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I May Be An Idiot, But I’m Not Stupid

Hello folks! The idea for this post came to me while I was brushing my teeth this morning and thinking about how much easier it is since realising I’m allergic to artificial mint flavouring. It turns out that your mouth isn’t supposed to feel like it’s on fire! Nor is it normal to stand at the sink afterwards trying to breathe through the worst of the pain. I’ve now switched to a non-mint toothpaste and my morning and evening routines are significantly more pleasant.

The reason I never realised that mint flavouring was not my friend until I was 18 is simple: it never occurred to me that my experience was not universal. I heard people talking about how drinking orange juice after brushing your teeth was unpleasant, and so I took that to mean that the period after brushing your teeth was generally unpleasant. It wasn’t until I tried my friend’s non-mint toothpaste that I realised how much easier it was. Funnily enough, my parents used to give me a mint when I got upset to help calm me down, and I always assumed it worked because the pain associated was what distracted me from why I was upset. I was positively gobsmacked when my dad ate a packet of mints in one sitting as though it were sweets.

There are other similar examples I have, such as my realisation that when other people eat fizzy sweets such as tangfastics, their mouth doesn’t hurt and turn numb while their throat gets tight and they start to sweat. I always used to eat kiwi skins as well because it gives me a similar reaction, and given that was what I associated with sweets, I just assumed it was pleasant because I thought that was what the definition of pleasant was. I know that might sound confusing, but to me, knowing that something is usually pleasant to other people massively shaped whether or not I liked it, especially when I was a young kid. My Mum told me that eating a mint would calm me down, and it did. Therefore, the taste of mint was okay, even if it hurt. My siblings enjoyed eating fizzy sweets and so I ate them as well. In a similar way to how I don’t eat much salt because my Mum didn’t cook with it when I was a kid (as per the guidance of the time), I learnt to ignore the weird physical symptoms I would get when I ate certain foods, and now quite like the taste.

I am aware that this makes me sound like a bit of an idiot. Generally, if something hurts you then you don’t do it. I don’t touch hot stovetops because it hurts. However, I am sure that at some point I most likely protested having to use toothpaste, but my parents won’t have realised I was actually in pain, and so would have assumed I was just being annoying and told me to do it anyway. That’s not something I hold against them. Kids can be really annoying.

I’m also prone to doing things largely considered “unsafe”, all while not realising that there is any hint of danger. I have walked through dark forests because the map told me too, I have attempted to catch a knife when I dropped it, I’ve approached people in vans because they asked for directions. After the fact, once it has been explained to me, I can see the logic behind why these things are not appropriate, but at the time it doesn’t register as something to avoid. My sense of personal safety is very much non-existant. In the same way that I am aware other people may have lemons in their house, whereas I do not, I understand what it means when other people have that inbuilt sense of danger, I just do not have it myself.

However, that isn’t to say that I’m not intelligent. Sure, it wasn’t until I was 20 years old that I realised cherry blossom came from cherry trees, or that breakfast is called breakfast because you break your fast. And yes, I for some reason am completely unable to sharpen pencils, and usually have to ask someone else to do it for me because I always break the lead. But these seemingly basic ideas and skills are not a direct indication of my intellect. Because while I don’t always recognise compound words for what they are, I sure do know a lot of them. I might not have connected apple trees with apple blossom, but give me an apple and I will make you a cracking crumble. And with the help of friends (and possibly resorting to buying an electronic pencil sharpener at some point), being unable to adequately sharpen pencils has not held me back in life.

I suspect everyone has heard that there is no one way to measure intelligence. Einstein said the famous quote about a monkey and a fish cannot both be judged by its ability to climb trees. And while people, with their varying skills and abilities, are more similar to one another than a bonobo and a three-spined stickleback, we cannot all be judged by the same measures. This is something that comes up a lot when talking about standardised testing, and while that’s not the topic of discussion today, the same argument still holds true. Some people (let’s be honest, most people,) would call me an idiot for my apparent inability to perform a task most 8-year-olds can do. And I don’t particularly care: I am a bit of an idiot. I also find it both funny and strange that no matter what I do or how many tutorial videos I watch, I cannot get a sharp point on my pencils. Yet if you give me a fitted sheet to fold, I will fold it perfectly and in a matter of seconds.

