Over the past few days, most of my time and energy has been taken up by tidying and cleaning our house. We had a person coming round for ‘inspection’ of the house we’re renting, on Friday afternoon, and although it’s the house being inspected rather than our general tidyness, I wanted it to be nice and clean. Not that it was really filthy before that, just general ‘mess of life’ really…
Cleaning is not a strength of mine. I enjoy the end result, but not the process. My main difficulties with it is related to my poor executive functioning (which is a term I can’t remember ever hearing until about 6-7 years ago). When I have a task/project I need to do, such as in this case tidying the house, I find it very difficult to get started. Where do I start? In what order should I do things? How long is it reasonable to spend on each part of the task in hand? And how do I do this while also doing the everyday things that still need to happen, like mealtimes etc? Apparently, these things come easily to most people, or so I’ve been told anyway.
It’s not that I’m ‘stupid’. I always did really well at school, academically. I learnt to read & write way before starting school. I have the kind of intelligence that can be measured with IQ tests, I do very well on those. Yet there are lots of simple things that I’m not good at. Such as cleaning.
Another related example is structuring a text. I’ve always been good at writing. Sort of. At school, we were sometimes given the task to write an essay on something, as a test. Just sitting down for up to 3 hours, writing something from scratch. It could be a story, or an essay on a subject we’d been learning about. It often said ‘write 2-3 pages’. I wrote 10, or 20. I still got top grades, but if that had been a commission for a magazine, I doubt they’d have been happy to give me a whole issue of their publication, when a 2-3 page spread was what they’d asked for…
Penguin doesn’t have the kind of intelligence that scores well on IQ tests. According to such tests, he’s ‘intellectually disabled’ (a.k.a. having cognitive disability or learning disability). Yet he has some amazing abilities, for example when it comes to visual memory.
Penguin’s strengths aren’t the kind of abilities that are useful to others, at least not obviously so. And if we were to use functioning labels, he would be described as ‘low functioning’. I’m not a big fan of that kind of functioning labels. I think they are too broad to be useful, and calling someone ‘low functioning’ tends to mean they’re pretty much written off as a ‘hopeless case’. It can also be negative for those described as ‘high functioning’, as their needs then tend to get neglected. They might for example really need some help with their executive functioning!
It’s common for people who are autistic to have a ‘spiky profile’, meaning they’re amazingly good at certain things (whether obviously useful ones or not), while really struggling to do other things (sometimes seemingly simple things). The university lecturer who struggles to tie his shoes, to give but one example. This is another reason to ‘presume competence’, or at least ‘presume potential’. For example, remembering that not being able to talk doesn’t mean not able to think. A person can have brilliant thoughts but lacking the ability to communicate them. Or they can be brilliant at communicating, but struggling hugely with practical everyday tasks.
Those of us who aren’t autistic can also have spiky profiles btw. I somehow got the cleaning done in the end… I usually get things done, it just takes me excessive amounts of time and energy. After it was all finished, we went up to The Ferry Inn, in Stone, and had a drink in their lovely back garden. We watched a huge dragon fly chasing around above our heads:
At The Ferry, they’ve come to know Penguin. They know he likes to sit in the back garden so they went and opened up to it without us asking, and they knew he’d like a cola, not poured in a glass, and that we carry our own straws (paper straws do not function very well for their intended purpose!). I could go on now to talk about how a relaxing and welcoming environment also affects a person’s ‘functioning’. A great deal actually. But this post is probably long enough already, so I’ll finish here. Any thoughts on ‘functioning’, and/or any strategies for those of us with poor executive functioning, are all very welcome in the comments! Thank you x