Shoulds

ought, supposed to, and other unhelpful or damaging words and phrases

This is about undefined expectations and non specific social pressure, guilt, shaming, and other undefined vague or incomprehensible negative communication.


Should sit up by age 6 months
Should walk by age 18 months
Should talk by age 24 months

Expectations for performance in our lives are set at a very early age. Before we go to day care we should be potty trained, before we go to school we should be able to dress ourselves, tie our own shoes, wash our hands and brush our teeth.

In school we should be able to sit still, listen to and obey the teacher, should be performing according to the parameters set in the guidelines for our average grade levels.

And so it goes. By the time we reach adulthood we have heard that word “should” at least a thousand different ways in a thousand different contexts allied with performance and expectations.

Somewhere in that, ” should “also is used to shame.
You should know that.
You should have….( done something)!
You should not ( have done something else)!.

“Should” becomes condemnation and guilt causing.
Added are variations of should: “ought to”, and “supposed to”.
You ought to know what you did wrong!
You ought to be able to figure it out!
You are supposed to (be like this, react like this, think like this).

I spent years in emotional chaos and despair over these words and this particular form of communication from others.
How was I supposed to know the things they said I “should”?
They never explained or defined their complaints or their criticisms so that I could avoid doing whatever it was they did not like me to do from then on.
I got responses such as “that was so mean” or “you hurt my feelings on purpose” or “You know very well what you did!”.
I could not understand how I was bad, wrong, thoughtless, improper, incorrect, etc without specific explanations of how I had offended or made mistakes that were so frequently interpreted as deliberate actions meant to cause emotional pain, to show defiance, or to deliberately thwart or frustrate others.

I was told constantly “you should know by now”, ” I should not have to tell you to” , “You ought to be able to figure it out”, and “you should not need help with that” .

I did not know, you did have to tell me, I was not able to figure it out on my own.
I was lost, confused, frightened and felt terrible because it was obviously “all my fault” but I did not understand how that could be so. I had absolutely no idea of how this had happened. I had absolutely no idea of what I could do to make sure it never happened again, but oh how I wanted to fix that!!!!

Add to this “you’re not supposed to be like that” ” You’re supposed to say (this)” or “You are supposed to ( do this)”.
I was often told I was supposed to want certain things, supposed to feel certain ways, supposed to like certain things, or to react in certain ways. I tried so hard to comply.

The world was just full of rules I tried so desperately to understand.
I did not know until years and years later that the words “should, ought, and supposed to” were subjective and dependent on the expectations of the person speaking rather than rules written in some unknown and hidden social code book to which I was for some reason not allowed access.

I did not know that the same “should”, “ought” , “supposed to” did not apply to everybody equally in any interaction. Nobody told me. I did not have a clue!

I wish somebody would have explained.

If you are the parent of a child with autism, it might be helpful to omit those few words and provide complete and detailed explanations of expectations and how they are to be met.
Adults with any kind of interactions or relationships to adult autistic persons, for these folks, I suggest the same.

Disappointing behavior, words spoken, actions taken, and expectations not met can be helped most by explicit and detailed explanations about why a certain action is preferred.
Please provide detailed description and explanation about how the expectations can be met in the future.

Your autistic partner in communications, child or adult will be much more likely to understand your expectations than by your telling them “you should know”.

Communication

What to do when you have no words or voice?

What if you don’t read, understand my language, or speak my words?

“I think my cat is autistic”. There are memes, maybe a book or title of a short essay, comments from many of the people in some of the online forums I visit or participate in.

Our cat was a street kitty, we think he was abused before we found him abandoned at about 4 months old and brought him home. We believe he was abused, certainly he had not been handled by humans much, perhaps he was even punished for approaching people (boisterous innocent kittens will climb up a human as if the person could not feel those tiny claws… ouch!). Our new cat hid and was very fearful for over a year, and one day he finally approached us as we sat quietly in our living room, and crept very carefully onto my husband’s lap. First time he had approached us wanting to be with us.

We have had him for almost 9 years now . He has taken on the role of sherriff/prince/enforcer. He knows the schedule.
If I am not up by 4AM he stands outside the bedroom door and calls, or pounds on the door with his front feet until I am up and moving.
Next, to the bathroom, where he gets a drink from the faucet in the sink while I do essential things. Then I open the door to the stairs which lead to our breezeway.. If I don’t do this quickly he pounds on that door with his front feet too.

