Neurodiversity Awareness/Appreciation

Neurodiversity Awareness/Appreciation

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Tell Me What You Want, What You Really, Really Want!

This comic was shared on Facebook, and was originally
 published on
the Tumblr blog "Growing Up Aspie."
I saw this picture shared on Facebook this morning and it immediately inspired me to get my butt out of bed and write a blog post about it. 

The picture illustrates weird, ghostly looking being telling someone, "The trash needs to be taken out." The other person has a blank look on his face, as the words don't really register. But when the ghostly being says, "Please take out the trash in a minute," the person smiles and says, "Sure."

What it means is, many autistic people are not good at taking hints or responding to non-direct requests. This often gets them in trouble with others, who assume that the autistic person is being selfish, lazy or rude because they do not do what was vaguely requested of them. 

As an adult, I have gotten better at realizing that, if someone says something like, "The litter box is pretty messy," it is a good idea for me to clean it. It really only works for me if it is something that I usually do. At my aunt's house, I often help clean up the litter box, which is something I offered to do back when I used to live with them. I don't mind cleaning the litter box, I actually like to do it as an act of service to the cats and because sifting the litter is sort of fun and satisfying for me. I know, I'm weird. So if someone says, "The litter box is dirty," I would know that I should go scoop it out. 

However, if someone mentions something that isn't usually part of my routine, such as, "There is something sticky on the floor," I will just take it as a statement. You're just telling me there is something sticky on the floor. It is mildly interesting, and I might comment on what it might be, but it wouldn't always occur to me to wipe it up.

If someone says something like, "This (insert some sort of task here) is really difficult," I may hear it as a statement, but still keep doing whatever I'm doing. 

If someone says, "Could you grab a mop and wipe up this sticky stuff on the floor?" or "Would you mind helping me with this?" then I will do it.  But you have to say it, not just hint around at it. 

It is hard for me to understand what the benefits of hinting around, rather than just asking for help, are. If you are hinting around because your expectation is that the person will take the hint and do what you want them to do, then why not just say it? 

Some hints are even more vague. I remember a specific incident from when I was a teenager. I was in some sort of group therapy thing that parents and behaviorally challenged teenagers attended at the hospital. My mom was complaining about a time that she had left the vacuum cleaner out when she went to work, with the expectation that I would vacuum the living room. But when she had come home from work, she'd seen that I hadn't vacuumed. 

At the time, vacuuming the living room was not one of my usual chores. She hadn't asked me to vacuum, or left a note. She'd just put the vacuum there. I tried to explain this. "You didn't tell me to vacuum, so I didn't know you wanted me to do it."

One of the staff members running the group replied, "So you feel like you need to be told to do something in order to do it?" (She wasn't being supportive, by the way... she was more or less pointing out that I was selfish. Even through my autism, I could understand that implication!) 

Well, yes. Seeing the vacuum cleaner out in the room did not mean to me, "Mom wants me to vacuum." If anything, I would have thought, "The vacuum doesn't belong there," and I would have put it away. But I probably just noticed it for a brief moment, thought nothing of it, and went about doing whatever I usually did. 

The lesson here is, if you want something from an autistic person (or anyone, really, because it is probably just simpler this way) just blurt it out. 

The comic also suggested that people include a time limit in their request. 

This has gotten me in trouble at work a few times, because if my supervisor said something like, "I need you to  do this," I would say, "Okay." But I would usually have a giant pile of other things I needed to get done, so I'd intend to get to the requested task eventually. And then a few days later, the supervisor would be like, "Why didn't you do this?" I would be thinking, "I didn't do it yet.

Autistic people could train themselves to constantly ask for more information. For instance, I could just learn that, any time I hear someone make a comment, I should volunteer to take care of the problem, or ask, "Do you mean you want me to do this?" And whenever I  am asked to do something, I could try to remember to say, "When do you want it done by?" I'd have to become hypervigilant about it, constantly asking for more information, constantly volunteering to do random tasks that someone mentions. It might be easier if people could just be direct and specific when they want me to do something. 

People can even use this idea when talking to anyone. Parents, do your kids not clean their rooms when you say, "This room is a pig sty?" Why not just say, "Please clean up your room by the end of this week." Spouses, are you frustrated because your spouse doesn't fix a broken object because you commented, "This object is broken?" Try saying, "Could you please fix this object?" Friends, are you frustrated because your friend didn't volunteer to come bring you hot soup when you told them you have a cold? You could just ask them, "I need you to bring me some hot soup this afternoon." Give it a try, and see what happens!