neighborhood with either very busy streets (to ensure lights) or non busy streets (to reduce likelihood of cars) if that was your lifestyle.  Things can be worked around.

If you are an Autistic self who is trying to find workarounds for your self you can ask trusted friends to help you make a list of things you are good at, in case the topic is stressing you out. They might be able to see connections that will cause you to come up with excellent workarounds together that would not have been thought of alone.

Some friends and I have a whole website called We Are Like Your Child which is largely devoted to workarounds, but also partially just to showing that we who have pretty insurmountable sounding problems are willing to go out on a limb to talk about them now because we get the message that the successes we have fought for make our lives seem unattainable to some people, on behalf of their children, who are having a hard time now. But we were like that, and we wanted people to know.  The link takes you to an essay of mine because I know I wrote an essay specifically about workarounds for the social and sensory issues surrounding why it is so hard to go to a party.  I know if you click around there on that site there are other great workarounds mentioned like ways to organize.

Everybody, I want to thank you.  This has been great. I hope more people will ask questions like this and I also hope more and more people will share their own experiences in the comments because our experiences are different and similar and all very telling.  Experience is the richest place to find questions and answers and it also makes our community strong.


O & PS So this is my invitation to put your favorite workaround into the comments below!! :D