After climbing the Great Wall of China with my teachers and classmates from my study abroad program, I realized something. When I have a really obvious coping mechanism or solution where you can tell I'm doing something unusual, they're really fast to come offer help. But when I ask for help with something everyone else seems to be able to just do, they're not really sure what I need and I'm probably not going to get what I need. This is really frustrating, because guess what? When I've got the obvious coping mechanism going on, that means that I've got a solution! I probably don't need help! I've got this!
When I'm asking for help (which is one of the things I'm really bad at,) there's something I need help with. It means there's a problem where I don't have a good solution. If it's something that most people my age are expected to be able to just do, that's thought of as simple? Chances are, I don't even have a bad solution that drains my energy like woah, because even those are less draining than spending a long time explaining that I can't do the thing, why I can't do the thing, what help I need, and probably still having to use my bad solution anyways because “I should know how to do this.” Yeah um... I'm well aware that most people can do the thing. I am well aware that pretty much the entire rest of the world thinks FAFSA is annoying but simple while Real Analysis is complicated and hard. I am well aware that my thinking Real Analysis is simple but FAFSA is made of pain and misfortune is weird. This is not even vaguely news. Telling me this is not even vaguely helpful.
Not helping me (or thinking that giving me the first step will magically solve the problem even after I've told you it won't) isn't actually helping me, because I'm not going to magically gain these skills just because you think I should have them. Not tolerating the lack of certain skills doesn't make them appear. It just means not tolerating the people who happen to lack those skills. Which, um, not cool much? Also going to exclude people who have the skills needed to do the job but not to get the job in the first place, which is counterproductive for you too!
So reality moment: Writing a cover letter to ask for a job is hard for everyone, being worried about the fact that I need to be walked through it step by step every time is OK (it worries me too sometimes!) but deciding to worry while not giving me said walk-through is worse than useless. Telling me that FAFSA and scholarship applications and other burecratic paperwork are simple but boring isn't helpful, though if that's what they are for you, helping me get them done totally is! Because guess what? For me, those aren't simple. I'd rather sit my Complex Analysis final again. Maybe the whole 3-finals-in-a-row day, at least I understood what was being asked and how to answer those problems.
Yeah, I'm conventionally “smart” in a lot of ways. I do ridiculously well on standardized tests. Like, 8th grade me got higher on the SATs than most of the high schoolers taking it to try to get into college. In 10th grade I sat the physics subject SAT on about a weeks notice and one hour with a study guide, and I got an 800. I passed an AP test for a class I never even took. (US History, in case you were wondering.)
I'm still cognitively disabled. Folks tend not to get how that works until they watch me crying over an attempt at organization, or FAFSA, or other bureaucratic paperwork, or maybe it's a personality multiple choice test that doesn't have an other option and no I can't just choose one they are all wrong so I just have to exit out of the whole thing. Yes, I mean those buzzfeed sorts of quizzes people my age seem to like to take, though surveys sent by my school and FAFSA applications have both done this to me too. Probably about half of my attempts at those end with me melted down and the quiz not actually done. Maybe it's a particularly open-ended assignment at school where the teacher is refusing to limit my options because it's supposed to be open-ended and I'm trying to explain that if they don't limit my options I can't do the assignment at all and for goodness sake limiting my options on an open-ended assignment should be a reasonable accommodation. Tell me what I am supposed to do and there is at least a chance that I can do it. Tell me the point is to give me options and I will look at the assignment and have no clue what it is that's even being asked for and therefore come up with nothing. Heck, give me a list with a note at the bottom saying that the list isn't exhaustive. I mean, I'll almost certainly do my project on: 1) Something from the list, 2) Why the premise of list item X is terrible, or 3) Why items X and Y from the list have relation Z, but I at least have a project chosen from within the acceptable space of projects.
Back to the point: Obvious coping mechanism doesn't automatically mean help is needed, though offering is nice and I swear I won't be mad at you for offering me help. [If I say I'm fine and then you insist on what you think is helpful anyways, especially if it involves touching me or my things without permission, I will be mad.] Asking for help means there is a big freaking problem and if you don't help on the basis of “you should be able to do this” then I probably think you are terrible. If you're not sure what it is that I need, you can and should ask, because I know that my needs seem a little incongruous with other abilities. I'm totally willing to explain what help I need, as long as you're not going to then tell me you won't do it because then I won't learn or some such nonsense. That is a thing that people have done, as is worrying about me/talking about this worry behind my back because I asked for help but not actually providing the help (why would you ever do that?)
And yes, I've gotten pretty good at explaining what it is I need from those occasions where people are actually willing to provide said help. It's still more energy than most other people are spending, because the explanations take energy and the way I do the things with supports are often still more draining for me than they are for the folks who think it's “simple.” That's a kind of tired that I've learned to calculate for, because it's reality. It's just when I manage the request and the explanation only to not get the help because of some idea of what I should be able to do that I'm stuck, because I can't exactly calculate for “have to do things I am not capable of doing.”