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Guide to Writing About Me

I am an Autistic person,not a person with autism. I am also not Aspergers. The diagnosis isn't even in the DSM anymore, and yes, I agree with the consolidation of all autistic spectrum stuff under one umbrella. I have other issues with the DSM.

I don't like Autism Speaks. I'm Disabled, not differently abled, and I am an Autistic activist. Self-advocate is true, but incomplete.

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MLA: Zisk, Alyssa Hillary. "Post Title." Yes, That Too. Day Month Year of post. Web. Day Month Year of retrieval.

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Thursday, September 19, 2013

My Problem With Homework

Trigger Warning: Uh. I was triggered when writing it and re-reading it triggers me more, but I am not sure what warning to give. School stuff, generally related to teachers mistaking the results of executive dysfunction for other problems and acting on that mistake?

I read the shoes post. If you don't know what post that is, you should probably go read it now. No, really. Go read it. Now.
The whole thing is important. But what I'm thinking about right now is mostly the executive functioning stuff. Because that's a problem I have too. 
She even told my mother that she wouldn't let me read at my level until I had nice handwriting.
That's one thing I was never told, though I did get banned from handwriting my math homework twice. I was told that I couldn't get math classes that were appropriate to my level because I needed to learn to get organized. It doesn't work like that. Keeping me out of work that I can do doesn't make aspects of my disability go away. It just doesn't. Never did, never will. I'm not going to magically gain the ability to do daily homework because I'm suddenly in an easier class, or fewer classes, or whatever else.
I had no trouble whatsoever grasping the academic content. It was not a challenge. Getting the work done was because the attitude was still "if you're so d*mn smart just do it, god, what are you stupid or something?"
I've been there. I've been there so much it's not even funny. No one said it in exactly those words, but I've been there. Usually I was lazy, which isn't true, bad at time management, which is kind of true but doesn't get at the root of the problem, or doing too much, which has sometimes been true but also wasn't the problem. The problem wasn't that I had too many other things I was trying to do. If that were the problem, I could have done my homework fine in sixth grade, when literally all I had other than school was Hebrew school for two hours three times a week. I still had problems. I got caught with homework for other classes under my desk fairly regularly in sixth grade. In seventh grade and later, I was just better at hiding it. I think eighth grade is the last time I got properly caught (I'm not counting the times that it was knitting or chainmail done openly and the teacher didn't like it, because that's not executive dysfunction. That's can't sit still well/coping mechanism for auditory processing stuff.) My record for most homework assignments completed between getting on the bus to school and the end of the day? Seven. All five "core" classes- math, science, social studies, English, Chinese, plus drama and an after school extra math class I was in because my school wouldn't put me in my level of math class until I got organized and that's a thing I'm not capable of doing myself. (No, they did not offer any help with doing so or methods I could use. Because if I'm so smart, I should be able to figure it out. Or something.) For reference, my classmate in that after school math class? She spent about six hours per week on that homework, aka basically the length of the school day, during which I went to seven classes and did six other assignments. I was fast. It wasn't always good, but it was done. Usually.
Teachers kept up with the "if you're so d*mn smart why are you so d*mn stupid?" and I stopped taking classes that were academically even a bit of a challenge-no one would help me get set up to do the work, so fine, I can pull a great GPA in classes that I can do actually in class.
My coping strategy was a bit different. My GPA was good but not great. I took classes that I could get done during school hours/on the bus to and from sports, with the exception of the occasional paper that would be done between 2am and the start of school on the due date. I'd go to sleep around 8pm as usual, then get up however early I estimated I needed to and hope for the best. My final exam story for English in 9th grade? Written between 12am and 7am on the due date. My research paper for high school? Written between 12am and 7am on the rough draft due date, not edited beyond the in-class edits we did between then and the final due date. Shorter papers were typically between 4am and 6am on the due date, and I've lost track of how many times I did that.

