A blog advocating autism through my own personal experiences and insights.

Posts tagged ‘The Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships: Decoding Social Mysteries Through the Unique Perspectives of Autism’

At the Intersection of Autism and Perfectionism

A few months ago, I remember getting a book called Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships. It’s by two well-known autistics on the autism spectrum Dr. Temple Grandin and Sean Barron. The book goes into detail about how these two autistics dealt with the social world around them and the lessons they learned from it. Most of the chapters were under the heading of an unwritten social rule, which is a social rule that comes innately for non-autistic individuals, but doesn’t come or doesn’t come completely understood by autistic individuals. One chapter that I loved was under the unwritten rule: Everyone Makes Mistakes. It Doesn’t Have To Ruin Your Day. It goes into detail about how both Temple and Sean reflects on their difficulty in comprehending and accepting this rule and how they each pursued perfectionism.

This was an opener for me because before I read the chapter I didn’t realise that autism and perfectionism were closely linked. I certainly had both and they both certainly brought me difficulties in adapting to this world. I already elaborated in a few earlier posts how perfectionism has played a big part in my life. While I did think there was probably some overlap between my autistic and perfectionistic tendencies, it wasn’t until I read the chapter in Temple and Sean’s book that I finally realised how much they did overlap how strong the connection was between.

A couple of the things that Sean tells about that I could certainly relate to would be the following. Sean talks about how difficult it was in asking for help with something because admitting you needed help meant admitting that you’re not perfect. One example he gives is when he was working as a teacher’s assistant at a private preschool. His boss constantly singled him out and criticising and reprimanding him. The worst that happened was when he was trying to supervise the kids outside. He couldn’t handle everything that was going on, and some of the kids had gotten up on picnic tables, which they weren’t allowed to do. His boss then came out, shouted at him and threatened the loss of Sean’s job. But Sean didn’t know that one of the rules was asking for help. He says “So absolute in my mind was the idea of avoiding mistakes that admitting I needed help meant admitting I was not perfect”.

This line of faulty thinking occurred a lot in my own life. There have been a lot of times when I didn’t ask for help with something when I could’ve had. One of the earliest examples is when I peed my pants in grade 2 (that was embarrassing!). But I didn’t realise that I could’ve just raised my hand and asked to go. A more recent example was in high school and how my chemistry teacher pointed out that I could benefit from some extra help. I wouldn’t have asked for help otherwise. Even Dad questioned me on it before I did anything and got me to admit I needed the help. Or in junior high, like pretty much everyone else, developing crushes on the opposite sex. In junior high, my peers were more or less open about who they had a particular crush on and while there was a bit of teasing with some liking it more than others I get the sense that a lot of people supported one another in this area of life. I, on the other hand, usually kept quiet about who I had a particular crush on and would only admit one, which was rarely enough, in the most discrete circumstances. When everyone found out I had a crush on a particular girl in grade 9, I was too embarrassed to talk about it with anyone. I remember talking with my aunt when I turned 20 how when she read my novel that featured a teenage boy Ray developing a crush a girl named Lucy she was astonished to see me writing so convincingly about how Ray felt toward Lucy because she had never seen this side of me before.

Another perfectionistic tendency that both Sean and I have is our denial to admit we did make a mistake when we do.  When Sean did this, it would only make the mistake into a bigger deal. I remember a substitute French teacher in grade 12 actually phone our house asking where my project was when I didn’t want to tell her how tough all the work was at the moment in the very tough IB (International Baccalaureate) Program I was in.

I would also like to share one other thing that Sean says, “So, with all this going on inside me, the last thing I needed was to be told that making errors was an inevitable part of what I was trying to accomplish. I hated making mistakes because I felt that I was a mistake.” This is the central feeling of it all, the feeling of being a mistake. But as the years go on, I’m beginning to see more and more that the opposite is true.