Saturday, April 30, 2016

Don't call me "talented"-BADD adjacent post

This post wasn't exactly written specifically for BADD like my posts for it usually are, but there's an aspect of ableism the phenomenon I'm writing about. There's also a big pile of ableism in the life experiences that lead to my reaction to being cast as "talented". So this is BADD adjacent, bc of timing & because a lot of disabled people relate, based on my small contacts.

Please don't cast me as "talented" or "a natural". Unless you're talking about hyper mobility or pattern recognition, I'm probably not, and it really freaks me out.

The first reason this freaks me out is easy to comprehend: it erases my effort. Hard work beats talent because hard work shows up. I'm probably not "a natural"; my ass is showing up. That deserves recognition, dammit. I'm way more impressed with someone who puts in the hours than someone who just magically can do things, why are you not?

And then you get into the muddle of confusing, "wow you have issues" things. Maybe I do have issues. But that doesn't make this less valid. You don't have to understand it for it to be real, and these reasons were directly caused by other people. So go roll your eyes at them.

The first bit is a common twice exceptional kid thing, I think. I need to be allowed to be not good at things. In my youth (& let's face it, to this day) my worth was determined but what I could do--especially that which came naturally. Things that didn't were considered lost causes. Apparently autistic kids & kids considered smart are born with a full suite of abilities waiting to be untapped, and if it doesn't happen on the first try it is never going to happen. I internalized this attitude before I knew that what I was surrounded with wasn't actually objectively factual. I've had to fight every breath for the right to do things I had to work for (ask me about gymnastics sometime...), and I had no support in learning how to do that work. Instead of "try again!" cheerleaders I had a chorus of voices telling me that there's so much I am good at, why not focus on that? Why do you care about these things that are hard?

It's important for me to do things that are hard. I'm just now starting to get comfortable with the idea that things are hard and I have a ceiling in things and that's ok. Other people also need to be comfortable with this, or at least keep their discomfort to themselves. This is hard-won. I am not good at taking failure gracefully. Don't sabotage my progress.

There's another factor too. I brushed lightly on it in my Dream Student/Nightmare Student post last summer. If I am given room to fail or have to work hard without it being a big production, without "wow I expected more of you" or disappointment or "maybe you should stop doing the thing" or what have you, I do a lot better. A couple of the arenas that people mistake me for a natural in are adjacent to things I've got much experience in coupled with an environment where no one expects perfection right away. Where it's okay to not be a natural. Where it's acceptable that if things change I can't actually adapt quickly. If you put me in an environment that demands immediate excellence, rather than being pleased with it, then I am a mess. The weight of expectations leads to anxiety & actively impedes participating in the thing. Even if it's patterns. Even if it's not getting dizzy. Even if it's code breaking.

Too often the twice exceptional kid gets told she is "so smart" and that is presented as her defining feature and her redeeming value. Anything autistic people in particular are good at gets written off as a splinter skill or savant skill. We're weirdly presumed incapable of learning, so everything we know we must have inherent aptitude for. We are not able to persevere, merely perseverate.

Give us credit for our work. For trying. For progress. For doing things even though they are hard.

Lots of us cannot deal with compliments on abilities at all. I can, but within certain guidelines. Don't tell me I am good at a thing, please. Do not ever tell me I am inherently good at a thing. I will freeze. I will tell you why you are wrong. I will know that not having a skill without trying isn't safe around you. Tell me that an aspect of the activity or subject has improved, or looks nice, is dynamic, some appropriate adjective for the subset. My falls are nice. I made saltatory conduction make sense. You love my toe point. I have a good eye for landing deductions. My arrow shooting form is efficient. Whatever. But not the blanket thing please.

And for the love of all that is good, don't ever say that I'm good "for a disabled person". That's pretty much a different post, but if I'm good, I'm good for an anybody person, and I work just as hard as anyone of my skill level. Acknowledge that.


Anonymous said...

... I often repeat to the guy who runs my club that I am not a "natural".

He thinks I am because I can mimic motion very well sometimes. Given a correction to something, I can implement it the next time I do the thing.

HOWEVER, to actually learn how to do it that way, I need hundreds of repetitions. Because otherwise I will backslide to old habits.

I tell a lot of the teenaged beginners about how spectacularly awful I was when I started: I punched myself in the face and gave myself a bloody nose trying to do a rising block. I broke my ankle kicking. I fell doing round house kick for the first time and cracked my tail bone. I got a concussion doing our self defense partner exercise. I could go on. When I'm done listing some of the really silly ways I hurt myself, I will finish up by saying, "Wanna know why I made it here? Because I practiced. I am not talented at this stuff. I had to work really hard at it - but hard work without talent beats talent without work every time."

Anonymous said...

THIS is why i don't mention what i'm good at because of the same underlying expectations of absolute perfection or total incapability it's flat out ridiculous and people have wondered why i don't "show off" my natural talents more, it's as if they expect a frickin zoo exhibit or something when i'm just trying to hone my abilities as well so i know what you mean!

Unknown said...

Thank you!!! Being double exceptional I was afraid to try things. Anything I do well people think it's innate. If I'm average it's a much bigger deal, like I've disappointed the world. Perfection was the norm being "gifted and talented." Some things are easy but I still have other difficulties others don't. That can make what I rock at alone in a dark quiet room something that causes anxiety attacks and agoraphobia. Other things I've struggled to learn and my being mediocre at them I'd like recognition for the huge effort. Using skills where I may have "talent" often is stressful because I hate the backlash from jealous people or teachers. I have a built in "no" response to being asked if I can do something new. Is that from autism spectrum issues of having a very hard time "switching gears" and routine or from being taught to be afraid to try something I haven't mastered because of the expectation pressure I grew up with?

Thank you for writing and keeping it so real. I'm glad you are so honest. It's very validating.