Friday, July 26, 2013

Fail Set Explained

Of all the issues those on the autism have to face one of the biggest hurdles is a fail set mindset. To put simply, fail set is thinking, "since I failed the first time I should never try again because whatever is now is forever and since I failed once I will fail forever." This has always been the way I described it but then earlier today I came up with a visual example to explain this.

To explain this I'm going to use the solitaire variant of Klondike. If you don't know the game you can click on the link, but I think most people have at least of a little understanding of the game. Anyway, I've spent many a hour in real-life or on the computer playing it (remember a long time ago when you would win on the computer version and the cards would come flying and bouncing out... those were good times!) and as the cards are dealt it is always good to have a great start, like this one which I dealt out. In this example all the aces are exposed and able to be moved up and there are two kings which can be moved to the right letting the cards underneath it be unturned and there's a 2 which can be joined with the ace. All in all this is a dream start and there's a lot of potential that this game can be won.

Now how does this have anything to do with fail set? Let's take this next example:

In this example there are no moves to begin the game and there are already two kings on the left-hand side. Where as this game does have potential  if a black queen or black 10 is unveiled a person in a fail set mindset won't even try because, after all, what's the point? Since right now there are no moves there will always be no moves therefore what is the point in proceeding?

Whether it's from parents, or teachers, this is probably the #1 thing I hear in terms of areas of concern. When trying to learn a new concept in school, whether it is learning about adverbs, or going into fractions in math, or later in life navigating the work environment, fail set is a constant issue lurking around every corner. I firmly believe that this fail set is the reason as to why the unemployment rate, per this article on states the unemployment rate is a staggering 80%! With a fail set mindset a person with Asperger's might have already relegated her or his self to unemployment just from hearing that stat because, since it's a vast majority, what's the point in trying?

Fail set can also be created within the schools. If a person is bullied throughout their school career what motivation is there to leave the house when school is over with? Within the confines of home there aren't others to bully, and since being bullied happened that means it's always going to happen therefore why try?

Another possible creation of fail set, and this happened to me, is if we get to the workplace and we have issues. I deeply struggled with the social aspect of working; I could do the actual job just fine but when it came to interacting with my coworkers I had no idea that I seemed "standoffish" or if I "fully loathed everyone else" but I did and there was friction. The end result was often employment that lasted about 6-9 months and then the friction became too great and I would just quit on the spot. This happened four times and there wasn't a fifth job until I started working at TouchPoint.

Fail set is something that can be combatted, but understanding it is the first key. Those whose minds don't operate on that system have a very hard time understanding it which is why I got super excited when I came up with the solitaire example as a visual aid in describing it. It's difficult for me to understand how one doesn't think this way, that of if failure is done once then that is always the outcome. But yes, it can be combatted in ways. One is, in school, slowly transition into new materials and before one is truly put to the test make sure the person knows it. Secondly, and I'm so thankful I've spoken to about 7,500 students, is better understanding and awareness of those around us. Look, words hurt and if a person in constantly poked and prodded about their "quirks" and maybe even physically bullied then, under the fail set, this means this will be the reality forever. It is very easy for a person to be resigned and accept a fate of failure and not trying and be part of the 80% even before they reach the age of employment. And when it comes to the workplace, understanding of those around us is important but also trying to raise the understanding of workplace politics and etiquette (this blog post is a great example of a mistake I made.)

 I have always said and firmly believe that "understanding is the foundation for hope" and I hope this post, with the visual aid, has added just a little bit of knowledge to you about the challenges of fail set and the way our minds on the autism spectrum sometimes, unfortunately, think.


  1. This really hits home for me and my sons. My oldest's first job ended with him quitting and co-workers wondering why he hated them. My youngest struggles with beginning anything new as he is certain he will fail. This truly is a major hurdle for those on the spectrum and we need to make the mainstream folks understand!!

    1. For me, that is why I am working in occupational therapy as an aspie occupational therapist. I am very fortunate to have many neurotypical peers to provide me advices left and right. Coupled with my social media prowess (along with the fact that the owner/director and one of my co-workers already know me before I started this job), I am in great position to pass my 90 day probational period for my first OT job.

      If I were you, Nancy, I would work very hard to prepare both of your sons- not only in normal situations when it comes to anything new, but also potential unforeseen situations, too! The potential unforeseen situations are very important because mental flexibility is very important, particularly when it comes to job settings.

      I will give you an example. Two days ago, I thought I would be on a job orientation for my first day of work as a pediatric occupational therapist. Little did I know, I got a lot more hands on than I was expecting- particularly with babies and toddlers (something I had virtually no experience in prior to that). I was afraid I would fail, too. But the owner/director was patient with me and gave me some pointers to do better. As things turned out, it wasn't as hard as I thought. I just needed to refine some of the techniques to hold infants and learn what some of the things I have to do with these babies in detail. At the end of the day, even though it was an overwhelming day, I was proud of myself for being brave and mentally flexible for trying to learn.

  2. My thoughts on this article go not to your fail set discussion, which hits the nail on the head, but rather on the Forbes article you referenced for it. In it, someone stated that there was an 80% unemployment rate for people with Asperger's. While many may find that unbelievable (especially the comment by someone WITH Asperger's!) I had a discussion with someone from our Supported Employment department just yesterday. She was telling me about someone they found a job for who has Asperger's and has lost his job because, of all things, being SUCCESSFUL!!!

    How can this be, you ask? Because of his exceptional performance in his basic duties his employer loved him. He would get done so fast with his work that his employer would ask him to help some others or assign extra duties to him because he felt his great employee could handle it. Can you see what's happening? Yep, they threw off his routine and forced interaction with coworkers. He became so agitated that he ended up quitting this job.

    THIS is why there's such a high unemployment rate among people on the Autism spectrum. And, to that "gentleman" who made the comment on the Forbes article, HE needs to remember that saying I recently mentioned, "if you've met one person with Autism, you've only met one person with Autism."