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Aspies are really, really stupid


No, bear with me, please don't send me dead hamsters in the mail.

I was reflecting on how many times I ask for things to be repeated because I haven't understood them. Usually this happens in a crowded, public place, with an audience (why do these things always have an audience?).

Always, there's a good reason I didn't understand. I would say that most of the time it's because I was distracted, either by an inner happening or an outer distraction. Sometimes, I'm just tired and have no idea what is going on.

To make matters worse, I hardly ever need something complicated explaining to me. Give me complicated and I can return it with extra complexity. In-depth descriptions are unnecessary, I usually know the answer. But set me in front of a simple situation, where my attention is elsewhere, and I'm lost.

One of my most popular decisions is to forget how to use cash machines. Not the hole-in-the-wall types, the ones on checkouts, with a queue behind them. I try to push the card in the wrong way or put in my mother's pin number instead of my own. Sometimes I just stand, staring at it, as if I never saw one before.

None of this happens at self-service, so I do avoid dealing with real people if possible. When it happens on a normal checkout, I'll usually get a gentle prompting from the person serving me and then I come away knowing what it feels like to be a little old lady who is assumed a simpleton.

Another one is any kind of machine where I have to choose and think and do, all in quick succession. Coffee machines! Ye gods, you'd think I'd never drunk coffee before. And if there's an opportunity to burn myself on the way through, I'll leap at it. And don't get me started on self-serve cake stands. How on earth does anyone catch and hold a cake with those flipper things?

On the plus side, as most of my mishaps happen in places where you're being served by staff who need to be nice to their customers, I'm not often treated like the idiot I appear to be. I've been met with more kindness and understanding in supermarket checkouts than the rest of my misadventures put together. As usual, the person who earns the least is the one who has the most time for people.

In my various jobs, the stupidity question has often reared up, like an amphetamine-fueled unicorn, ready to impale me as I struggle past. I will learn a task and really know how to do it one day, then proceed to repeat the task for many days afterwards and then, sometime soon, will forget completely how it is done.

I can't blame employers and colleagues for being frustrated with this. It must look like willful obstruction. I mean, how can an intelligent person, who wears their clothes the right way round most days, just forget how to do something they have managed fine for weeks? That doesn't make sense. They're being difficult, right?

Yes and No. Most of the time this forgetfulness will spring up from stress, tiredness, pressure or any of the other things which make the working world so much fun. So, by the time I've temporarily forgotten the thing I've always managed before, I've probably started to make other mistakes as the pressure of work bears down on me.

You see, stupidity at work is never a single occurrence, it's a sociable one. It likes to attract friends and make you look bad in an ongoing, forward-looking way. It won't be just one thing I forget, there'll be others. I might have a good day today but by tomorrow I'll be standing in the hall, waiting for someone else to come in as I'll have forgotten the security code. By lunch-time, half the work I did last week will be dripping into the deleted folder, unnoticed by me and only discovered five minutes before I go home.

These small-ish things will be brushed aside, laughed off even, until they are joined by others, until you look like a complete fraud. How can you have so many good-looking entries on your CV and act like a great, daft fool? How is it possible for one clever person to create so much micro-chaos on a daily basis?

And the longer this continues, the more mistakes you make because the stress piles up and leaves you a gibbering wreck. It can feel as if there is no return once this cycle begins, especially if you've been through it all before.

So, what is the solution to the stupid aspie? For me, it's retreat and recover. If at all possible, I recognise the elusive quality of my brains as a sign that I need to go home, hole up and keep away from any stresses. When this isn't possible, life gets interesting. Do you avoid anyone and everyone? Do you take a sickie from work? Again?

There are no easy answers. There aren't even easy explanations for your vacant expression. If you can blame stress, as an official reason, then people still won't understand. They are already dismissive of stress (when it doesn't apply to them), so there's no reason to assume they'll feel any kinder towards you when you accidentally switch off the office fridge instead of the photocopier for the third night running.

All you can hope for is some understanding and enough days with your brain switched on to make up for the times it powers down and leaves you alone, adrift, unable to function and with paddle but no canoe.

At least you know you're not alone and that you are not stupid, honestly. You do really, really stupid things - don't deny it - but you are not actually stupid. It's important to remember this when you come upon the latest catastrophe and know, without even thinking about it, that it was your fault.

(This communication was brought to you by the left-side of CG Brain #3, upgraded model 22)

Amanda

My books and writing blog, with free stuff.
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