Lists are an autistic thing, but they’re not an impairment

So, after the success of my huge list of things that I think make me autistic, I figured I’d give it another go. My childhood interview was pretty much a fail (more about that later), so I knew I needed some way to show the diagnostic therapist the impact that the autistic stuff has on my life. Which goes against every instinct I have. Because I hide my vulnerabilities and I concentrate on my strengths. Which is a healthy thing to do. Except when a diagnosis is completely dependent on having a significant impairment. “Needing some acknowledgment and validation” is not a diagnostic criterion yet, unfortunately.

Writing this list took me countless drafts, different set-ups (Word or Excel document? Order by categories or severity?), innumerable tears, and 11 days. It was a really hard thing to do. But it was necessary. I also toyed with the idea of making it funnier by listing examples, but then decided against that because I need this to be as bleak and depressing as possible. I might have to cheer myself up with writing a list of things I’m awesome at. Anyway, without further ado, the list of things I suck at!

FINANCES

I have no overview of my bank account balance.
I don’t pay bills regularly.
I have no idea which bills have been paid and which haven’t.
I have difficulty prioritising payments.
I have no idea of the amount needed to cover my monthly expenses.
I have difficulty assigning budgets.
I sometimes buy things I can’t afford.
I’m unable to save up money for big expenses.
I forget to open letters and bills.
I have problems organising important documents.
I forget to do important things like apply for unemployment.
I forget to return important forms.
I have difficulty replying to important emails.
I have difficulty writing job application letters.
I get upset about making phone calls to companies and organisations.

PERSONAL CARE

I don’t take regular showers.
I don’t brush my teeth regularly.
I have difficulty remembering to put on deodorant.
I wear the same underwear for several days in a row.
I sometimes forget to shave my armpits even when I’m wearing something sleeveless.
I bite my nails and nail beds, sometimes until they bleed.
I pull out my hair.
I pick my nose even in public.
I sometimes forget to go to the toilet and end up wetting myself.
I forget to eat breakfast.
I usually have no energy to make dinner.
I postpone making appointments for the dentist, the doctor, and the hairdresser.

HOUSEHOLD

I don’t do my dishes regularly.
I don’t clean my kitchen work area regularly.
I don’t vacuum and clean my floors regularly.
I don’t clean my toilet and bathroom regularly.
I don’t do laundry regularly.
I don’t maintain my garden.
I don’t tidy up after myself.
I leave my dirty clothes in a pile on the floor.
I forget to throw food out when it’s gone bad.
I often use knives and plates from the day before.
I forget to bring empty bottles to the recycling bin.
I don’t change my sheets regularly.
I sometimes forget to take out the garbage.
I have problems keeping my clothes and shoes organised.
I forget to water my plants.
I don’t clean the cat’s litter box daily.
I have problems throwing away things I have no use for.

WORK

I’m often late.
I call in sick too often.
I don’t know how to pick my battles or agree on small things even when privately disagreeing.
I don’t know how to voice my opinion in an empathetic, non-confrontational way.
I get very upset when my own priority list gets changed by my manager.
I have difficulty handling criticism that I think is unfounded.
I don’t know how to handle tasks I have no knowledge of.
I have difficulty asking for help.
I try to postpone phone calls to customers as long as possible.
I have difficulty answering emails when I don’t have a real answer yet.
I always follow unimportant rules (like no private internet use at work, or wash up your own coffee cups).
I get upset when other people don’t follow those rules.
I get confused when there are implicit rules that nobody says out loud.
I have problems with lying to customers to protect the company’s interests.
I have difficulty handling unscheduled meetings.
I get upset when people are talking close by or when the radio is on while I’m trying to work.
I get upset when a ceiling light malfunctions.
I don’t like company outings that involve more than just having a couple of drinks.
I have difficulty joining coworkers for lunch unless explicitly invited.

