Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Unwritten Rules

(description below)Visual Metaphor for Autistic Perception
This is my attempt at a visual metaphor of autistic perception. When I was driving today and noticed that the thick snow had covered most of the roadsigns, I was thinking about how the social world seems like that in autism. We may know there are rules, but can't make out what the details are, or are looking at the wrong side of the sign, so end up either breaking the rules, applying them too strictly, or misinterpreting. Personally, I learned what the signs said through books and role plays at social work grad school, not through intuition or being able to see through the snow (kind of like how my memory of what the road signs said got me home without speeding or running over pedestrians).
The colors and brightness are like the sensory sensitivity and distortion.
And yet, it's kind of beautiful and strange, kind of like our sensory experiences can be and we can be, if our social environments are open to our different perceptions rather than expecting we follow the signs we see differently.
It's interesting to me what details pop out- the trees, the brightness of the snow, the glow...

Unwritten rules...like the signs that are covered in snow...

Today I was kicked off a flickr group for not following the rules that were not posted. I looked for the rules, and I looked at the photos to try to figure out the rules for the particular group, but:

1. There were no rules posted.

2. The rules that were cited when the administrator contacted me were not
followed by the administrator himself when posting.

I'm upset by this, not only because I wanted to be a part of this particular group, but also because I spent half an hour looking for and trying to figure out the rules so that I could follow them. Then, in removing my photos, I realized that (other than not flooding photos, which could be debatable whether I was doing), that I was indeed following the other rule, and that the administrator himself was not. Further, rather than posting the rules in the first place and then warning people who don't comply, the only and first step was to remove me and then send the rules I'd overstepped.

Such is Aspergers life. The freedom not to follow unwritten rules, the creativity to make our own rules, the ability to not care about pointless/social rules are wonderful gifts. Yet, rules give us a bit of calm in the chaos, and many of us are driven to intense loyalty to rules that are important and boundary-clarifying. And the way many of us make it through social interactions is by stricter adherence to rules, or being consciously aware of what rules we wish to break and the potential consequences. Yet, to be aware of the rules, we must either have figured them out or have been told them, which is difficult when neurotypicals maintain "there are no rules," even though they know and follow them, and insist that we do as well.

People often ask how I can be, or even want to be, a social worker and pastor-candidate. I have, thanks to my internship supervisors, people I've served, and professors, a long list of reasons why someone (in particular me) with AS perceptions can be good people-workers. I just thought of another, however--
Pastors/social workers are rule-setters and enforcers, & freers of others from rules.
This brings not only the power for abuse, but also power to empower and free from self- or society-imposed restrictions, as well as to set healthy boundaries and rules for healthy community engagement.

In social work methods classes, we learned exercises and techniques for making systemic rules explicit. While most important in working with families and systemic change, this is important at all levels including individual. So the autistic need to be explicit about unwritten rules is a social work technique...

Ministry has been a bit more challenging, because the expectations are more super-hero like, vary from person to person, with generally unhealthy-to-contradictory guidance from national/local systems. Being an oozing extrovert is seen by many as being a good pastor,even when situations call for listening, restraint, and more distant boundaries. But what do church planters and conflict resolution experts recommend for healthy congregations? More explicit rules, clear guidelines, and making church as socially safe as possible.

Unwritten rules are often a form of power abuse and social control, disguised as freedom from rules.

More ideas about rules and autistic experience:


Curtis E. Hinkle said...

Hi Jay,

Thanks for this very interesting metaphor which helped me understand what you were saying.

I have found a disturbing pattern in groups on the internet which often are run by people with very fragile egos and who make up rules as they go along, who cut off all discussion and who encourage personal attack rather than present real arguments.

Over and over, I have found groups that are dogmatic in which words you use, how you must think, what you can write, etc. Some people handle power, even very small amounts such as being moderator of a discussion group, very poorly and abuse it and in so doing have harmed a lot of people.


Anonymous said...

Hello, I would like to reproduce your picture and the comment on snow as metaphor for perception in autism on a non-profit medical website www.migraine-aura.org , please give me a short feedback via kpodoll@ukaachen.de Thanks, KP