Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Don't sweat the small stuff

You've heard that before haven't you. Don't sweat the small stuff. Or Go with the flow, and my favorite "punt". So easy to say, but not easy to do, especially if you have Aspergers.

My son had a test the other day covering the proper usage and punctuation of quotation marks. What he was supposed to do was pick the sentence that had incorrect punctuation. The trouble was that none of the options had any errors in punctuation. All the quotation marks and commas were in the right place. The sentences ended with periods or exclamation points. Everything was correct as taught in that unit. One word was misspelled, but that didn't fit with the objections of the lesson or the instructions for the test. But, since it was the only thing that might be considered wrong, that's the one he chose.

He called me in and I looked at it too. I agreed with him. The word they used, (your) should have been you're. After all an apostrophe could be considered punctuation even though the unit was about punctuation in written statements. Well as you might have guessed he got that one wrong. His English text didn't know when to use your or you're. An email to his teacher told us that we were right, none of the sentences were incorrect and she changed his grade to give him credit. Maybe the spell checker/grammar checker changed the incorrect option and corrected it while the teacher was creating the test. Who knows.

Small stuff? Maybe, but not for either of us. Most kids wouldn't even care to find out what question was wrong. They certainly wouldn't get up in a lather to find out that the teacher or in this case computerized test made a mistake unless it was the one point that kept them from failing. In my sons case it raised his grade from an A to .... wait for it.... an A. His percentage was high enough that he had an A no matter what.

So why sweat it? It's hard to explain but in a world of absolutes, black and white, right or wrong, there has to be something you can absolutely count on. Grey is not an option, unless it's in the color of your pants or the sky.

When I was a kid, I used to talk non-stop about what I learned in school everyday. Mrs. So and So said this or, as was more often the case in the Catholic school I attended, Sister said that. My dad would get so tired of hearing about what Sister said that day that he'd yell. "Do you believe everything Sister says?"

I was dumbfounded. If it had been popular back then I might have said "duh" Of course I believed everything that Sister said. Didn't my own parents send me to school to learn from these very same nuns and teachers? Didn't they trust them to teach me? If I wasn't supposed to believe everything they said, then why was I there.

Can you imagine as a kid what chaos would ensue if your parents as your earliest teachers had taught you that red was blue or that a triangle was actually a square. Why on earth would they send you to school to learn things that weren't true. You have to believe unequivocally at that early age that what is being written on that blank slate we call a mind is the absolute truth.

That's why we get so bent out of shape when something happens to disrupt that trust. Certain things are the way they are. Certain things are to be trusted. To upset that trust, brings about an uncertainty that is just unbearable.

I can't fathom a world where right and wrong are so interchangeable. Something is either allowed or not allowed and all exceptions need to be spelled out in advance. Killing is murder except in war time. I can handle that, but when the Catholic church suddenly changed the rules about eating meat on Friday, I had a lot of trouble with that. I still do. If it's a sin this week and I'm going to hell, then it's a sin next week and I'm going to hell. Needless to say, I am not Catholic anymore. Too confusing.

It's not that I can't take any change. I can. I worked at the Red Cross long enough to understand that change happens. But in business there is a whole process of change management that fit right in with my Aspergers. We studied change. We made special adaptations in order to make the many many changes as seamless as possible. They were discussed and explained and time was allowed to adapt to them. It was Aspie heaven.

But when things we hold as stable, like teachers, text books and computers, fail us, it gets tricky and scary. Who is monitoring these things and who is monitoring the monitors and who is responsible to tell us about the mistakes and make it all right again. And how will we know if the mistakes are caught? Will we go through life thinking that red is really blue. Where does it end. When the things we hold as unfailing, then fail us, what then can we trust.

It's a slippery slope. Obsessions are common with Aspergers as is thinking that everyone is interested in the same things we are. So when "the Small stuff", which we don't think of as small, doesn't bother the rest of the world we get frustrated. And we melt down.

On a more positive note, strict adherence to these written rules usually means we are free from the burdens of unwritten rules. While not knowing or understanding the unwritten rules can get us in trouble, it also allows us to "think outside of the box". Years ago, that wasn't a good thing, but today, it is apparently something to be cultivated. Now if only someone can tell me where that box is........