Importance of Clear Instructions for an Autistic Person (Car Wash Example)

Here’s an example of why clear instructions can be important for an autistic person. I’m using car wash as an example because I’ve hand washed them before.

If I’m told to do a good job washing a car, I might spend too much time removing tough stains and cleaning hard to see or reach areas, spending unrealistic amounts of work and time to get the job done.

Instead of making sure that the wheels of the car look clean, I might make sure that the water from wringing out the used towel can’t look any cleaner.

Instead of just spraying the top of a tall vehicle, or a vehicle’s bottom edge or crevices with water and removing only the obvious stains, I might go as far as carefully wiping it with a towel, and wiping it dry until it’s hard to see the stains close up.

If there’s areas difficult to reach with a vacuum cleaner’s hose such as under car seats, I might adjust them for vacuuming rather than just remove objects underneath by hand even though I’ve already done it recently.

If I feel that I missed some areas, I might go back and carefully look for hard to find stains rather than see the whole car as a clean car.

You can see problems with this.

One of the reasons I feel the need to tell others that I’m autistic is that clear instructions are necessary, it’s easy to be distracted by irrelevant details, I take things literally, and have difficulties reading non-verbal social cues which may be used as feedback.

The earlier clear instructions are given, the better.

It’s a little clearer to say “make sure that the car looks clean” or say “you don’t need to clean where it’s hard to see” rather than saying “make sure that you do a very good job” because I have a better idea of where to focus. I’m more likely to see the car like their friends see it.

I can misinterpret “do a better job”, as pay even more attention to details rather than do what’s relevant.

If told to work faster, I might scrub even harder or faster.

Questions to ask might be “does the car look clean?” while standing at a distance from the car.

Things that I might try include: watch people do the work, read articles about it, watch videos about it, ask for feedback, and ask questions about what’s needed to be done.

To avoid repeating the same mistakes, I’ll have to remember not to thoroughly clean difficult to see areas for my next car wash.

It’s possible that other autistic people have more or less difficulty in this area. They can be affected in different ways.

Other areas that benefit from clear instructions may include:

  • Jobs
  • Homework
  • Lab work
  • Chores
  • Socializing
  • Social cues
  • How much is too much or too little when expressing emotions?
  • Gift giving
  • How much time to spend with friends
  • Conversations
  • How much details to give when telling others about yourself or your interests
  • How to have eye contact without staring because eye contact is considered important
  • Other rules for socializing

 

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