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


  1. Acting as if a conversation is a piece of music, so I can think of it in terms of its rhythm and various players involved. I call it conversational rhythm.

  2. My main work-around for years has been a computer. Or occasionally an electric or even manual typewriter. Laptop prefered. In a pinch, a PDA with external keyboard. Anything where I can communicate thoughts to other people in writing without having to grasp a pencil or pen and do any actual. . . writing.

    I often use "work-around" and "accommodation" interchangably. There are often 2 major approaches to any disability-related situation. One is working on it/through it. Sometimes called therapy. Sometimes called remediation. Sometimes called practice, or structured teaching or a lot of other things.

    The other is to work around or accommodate it.

    Sometimes you can do both. For example, you can work on writing skills for the times that writing is pretty much unavoidable, while also using typing so that actual communication of knowledge can happen. You can work on reading skills while also using recorded materials so that actual learning can happen. You can work on oral speech skills while also using AAC for communication.

    I see so many children where the focus has been on fixing/remediation/therapy without any thought given to accommodations or work-arounds, and so much lost time and missed opportunities.

    This also gets into medical model/social model stuff. Medical model insists on going "through" things because the person has the problem. Social model argues that getting stuff done is the more important thing, and that there are multiple ways for stuff to be gotten done.

    So yeah. Work-arounds. Pet topic of mine. Great topic to discuss!


    1. Nightengale you so seriously rock. Are you on FB or Twitter?

    2. Aww. . .

      No, I live on Livejournal where I can have my say in multiple paragraphs that sit still and allow for threaded back-and-forth conversation in the comments. It's largely about disability and health care and the intersections.

      I haven't even begun to figure out Twitter (or how to compress my thoughts to 140 characters.) I keep trying to read Facebook (like your page and the Thinking Person's Guide to Autism page) but it's too pictures and the entries move around too much and too many clicks to get to the meat of the text and too real-namey.)

    3. http://nightengalesknd.livejournal.com/

      (I think if you click on "nightngalesknd" above, the hyperlink goes right there)

      Some of it is locked, because of talking about work, and closets and things. Because I work in health care - mostly although not entirely in autism. I don't know how well you know livejournal, but you can lock entries to be readible only by other specific livejournal users.

      Some of it is not locked, including Blogging Against Disablism Day stuff, Autism Acceptance Day stuff, and some of my musings and rantings about the intersections between disability and health care.

  3. So how do you get past turning off the alarm and forgetting it ever went off? If my son is really into something, a plane could land on him and he'd just brush it off and get back to the website or whatever. Do you have an alarm that physically kicks you in the butt to DO what the alarm is telling you to do??

    1. That's a biggie. I think I'll have to write a whole nother article on spacing out. But basically with noise-alarms I don't like them so I turn them off without thinking about it because GAH get it out of my ear. So visual alarms are better for me to pay actual attention to, is the short answer. I have Apple stuff all synced to make words pop up at me and tell me stuff, and the voice reads it to me if I don't pay attention to it, but there is a time-delay, so I have a chance for it to sink in first, and I get it two ways. However, the problem still happens, which is why, when things are really really important, my workaround is to get Live Human People on my side.

    2. I have the worst time with alarms, too. I've managed with a LOT of effort so far but I'm saving up and thinking about these: http://www.womansday.com/home/10-alarm-clocks-thatll-get-you-out-of-bed-118525

    3. I take advantage of my sensory sensitivities and set a really annoying/borderline painful alarm in a different room entirely.

      High pitched noises bug the crap out of me. So I set a high-pitched braaah-braaah-braaah type alarm in a different room at a volume and frequency impossible for me to ignore.

      The other thing I do is pick alarms that are easy to hit 'snooze' on but difficult to shut off entirely.

      This is the only way I've discovered to avoid having my laundry grow mold in the washing machine. Doesn't work all the time, but works most of the time.

    4. (different room entirely avoids the slap it off and then return to what I was doing - by getting up and having to move out of the room entirely, it dislodges my brain from whatever I was hyperfocusing on. This is also the only way I can remember to eat, drink, and sleep on time if I'm alone.)

  4. Awesome, Ibby! <3 I totally know what you mean about not being able to feel the passage of time. It drives me up the wall, sometimes. I use apps like the one you linked to, as well. But Shannon has a point — sometimes when my alarm goes off and I'm in the middle of something, it's really hard to hold in my attention that “when I'm done writing this sentence I need to get up and eat lunch.”

    1. Yep, I feel those feels. Alarms comes on, slap it off, GAH! I like that one I linked to because it times down the colors and if I remember to look at it then it doesn't bother me, as long as I can remember what comes next, which I sometimes write on my hand, as long as I can do it before I wash my hands, hehe.

  5. Regarding interaction with, well, almost anything, I'm becoming more convinced of the importance of formalizing intent in my head. When I make a ritual of taking a moment to process what I'm about to do, I can resist distraction better and do the task more efficiently.

    I mean, I know NT people do things better this way, too. It just seems that I need it for more tasks and more often. But knowing that good process is important for everyone, I TELL everyone "Mindfulness is the most important part of any action". :)

  6. ok, first of all, i love this so much ..

    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.

    secondly, i'm not sure that this really "counts" but it literally JUST happened and i feel like it's at least tangentially related. feel free to tell me i'm way off base :) .. my husband (who is at home) just snapped a photo of the blackened fish he made for dinner and texted it to me (at work) to show me that he'd made one of my favorite things so that i could look forward to having it later. but i was confused. because it's noon. so i wrote back, "i don't get it; did you make it for lunch?"

    and he said, "no, i just thought that the blackening would create a lot of smoke, so i wanted to make sure to do it before brooke got home."

    my daughter is terrified of the smoke alarm in our house. anyone setting foot in the kitchen triggers a string of questions to ensure that they are "cooking the right way," and the appearance of smoke causes crippling panic.

    we've been working on desensitizing her to the noise (by giving her control of recordings on an ipad) but in the meantime, it's something that's really difficult for her (and can ruin an entire night) so the people in her life help her work around it by cooking something particularly smoky when she's not home.

    the thing is, i think that you're onto something big with interdependence. we all have strengths and we all have challenges. if we all contribute our strenghts and use them to help each other to manage our challenges, what a world we could live in.

    hope that wasn't too far off the mark, it was just so timely.


    1. This story is totally on topic! And what a great idea! I love it when loved ones participate in workarounds. Like Layenie before she turns one the garbage disposal always goes: "Noise!" because I like her voice a lot better... and the cutest thing is, now the little fellas say it with her. I think this is causing me to sort of like it when the garbage disposal is about to happen because my three favorite cuties are chiming in about noise to introduce the whole situation.

  7. How do you react when others keep you waiting? Are you forgiving?

  8. Pretty sure I am, if I notice! But more than likely people say to me they are sorry they are late and I believe them on both counts but I was fine loitering.

  9. May I include a link to this in a website I’m creating? It’s for parents/anyone who want to know more about autism and is a doorway to AUTISTIC voices/bloggers and neurodiversity friendly parents/professionals. The website is under construction but the facebook page (Autistikids) is up and running - full of links to the same type of posts. I can be reached at autistikids@gmail.com if you have any questions. Thank you!

    1. Sure! Will you let your readers also know this site is a place they can write to ask new questions confidentially? I'm about to get that up and running again.