Thursday, 20 March 2014

Differences in experience

Imagine two mice. One wants to get a bit of cheese and gets electric shocks when it gets the cheese. The other mouse gets injected a nice adrenaline rush when it gets the cheese.

If you were mouse number 1, you wouldn't want to get the electric shocks. If this goes on for too long, you'd decide that cheese is a bad thing, because when you get cheese, you get shocked.
However: If the shocks wouldn't happen anymore after just a few times, you'd learn that you don't like the shocks, but that you do like cheese. Cheese without the shocks please!

Now imagine you're mouse number 2. You get the cheese and then you get the adrenaline rush. Great! You get more cheese and get more adrenaline. If this goes on long enough, you'd learn that cheese is a good thing, because it gives you a rush.
However: If the adrenaline rush wouldn't happen anymore after just a few times, you'd be disappointed and confused. Without the rush, the cheese isn't that special anymore. You have learned that cheese isn't that special, but the rush is. You would try to find the adrenaline rush somewhere else.

Both mice are of the same species, with the same needs. Yet they give a different meaning to the cheese, because they experience the consequences of getting the cheese differently. By extension they give a different value to the cheese all together.
I want to show you that when someone experiences something differently, that person will also give a different meaning to something.
If you want to make the first mouse enjoy the cheese, you have to take away the applying of the shocks very quickly. Then the meaning the mouse gives the cheese would be right: Cheese is nice, shocks aren't.
The second mouse would like to keep the added consequence. It was an improvement for it, because of the different experience.

Because of this, it isn't fair to force people, who process information in a very different way, in regular structures. Something that can be a nice experience to one person, can be a very painful experience for a person with a very different way of processing information. When nobody sees the cause and nobody adapts the structure for this person, this person will learn that the activity is something to avoid. Even when the end result of the activity has the potential to be very positive.
If the painful part in the structure was removed, then the person would've had the intended experience.

An example of what I mean can be found in real life. When there's a concert, they tend to add a loud bass to the music, as to strengthen the impact. For a lot of people this helps to add to the rush of the moment and completely enjoy the music.
However, if you're much more sensitive to sound, the added bass probably won't be enjoyable, but absolutely painful:
People who experience the bass as painful, will most likely walk away from the concert. The people who love the bass, will like the concert even more.
If you took the bass away, the people who are sensitive to sound will probably be able to enjoy the music too. The people who love the bass, however, will think the concert is boring and walk away.

Because of this reason, it's very harmful if you force a person with a big difference in information processing in the regular structures.

Disclaimer: Yes, I realise that everyone processes information differently and that forcing someone to do something harmful is always bad. But most people, in general, can find their way in regular structures (there are exceptions). I'm talking about people with big differences in processing information, that cause them to not be able to get along with regular structures anymore. (for example: A person with autism who might find it hard to get a job, because there is too much sensory input)

Monday, 10 March 2014

Social confusion

In my daily life I often run into, what I call, social confusion. Social confusion usually happens when there's a subtext and/or non-verbal communication going on that the other person just expects me to pick up on, but I'm completely oblivious to it. Then that person responds to me not responding to something I didn't even know was there. So to me, that response comes out of nowhere and I'm socially confused, because I have no idea what just happened to cause that response.

A few days ago something so very confusing happened, that it left me confused all day long and even my sister didn't get what was going on. Because this is a situation that's even confusing for people without autism, I thought it would make a great example of what social confusion can look like.

My sister and I were walking around in a supermarket. There was a lady at the supermarket who gave out samples of a new type of pizza. Since we were planning on eating pizza that evening, meaning one of the things we were going to buy was pizza, this was perfect timing and I decided to try some of that pizza. There were two new kinds. One had tuna, scampi, salmon and spinach. The other one just had tuna and spinach.

I walked up to the lady and looked at her, ready to ask if I could sample one of the pizzas. She read the look on my face before I could say something and said I could just take one. I took a slice of pizza and happily took a few bites. I told my sister and the lady that I liked the pizza. The woman said: "Yeah, that's my fault," continued to say some more things that both my sister and I couldn't understand (she spoke very fast and soft), and then took the pizza out of my hands, threw it away and gave me a new one. I have no idea what happened here, but later my sister and I thought she probably misheard me and thought I didn't like the pizza.

With a new pizza in hand, I already got kind of confused, but decided that it doesn't matter, as I still had a pizza. I took two more bites, said I liked the pizza again, and then the lady took my pizza again, threw it away again and gave me a new one. This time she gave me another type of fish-pizza. After taking yet another two bites, I said I liked the pizza again. Then my sister and I got confused over which of the pizzas I just got and asked her. She took my pizza again, threw it out, and gave me a new one. I started to wonder if this was a prank and if there were some hidden cameras somewhere.

Absolutely thrown back by this whole 'taking two bites, taking the pizza away, throwing it out, getting a new pizza' routine, I stopped discussing the pizzas. Even my sister looked at me with a look of 'I don't know either'. I took another two bites, didn't even go on to eat more of it, and simply said I wanted to buy that pizza. I liked all the pizzas, so I didn't even bother to ask which one was which. She gave me the pizza I just sampled, my sister and I thanked her and then we walked out completely confused.

We couldn't get over this for the rest of the day. The situation was so absurd, that we kept on laughing, being confused and wondering: "What just happened?!"

Like I said, this situation would confuse a lot of people without autism too. But this IS what a conversation feels like for me a lot of times. A lot of communication is non-verbal and I'm very bad at picking up non-verbal communication, which means that I'm missing out on a lot of things in a conversation. Sometimes people expect a response from the non-verbal communication, but if I'm not picking up on that, then obviously I won't respond to it either. Because non-verbal communication goes so instinctively for most people, it's very frustrating for a lot of people if I don't pick up on it. It even comes across as me not caring about them sometimes, which is a big misconception. I do care, I just didn't even know something was going on.

In my example this woman said some things that I missed and reacted on it even before I could ask her what she said. She then continued doing things that made a lot of sense to her, but not to my sister and me. This is what it feels like when I miss out on non-verbal communication, which the other person expected me to pick up on. Because I missed out on a piece of information, to me they suddenly appear to act very weirdly, while to them it seems to make total sense. This can sometimes lead to very awkward situations, or even very angry people.