29 April, 2010

tl;dr: a baby triumph

So I'm sort of bad at figuring out how I feel about things, or just how things are, objectively. This is probably due to growing up with gaslighting although I also think that not being able to identify your feelings is supposed to be normal for people with ASD. Although maybe it's normal for people with ASD as a result of gaslighting. Anyway. I recently said to someone that I can never tell if I'm going too hard or too easy on myself. And that's been a major issue especially for the last term, because I've been extremely fatigued and extremely sensitive to stress, with both those things feeding into each other, combined with the fact that of course I think it's my fault for being so lazy and letting myself get away with things. That last fact means that it's really hard for me to just state that I'm having trouble and not doing things wrong on purpose. And this is tied into my general inability to speak up about anything.

One small piece of the problem is my psych class. We're allowed to take the exams on our computers, whenever we want. This sounds like it would be good, but I got so anxious about the first exam that I took it at three in the morning without being done studying, just because I wanted it to be over. I got a 28% and so, in combination with other factors that are making me tired and/or meltdowny, I'm having to freak out about doing well enough on the other exams to get my grade up to a pass.

Then my professor found out that people had cheated on the exams, and told us that from now on we'd be taking the exams in class. I found this out last week, right before the third exam, and it made everything worse. I don't know how to start explaining the problems I've had on tests and exams my whole life, but basically I find it really hard to tell what the questions are asking. It makes me stressed out enough that it takes a lot of energy to answer them at all; by now I've figured out that I should just write way too much rather than risk writing too little or writing the wrong thing, but it takes a lot of effort to get all those thoughts out.

I really enjoy the experience of typing on the kind of computer I have now (scroll up if you don't remember what kind of computer I have). I love the noise and the feel of the keys and it makes it a lot easier to get out the things I have to write because I'm getting sensory reinforcement. It's different from writing by hand and it's better than any other kind of computer I've had or used.

My Amateur Prediction of What Will Happen

I am having huge amounts of trouble tolerating any frustration or discomfort + I have trouble understanding, remembering, and talking about certain kinds of science that are covered in this class + my normal test-taking problems - the comfort of typing on my computer = total mind explosion and a grade I can't afford.

Enter two people who I really, really love.

1. Ari Ne'eman. Ari is a person I talk to a lot and a lot of the time we have the following conversation:

Amanda: An aspect of one of my classes is really difficult for me as an ASD person./Someone I know said something offensive about disabled people./I think that one of the kids with disabilities I know is having such and such problems and their teacher isn't responding to it.

Ari: You should talk to someone about that.

Amanda: I can't do that.

Ari: But

Amanda: NO

Ari: But

Amanda: NO

(change of subject)

Ari isn't trying to make me do things I don't want to do; he just has a very different way of thinking about things. Basically, he flunked learned helplessness. His first reaction to this kind of stuff is to do something, and I don't think he has this reaction on purpose, but it's ended up as a situation where I'm like a mountain being eroded by the ocean (Ari is the ocean in this simile, if you were having trouble keeping up). He's not intentionally chipping away at me, but his presence in my life gives me a different idea of how a young disabled person can react to things.

In this case the conversation went like this:

Amanda: I'm scared I'm going to fail my exam because I like taking it on the computer and I don't think I can stand it without the computer.

Ari: You should get permission to take it on the computer as an accommodation.

Amanda: How is that an accommodation?

Ari: It reduces your anxiety.

Amanda: I don't have anxiety.

Ari: Are you serious?

(Ari reminds me of some things I have done. For example, remember how I took that exam at three in the morning without being done studying. And some other things. I conclude that I possibly have anxiety.)

Then I emailed my professor asking if I could take the exam on the computer. His reply was ambiguous and I thought he might be saying no. Ari said that if it didn't work I should go to the disability services office.

2. I have been well-disposed to this professor since he handed out a form on the first day of classes asking if we had any "special needs, quirks, or homicidal tendencies." I thought this was cool because it made disability a casual, light thing that was important but not scary to disclose. Also I just think he's weird, which is good. I only go and talk to professors who are weird, because by the time things are bad enough for me to talk to professors I no longer have the ability to act like I'm not weird, and if they're not weird they can get mad at me.

So yesterday I walked into his office and said, "Is it okay if this is a meeting about me being stupid and crazy instead of a meeting about the material on the exam?"

And he said, "Yes."

And I sat down and explained that I have autism but lately I have it worse. And that I'm having--"Can you have boring panic attacks?"

"Boring panic attacks," my professor repeated with a bemused expression. "Well, if you're having them, I guess you can."

"It's like--I feel really bored and distracted but then I realize that physically I feel like I'm scared. But the main thing is, I understand if I can't take the exam on a computer but this thing happens"--and I explained about not being able to tolerate things and about how the computer makes it a little easier. I was straightforward about sometimes wanting to scream, and my professor looked pained.

"Well," he said, "then...I can drop off a copy of the exam at the psych office and you can go into another room with your computer and open up a word processing document and don't open anything else. I think you should be able to print it out in the computer lab, but if that doesn't work, email it to me."

"Is--does this make things a lot harder?"

"For you or for me?"

"I mean, for you?"

"It's a very small change," said my professor. "If it helps you--"

Chicago Style is Oppressing Me

You may recall that I sometimes use "chicago style is oppressing me" as a tag related to academic problems I have. I'm making fun of myself but I also mean it. I do think that rigid ideas about how to do things can be extremely damaging to someone like me. For example if my professor had a normal reaction to the weird thing I said when I first came into his office, that would have impaired my ability to communicate with him. Because he didn't care that much about me saying something weird, or wanting a weird accommodation, I was able to take my test in an easier way. I wasn't prepared enough for the test, and I don't think I did well, but I did a lot better than I would have if I had had to take it on paper.

I know this isn't a big deal but it's a huge deal to me. I'd like to thank Ari for making me a little different, and I'd like to thank my professor for meeting me halfway, because I'm not different enough to fight yet.


  1. this reminds me of when I was in AP English and had to write a general paper every week on what we were reading. That year I had an IEP, and we finally decided that I would have to just stay after school and do in-class essays instead because when I tried to do them at home I would usually just freeze up with anxiety and not write anything. I was glad when high school ended and I didn't have to sit by myself in the "extra help room" writing dumb essays anymore.

  2. Very interesting blog. . . how DID you do on the test?

    Sorry, I'm bouncing around because there's quite a bit of material on here, and "ari ruins my life" popped out at me on the side bar, so I clicked that, and started reading and that led (eventually) to this blog, sorry if you've answered this question in another blog. I'll look.

  3. not very well I think but better than I would have otherwise.

    actually, I think I might have gotten a B which is pretty cool because I'm a science failure. but I did badly on the final one.

  4. I'm realizing that I'm a comment failure because I don't have this thing set to notify me, and because i'm jumping all OVER the place, i have no idea where I'm going from/to nor anyway to get BACK. . . plus I have a horrible memory. I better subscribe by email from here on out.