FAMILY AND RELATIONSHIPS

I forget to congratulate people on their birthday.
I forget to plan a visit or send a card when someone has just had a baby.
I don’t often take initiative to meet up with family or friends.
I don’t call family or friends to ask how they are.
I forget to give small compliments.
I need to be explicitly told that information is private and not meant to be told to others.
I have difficulty not focusing on solutions when someone tells me about their problems.
I have problems in the early stages of a relationship because I get obsessed with the person.
I don’t know how to keep a conversation going when I’m not interested in the subject.
I rehearse conversations in advance.
I get upset when someone is late.
I don’t know how to talk to others about my own emotions.
I feel more connected to my cat and my books than to most people.
I often have trouble thinking about what someone else likes to do, unless they tell me.
I don’t know how to introduce myself to strangers.
I often say inappropriate things.
I often take things too seriously.
I have problems not interrupting people when I think of something interesting to say.
I get very upset when I think people are not listening to me.
I am too trusting of strangers.

FEELINGS

I have problems coping with changes in plans.
I always order the same things in fast food places.
I have irrational food dislikes that I disguise as allergies.
I get upset when I’m in a crowd.
I get very upset from loud or ongoing noise.
I get upset in brightly lit environments.
I don’t like having the TV on.
I have problems personalising my environment (like hanging up pictures).
I have problems disconnecting from dreams on waking up.
I have problems watching thriller or horror movies and knowing it’s not real.
I don’t get anything done when I’m sick or in pain.
I get angry when being complimented on something that I think is undeserved.
I get stuck on things needing to be perfect.
I hide in my bedroom for weeks when I feel unable to cope with things.
I hate myself when looking at this list.
I want to be perfect.
I don’t want to be normal.

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45 thoughts on “Lists are an autistic thing, but they’re not an impairment

  1. I can’t imagine how hard it was to do this, but congratulations, it is well thought out, thorough, and specific without sounding desperate (because if any part of you is desperate, you’re just desperate to be taken seriously…or at least that’s my guess).

    When you make up your list of things that you are awesome at, make sure to include “handling emotionally painful situations with a rational approach,” “understanding myself,” and “being a boss.”

    I think I also have to say that I could say about 90% of these are true of myself (with the other 10% being different but also annoying and hard to admit to), and I don’t think you’ll find any lack of support or sympathy with your followers.

    BUT I really have to say that I’m excited that you posted your “list of things you suck at” at approximately the same time I posted my “list of things I wish people didn’t expect me to defend”…and I now feel special warm and fuzzy internet stranger bonding feelings even though mine is supposed to be funny and yours is, well, not. The difference is in the presentation, not in the facts. And really the great part is that we are both exceptional at making lists. Go us.

  2. I think this is great. Well, that’s maybe not quite the right word for it. Things about impairments.

    Because I HATE HATE HATE admitting I have any impairments and I can’t even imagine making a giant list of them. So if you are anything like me (and it seems like you are), then it must have been so ridiculously, amazingly difficult to make this list.

    Because admitting that I can’t do anything (especially things I should be able to do) is scary and not safe. So it would be so so difficult when its necessary to demonstrate the impairment. To know things and find things out and figure things out and have other people know.

    So that sounds hard.

    And I’m sending electronic good luck and wishing wells and such to you.

    • The wells are *so* much appreciated. Because yes, I think this is one of the hardest and most painful things I have done in my life. It’s not the same as not being aware of them… I know they’re there. But it’s a whole different thing to see them in one giant fucking list.

    • Everyone is different. 🙂 I know that some things that are actually fairly easy for me are much harder for other autistic adults, so in some things I am lucky as well. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it covers my personal situation. Still, I hope that like you, others will see some things they recognise. We’re not alone. I’m not alone. And I’m not normal. And I don’t want to be. 🙂

  3. Pingback: Lists are an autistic thing, but they’re not an impairment | JesseGarboden

  4. Kind of an interesting thing…in that, I know I don’t have autism, but I still related to many of the items on your lists. It seems like making these lists must have taken a good deal of courage: facing yourself, your habits, your symptoms, head-on. I just wanted to thank you for sharing. for being open and honest about yourself and your life. It really helped me, as you model courage/honesty/authenticity, some things I am seeking in my own life. Blessings…thanks.

