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Episode 6 : Your Confusion about Everything

Your special Child is frequently confused. It is probably the most common symptom of mild autism than any other. By grade 3 or 4, my boy had become sufficiently articulate and self-aware to tell me “Confusion is my default.”

Why? Because making sense of things is often hard enough with all our facilities operating, but if there are slightly irregular brain-messages then Confusion can easily result.

(1) Being in your Own World means you are not connecting what you are experiencing now with what will happen next (because you have imposed a ‘distancing- numbness’ to protect yourself.) Thus, not having the usual ‘cause-and-effect predictability’ means you are Confused about what is going on now, and what the future holds.

(2) Making sense of things involves transferring information to and from many parts of your brain; analysing, checking, comparing, balancing, and so forth. So if one part of your brain is overactive, too much information may come from one area. Your correct sense of context of that piece of information within the overall message may be lost. This “biased picture” may account for focusing on the parts of a subject rather than the usual whole. Or when your overactive brain receives too powerful information as a whole, the sum total of your information may be difficult for you to prioritize. When everything seems to be important, overwhelm thus Confusion can result.

(3) A more-autistic mind is generally overactive, thinking own-thoughts at hyper-speed.
Think about when you have been over-excited, thinking thoughts very quickly, you may have tripped over yourself when trying to get context, or make conclusions:  you may confuse yourself in your haste.
You can also use hyper-speed thinking as a Withdrawal mechanism: you can self-distract by thinking so hard and fast about a subject that you mesmerize yourself. So lots can be going on !  As a final ‘confounder’, past confusions may also be replaying in front of you which you revisit, and which you are trying to untangle.

(4) Sensory overstimulation can also add to the Confusion. We all know that being in a quiet place helps your thinking, but what if your sensitivities are so strong that quiet places are not easily or commonly available to you? If all sounds and sights, smells etc are too strong they may stop you from being able to concentrate.

So how do you get to feel these confusion-making things all combined? Try this:

It’s been a hard day. The boss or someone else who has power over your actions, has been totally unreasonable; and you are annoyed, agitated and need a rest and recharge in your own world, to blank everything out for a while, with a loud TV show and a drink. So you’re not too sharp if someone wants to get your attention to plan a forthcoming social event. His.her words may hardly make sense. (see “numbness” point 1 above)

The TV is on too loud for you to hear all the details of what the person is saying; and you get the feeling he.she asked you a question and is waiting for an answer (points 4 and 2 above)

You are still playing over and over in your mind some complexity of your work that you hadn’t quite grasped at the time, and you are trying to make sense of it now. (point 3) But the sense won’t come, because you are in no position to be clear at the moment.

Offering you a choice between doing one thing or another at that point would be fruitless, as you would be too confused to know what was the best course of action regarding anything.

If the other person asked you to put on hot water for a cup of tea, you might handle a simple direction like that, but if that person also asked you at the same time “so what do you think?” you would be mystified and confused: “about what?”

Normally you would probably realize that the other person was getting more and more annoyed, but not at the moment. Not being able to predict, (point 1 again) you might be surprised to see that person walking out, slamming the door behind him.her.

Furthermore, not being completely aware of what set that person off, what you did wrong, you would be confused about how to approach him.her, what to say or do when next you met him.her. 

You may revisit this confusion to replay what went wrong, placing further demands on your equanimity and further eroding your sense of certainty.

The above may serve to illustrate why it is good to give simple, single-step directions to your Child, rather than “put your socks and shoes on, then go outside and find that toy you left there yesterday”. Your boy.girl is usually only able to “get” one instruction at a time, with confusion and inaction being the result of a double-barrell direction.

Here are some free tips coming from “Real World” Training : rather than get annoyed at your loved one’s easy confusion or lack of reaction to you, with understanding and compassion (and patience) repeat slowly your single instruction until you see some small recognition happening.

Or even earlier than that, you might ask “are you ready to receive?” (your words). That prompt may attune your boy.girl to pay attention, so you can then start again with the expectation of better attention.

A picture of what is wanted, or what is going to happen next will be very valuable. (Note that I consider Pictorial Directions / Structure, to be crutches that need gradual removing if the person is not to become dependent on them for life.)

Alternatively if the whole communication feels like it is WRITTEN IN URGENT BOLDED CAPITALS, effectively making the whole message appear super-important, it becomes virtually impossible to digest – because you need to have sufficient time, to take some (mental) breaths between concepts when you are reading, so you can get a perspective on the communication.

As a further example for you, if the text of this Confusion Topic had been written entirely in super-bold italic capitals, tightly squeezed together, it would be less-easy to follow, and you would probably select a piece of it to focus on, rather than be overwhelmed by the full lengthy strident instruction.
Remind you of anyone..?

– Keep in mind most of us have experienced the above ‘confusion-causers’, but to a lesser degree.
It is still important to remember that we are not all that different, which is why you can identify with the example provided. Briefly: (1) we all withdraw and are numb sometimes (2) we often “don’t get it”, especially when we are tired (3) we also get distracted when replaying our thoughts / thinking strongly about something (4) loud noises or visuals can also distract us from our thoughts. 

So what is the best answer for your Child?

Now you have a better idea of why the Confusion is happening, you will have greater compassion, thus more patience to slow down your communications, to be plainer. Providing pictures of what is happening, and what is going to happen, will also be good.

But a better longer-term solution is to gradually but consistently Train your boy.girl to be in the Real World more often, rather than forever providing the crutch of pictures. When more often in the Real World, your youngster will be able to understand much better what is really happening, and to learn the rules and motivations of others around them. So Confusion will become less over time.

In the shorter term the “Real World” Training’s “Relaxing Module” will take some of the steam out of your young person’s over-activity and hyper-sensitivity. It will help ground him.her.
Teaching Relaxing Strategies to your Child will help him.her to self-help, to wind down, which will also improve his.her confidence that he.she can control vexing situations better.

If you are relaxed you are much more able to handle information, and thus your Confusion recedes.
So plenty of ‘benign-circles’ (the opposite of vicious-circles) will start to be set up, with the aid of the “Real-World” Training that is now available for you.

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