Achieving Independence – Part 1

No, this is not a post about the 4th of July, but it is about independence… independence in a different sense…self independence.

Independence is hard for me to write about.  It is something that I fervently desire, but it is also the one thing that escapes me.  How do I achieve independence?

Among other things, independence means for me being out of my parents’ home and having my own apartment, learning to cook for myself, washing my clothes, working out money and  maneuvering my way around the town to get to places I need to go.

These may seem like fairly easy tasks for most individuals.  However, I have a different set of obstacles in my way that I need to  analyze  when discerning independence.

Motor planning is probably the biggest problem for me when it comes to tasks necessary for independent living.  I need to practice and practice activities in order to develop a motor plan.  Activities that you may find as easy as washing and drying off with a towel take me hundreds of times of practice before I do it.  Then if anything little changes, it is almost as if I need to start all over again.  Things as different as where the soap is placed or where the towels are located, can mess up an entire motor plan.  This is why I need to have things in certain places and they have to be there otherwise I cannot do the plan I rehearsed so much.

Sometimes motor plans get mixed up in my head as well.  For example, I may have a very well rehearsed motor plan for brushing my teeth and washing my hands after using the restroom.  On occasion, these two motor plans get mixed up in my head, so sometimes in the morning after using the restroom at the therapy institute, I will turn on the water and begin to rinse my mouth and spit the water out before I realize I am doing it – all of this is happening when I should be washing my hands and it drove my speech pathologist crazy until I explained what was happening.

This brings up another very important point.  Self advocacy is very important.  People don’t know why I do the things I do.  Sometimes I do things that frustrate people.  These people know I am intelligent and assume that I should know better when doing things that seem disrespectful or non-compliant.  If I explain, for example, why I spit in the sink when I am supposed to be washing my hands, I find that there is usually acceptance for these seemingly odd behaviors.  I know I should not be doing it, but I have just got my motor plans for different activities mixed up.  Sometimes, it is good to just acknowledge such things so that they are in the open and I can work on sorting them out.

This idea of self advocacy is even more important when living independently.  It is something that autistic people need to do.  Neurotypical people will sometimes see us as odd or having strange behaviors.  They do not understand the differences between us.  These differences impact the way we interact with the environment.  For an autistic individual, the environment can be processed in a much different way that a neurotypical person might process.  Sounds, lighting, music playing in the grocery store can either over work our sensory system or shut it down.  I have problems with such things.  Going to the grocery store can be a challenge.  Certain music acts on my auditory system and gets me very excited and hyper.  It is hard when it is blaring through a store – especially when I am trying to carefully remember each step in a motor plan for buying something as simple as rice cakes!

So, I have to advocate.  I have be comfortable with saying to a neurotypical person that I am autistic and I do these things because my sensory system processes things differently than yours.  It is a hard thing to do and challenges me each day, but it is something that is important to learn for independence.  In some situations, relaying these messages  has to be done through successful communication which often has to be on the spot without any pre-planning.  This will lead into the topic of my next post – being a successful “on the spot” communicator.

So that is just the start of it.  I intend to continue this theme over the next few entries.  I hope my readers will enjoy my perspective.

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3 thoughts on “Achieving Independence – Part 1

  1. Thanks for writing this, Paul. It’s very interesting and informative. I have a question for you: do your motor plans sometimes get mixed up because you are not in the moment, not present? I ask because I find I do things like put something into the sink instead of the refrigerator or use the conditioner instead of the shampoo or drive in the wrong direction, etc., when I am not in the moment but thinking about something else entirely. So you think that is similar for you?

    • It is a little different for me. I have certain things that trigger a motor plan for me and it also depends upon which motor plan is the strongest practiced. Take, for example, the situation I discussed in my post. Turning on water can initiate quite a few plans in my head. I have to sort them out, but sometimes they get crossed. Turning on water makes me think of brushing my teeth, so I will take water from the faucet and spit it the sink when I meant to get soap and wash my hands. It is just the strongest plan. If I have someone remind me that I need to use the plan to wash my hands, I will still sometimes start on the motor plan for brushing my teeth. It isn’t until I am physically stopped from doing the motor plan that I can refocus on another. Right now, however, I have two motor plans mixed up. The motor plan for washing my hands and for brushing my teeth have become meshed into one. So, I will start by turning the water on, putting water in my mouth, spitting it out, getting soap, washing my hands and then drying them off. Obviously, I realize that to wash my hands, I do not need to put water in my mouth and spit, but those two plans have become crossed and I need to get them uncrossed by breaking the plan and then starting over again on it.

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