  5. I see so much of my own situation in your list. Not the underarm shaving ;), but plenty of others. I know what it costs to compile a list like this: how exhausting and emotional the process is. Heck, I got wiped out for 2 days just listing 20 situations that make me anxious as part of my recent therapy.

    The list is bleak, and I’m having to remind myself that it’s entirely one-sided: it’s all deficits, and… I’ve got tears welling up because thinking about every single item in this “one giant fucking list” at once is so damned painful!! There are fewer barriers to empathy with another person on the autistic spectrum because you know. That’s a good thing: empathy is good, because without it there is no compassion.

    So, I’ll try to restore some balance by sharing kittens, rainbows and “dappled sunlight through the first new leaves of spring”, and sending you my best wishes.

    • And new pennies, which have a magic of their own. 🙂

      It was crazy and horrible to write this, and I’m sorry it was painful for you to read as well! But I agree that empathy is a very good thing (and it shows once again that autistic people have absolutely no problems with instinctive empathy except sometimes when it comes to people with a different neurology than them… and we can learn to have empathy with them as well).

      Thank you *hugs*

      • I think you are very, very brave in being able to do such a list. I would be overwhelmed. I would be very overwhelmed. Virtual hugs and a great “bravo, I am proud of you for managing to write this”.

        (about daily showers: they are overrated unless it’s really very hot outside (but you do not live in a hot country) or you work in a very dirty environment. I am not a great example myself, even though my country’s culture is of daily showers. But I never ever admit this in public. And now I really hope nobody can ever recognize me from my comments under this alias…).

        I relate to some of the items on the list as well, either exactly as they are described by you or in a different variant of the same difficulty. I am not autistic, as I am mostly good with communication (though there are a couple of spots where I have difficulties) and I am lucky that I can only personally relate to some of the difficulties you have, but I must admit that I read the list as fast as I could because it was starting to get uncomfortable.

        So, again, you are a brave person.

  6. Well done for being able to write and publish this. Perfectionism is *the worst* sometimes. I think it’s important to remember that nobody’s perfect, just that society deems the typical flaws of one neurotype more acceptable than the typical flaws of others. And that’s not your fault at all. Stay strong! 🙂

    • Thanks! I do beat myself up on occasion about some/most things on this list, but never all at the same time, and most of the time I simply get on with my life and don’t worry about the stuff that I’m not good at. I need to keep reminding myself that I was doing FINE until I realised I got fired quite an awful lot, which is just one small segment of what I’ve listed here. But between you and me? I’M PERFECT THE WAY I AM. 😛

  7. I’m too groggy to comment constructively on this, so instead: I relate to a lot of stuff on that list. A lot. I’m sorry it was painful for you to write.

    And perfectionism sucks.

  8. I’m sorry you have to do this. I remember the point I realized in order to get my son the dignosis/resources he needed I had to stop presented a balanced view of him and just put forth the negatives. It’s a soul sucking thing to be forced to do. I hope you do make a list of things you are awesome at doing. I would love to read it.

    • The funny thing is. My partner is from the UK. We don’t see each other very often. His 14 year old son is probably on the spectrum. Recently, about three weeks ago, the son finally got a referral to a hospital where they would interview him to see if he qualifies for further testing. And I talked to my partner about having to highlight the negatives, and talking to his son beforehand about how it would feel to hear his dad say all those things. Saying it might be an idea to discuss strategies with his son. Warning him that he might have to exaggerate things so that the problems would get taken seriously.

      Son said afterwards that yes it was painful, but he didn’t think his dad had exaggerated anything. Those were his problems, and it was time to face up to that.

