I was asked by a parent on my blog, “Why is it so hard for people with Asperger’s Syndrome to make decisions?” In order to attempt to answer this or at least shed some light on the topic I will explain my own experiences and struggles with decision making. I would hope in doing this it may help explain some of the main issues involved.
By writing this I am not, by any means inferring that all people on the spectrum have difficulties making decisions. I am writing this because it’s an issue for me personally.
When I analyse my own difficulties in this area several things are clear. Much of the value for people not on the spectrum in asking others opinions in order to make decisions is absent in me. An extension of the trait of not expressing emotional reciprocity, or not showing an emotional response in return; not needing to share or point things out. This combined with issues around, theory of mind or cognitive empathy; predicting the thoughts and responses of others through non-verbal cues and facial expressions means that I tend not to take into account the thoughts of others; believing as I tend to that everyone thinks as I do. I regularly need reminding that this is not the case and other people have minds of their own (who knew!).
Then there’s my, ‘all or nothing’ or ‘black and white’ thinking. This really effects my decision making as I tend to miss the grey areas in a topic and see everything in absolutes. This I know has had an impact on relationships and decisions made within those relationship when grey areas abound. Combined with the other issues discussed it begins to be come much clearer why I struggle. There is one final issue that impacts on decision making and that is Alexithymia.
None of these issues exist in isolation and all effect each other, as do character and temperament. For me though Alexithymia is the issue that is most challenging. This issue was highlighted to me when I had my second diagnostic assessment. It was more of a shock in many ways than the confirmation of my Aspergers. Put simply, Alexithymia refers to difficulties in understanding, accessing and processing ones own emotions and feelings. Sometimes I really am not sure how I feel about something. I struggle to access and express exactly what I think and feel about a subject or experience. I had learnt to become quite passive and let others make decisions only to discover later that I did actually have strong feelings about the subject but couldn’t access or process them quick enough to offer comment when my input was required. This happens regularly and has impacted my life significantly.
The way we experience the world is obviously also determined in part but how we process the information that our senses receive. With the sensory and processing issues which are well documented in Autism Spectrum Conditions; I would argue that these combine with all the above to explain why making decisions may at times be difficult for those of us on the spectrum.
The key requirements for me in making decisions are time and an absence of sensory stimulus. Otherwise, if its important, you best take a seat and be prepared to wait a while.
© Paul C Siebenthal March 2013
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