Now, for the problem. How do you get people to understand what the actual problem (executive dysfunction, I mean) is? I'm not sure. I've never managed it before. Never. [Edit: I have now managed it. In Chinese. Go figure.] In middle school, they didn't understand and so they wouldn't let me get into the classes I belonged in (for math, that would be ~2 grade levels ahead, everything else was to be in Honors/AP which didn't exist in middle school so that part's OK.) Well, except 8th grade when they had a pre/post test and I got higher on the pre-test end than most kids got on the post-test end, so the teacher ran around talking to people and got me an independent study. Which, um, hello? If I can't get my homework done, what makes you think an independent study is a good idea? It was better than properly being in the math class, since I was actually allowed to work on my other stuff during class time and could sometimes even do it, but it still wasn't what I needed. I need outside support of "you are working on this thing during this time" and I need stuff to be weekly at least. Not daily. Daily is a set up for failure.
In high school, they didn't understand the real issue, but there was a procedure for testing out of math classes and the independent study for 8th grade made it clear to everyone that I should be looking at that procedure. Also, Honors Pre-calculus didn't check the homework. AP Calculus BC only checked it three times all year, always with warning. I finished two of those three, and none of the others. I think I finished my Pre-calculus homework once? Maybe?
In college, you generally just need to pass the class, and no one gives daily homework, which is basically the bane of my existence. Unless I can get it done in the approximately hour before it's due? Not getting finished. Which is a problem. Bigger projects, longer term projects, I can usually get started sooner by enough to finish them. The week mark is about when I start being able to start stuff with enough extra time to actually finish it, even if it takes longer than an hour to do. I'm still working straight through that final hour, though. I really wish there was an accommodation for executive dysfunction, because goodness, do I ever need it.

Of course, in middle school, in high school? I generally didn't have the words I needed. Executive dysfunction? Sure, I know what that is now. I didn't then. And even if I did have the words? Well, for any teachers in the audience: would you have believed the twelve year old who was telling you that being in easier/fewer classes wasn't going to cure their executive functioning issues? Honestly? Would you? Or would you think they had no clue what they were talking about/they were making excuses/whatever other reason that kids, even ones who actually do know what's up, don't need to be listened to when they're difficult or complicated?

That's what I thought.


  1. THANK YOU for this article! I've been having middle-school flashbacks because they'd constantly berate me for not being organized, and other things beyond my control telling me i could control them but was too lazy to try, when i actually was trying so hard I was at my breaking point.

  2. They didn't teach me any English beyond spelling until 9th grade because they were so damned up their own behinds about it, they didn't realize that my handwriting issues were not behavioral.

    It should've been obvious. Buuut nope. Nope, nope, nope. My frustration? Just not having the self-discipline to apply myself to something boring. So, yeah, because I didn't see the point to being made to repeat hours and hours of handwriting sheets endlessly when it gave me no benefit to my handwriting and was painful and also obviously not working, I lacked self-discipline.

    My handwriting being messy even on assignments I cared about? Carelessness. I spent hours recopying those assignments to try to avoid losing marks, but somehow I didn't care about them. Right.

    One time, my teacher held me down in a desk at noon and told me I wasn't going home until I finished a handwriting sheet neatly enough. It was six PM when my parents called the school wondering where the fuck I was. And I still hadn't finished it to her satisfaction, but I was in hysterical tears because my arm hurt that bad.

    Motor dysgraphia. It's a thing. I have it.

    But according to the school, I was just being a brat. Lazy. Willful. Dishonest. Apathetic.

    In grade nine, my English teacher saw that I wasn't as apathetic as everyone said I was and rescued me from handwriting hell by ordering me to type everything. That year was the year I got to learn what a question mark was. And an exclamation point. And a semicolon. And other grammar rules that you're supposed to get by fourth grade (like "A proper sentence has a subject and a verb.") but I never got because they decided to hold my English education hostage to my handwriting.

    So, yeah - I feel your feels here. People wonder why I'm so bitter about school. Um, who wouldn't be?!

  3. Yes, us too! My son was running into this over the years and it was getting to be a issue. Luckily for us, the differentiated instruction accommodations in his newly acquired 504 have helped alleviate the stress tremendously by exempting him from certain/excess homework assignments. At first, I felt like we were "getting away with something", but now I see the positive impact the 504 has. My son seems to be a little more comfortable with school now (and he's still doing very well academically.)


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