My joke with my friends is that I am intelligent without any common sense, and I find that to be a rather accurate description of my abilities. Once, when cooking mashed potato in a kitchen that I was not familiar with, instead of asking if they had a masher or equivalent tool, I diced the potatoes as I would a clove of garlic. I ended up with very smooth mash, but the extra 20 minutes that it took due to my unconventional method did prompt a raised eyebrow from my friend.

A quick google search of “types of intelligence” will tell you that there are 8 types of intelligence:

  1. Logical-mathematical intelligence (i.e. problem solving, logic puzzles, strategy games, etc.)
  2. Linguistic intelligence (i.e. reading, talking, writing, making jokes, etc.)
  3. Spatial intelligence (i.e. drawing, reading maps, construction, etc.)
  4. Musical intelligence (e.g. following rhythms, composing, playing instruments, etc.)
  5. Bodily-kinaesthetic intelligence (e.g. dancing, acting, playing sports, hand-eye-coordination, etc.)
  6. Intrapersonal intelligence (e.g. good understanding of one’s feelings, setting realistic goals, etc.)
  7. Interpersonal intelligence (e.g. good teamworkers, can mediate conflict, a “people-person”)
  8. Naturalistic intelligence (e.g. caring for animals, camping, outdoorsy skills, etc.)

Reading these, I know that my best areas are logical-mathematical intelligence and linguistic intelligence. Conversely, I know my worst areas are intrapersonal intelligence and musical intelligence. However, none of those skills or lack thereof make me intrinsically ‘cleverer’ or ‘dumber’ than someone with great intrapersonal and musical intelligence but poor logical-mathematical or linguistic intelligence.

I often find that I am underestimated because I am autistic. As soon as a person hears that word they make assumptions about what I can and cannot do, often putting much more stuff into the “cannot” pile than the “can”. In my course at university, I am pretty good at finding ways to tackle long and complicated problems by stringing together different ideas and concepts. I am also reduced to tears if I am running even 1 minute late for an appointment, despite me having already called ahead to let them know. Seeing me in some parts of my life would lead you to believe I am a borderline genius, whereas seeing me in other areas would lead you to believe I am an incapable dunce. The truth is, I am neither. I am somewhere in between.

Autistic people are often written off as being idiots or less capable just because we may have less developed interpersonal intelligence, or indeed any other area. But one area being lower than the general population does not make you stupid. I have many incredibly gifted and talented friends who are awful at maths, and I don’t think lesser of them… I just do most of the mental maths in the friendship. And I am also not only talking about savants who have superb and andvanced abilities in other areas. You do not have to make up for some perceived lack of ability in order to still be intelligent and worth as much as anyone else. I do not demand that my mathematically lacklustre friends make up for it by being wonderful musicians or incredible athletes. I love them as my friends and having differing abilities in one area does not make our worth any different.

I do have weaknesses when it comes to my intelligence, but it would be remiss of me to not say that I also have strengths. People are made of contradictions. I am very unobservant but I have an incredible memory for the details I do notice. I love my friends with all my heart, but I sometimes find it difficult to understand how their brains work. I’m mildly allergic to kiwi, but I still like the taste. And so my intelligence, or indeed anyone’s intelligence, cannot be measured by whether we didn’t realise [insert name] blossom comes from an [insert name] tree. It cannot really be measured by any singular thought or action, as it is a complicated and ever-fluctuating system of a multitude of variables. I have never come across anyone who I thought was genuinely unintelligent. And so, yeah, I have almost 0 common sense, a lack of an ability to gauge personal safety, and issues surrounding understanding and relating to other people. But I’m also good at learning new facts, I’m excellent at coming up with ideas and creative workarounds to problems, and I think I am a good friend. I may be an idiot, but I’m damn sure I’m not stupid. No one is.

Sarah

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