      That courage, that incredible strength, from a 14 year old boy, is what helped me the most in putting together this list.

  9. Thanks for this. I really respect the courage and self-awareness and self-acceptance that it took to make this list. I think I’m still too far in denial to make a list for myself (and if I did I’d probably curl up in a little ball and obsess over everything on it) but knowing that there are others experiencing these things really does help. I really hope things go well for you.

  10. I am so sorry you’re having to prove your autism. I fortunately never had to prove it in this way to a diagnostician. I however have had to prove my autism and other disabilities to people supposed to be in the same boat, like other disabled people. I remember at one point that the writers of Autistics.org did a list like this one to prove their genuine autism to parents of “low-functioning” autistics who were discrediting them.

    • Thank you. It’s not a fun list but the more people who say they can relate, the more it feels to me like a burden we can help each other carry. We’re stronger than most people suspect. We’ve been doing this for most of our lives.

  11. Pingback: Lists on Lists and Lists of Lists | Notes On Crazy

  12. Pingback: I’m not broken | ...autisticook

  13. I’m also drafting my list. It’s quite different from yours, but every Aspie is different. I am drafting my list because I’m in the early stages of my “coming out” and people are doubting that I am on the spectrum. I need to show some proof, if only to convince myself.
    Found your blog via Musings of an Aspie. Thanks for blogging!

    • Thank you for commenting! And good luck with your “coming out”. It is hard, especially when people keep saying “but you’re so high functioning!” or “but everyone has problems like that!”. The list here is extremely negative (which I needed to show “lijdenslast” at the diagnostic interview), but I’ve also got a more balanced, fun list elsewhere on this blog.

  14. Pingback: Point, Counterpoint, Actual Point: A Collaborative Blog Series | Notes On Crazy

  15. So this definitely qualifies as a one of those awkward blog comments where I’m commenting on something that was posted like…months ago, because I happened to be reading back through your blog posts about diagnosis and such, and just couldn’t help myself. I wanted to just say: I do virtually every single thing on your list. Quite literally. The only exceptions I can think of are that:
    1. I live and die by tactile hypersensitivity, so I love showers/water, and tend to be rather particular about keeping my clothes soft/not badly textured (not the same thing as clean).
    2. There’s totally a version of me that is excessively direct and argumentative and stubborn in discussing things I know a lot about (I’ve been described as a “spontaneous TED talk” before)…but most of the time I actually have more trouble because I’m very malleable/conflict-averse. So I have a very well-developed ability to state my opinion in such a indirect, roundabout way that people don’t even notice I’m doing it. I say “ability” here in the most ironic sense, because being so oblique when asserting yourself that other people don’t even notice that you’re trying to assert anything at all…isn’t actually the greatest trait ever.

    But yeah. I kind of love this list, though. Me and food is like: “Where are the places with the foods that I eat? Go to nearest place. How much food is necessary? If normal food amount is necessary, get What-I-Order-Here. If large food amount is necessary, get two of it. The end.”
    And I’d never considered the “inability to personalize environment” thing as being an autistic thing before, but now that you mention it, IT MAKES SO MUCH SENSE. I’ve always gotten remarks from people about my not putting stuff up on walls/doors/lockers in any of my environments. But like, I’m not going to go shopping just to buy “personal” things to put on flat surfaces, all of my actual “personal” things I’d prefer not to keep semi-permanently fastened to a wall, and all stuff on walls either 1. Falls off absurdly quickly, and has to be constantly put back up, OR 2. Never falls, merges symbiotically with the surface it’s attached to, and when you have to clear out your space, you can’t get it off without a jackhammer. Honestly, I tend to distribute my belongings in a possessive layer over all space that’s considered “mine” anyways. My decorating style is “Putting my stuff in the place where my stuff goes.” It works great.
    Also, when I was reading this, and I got to the title of that first list-section, I immediately said to myself out loud “NOPE! GROSS.” and skipped to the next section. Because nope. Gross. Important Valuable Social Paper is the Worst Kind of Paper.

