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With the wide spectrum of behaviors and characteristics someone on the Autism spectrum has, one thing that seems to be common is the inability to multitask. Why is this? I believe it is because people on the spectrum are already multitasking. I’ll give an example to explain this.
Imagine this. You are driving your car and you pay attention to road while controlling the gas pedal, brake pedal, and steering wheel. You probably are thinking about the route you are taking, the other people on the road (cars, bikes, pedestrians), road conditions, street signs, etc. After a while you get used to this and can do most of these tasks automatically and still do it safely.
Now imagine you have to drive a car invented in 1862. In addition to the things you must pay attention to in the modern car, you must also use a double clutch. You must control air to gas ratio to prevent stalling, brake fluid supply so the clamp brake will work, and control the electrical output to keep from shocking yourself. You must think ahead before any action you take because moving and braking has a time delay before happening. You must use hand signals because the car has none. Add to that, you must do this during downtown rush hour with all the bicycles, horse drawn carriages, and pedestrians. Since it’s a new invention, everyone is looking at you. It might be overwhelming at first. You might get really frustrated, yell, scream, and quit. You might have a meltdown.
For me, in addition to the items a neurotypical must think about when dealing with social situations, I must think about regulating my actions. I am thinking about controlling my eyes (eye contact and when to break away or look at someone), eye brow movement (when to move them up or down), facial expression (smile, frown), arm movement, hand movement, body language, voice tone and volume, and word usage. This is happening while I am trying to process the body language and word language of the person I’m taking to. If the person is an attractive female, it gets more difficult to concentrate.
I’m processing this information, so piling an additional task on my mental plate can be too much. Imagine your computer has 10 or more windows open. What happens? It freezes or crashes. A crash is melt down. This is why I like doing my hobbies. I build things. I spend hours on something that is simple (to me – others see them as extremely complicated). No talking, no interpretation, no grey area. No 10 mental windows processing.
What can be done for a younger person on the spectrum? Training and awareness is a start. Think of driving that 1862 car. If someone trains you how to drive it, it will eventually get easier. Adding things gradually also helps instead of all at once. While driving the car, one can add the fuel system control one week. Brake system the next. Electrical system the next.
It gets easier with people I already know. I build a mental file of each person filled with characteristic notes. This person is scarcastic but uses regular voice tone. That person always jokes. This person crosses her arms because she is always cold, not because she has a bad attitude. It does get easier with age, experience, and training.
Disclaimer: Anything written here is not to be considered medical advice or to treat or diagnose any medical condition. I do not claim to be an expert on anything except myself and my own experiences. Any tips written in this blog are available for anyone to try. It may or may not work since everyone on the spectrum is different. It may inspire someone to try something similar or spark a completely new idea. Any experiences written in this blog are my own, and may or may not be similar to anyone else who also happens to be on the Autism Spectrum.