Monday, 12 October 2020

Rules (and tiers before bedtime)

 Autistic people love rules, right?

It certainly felt like it when I was explaining last week how the Programme Regulations for East Asian Studies didn't permit an optional languages module in the foundation year. Nope; those are the regulations. Yes, I know it's not logical; I know it's not consistent, but that's what was agreed with the department and THOSE ARE THE REGULATIONS. You can try and change them if you like; you can apply for a Special Regulation, but as it stands your student can't do that language module.

At this stage of the academic year, I'm doing a lot of work on getting students to do academic referencing. Not teaching them how to do it perfectly. Yet. Just to understand the principles behind it and not be scared of it. I love referencing. I am a Harvard demon. I used to be very picky with students' referencing - if I can do it perfectly, why can't they? And then I remembered. When I first started as an undergraduate, referencing made me very uncomfortable. Rules. That I didn't understand. And that I might get wrong

I came to understand them, and I grew to love them, with a passion. Just as I do Programme Regulations. Known, understood and unchanging rules are a secure framework; a comfort blanket, something to fall back on when all around is chaos.

But I think, perhaps, that like being supremely well-organised, loving rules may not be an inherent autistic trait. It might be a coping strategy. One that has become so ingrained we lose sight of the fact that it's not our natural default. We gain mastery of the rules because the alternative - the prospect of getting it wrong - is so unbearable. To avoid this, we may even rebel against the rules and refuse to play the game entirely.

When I wrote this post, back in March, I though of myself as a person who didn't like obeying rules (and indeed, obedience - the loss of autonomy - is a bit of an issue). But that same person didn't leave the house for four months in order to avoid being confronted by those rules. Scared to obey; scared not to, and above all, scared of not understanding - the only option then is to avoid them completely.

I love rules.

Rules frighten me.

Unclear rules make me uneasy.

Unclear rules enforceable by the power of the state terrify me.

Irrational rules cause me significant internal conflict.

Unclear and irrational rules enforceable by the power of the state are the reason I don't go out.