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All of these traits come under the umbrella of ‘Processing Information’ and are all innately linked. I have always found it very difficult to make connections and work out solutions to problems; this is due to my lack of social imagination and my inability to process new information that could help. When there is too much sensory or information input to focus on, and a problem, stress or unexpected change displays itself to me (which happens constantly) solutions to problems seldom come up because my brain can’t think about new possibilities of helping, without first removing the old sensory stimuli or overwhelm cause.
problem solving When I am overloaded (always) my problem solving skills can be really poor, making me unable to realise that I need a coat to go out, even if im looking outside at the rain, or how to re arrange a dish washer when it is full. These are basic problems, that arent even problems to most people but to me, they take up so much time, effort, concentration and abilities that my basic life skills can become impossible to deal with. Imagine then, what happens to my ability to problem solve, when a big problem comes along? Even in a very normal, seemingly not stressful circumstance, like being at home doing normal jobs in my normal routine, if someone was even to stand in the doorway, I would instantly become unable to process what I was doing and I would then become unable to work out the rest of my routine or remember what or make basic connections to help me. Something so simple, and easy, becomes a problem that I can’t solve. I would then have to start again once they had left, from scratch. This is because they are distracting me by standing there which makes me think about appropriate conversations we might have, when I should be focusing on my routine.
Theory of Mind My abilities shutdown. My theory of mind does mean I don’t process how to react to people to make it obvious I understand that people have different knowledge or intentions to me in a moment of overwhelm or shutdown. In this way, for me, not having theory of mind, does not mean anything negative or bad and says nothing about my over bearing empathy levels or justice seeking selflessness – its literally an issue of not making connections. For example, if someone says “don’t worry – Just do the next thing in your routine if you’re struggling” I won’t be able to process what comes next in my routine, because the injustice will be too strong to divert from routine (which is practised to perfection to avoid rejection and being ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’ as a way of justice seeking). Then, because they didn’t communicate clearly enough they intended to support me through the first task or do it for me so that I could safely and rightly move on to next component of my routine, I won’t be able to tell they intended to help me. Likewise, if they display emotional changes such as becoming angry, sad, frustrated, impatient or more caring, I won’t act as if I have noticed - because I’ve become too overwhelmed to accurate guess how to react to that emotional change – even if I’ve accurate guessed what these changes mean and even if I would normally react appropriately. I hide from people who are sad, because I was taught that my presence made things worse, but naturally my reactions make it look like I don’t care or cannot empathise when really, my empathy is so strong that its physically painful and shuts down my processing and capabilities. If anything, I’m too empathetic, too caring, too justice seeking, even though I am judged to have low theory of mind, which is stigmatised to mean the opposite. My lack of theory of mind doesn’t even mean what people or stigma believes it does, for me - it literally just means that I struggle to process information.
Executive Dysfunction My executive disfunction means I have trouble with organising my thoughts, actions, work and life. I have difficulty initiating tasks, or realising that tasks need to be done. I struggle to understand the process of how things work. For instance, my problem-solving skills become nearly non-existent, and I can’t process new information that could help- even if I’m looking at, or hearing, the answer. I struggle with making connections and problem solving and I have awful executive function- if I learn what these things mean, with mindfulness, I can best establish how to help myself. And it really has helped me to accept myself – especially because I learnt that these struggles I had, were not anything I was doing wrong – because I was trying my best 100% of the time, and no one could justifiably tell me off for that. I give my self a lot of rest to recuperate any lost capabilities, and I now know when to stop pushing myself into burnouts, shutdowns or meltdowns.