Then I prepare coffee and cat food. I must do the cat food first! Then about 3 hours later the dog comes to get me and I feed her, first giving her meds wrapped in cheese. The cat is there to supervise and to step up as I fold the dog pill in the slice of cheese. He always get a piece of cheese too. ( be fair and not favor one family member over another, right?)
When the dog goes out, it is “play with the kitty time”. As I close the door on the dog, the cat comes towards me sideways on tiptoes, with his fur puffed up in joyous anticipation. We play with the laser pointer until the dog barks to come in. If I ignore “play with the kitty time” I am harassed, pestered, and finally bitten on the ankles if I do not comply … lets play, its time! No mercy until I get the pointer. My fault for starting that particular routine.

The cat guards the house faithfully all day, going from one room to another to watch out the windows, and taking random naps when exhausted from his duties. He will come to tell me if anything is amiss and pester me until I am fully alerted to whatever is wrong. He has alerted me to cats, dogs, and people in the yard or approaching the front door. He alerted me a month ago when a small motor from a tumbling rock polisher in our basement burned out and was smoking.
I was exceptionally stupid that time and it took persistent and vigorous attempts to alert me before I finally understood something was seriously wrong.
I followed him from my computer desk at the back of the house to the basement stairs where I could finally smell the “electric” burning smell. He may have saved us from fire!

The cat has a thyroid condition and eats huge quantities of food, drinks tremendous amounts of water every day. His dish is in constant need of refilling. He will pester me until he gets his food dish refilled. If I ignore him he continues to escalate his “attention getting” behaviors. He calls first. Little chirps, followed by meows and on to full out yodel. If I don’t respond, he comes to me and rubs around my ankles with his face. He stands in front of the computer screen. He bites the edge of the screen, stands on the printer, begins to throw things off the desk, and if all fails, he bites me . That always gets my attention. I am a very oblivious person when locked into research or other computer activities.

The cat stands guard when I nap or when I take a shower, and when it is bed time.
If I don’t follow routine and go to bed at the usual time, I am pestered, my ankles get swatted and nipped, and I am ‘herded’ toward the bedroom. Routines must be enforced!

Things that deviate from normal upset him. Visitors are considered intruders until he has met them many times and they have proved their non threatening status.

What does my cat have to do with autism?

You can see several parallels… his anxiety of changes from regular routine, his desire to avoid social interactions with strangers, I could go on, but that is not what I am actually trying to point out.
If the cat tries to get my attention and can not do it, if his attempts to communicate are ignored, he will ‘escalate’ his provocative behavior until I recognize he needs or wants something from me. Something requires my participation to answer his needs. If he is thwarted and frustrated because I don’t respond in the way he needs and wants me to, he finally bites me in order to get my attention and response.
Here is the message.
Can we compare the behavior of a cat with the behavior of an autistic person without words? How many times are we stupid about seeing needs and wants of that individual because they do not say plainly in words what they need, want, feel, think?
If a cat can have such understanding and work hard to communicate, why don’t people understand how desperate a human without words might be to obtain similar interactions with those around him/her/them? How frustrating and hurtful to be dismissed as stupid, unthinking, unfeeling? How long before despair and resignation and hopelessness set in? How about anger and frustration?
If a person resorts to escalated behavior including throwing things around, beating on things, or biting themselves or others, maybe the reasons lie in the fact that their other ways /means of communications are not being sought or heard or acted upon. Think about that.
Maybe its time to listen, to watch, to stop dismissing behaviors as random or annoying, or something to be trained or punished away, and maybe we should be attempting to find new ways to communicate.

If my cat is working so hard to communicate, can you doubt that the non-speaking autisic person in your life is trying to reach out to you? Isn’t it obvious that this must be true?
Dismissing persons without words as stupid or treating them as if they are also non-thinking or non-feeling is a serious mistake.
So called “intelligence tests” are meant to measure the responses of people who have words. It is a serious mistake to assume that because one does not have language or may not be able to speak or read, one is not intelligent, does not think, and does not feel.
It seems imperative to me that any and all methods should be used to find ways to communicate. Not just to force speech or train word responses, but also to look for ways to seek behavioral signs and to listen and to watch, and finally understand and then respond to the things that non-speaking persons may be trying to tell us.




Details

Its ALL about the details!

Recent studies have shown the main differences in patterns of thinking between those who are “neurotypical” and those who are autistic is a matter of which comes first, the “big picture” or the details.
Neurotypical people ( NT) tend to notice and take hold of the general idea of any concept and then fill in details “as they go”. Generalization first, specifics to follow.


