Monday, June 20, 2011

The Invisible Order

I was going to write this for my 4th book that I am currently writing, but I couldn't sit on this concept for that long...

Recently, at a race, I experienced a frustrating event. This occurrence has happened to me many times and each time it happens it always leaves others a little angry and myself a little confused. Until I realized what was going on I always thought that something was just wrong with me, but I now know it is simply another aspect of being on the autism spectrum.

So, what event led me to this revelation? It was at a race, as I said, and it was at the end of the race day when it was time to pack up. Since this race was a traveling series all the items needed to be placed inside the trailer. There were eight of us and the packing started easy for me as I took down the caution lights and the corresponding equipment. Afterwards though, well, that is when the "Invisible Order" took control.

What is the "Invisible Order"? Is it a shadow government that operates in the, well, shadows? As much fun as it would be to write that story it, sadly, is not the topic. Anyway, the packing continued and I stood around trying to figure out what to do and where to go with myself. This has happened to me many times and in other situations I have been called lazy, aloof, or that I lack initiative. This isn't the case as it simply is that I lack the ability to understand the invisible order of the world.

So, to finally get around to answering my question, the invisible order is what I now call the process in which others communicate. To normal people this order may be fully visible and not mysterious at all, for me though I don't understand it at all. You see, as I stood in the trailer trying to figure out what the next step was the others always kept moving and kept working together without saying anything. Nothing was spoken! The other staff kept going from item to item and task to task without stating what was next. To me this order was fully invisible and I was amazed.

Maybe I am simply re-explaining the hardship that those have on the spectrum to pick up on, "non-verbal" cues. And maybe so, but I don't think it has ever been explained quite like this. I don't understand how the staff kept moving without skipping a beat or talking to each other. It was as if I was witnessing telepathy. When two people would pick up a big item that required two people to lift the item and teamwork to twist and turn to get it to where it needs to go the process went on without a hitch. Anytime I pick a heavy thing with someone else it is like trying to watch an ostrich ballet dance on a tight rope. In other words it is a complete disaster.

Because I lack the ability to understand this invisible order I have always been awkward in team work environments. When I worked at a kart shop I often when get asked why I wasn't loading the trailer when the time came. I never was able to give the right answer because I didn't understand it myself. At the time I answered, "Well, since I don't know where everything goes I'd rather do nothing than to do something and mess it up." This was partially true, but now I know the real reason is this invisible order.

Why is not understanding this invisible order a problem? It would sort of be like trying to play soccer at a baseball game. Yes, it is still a sport, but it is in the wrong environment. That's what happens to me, I am playing a sport, but not the right one at the right time. Or you could also say it's like doing a waltz at a rock concert. Because of that all that I do looks and feels out of place.

Once I defined this at the race I looked on with utter amazement at how effortlessly everyone else moved. It was magic, pure magic, and yet I still didn't pick up on how they knew what the other wanted.

In team settings, or simply among others, we may appear lazy, or un-energetic. This can come about because we are simply lost among the order that we can't figure out and also because it is tiring living in the world outside the invisible order. Trust me when I say that if you see me in that state I wish more than you can even begin to imagine that I wasn't in that state. I know I stick out and adding further duress on me isn't going to help. It isn't a choice and it isn't me being lazy or wanting others to do the work, but rather it is me not understanding the order of the environment. Others seem to naturally know, but I do not. When I try to join in it just gets more awkward as when I try to operate within the invisible order I just create visible chaos.

For those of you who can operate within "The Invisible Order" I want you to take a step back next time you are in an environment that requires some amount of team effort and imagine if you were me. Imagine watching all that was going on around you and being blind to the team work that happens. Imagine, when you are picking up an item with someone, that you always do the opposite of what the other person is expecting. It is a sight to behold, and if you aren't on the spectrum you may not realize the ease as to what is going on. With all this being so I ask you, the reader, next time you see a person on the spectrum in a situation where others are moving with ease and the person on the spectrum isn't doing much I ask that you don't get angry. Look around and notice the ease others are working. Movements aren't calculated and team work isn't spelled out with words. It simply happens without a visible reason and for us on the spectrum, well, the order with how people interact with each other is simply "The Invisible Order".


  1. Oh my god, I love this post! This is the first time I ever had someone else than me explaining this so dead on!
    Whenever I'm expected to help in a group (like setting up a tent for example), I immediatly tell them that when I stand still and do nothing, I'm probably just confused as to what to do. I ask them not to get angry, since to them it might look obvious what I have to do, and to not immediatly think I'm not taking initiative, but rather to first ask if I maybe don't know what to do. Then, if this is the case, simply tell me what I can do.
    Also, I tell them they shouldn't be scared of feeling like commanding. If they just put it friendly ("Issha, can you please...?"), I'll not take it as commanding, but just as guiding me.
    This way I know exactly what is expected of me, so I can help to my full potential, and the other doesn't feel too weird telling me what to do.
    This may seem at times that I'm needed to be told all the time what to do. This is not true, when I'm know a routine that's expected from me, I'll do it on my own accord. It's really when it's not clear what's expected that I do need someone to tell me. Don't just assume I know.

    Aaron, thank you so much for posting this. I'm definitely sharing this with as many people as I can and who are interested, since this can prevent so many unnecessary discussions.
    *hugs* ^_^

  2. I notice it myself as well. The worst part is that I want to help so much with cleaning up stuff that I am getting frustrated because I can't do a thing. That, in turn, leads to me understanding it even less which means I get more frustrated. That's why I am happy that some friends understand it so we now have a strict schedule saying who does what.

    Nice write up!

  3. This is something I have picked up rather quickly when working in my hand therapy clinical internship. I picked it up a couple hours and I had not much issues during my 6 months in the hand therapy clinic. (A hand therapy clinic is a very fast paced setting.) This is my attempt to breakdown this tacit act to you.

    Setting- A hand therapist with 2 assistants... and then I was the student intern.

    1. Trying to refresh my memory on range of motion testing. It was 2 years since I studied this when I started my first day. As I seen an evaluation or two in action, my memory came back.

    2. Because I studied commonly seen conditions before hand, the client's diagnosis gave me a clue on all the course of actions and precautions after I understood the routine!

    3. In this setting, my clinical instructor, her two workers and I had to be aware of how each client is doing (if the clinic is busy).

    4. The non-verbal part include- being aware of where the equipment(s) were in the room, what stage of therapy the client was at, who is currently using what, etc.

    Do I say this is easy? Absolutely not! But the more an individual with autism is trained to adapt to different situations AND that there is transfer of learning, this will become easier to a point that is tolerable.

  4. Yes! I am over 50 years old...but my friends know to tell me what to do (exactly) if they want my help. I have been called lazy my whole life! I really notice this when there's a bunch of people doing stuff in the kitchen. They all seem to have everything under control, and I rarely think of asking them if I can do anything...though I am able to ask...if I think of it. Then I need to know HOW they want the job done. HOW do you want these potatoes cut...size? shape? This actually does fry my brain. But when I'm in charge of my own kitchen, I either don't want help at all...or I want it done MY way. I think I'm a pain.