potato_head: (Default)
[personal profile] potato_head
It's strange to me, how concrete peoples' ideas about what 'intelligence' is are. And how it is meant to be a direct contrast to cognitive disabilities.

I struggle with a lot of things that many people take for granted. I have, from what I can figure out, just about every agnosia that can occur alongside autism (and this doesn't seem to be all that unusual, either - these agnosias tend to come linked together). Environmental agnosia, time agnosia, prosopagnosia (facial blindness). It still comes as a constant confusion to people that I cannot, for example, comprehend simple directions to get somewhere. I do not know where places are that I have been visiting for years. My own family will try to tell me street names, town names, etc. to explain to me where something is and don't seem to comprehend that what they are saying is completely meaningless to me.

And the general assumption that if I am vague on when something happened, it's because I'm lying about it - in reality, unless I have a very firm time anchor for it that I can calculate from (for example, 'this happened in the same week that I graduated from high school, and I just graduated from university, so it must have been four years ago' - or, if I need a year, 'I was class of '09, so that must have been in 2009'. It is not the knowledge that I graduated in the year 2009, but rather than my class was called class of '09, and then that that means that we graduated in 2009.) I have very little idea when it happened. I don't actually know how old I am. I am pretty sure I am either 23 or 24, but I would have to get a calculator out to be sure.

(Turns out I am 22. Well, I was close?)

And here I am, on the other hand, spending most of my formative years entirely perplexed about the fact that other people could do these things. For a long time, I just thought that most people spent a significant amount of time studying maps, memorizing dates in their own life, etc. and that I just didn't have time for such things.

And trying to figure out how other people recognized one another and remembered other peoples' names. That one just had me convinced I was really stupid, actually. I think at that point, I knew there was something there that I wasn't grasping. Everyone else knows who that person is even though they've gotten a hair cut and are wearing a new shirt, why don't I know who they are?

There are other things I struggle with, obviously. It takes me a good deal of time to recover from physical shocks - if I hurt myself and you ask me if I am okay, I am not going to respond well, if I bother to respond at all. This is because I still don't know if I'm okay or not. It will be awhile (several minutes?) before I do know, and I don't welcome extra external stimulus while I'm trying to decode what happened and what effect it had on my body.

But all of these things are things I rarely share with people, because it's a notion a lot of people struggle with - but I am 'intelligent'. I have a degree, I have an aptitude for math, I have perfect verbal recall, I learn very quickly, I read and write articulately. These things mean I am 'smart'. How can I therefor also be 'stupid'? These two things are meant to be mutually exclusive. It is acceptable for me to be 'nerdy', in which case I can be smart about hypotheticals but stupid about the real world, but I'm not that. So what am I? How do I fit in to how pop culture understands intelligence? The closest thing Hollywood has to describing me is 'savant'. But I'm just a little bit too clever for that - 'savants' act like the guy from Rain Man, right? So what am I? What makes me think I have the right to be good at some things and not good at other things when all of those 'things' are defined as intellectual?

(Even medical science struggles with these things sometimes. It was only fairly recently accepted that people could be born with certain agnosias and that they weren't all caused by brain damage. Prosopagnosia is still usually called 'face blindness' when referring to autistic individuals with it, as if to separate us out from people with real disabilities - i.e. from a cause that can be in some way seen or measured using current technology.)

General conclusion: I must be somebody who just isn't trying hard enough.

Almost everybody I know who has taken me at my word regarding what I can and cannot do are fellow people with cognitive disabilities. This is why I am generally a million times more at ease around someone I know to have a cognitive disability than I am around the general population. It takes a whole lot of pressure off to know that if they ask me to do something I can't do or might need help doing, I can say 'that's something that's difficult for me, can you help me with it in X way?' they just will. They don't demand to know why it's difficult (or how it can possibly be so) or insist that if I practiced it, I'd get better (what do you think I've spent most of my life doing?).

