There are some things you should never, ever do. These include putting metal in the microwave, sneaking up on a grizzly bear and slapping its bum, and giving someone on the autism spectrum vague instructions.
It’s too often assumed that we are “slow” or “stupid” when what seems like simple instructions leave us befuddled.
Take for example, “can you pop down to the shop and buy some milk?” Sounds straightforward enough, right? But what particular brand of milk did you have in mind? Do you want full fat or low fat? The 3 litre bottle or the 2 litre bottle? Should we get the one that’s on special?
Or how about “meet me on the corner of x street and y street”? If it’s a + intersection, there are four corners, which is the correct one?
There’s an interesting parallel with nature; a very common tactic among prey animals, from fish to zebras to birds, is to flock (basically, to move as a coordinated group) when under attack. The reason for this is that if you present a predator with too many moving targets, whether it be a lion, a shark, or a falcon, they often become confused, and don’t catch any of them.
The autistic mind, like that of a hunting lioness, can be very specific and intensely focused. It’s not that the lioness is a poor hunter, but rather that she’s sometimes presented with too many options and without the necessary criteria to narrow the selection. On the other hand, if there is a slow animal in the herd, she has a clear target.
Likewise, give someone on the spectrum a clearly defined task, and they’re far more likely to excel at it than if you give them a nebulous idea of what’s expected of them.
So, if you’re on the spectrum and you find yourself stumped by unclear instructions, remember; you’re not slow, you’re not clueless. You’re a lion.
Image by National Geographic