    • Ha! It’s not awkward at all, I love getting comments, no matter how old the post is. And comments like yours always add valuable insights and personal stories. (In fact, sometimes the comments are the best bit of a blog). I do it too, by the way – going through entire blogs, reading all the older posts, and commenting whenever something strikes a chord with me.

      The tactile hypersensitivity is very recognisable to me, although mine isn’t very pronounced. I can usually deal with most fabrics, but I do have “sheet days”, where even the touch of the softest cotton on my skin is too much. And I LOVE the feel of water on my skin. Just not in shower form.

      Your description of “spontaneous TED talk” made me giggle. When we get in that mood, there’s hardly anything that can stop us, is there? 🙂 But yeah, the wanting to assert yourself without asserting yourself… totally get that. I think it might be because we’ve been criticised so often for coming out with the “wrong” things to say that it makes us want to go unnoticed or disappear into the woodwork. But our sense of “this is not right” won’t let us shut up. It’s hard.

      • My belated reply!
        Yeah, the tactile hypersensitivity is an odd thing, because I feel like it’s different for everyone. Some people seem to be sensitive to touch (i.e. slight pressure, or contact), whereas others are sensitive to texture (anything rough, itchy, sticky, etc.). I have only minor problem with touch, as long as it’s gentle, but have huge issues with texture. I also, coincidentally, have only minor problems with sound volume, but huge issues with sound timbre (like dissonance, reverb, static). Apparently both textural touch and textural sound involve the same kinds of sensory receptor cells, separate from touch pressure and sound volume. COOL SCIENCE!

        There really isn’t anything that can stop it, no. The NT friends I have have learned to enjoy/accept it when it happens, the smart ones have figured out that they just need to like…sit there and like, laugh if it sounds like I’m trying to be funny. And yeah, I always get annoyed when super-feminist adults/authority figures get frustrated with me (and girls in general) for prefacing my comments with an apology. Like, if you want me to stop apologizing for speaking, you probably shouldn’t yell at me every time I apologize. That “This is not right!” thing is SUCH A THING. I giggled at that. I have had so many conversations with professors/people where the other person was trying to get me to go along with some plan, or idea, and I literally just sat there arguing until I finally just shouted “BUT IT’S WRONG.” So. Many. Times.

  16. I just found your blog (through another site, which I can’t remember) and have been going through and reading a lot of your posts. My psychologist brought up the possibility of my having Asperger’s & I’ve been reading a lot about it since then. I keep thinking that I’m over-relating to find ‘excuses’ or seeing things that aren’t there (or I’ll see one thing I don’t relate to and convince myself I’m wrong because of that one thing) so I’m having a difficult time figuring myself out, right now. But seeing blogs like yours is really great. I relate to so much of this list (and a lot of what I’ve read elsewhere). Not the showering/hygiene stuff because I get really anxious if I feel ‘dirty’ but most of the rest is very relatable.

    I went to a psychiatrist who basically said ‘why would you want to have Asperger’s, people with Asperger’s are horrible and cold and unfeeling, I know because that’s what my husband and child are like’ and I was kind of too stunned to say anything. She was trying to compliment me by saying I wasn’t like that but, wow.

    Sorry, didn’t want to tell you my life story on an old post! I’m going to go read some more posts, now, and stop my rambling!

  17. Wow. Thank you. I am pursuing treatment and/or disability certification and this helps me so much. I could check off nearly everything on your lists and I am pretty sure that I could find alternative issues for the things I can’t.

    I don’t have a formal diagnosis for Autism and don’t know if I’ll be able to pursue it, but this list really helps me enumerate the impairments I suffer due to fibromyalgia and depression, for which I *do* have a diagnosis.

    Again, thank you.

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