...Also, since a lot of people tend to be really curious about prosopagnosia (and because there are significant numbers of people out there with it who don't realize most people can see other peoples' faces) I'll describe my own perceptions briefly. I have partial face-blindness, so I can see one feature of a person's face at a time - whatever I am looking at right that moment. I don't see it actually on their face. The best way to describe it would be floating off by itself, in a mental space rather than on the actual landscape I am seeing. (My entire visual perception gets very messed up when I look people in the face. This is why I stare at your shoes.) However, I am aware of where it is meant to go on the face. The areas immediately around it on the face are completely blank. If I am looking at the mouth (which I often am), I might be able to see a bit of the details of the hair.

Looking at videos is a bit easier (if I focus - part of my problem following the plots of movies etc. is that if I'm not paying close attention, I can't tell most of the characters of any given gender apart, since most movies are filled with people of the same race, frequently with the same hair colors and similar haircuts), and photos easier still. (All my images in my mind of my family - the only people whose faces I can really remember - are decades out of date because I know them from the photos I have seen of them for the longest amount of time.) I would describe the experience of looking at a photo of somebody's face as like looking through a microscope - there is an area of clarity, and around it, things get grainy and blurry, but still fairly recognizable.

Faces that are depicted via drawing, painting, etc. I can see in their entirety, regardless of how realistic or simple the style. Even images drawn from a photo reference, unless in (very specifically) the instance of a less skilled artist copying a photo line-for-line. My assumption is that the brain of the artist is doing some interpretation for me in bringing together the face as a whole, something my brain doesn't know how to do on its own.

I have no idea how this affects my own art. Oddly enough, looking at my art is somewhat similar to looking at a person's face, in that I can only focus on one detail at a time and have trouble taking it in as a whole. It is not the same by any means, but it has a very similar feeling, for me. I'm not sure if that's just part of being an artist and having trouble really getting the full effect of something you've created.

Date: 2013-07-14 12:09 pm (UTC)
seventhbard: photo of a plush unicorn on a dark background (Default)
From: [personal profile] seventhbard
Sometimes I wonder if I have cognitive or sensory issues of some kind. If I do though they seem to be mild enough to "pass" so I am resistant to get checked because it's probably expensive and a bother and ultimately, what good would it do to know? I doubt there's anything special I can do about it either way and where I used to be desperate for labels/answers, now I'm in a point of my life where I feel very "eh" about it. :P Stress brings the apathy like woah. Diagnosis: freak. It's worked since I was a kid can't see the point in changing it now. I just think about my freakitude differently than I used to. I used to be so afraid of it, because everyone else was you know? But now it's like "wait a minute that's my brain, my person, my self you are talking about, I LIVE in/with/as this you know, it's actually... not... what you think it is. In fact, I'm maybe even a little bit awesome."

When I'm drawing I don't really think about what stuff looks like so much as what it feels like (not in the sense of what it would feel like to touch it, but what it feels like to be in that pose, where would my arm be, where is my sense of which way my nose might point, etc.), which isn't exactly how you're supposed to go about it but it seems to result in recognizable shapes. XD It's why my eyes "need" to be so big, I think... there are nuances of shape in the muscles around the eye that aren't as easy to cram into how big an eye ACTUALLY is.

I feel like we've made our boxes too rigid in society. There are too many arbitrary boundaries around things. Lines drawn in the sand for the satisfaction of drawing a line that people will confuse for borders and defend to the death just because they were taught to defend a line because it's what you do. We need to learn, as a species, to be more accepting of differences, more questioning, more empathetic, and above all less inclined to go for the very human but very limiting and dangerous trap of "my experience is applicable to everyone."

I'm glad we're here though, and that I get to know awesome and intelligent you, who also has cognitive disabilities and is definitely one of my closer LJ/DW pals. So called "neurotypical" folks are a lot less accepting of my weird ramblings and flailings, I am with you on finding those with disabilities/mental illness/whatever to be easier to trust on certain things.


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