From specific to general

It is said that autistic people focus too much on details and don’t see the big picture. I never thought about myself like that, but I guess the way how it was described didn’t really describe the experience from my perspective; better way to describe it would be: I want to focus on specifics instead of general information, even in communication and when it doesn’t make much sense.

I realised that recently during two chats; one was really weird so I won’t include it here but this is a conversation I had with my psychiatric nurse around a week ago, about my delusions that I’m in speech therapy delivered by the community.

The nurse: I trust your judgement and you can be aware that you feel paranoid.

Me: During my last psychotic episode I knew I was psychotic but that was different because I believed my delusions. I don’t suppose I can have delusions and at the same time understand they are not true.

The nurse: Insight develops with experience.

Me: Do you mean the more delusional I get, the better?

Can you see what I did here? I went from general information to specific one. I was perfectly aware while typing that’s not what the nurse meant and yet, that’s how my brain interpreted it. I felt like I had no choice but to ask.

The nurse responded with: No, I mean you have gained insight already so can judge.

I didn’t comment any further. I didn’t know what else I can say. Ask who I can judge doesn’t seem appropriate, does it?

Obviously the current advice is to be as specific as possible when speaking to autistic people, but then I already mentioned on the blog a few times that what people consider specific can still be misinterpreted by us.

Other situations where I focus on specific instead of general can be for example when a friend is treating me poorly but possibly they didn’t do anything extremely horrible so I’m having problems with deciding if I should end the friendship. It seems like there’s never enough evidence for the fact that that friendship is not good for me.

Other situation that I can think of is when John was having huge problems with understanding that the fact Home Group had fabricated documents in my file was evidence of bulling. He believed I was being bullied and he agreed that fabricated documents should never end up in my file but he just couldn’t make the connection between one and the other; he was focusing on specific and couldn’t move to general.

What some people do is totally different: they move from specific to general very quickly and are missing out on all the details they can learn from the situation. An example of that would be, when I recently shared one of my posts to an autism related Facebook group. It was the post titled Why autistic men are so stubborn sometimes, where I described a specific problem. Someone then commented that neurotypical men can also be stubborn. And you know, I believe they can. Women, both autistic and neurotypical, can also be stubborn but the post was about a very specific problem and it was autism related group, not general chat group. I did get a bit irritated by that comment but then quickly realised the person simply went from specific to general, which is the opposite to what I would do, that’s why it upset me. But it also felt at the time like all my hard work dedicated into working out how an autistic mind works is being ignored. But well, never mind.

I was thinking for a bit whether that is why autistics have problems with social interactions: we focus too much on the details in the conversation and try to understand what everything means? This could be the reason, but again, I don’t know what to do with that. If I don’t focus on what things mean, will I be able to have a conversation at all? I don’t know.

Yesterday me and John talked briefly about all the food we bought on food festival and he wrote this:

I might use one of the curry kits too, I have to make a sauce with onions, garlic, ginger and water. It makes loads so it should be interesting and I might need more containers. Have you tried any of yours yet?

And I thought what kind of imprecise communication that is? And that isn’t how John normally communicates; he is always very precise with his choice of words, too precise at times I would say. And in here he said that curry will be interesting because there will be loads of it and also how many containers he will need for a curry sauce made of one spice box? He has plenty of containers already!

I kept thinking about it for a bit and it came to my mind that he’s hinting me to deliver him 4 containers. Why 4? Because onion, garlic, ginger and water. He has some containers already so if I deliver him 4, he’ll have ‘more than 4’, and he said he needs more, so it all adds up.

And that’s my thinking for you: looking for a hidden meanings where there isn’t any. Luckily I managed to convince myself to go from specific to general and I could then respond with ‘I can see you’re really looking forward to try this curry kit’. It was easy to do that in an email conversation but I’m not sure I could do that in face to face chat, and even if I could, would that make my social interactions any easier? Would I not become robotic if I do that? And anyway, is that how people actually speak in real life – by constantly bringing the conversation from specific details to general? I really don’t understand.

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