I’ve always thought of myself as a natural problem-solver. Give me the information and I can sort through it quickly, find the important bits, and come up with a plan. It’s one of my skills.
Sometimes it drives my husband up the wall. He will have been doing something for ages, I walk in, look at all the parts, put them together in every way imaginable, and a second after seeing it all for the first time say, “Why are you doing it like that? Just put that bit in there.”
He is often surprised by how much I can think in a small space of time. When he turns to me and says, “What’re you thinking?” It’s rarely a short answer. A long train of thought triggered by a bird flying past the window, and culminating in the evolution of the backbone, with every logical step for every tangent inbetween, can be a bit overwhelming. It’s how I think all the time. I am always making connections.
But is it something I do naturally? Is it an intrinsic part of my brain, or is it something I have developed over the years?
Brain-training is a real thing. The more we exercise our brains in certain ways, the better they are at doing things. Maths skills are not a set thing. The more you practise the better you get, the faster the synapsis fire, the clearer it becomes.
The way the brain of someone who is deaf develops, is fascinating (Interesting article Here) The parts usually used for hearing are given over to other senses; sight, touch.
I can look back at young me, before I was fully formed, and I can see two clear driving forces; anger and logic. The anger was there because the world isn’t logical, and confusion and uncertainty breeds anger.
Logic. Logic is key. Logic is my driver, it’s my friend. It’s how I put the information together, it’s what leads me down my tangential narratives. Logic is who I am. There is a reason for everything I do if you look hard enough.
Where is problem solving in all this? Well, it could have been there all along. It could be that the problems of childhood didn’t take as much solving.
But this autistic brain of mine could have created my skill. Perhaps it is not intrinsic to my autism, perhaps it is that my autism meant I had to get good at problem solving. It meant I trained daily.
Every day my brain presents me with huge amounts of information to sift through. It does not give me answers to questions, it gives me data. Over and over and over again I am required to work out meaningful information from irrelevant data. I am required to problem solve each and every encounter, each and every situation. I am not a natural. I do not have a brain that says “This is how you socialise” I have a brain that says “The electric light is humming, there is traffic noise outside, someone is talking next door, there is birdsong that you recognise (blackbird), there are seven irregular square shapes on the wall opposite you (one is a window, there is irregular movement outside), the person you do not know in front of you has said, “hello”, they are smiling, their arms are crossed, they are frowning too, work out how they feel before you respond or it is less likely to be correct, the floor has faded parts where people walk, the ceiling is cracked in places, the lights are fluorescent and make everything a bit wrong, the air smells musty, there is a lingering smell of perfume that tastes sickly, the arms of my top are scratching against me, and on and on and on.” All presented equally, all handed to me with equal focus and importance.
“Here is the data,” Says my brain, “Now sort through what is relevant, what needs noting, what do you need to not respond or react to because other people don’t, come up with the correct response… quickly.”
I have learnt the rules of the game, and I apply them to the data I now have. New places will need more analysing, if I’ve been there before then I’ve already marked out what is important and what isn’t. I will also have found a pleasing pattern somewhere, that I can let myself glance at to silently stim.
Perhaps this is why I find the label “Mild Autism” so frustrating. No one sees how much work goes on inside. It is no milder than the times I screamed and smacked my head as a child, it’s just under my control.
Just as the brilliant pianist who practises for eight hours a day is not that good by chance, the ‘mildness’ of my autism is not effortless.
I am enormously lucky that I can do a lot of this processing and problem solving before I hit my limits, but I do have limits. I have to work at this. Too much and suddenly I find myself lost at sea. My expressions drop, I look sullen, words take ages to find their place. “A table? What is a table? Where is that picture stored?” I am slow and clumsy in thought as well as action, I bump into things and my brain does not have the capacity to sort the information as pain, so I don’t notice. Speaking is hard. Thinking is hard. I have burnt out. I am an overheated hard drive. I need to let it cool, so I can start again. I need recovery time.
Am I a natural problem-solver? Perhaps, but I’m so much more than I would have been if problems weren’t such a huge part of my life. My autism has taught me many skills, it has taught me to appreciate the small things in life, it has taught me that beauty is everywhere from a tangle of wires to a sunset, but most of all it has taught me how to problem solve.
As excellent as my problem-solving is, when it comes to social interactions, I am never working with all the information. People are too variable to be certain of their motives or how to interpret their expressions and intonation. The better I know people, the more likely I am to be right, but mistakes will still be made. So much of social interaction is intuitive, and that’s the bit that I miss. It can mean that I don’t let intuition get in the way of communication, and sometimes I see things that other people have missed, but mostly I miss what other people can see.
The more information you give me, the clearer the communication, the easier it is to problem-solve correctly.