January 17, 2021

Autistic people and subjectivity

By rosieweldon

Autistic people not liking subjectivity and being ‘black and white’ in our thinking is one of the most commonly known autistic traits. But have you ever stopped to really understand why we function like that?

A lot of my autistic differences centre around how I receive, process and react to information. From sensory information to communication to the rules of society, I process it all very differently to a neurotypical person.

When my mind receives information it carefully and most importantly, precisely, categorises it. Everything has a place to be. Every piece of information has its own slot. It belongs where it is supposed to go. In order to categorise it the information needs to be clearly defined.

Take the illustration above. Brainy has a task to categorise the numbers. The same way my brain naturally categorises information. The problem occurs when brainy comes across the number seven which could go in either the odd numbers or the prime numbers slot.

Just typing this situation out and discussing it with my brother made my brain overheat. I asked him what he would do. He shrugged and said, ‘put in either I guess, probably go prime’. Probably? I guess? The number seven could go in either and does not categorically belong in either place.

When my brain is given information that it cannot process and categorise it becomes quickly frustrated. When this number seven situation is presented in the form of a work email it is incredibly difficult to maintain composure. If a colleague emails me that a number has been entered because ‘X did it yesterday’. All I want to do is shout from the rooftops WHY, HOW, WHEN. My brain starts to scream for more information to allow me to process what they are saying. I can not place half given information and yearn for the rest.

Even trying to process what information I don’t have is very frustrating. Trying to sort through the screaming of ‘THIS DOESN’T MAKE ANY SENSE I NEED MORE TO UNDERSTAND’ and politely ask for what I need is really hard. I have to process the information enough to know what and how to ask them for clarification.

Within my family and close friends, I often use the phrase ‘I don’t understand. Please give me more.’ This has been really helpful as it’s a careful way to verbalise that my brain desperately needs more information to process what you are saying to me.

I like that my mind works like this. It’s a huge part of who I am that I do not have grey areas. I love a t-shirt enough to wear it every day or I will not wear it at all. I am all or nothing. It is the exact same with information. I understand the colleagues email enough to go and solve the problem. Or I want to shout at them that they are not making any sense. I can not ‘wing it’, I can not ‘I guess’ or ‘probably’.

It’s very hard for most people to understand why I sometimes shut down a conversation or walk away from something because I don’t understand it. If my brother is trying to explain something about a game and I don’t understand what he’s saying I will often just say ‘forget it I don’t want to do it’ and need to move on. Often we will revisit it later when I’ve composed my mind over the lack of clarity I was experiencing. It’s psychologically distressful for me to stay in that moment and sometimes I just need to leave it.

This reaction to unclear information is also why as well as the above I simultaneously give too much when I explain something. I want to ensure the recipient has all the information in a clearly contained and objective manner. Though this is often not wanted as most of you guys are happy to just wing it with the grey and come back to me if you need more.

When it comes to taking in information our brains work very differently. I have had meltdowns triggered from a lack of clarity in communication. It’s a horrible experience for an autistic person.

It is not a choice for me to be black and white in my thinking. It is literally how my brain functions. If you are not autistic and reading this, you will never understand the way our brain goes into fast and explosive overdrive when we can’t process something. Allow us time to compose ourselves. Give us the kindness we need to deal with the aftermath. And for the love of Harry James Potter – say what you mean clearly and without any grey areas.

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