Why some “skills training” never works
I was gratified to find this article in my mailbox recently. It is so difficult to explain sometimes
why telling me I have messed up, correcting me and scolding me, giving me “pointers” or refusing to listen to my explanations about the way I struggle to understand my world are not helpful. This article/blog makes a good start.
I read books on “being popular”, books on “body language” , books on communication, empathy, social skills and manners, and was “taught”, “coached” “scolded” and punished for social blunders all of my life. I have tried so hard to fit in and to be aware of cues. This simply does not work for me (and for many other autistic individuals) because my “awareness” is broken. By the time my very poor visual and audio processing get through with any input, the subject under discussion has moved on and continues to progress, leaving me very far behind. I miss nuance, I miss tone, I miss subtle cues because my senses simply do not operate on a level where I can instantly and accurately interpret anything done “in real time”. I can not train my senses to pick up on cues in a timely manner, this will always be slow and inaccurate, and my understanding will always be impaired when doing things at normal speeds in “real life”. I have the same trouble watching video, movies, tv and with things like lectures, podcasts, and general conversations, especially in groups and in places where other things are going on around me, activities, background noises, other conversations, etc. No matter how many times you tell me to make eye contact, watch for body cues, listen for tone of voice or try to understand other cues which are obvious to those with normal (NT, neurotypical) sensory processing, I can not train my neurology to work faster, better, and more efficiently. For me, the best understanding of my world comes through reading the printed word and looking at charts, graphs, simple illustrations and images not in motion. Other senses are simply not reliable enough to use in every day interactions with others in a successful manner. Spending time over and over telling me I am doing it wrong will not fix it as much as I would like for that to happen. I desperately want to be able to interact successfully with others, and in quiet places with an understanding and patient other, I can many times do fairly well.
I am so frustrated with people who tell me “you can do it, you just have to try harder”. I can’t seem to explain to them that it is not a matter of teaching me what I ought to be doing, I know that full well after so many years of struggle and pain in unsuccessful interactions, even after all my study and my constant attempts to perform as expected. It has left me with a feeling of utter futility and perpetual frustration and some resentment too. I am capable of understanding how inadequate my neurology is, but all the wishing and trying in the world will not make me suddenly able to understand when my neurology is not adequate for performing the expected interaction, transaction, assignment, request, or task that I am asked to do.
It has left me with a feeling of complete futility and resignation, and I fully expect the blame and shame for my inadequate neurology to be placed on my simple ignorance, my willfulness, my lack of moral character and my stubborn refusal to cooperate out of spite, cruelty, haughtiness, pride or other assigned characteristics placed on my shoulders by neurotypical others who simply do not “get it”.
A few days ago somebody was telling me how I needed to get trained how to do a certain task involving making videos of others, and I tried to explain yet again that I didn’t think my visual and audio processing was adequate to the task.( I get motion sick among other things) I was ignored and told anybody could do it, denied that I had these struggles and that I simply was being recalcitrant and oppositional, I could do it if I would just try.
I guess in many ways our autism is very hidden. If we are good at faking it, we are then punished for the ways our neurology still can’t keep up with what is asked of us, judged as lazy, willful, ignorant, stubborn, and uncooperative, even accused of being passive aggressive when we fail at expected tasks .
I came home feeling like I was going to vomit, with a severe headache, neck and shoulder aches.
Once again I may have chosen the wrong group to volunteer for. I seem to be OK in very small groups, although I am exhausted after a meeting, but if I continue to come home not only physically and emotionally exhausted but also sick from the struggles of trying to “keep up” with what is happening in “real time” this is yet another failure at attempts to interact with others as a volunteer or to be useful in meaningful ways when interacting in “real time” with others.
You’d think I would have learned what doesn’t work after years of failed attempts, wouldn’t you?
It simply does not work to try to teach ourselves how to do things that are neurologically impossible for us. It simply does not work to tell me how I have failed in so many ways. I am painfully aware of this. I am made to feel the failure and the shame, It is not something I will get over by willpower and “training”. My neurology is what it is.
No matter how self aware we are, no matter how much we try, autism makes us different, autism is often a struggle, autsim is a core and essential part of who we are and who we must live. No amount of willpower or training will change my neurology.
Today is “autism awareness, autism acceptance, neurological diversity day” .