Organisation: beyond the stereotype

There is a long standing assumption among many NAPS (Non Autistic People – more accurate than Neuro-typical in my opinion), that autistic people are very organised, neat and tidy. Everything has its place. Everything is neatly filed. But this view/stereotype is very simplistic and even downright wrong. I would like to emphasise that we are all different. It sounds so obvious that it seems superfluous to write this down, but the obvious can be forgotten – once you have met one person with autism , you have only met one person with autism. If there is one thing that you need to understand, please keep this circular sentence in mind.

What is organisation? The Collins English Dictionary says that it is to ”arrange systematically – the files are organized in alphabetical order and by date”; to be ”orderly and efficient”. It is true that people with autism can be well organised in a very isolated area of their life. For example, when I was obsessed with the actress Kate Winslet, I methodically and systematically transcribed all her interviews, and efficiently watched all her films. I would have been an organised Winslet expert. Unfortunately, however, most of my life was disorganised. My backpack was full of tatty paper. I struggled to organise my homework. My room was like a pig-sty.

I became more organised on an academic level as I approached the end of my teens. Learning how to organise and complete homework took many years of practice and parental supervision, but I eventually acquired the skills. I attained a 2.1 University Degree in History. However, I must emphasise that when I was at University, I was lucky enough to still be living with my parents. Mum and Dad cooked my meals; bought food; did the laundry; tidied my room;  kept my files neat and tidy. I could therefore focus on studying, and so I could make full use of my hyper focus without the everyday demands of daily life getting in the way. Outside of studying, there was nothing to organise! I certainly could not study and organise my life at the same time.

Almost 8 years have passed since I have completed my Degree. My room is still a mess. Paper-work is all over the place because I don’t know how to keep it in order. My parents fill in forms on my behalf, manage my finances, and help me navigate daily life.

My sensory issues negatively affect organisation because I struggle to block out background noise, and this means that I have less processing power to make decisions, get things done,  and attend to important tasks. The busier my life becomes, the harder it is for me to function. I cannot multi-task, which means I can only keep tab on one task or piece of information at a time. Too many demands, too much information, and I rapidly reach a point of overload and mental exhaustion. My mind freezes, thoughts fail to flow, and I find it hard to move. Time ticks by and nothing much gets done. Life can run very slowly and inefficiently because of organisation difficulties.

Please understand that not  all autistic people have a neat and tidy desk, books neatly arranged on the shelves , and colour-coded clothes. Many autistic people struggle with organisation in a variety of areas, and this can be very disabling. Stereotypes can be hurtful because they overlook how disabling autism can be for many people. Stereotypes can artificially inflate expectations, and they can negatively affect a person’s self-esteem: I must be defective because I  can’t keep my room tidy. I read somewhere that autistic people are good at keeping things organised. I am more alone than ever! 

Every autistic person is good at something. Some autistic people have an eye for detail. Some autistic people are good at computers. Some autistic people are good at writing works of fiction. Some autistic people are artists. Some autistic people are very articulate and have a flair for language.

Every Non-Autistic-Person (NAP) is good at something.  Some have an eye for detail and are good at computers.  Some can write good works of fiction. Some become artists. Some are very articulate and have a flair for language.

Please spot the difference in the above two statements.

Once you have met one person with autism, you have met one person with autism.

Once you have met one NAP, you have met one NAP!




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