I am not a natural at bowling.
In fact, if the barriers on the lane are not up, I will almost definitely score nothing and the game will be decidedly un-fun (for me and anyone in my general vicinity). I do not have the coordination and spacial awareness to run the ball straight down the lane; it’s going to spin, so I might as well accept that.
Despite this, however, I managed to win two out of the three games (the third game I lost by mere five points) that I played against my dad and brother this weekend.
My brother was close to throwing a bemused wobbly all over the bowling lanes – how could I win when I did literally everything the exact opposite to the way you are supposed to do when bowling?
I’ll tell you how I did it (I told him with absolutely definitely no smugness). I did it by accepting what I couldn‘t do, and working to understand and improve what I could do with it. In the case of bowling, I learnt how to bounce the balls off the barriers to hit the pins where I needed to hit them. And, although it may have been unorthodox, it clearly worked out well for me.
But why, oh why, am I talking about this? Has there ever been a more tedious topic to blog about?
Well, I realised last night, as I basked in my unexpected success, that this is a a pretty good metaphor for the best way I’ve found to live my autistic life.
There’s a pretty common ‘inspirational quote’ that says: it’s not the destination, it’s the journey. I’m not a hundred percent sure I can agree with that. Of course the journey is important, but focusing too much on how I’m doing things, rather than whether I’ve achieved what I set out to achieve (or achieved something entirely unexpected in the process) has brought me nothing but uncertainty and self doubt.
There’s an expectation that there’s a certain way you should do things. There’s a way you should live your life, a way you should socialise with other people, a way you should manage your workload, a way you should answer that question and a way you should conduct yourself in any given situation . And the pressure to abide by that expectation – to ensure your journey follows that exact path – is immense, often, for me, at the expense of not actually reaching my destination at all.
The moment when I realised it was okay to work with what I have, rather than trying to work with what other people expected me to have, was the moment when I began to ever so slowly get closer to those destinations.
I may not be achieving something in ‘the right way’. But I am, nonetheless, achieving it.
Peope spend so much time talking about what we can’t do as autistic people, and how to fix or try to regain some of those ‘deficits’, that the world loses sight of what we can achieve with what we have.
I struggle to socialise with people in the ‘traditionally’ acceptable way. So instead I interact with people in the way I know how – and, as a result, I have friends who like me for the way I actually am, and am able to socialise in situations that make me feel genuinely comfortable.
In the same way, I can approach a problem from a completely different angle than other people might, and have often been able to come up with a much simpler, more streamlined process to the one people have been using because ‘that’s the way we’re supposed to do it’. If they just let me nip down that interesting-looking side path, I can sometimes find a way that enables the whole team to avoid the uphill, bumpy road.
Admittedly, this doesn’t work in every situation. If I wanted to be a paramedic, but couldn’t do CPR in the traditional way, then I should probably rethink whether it’s sensible to be a paramedic (rather than find my own ‘unique’ method of performing the manoeuvre) . But, then again, stepping back and taking a bigger reroute to something that I can do (or that I can apply my ‘find a way that works for me’ method to) is the most important form of personal adaptation.
This whole idea is applicable to more than just employment – it’s relevant to almost every scenario you can think of.
It’s trying to communicate through sign rather than attempting to force a non-verbal autistic person into spoken language.
It’s saying: ‘huh, the way we’re supposed to do it doesn’t work for me. Maybe if I tried this way instead because it feels more comfortable…’
It’s about recognising that, okay, this person can’t do that, and we should keep that in mind whilst moving on with the strengths they do have.
It’s not about how you throw the ball, but how many pins you can knock over at the end of it.
And then it’s about trying a different game if the damned things still won’t fall over.