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Autism: On Taking the Initiative

25 Aug

“Just get in there and try,” he told us. “It doesn’t matter if you make a mistake (though you are sure to hear about it) so long as you are actively participating.”

But I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to do it. I had never seen it done before – and even if I had, I needed to ensure I understood it completely before I tried to do it in front of a group of people… or even just one if he was prone to yelling or criticizing.

So I held back. Again and again I held back and let everyone else try first. I learn first by observing. It isn’t until, through that observation, I understand it that I will try to do it on my own.

Such was always the case.

The most common comment on my report cards growing up was, “Does not participate.”

fireplace me

Of course I didn’t participate. First of all, I get paralyzed when other people are watching me – so a classroom of kids was not the place for me to try anything. Maybe if they showed me how, then left me to work on it alone, but that isn’t often how things are done.

So I was seen as incapable; maybe I was. I sure came to believe over time that their assessments were correct.

Or maybe I just couldn’t learn the way they were teaching – or maybe I just couldn’t demonstrate that I understood what they were teaching because, well… I get paralyzed when people are watching. That hasn’t improved in time.

So I can’t learn well in groups, and I can’t just ‘jump in and take the initiative.’

There is the word: initiative.

I have been thinking about this quite a bit over the past few years – especially since I was in my Residential Construction course at the local college; for ‘taking the initiative’ was strongly… not even encouraged, but expected.

This is something I am not at all good at. I need to know exactly what my job is, what is expected of me, how I am supposed to do it, where things belong, how things are supposed to be, what the rules are… I have to know.

If initiative is what is expected, I am overcome with anxiety, and can’t move – or think – or act – or…

I have also come to the realization that although I know ‘initiative’ is valued throughout society, it is not something I value in other people. I mean…

While I am thankful if people try to do things that are helpful to me, just… mostly when people do things ‘for me’ it really seems to be based on who they are, not who I am. So it comes out… wrong. All wrong for me. And I get… thrown off… and they get upset because they were trying to help, but it didn’t help. So I think, “why didn’t you just ask?”

Just ask.

I think that a lot of the reason I struggle in ‘taking the initiative’ is because I am sure that what I chose to do, or get, or… whatever, would not be what they had in mind – just as when others jump in without asking me how I would like it, it isn’t what I had in mind; and therefore I then have to find some tactful way to tell them (without offending them) that what I needed was different than what they did; and I struggle to communicate good things, and feel completely incompetent in communicating harder things like this.

 

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