Mistakes – I’ve made my share. I’m told I learn from them. So I keep making them. Some are bigger than others. Post ASD diagnosis, I look back at some of them. It’s embarrassing! Like objects in a rear view mirror, they appear larger than they actually are. But am I still free to make mistakes? I don’t think so. Not really. Mistakes seem a thing of the past. No one takes the time any more. You can’t talk about them. No one explains what is wrong and how to fix it. How can I continue? How will I learn? Speaking of mistakes and learning, I quote George W. Bush: “Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?”
As an autistic person, I have to be allowed to make mistakes (sorry!); I need them in order to succeed – to survive, actually. Why? It’s not allowed! Well, the reason is I often think out-loud, for better or worst; this might anger some people, but I’m merely showing a step in my complicated thought process. I often feel pressured to share because people like fast talk and snappy conversation, not long pauses.
I admit – sometimes I blurt out random thoughts that I’m not even sure about. They’re weird children. I pack their lunches and rush them out the door, hoping I don’t get a call from the principal. For example, for a period in the mid-seventies, my go-to comeback for just about everything was: “Red China!” I put an exclamation mark in there, because I tended to shout it. It worked. It stopped the conversation cold.
“Cameron, clean up your mess.”
“It’s not your turn to eat the last cookie!”
You get the picture. But then my mother caught on. She insisted I stop saying it. She said China was a horrible place, people were being horribly mistreated and it was not at all funny. I never considered that. I immediately felt bad about it. To this day, I am unsure where I got the term from or how – and why – I thought it would be a good idea. It was so random. Maybe an act of youthful rebellion, somehow? But it did effectively end conversations that I wanted no part of, which I guess was my sole agenda at the time. Maybe I was experimenting. I didn’t think it through – I just said it. Sorry! Incidentally, a girlfriend once told me to stop saying “sorry” for everything. My knee jerk response: “Sorry”. She just laughed.
Most people are not very tolerant of mistakes – now more than ever. Seems to me people are really quick to leap on my mistakes and magnify them. Why is this? To diminish me? To make themselves feel superior? It can be really vicious, actually, and totally undeserved. I’m much more patient and tolerant of other people’s mistakes; guess that’s why I’m a good teacher. Too bad the same is not extended to me. I really struggle with this. Lots of negative memories. Being autistic, I’m incredibly self critical and don’t like making mistakes to begin with. My autism magnifies my mistakes; I don’t need any help with that – I’m innately guilty. My superego is a hawk watching a mouse scurry for cover. It gets especially confusing when I put something out there for a completely different reason than people think – then I’m criticized for it. Apparently, among other things, I struggle with power structures, which I gather is the basis for a significant amount of neurotypical social interaction and communication. More on power structures in a future post. Suffice to say, there’s a lot of cues, context and insinuations in social interactions that are lost on me as I fumble along, doing my best. I’m destined to make mistakes. All I ask for is a little understanding. Thank you.
Now Watch This
I just watched this excellent video that does a fantastic job summing up the importance of making mistakes – being “wrong” – and how people learn, grow and evolve.