Thursday, 13 February 2014

The problem is not the problem. The problem is the way you define the problem

Day 010/366 Outtakes - January 10th
photo by Amanda Hatfield on Flickr
There's a trend in blogging and social media to turn vast, complicated states of being into verbs. Despite the ropey grammar it's a very efficient way to convey an idea.

It means that, for instance, this whole paragraph:

Due to executive dysfunction, I struggle with tasks most independent adults complete without undue difficulty.  This may include self-care, such as preparing appropriate meals and attending to personal hygiene; basic organisation and keeping track of possessions, paperwork and commitments; time management; meeting deadlines and returning borrowed items in a timely manner; and the timely management of administrative tasks such as financial paperwork, tenancy and employment contracts and government forms.

Can be distilled into the phrase:

I can't adult.

And that really does cover everything in the longer paragraph, and a lot more besides.  It's a succinct way to express a frustrating place a lot of Aspies have been at some point.

But I don't think it's an altogether helpful way to approach the problem if you want to fix it, and to explain why we need to flash back to the mid 1990s.  Here's a little something to set the mood:


(This is in no way relevant to the point of this post, by the way. It's just here because Bush.)

I'm in high school.  If you'd like a mental picture, I'm wearing a long blue skirt with pleats that show off how much it's faded since the start of grade eight, a yellow shirt, and a tie covered in badges that will catch on the edge of the desk and strangle me when I stand up.  We're in the only class that taught me any genuinely practical skills I used in later life: IPT with Mr Fitzgerald.  As well as a surprisingly useful amount of html, Mr Fitz taught us (or tried to, anyway - we weren't an easy class) a definitive set of steps for problem solving.

Step one was define the problem.  You can't find a sensible solution unless you know what you're actually trying to solve.  In the class, the problem was fairly straightforward, like "we need a program to convert from base 10 to binary" or "we need to move this block from point X to point Y using a contraption made from computer controlled Lego".  In life our problems are much less straightforward, but nonetheless the first step to solving it is identifying it.

For instance, if the problem is "I can't food", what's really the problem?  Are you unable to identify your body's signs that you're hungry or thirsty?  Do sensory issues make it difficult to find healthy food you can eat?  Do you have choice paralysis when it's time to decide what to eat or buy?  Do you lack time or energy to shop for food, in between work or study or whatever other commitments you have?  Are you confused about what you're supposed to eat, and in what quantities?  Are there financial, family, cultural or practical obstacles that affect what you eat?

All those problems will have different solutions.  If you can't afford healthy food, that's a very different problem from not being able to tell when you're hungry, not having a stove, or having a nasty sensory response to fruit.

That's why lamenting "how do I food?" is a succinct way to express your frustration, but to solve the problem you'll probably need to tease it out further.

(For the record, I can't remember the rest of the problem solving steps.  Something about brainstorm a bunch of possible solutions, pick a likely one, try it out, regain control of the Lego robot and put out the fire, figure out why that didn't work, try again, and I think documentation came into it somewhere?  I told you we were a difficult class.)