Interoception: Interoception is the sense of knowing what is going on INSIDE our bodies. Things such as feeling: -Hunger/Thirst -Tired/ pain -Temperature (Feeling hot or cold etc) -organ needs -toileting/gas/oxygen/hydration etc -emotional internal sensations - shaking when anxious, stimming when frustrated or happy, ‘buzzing’ when excited or ‘butterflies in your tummy’ when nervous. Our interoceptive internal senses alerts us to do something that will help us feel more comfortable. For example, generally: If we feel thirsty – we get a drink. If we feel cold – we get a jumper. If we feel anxious – we seek comfort. Interoception is the main reason that we have our urges for action. Case in point: don’t be surprised if you see me wandering around in the snow in a dress and wellies because of sensory issues making me feel hot with burning skin (yup- this has happened before, and people looked at me funny then too). Would I realise upon feeling my limbs shake with cold that I was frozen? Nope! That, my friends, is typical of my awful interoception and processing issues. Having poor Interoception often means having no warning bells that can call you to an effective action that can help you. Communicating and regulating this negative onslaught of emotions and physical sensations or pain, becomes impossible as I lose the problem solving and executive function to process information and come up with a solution to help me - this means I push myself too far with pain every day without realising-doing chores, work and not resting. Yet I cannot make sense of what I’m feeling, or work out why, what where, or how or what the actionable behaviour needs to be to help it. -This is why I need someone else to say, “we’re going to the doctor now”. -& make the appointment -take me there -sit with me to help communicate the problem -understand what the DR says and make action plans -make sure I get medication -organise me and my self-care, make sure I eat or drink, and take medication. Feeling it, isn’t necessarily the problem (even though I feel things more severely, and it takes me longer to pinpoint what that feeling or sensation is), my problem is I don’t know how to organise that information and form action plans.
Routines I must follow routines, and I must follow protocol and abide by the rules- because following routines enables me to seek out patterns, and decode daily life, empowering me with enhanced abilities and understand issues. The problem is that when I am overwhelmed or fighting an injustice overwhelm, I often cannot process my routine exists – which, in our world, is constant – and I am someone who is largely supported and live in as accessible an environment as possible, I am as empowered as I can be, and I am successful and happy and accepting, but that is very telling of the nature of how important support and understanding accessible environment are in tickling hidden injustices that shut me down. This is why its important to never give up on us, or yourself. This means, that at school I couldn.t process that my class lessons exists, who my teachers were or where I had to be, and was reliant on the kindness and care of friends to keep track of my routine for me. this also means, that even doing hobbies and passions, my routine is not processed by me, and someone would have organise me and my thoughts and needs and hobbies just so I can access them. my routine, although necessary are not accessible to me, unless someone enforces them, prompting and organising me - which is why the common misconception that an Autistic person will do it if they want to, does not always apply. It’s not a lack of interest so we must stop dehumanising Autistic people and treating them like robots who are selfish and don’t care for not being able to process information and routines to do as they want to and need to. its not within our control. However, as much as routines are important, we also have to be in control of the routine to make sure that the hidden injustices are as minimal as possible., so that we are safe from overwhelm or shutdown, and who understands those hidden nuances better than us, Autistics? but I also need to be one hundred percent in control and choosing my routine or else I wont process the routine exists. Basically, call it theory of mind, but basically, we weren’t there when the decisions were made, and even when we do the same thing over and over there’s so many changes and hidden injustices that changes the nuances that make each and every day feel sensually and informatively very different and changeable even if it routine, and in those changes we can be so certain we are acting right and doing the right thing being good and somehow get in trouble and dismissed and gaslighted, and so, we don’t process routines, either, because we cannot process our own thoughts in response to those changes. So sometimes, maybe consider that the behaviour is caused by injustice, and recognise that little can change, especially in the face of new demands, if the initial demand of injustice is not fixed. Consider that even tiny changes in routine, or change in demands, can deplete, and confuse abilities, causing shutdowns or meltdowns. The other problem is that, I can’t then move on to something new, if I’m struggling to communicate, or complete an instruction or routine, that is what I focus on because I can’t multi task my thinking strategies, until I get to say or communicate my thoughts, or complete my instruction or routine, I can’t move or do anything else. It also becomes wrong, to move on; a slight change in what is expected of me, becomes an injustice, too. It shuts down my other abilities until the communication is successful.