Autistic thinking patterns generally are to gather details as if they were clues and assemble them to create a complete understanding of the concept or idea.

Before we proceed we want to know as much as we can about it.

How does this work in every day living and communication?

I struggled with general concepts as a child. Vague non specific directions gave me fits!

Clean your room! (autistic thinking asks, ” how clean must I get it, clear it of clutter only? Sort the clutter or just get it out of sight in a closet or a drawer? Strip the sheets and take down the curtains, wash the walls? Wash the windows? Vacuum, dust, polish??? “)

Do the laundry! ( autistic thinking asks, ” just my laundry or the whole family’s? Just start a load or spend the day doing all of the stuff in the piles, drying, folding putting it away? Sort by color? Sort by fabric? Sort by family member? Can I put this set of dad’s work overalls in with mom’s best tablecloth?” )

Go get dressed! ( autistic thinking asks, ” play clothes, work clothes, dress up clothes?, are we going somewhere? What shoes to wear? Why can’t I find my favorite socks? I can put on my play jeans under my dress so I can be ready for anything! ” )

Walk the dog! ( autistic thinking asks “where should I take him, back yard, around the block, to the park? Should I use the long leash or the short one? How long should I walk him? Do I need my hat, coat and gloves? Should I bring baggies and his bottle of water and his dish?”)

There is a lack of understanding in the NT mind, that we NEED those details. It is not enough to state intent, it needs to come with specific information. Especially as a child with little experience in the world, statement of intent does not tell us what the expectations for each act we are told to perform are, nor does it explain how to do these things!

State intent, then be as specific as possible about expectations and give as much information as possible to any directions. This method still works best for me today at 68 years old.
As a young child, had to be taught in small and very specific steps to know how to clean each area of the house, how to do the laundry,how to iron each piece of clothing or linen, how to wash the dishes, what was expected of me when told to clean my room, how to empty waste baskets, take out the trash, How to use the vacuum, each specific chore had to be explained in detail.

Things that were evident to my NT siblings through observation were not obvious to me. Knowing today that I have very little neurological ability to process moving visual input, this makes more sense.

This pattern has continued all my life. If my husband says he wants to go to shopping, I need to know where we will go, what time we will leave, what are we buying?
If I must travel, I make lists of things to bring and I look up my destination on the map, view it on satellite programs, write down directions on how to get there, plan time of departure and arrival, think about where I will stop for rests, gas, and any other stops I might want to make.

Going to a meeting or program in town involves the same planning, how do I dress, what do I bring, how long will I be there, How do I find the place (mapping and perhaps even a day before recon if I am afraid i won’t find the place in time for the planned activity) Who will be there? How many are expected? Will there be food? What is the schedule for the program? Where will I park? These things may be intuitive to some, but they are conscious questions that need answers for me to be comfortable to proceed.

If I plan a new project or want to learn a new skill, i will seek information ahead of time on the internet or in books, and read about “how to do it”. I can not watch videos or listen to podcasts to get the information. Once I learn all I can about the skills needed and the correct ways to proceed, I am able to carry out most of these projects with little outside help. But if somebody just told me to simply ‘do it’, I would most likely not be able to proceed. I have to get all the details, line them up, and then I feel confident I understand.

I am often chided by others for not being able to “go with the flow”. I am aware that I irritate others by asking all of the questions I need to know to assemble a complete idea of what will happen in my head. I need all of those details in order to understand.

My husband amazes me. He could watch anybody do something, then do it himself.

I know he is NT because very little has to be explained to him. He sees what has to happen and is able to complete the project using things he has learned by watching and listening.

One of the best things you can do to improve communication and understanding with an autistic person is to state intent, then explain in detail, using as much detail as possible. Do this in every day activities, no matter how small they seem to you. It might be annoying to you to have to do this, know I am not trying to be a pain, but that I need to ask questions in order to understand. It might take extra effort on your part, but you will usually gain willing cooperation if I understand the “big picture” in any scenario.

This is especially true if I am in a medical setting, or in any new place where I am expected to comply or cooperate with issues that are new or require some form of participation on my behalf. Please state intent and explain what will happen in as much detail as possible.


Answering the questions of ” What, when, why, who, where, how?” makes my world and my place in it easier to understand, to negotiate successfully, and to perform satisfactorily.