Autism: Instructions and executive dysfunction

I read somewhere on my travels through autistic information, that it’s usually best to tell someone with autism what to do when giving instructions rather than what not to do.

I remember when I read that I had a light bulb moment.

It resonated with me, a lot!

The number of times I look like a bumbling fool when being instructed to do something where they have told me a whole list of things of what not to do is uncountable.

I’ve spent my life looking like a clumsy, bumbling idiot, seeming to be unable to follow the simplest of instructions.

There are a few reasons for this. Giving me a list of instructions is overwhelming to me, I don’t know quite why. I can’t quite fathom what it is, only that my brain just goes into an explosive mode. It’s like the list is swimming in front of me with of all these possibilities and even though technically the list may be ordered well, my brain seems to perceive it as chaotic and a mindfuck.

The other reason is I have always struggled to keep up with the sequences of the instruction, especially if it’s verbal.

You could simply state to me how to do something seemingly very simple, by the time you’ve gone through all the instructions and sequence of events to land on the finished idea/product etc, my brain has forgotten a lot of the previous steps you told me already. I’ll often find myself remembering the last instruction only, the rest has gone.

And then if you tell me what to do, and then say what not to do, all I can remember is what I’m not supposed to do.

In fact, for some reason, it doesn’t matter which comes first if you tell me what not to do first and then tell me what to do, or the reverse, I still seem to struggle the moment someone tells me what not to do.

Some instructions are literally only based on what not to do! And with these I become dumbfounded. It’s not that I don’t understand not to do the thing you just told me not to do, it’s that I can’t seem to extrapolate from that, what TO DO instead.

I realise how this sounds. It sounds like a person who is not only dumb but also has no creativity.

It’s not that there is a lack of creativity, but that my creativity can only bounce off what I do know.

Since I read that sentence about it being best to tell us what to do, rather than what not to do, I’ve tried to make sure that anyone giving me instructions or whatever tells me what to do only!

By that, I’m talking simple things.

For example, my mum is often the person who drives me to appointments during the week. When I need to book an appointment I often need prompting and reminding, but I also have to book appointments on days she can drive me.

In the past, I’ve been given a list of the dates she can’t! And it always messes with my mind! So last time I told her only to write down the days she CAN do.

And it was much easier for me.

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