No Stereotypes Here

Spoons, Batteries and Autism

Posted on: October 9, 2009

I wanted to discussion the relationship between spoon theory and what I consider battery theory in regards to autism, since I have found the both of them so useful as metaphors to explain energy and ability to do things on a day to day basis.

The Spoon Theory by Christine Miserandino can be found Here in .pdf format

To summarize it briefly: each day we are given a number of spoons which we use throughout the day to “pay” to do things. For a lot of people, they get a near unlimited number of spoons, but for someone who is sick or disabled, the number of spoons can be limited and even changes from day to day. Also, the “cost” of things may also change. One day, getting dressed may cost one spoon, another day, it may cost two spoons. One day, leaving the house may cost two spoons, another day, it costs five. These are just examples to illustrate spoon theory. Often I have found others who use spoon theory to illustrate their well-being.

For example “this morning, I seem to be short on spoons” or “today I have enough spoons” or “I don’t think I have enough spoons to do that”

My Battery Theory works kind of like Spoon Theory, except that it has to do with
energy in general and being able to do things (use spoons). A lot of the time I specifically use it to show how much social interaction I can handle. For me, even a little social contact, like someone walking by, drains my battery. Sometimes one person drains the battery more than three people. On a good day, the drain is slow and paced, on a bad day, the drain is fast and uneven.

I describe the energy levels in my battery with colour levels. In each colour level, there is an “early” and “late” stage, meaning, how long I’ve been in each colour. The longer, or “later” I’m in a colour, the harder it is to recharge. I have four colours, Green, Yellow, Orange and Red.

Green: I’m good, I’m refreshed and at my peak. At this level, I can do pretty much anything. In this stage, I’m good to test my boundaries and sensory input, and can put up with a lot.

Yellow: I’m a bit tired, but I’m holding in there. At this level, it’s fairly easy to take short breaks and get back into Green. This is a pretty safe tired level. However, it has taken me a long time to recognize myself at this level and being able to differentiate it from the other tired levels.

Orange: I’m pretty tired. Still hanging in, but I’m starting to be more likely to make mistakes, loose skills, and be very intolerant of sensory issues. I can handle things, just not as good as I usually can, might get whiny, more intolerant. Withdrawal, time out, or as I call it “lone time”, is highly recommended at this point. It takes about an hour or so to get back to Green or an early Yellow and I try not to get any more drained than a late Orange on a regular basis.

Red: This is the danger level. If I’m in public, and I say/type/write that I’m at red, it means that I’m running on low or emergency energy, and once I get to a safe, private location, I’m going to crash. At this stage, withdrawal isn’t just highly recommended at this level; it’s essential. This is the level where there is a high risk of burn out, meltdowns and overload. Actually, it’s not even a risk, it’s a guarantee.

In an early Red, I can actually mimic “functioning” or green. However, at both early and late, it can take an entire day for get myself back to Green. And that’s if it’s uninterrupted. When I’ve reached Red, it’s harder for me to recharge, and so any interruptions, whether it’ll be talking, notes for me to read, just tends to drain. Actually, I think in a Red, the only form of communication I can handle is online, and sometimes not even that.

On a good day, it takes me six hours for me to reach Red, after which there’s really no way for me to socialize. Sometimes upon reaching Red, I’ll just shut down, either really quickly or slowly, but there are times where I pull in emergency stores and actually appear to be functioning or in a higher level. But it’s a survival and emergency stores, and is basically me “borrowing” spoons from future days, and results in my needing to recharge more frequently in the following days to recover.

For an example, I went to an international symposium as an autistic artist to display my work in the gallery. I also brought along a friend who was interested in attending some of the panels. Being low on cash, I arranged to stay with a friend who lived in city limits and planned to use the commuters train to get to the symposium location each day. This required us to wake up very early in the morning to catch a bus to take us to the train station, where we catch the right train to take us into the city. Since we didn’t get back to our lodgings till late, we got about 3 hours of sleep each night. My friend ended up sleeping under the display tables, and since we had to have someone at our table all the time (for security), I ended up manning the table with little to no breaks each day. For three days.

I did it. I was extremely tired the entire time and I know my skills across the board suffered, but I did it.

Until I got home; then I crashed and had to take an entire week to recover.

Part of the length of recovery was due to the fact that I was also in school at the time, but it was also that I had been running on emergency supplies for longer than I should. As my roommates will concur, I didn’t really operate at my usual levels that week, even almost became violent during a minor disagreement.

Now, this is not to say that this is how it works for each autistic person. I understand that each autistic has different limitations, boundaries and tolerances. Things are different for each of us.

However, I offer this as a way to explain a part of what it is like for me to be autistic, just as Christine used her Spoon Theory to explain living with Lupus. If it seems to fit by way of an explanation, both to other autistic and parents/caregivers of autistic people, then it is a good way to explain.

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11 Responses to "Spoons, Batteries and Autism"

Corina I know what you mean. I am an extreme introvert. When I'm around a lot of people I need hours maybe an entire day to recover and then I will be good to go. How do you explain it to those who love social interaction and who crave it? How do you reason with them?

Cube Demon, you mean, explain it to Extroverts? Most extroverts feel drained when they are alone, and get energy when with people. I tell them to imagine the opposite. Some of them get it, some of them don't. Which is okay; I don't get how people can be extroverts, but at least they tried to understand and maybe have a better understanding. Which is the point. 😀

I will try to imagine the opposite myself.

I know this is off topic but if you want to take a look at this you can.http://cubedemon.blogspot.com/2009/08/bibilical-contradictions.htmlI think this was revealed to me by God. This is the nature of God's perfection. It is in mathematical and logical terms. It is the best way I understand God's nature.http://cubedemon.blogspot.com/2009/08/bibilical-contradictions.html

Besides God invigorates me back to green

I use the term anxiety alert. Although I hadn't defined the colors.

Cube Demon, that's a pretty interesting post. It is a circular reasoning that makes sense from a faith perspective. Usually, I'm under the impression that faith is fairly illogical, since it is trust and belief in that which has no proof, but from what I've seen, you have been able to apply logic to understanding faith. It makes me wish my Grandpa was alive, so that you two could have theological discussions (he was a minister and had a doctorate in Theology, wrote a textbook on the church in Africa and enjoyed long talks with door-to-door evangelists). However, I wouldn't say that only reading the Bible is the way to seek God. From a historic and literary standpoint, the Bible was written not by God, but on human interpretations of God, passed down by an oral tradition. This means that while historic events may be more or less true, there is a lot of room for interpretation. Let's just look at how many different Christian churches there are, for example. Churches tend to be, from my perspective, communities where the people more or less agree on a common interpretation and deliverance of the Bible. From my upbringing, I consider two parts of the Bible to the closest of God actually writing: the Ten Commandments and Jesus' teachings. This doesn't mean that the rest of the Bible isn't valid; certainly it contains historical information and good moral teachings, but I wouldn't count it as the only method to seek God. Some people reach and seek God in a variety of ways; this is why I'm not quick to dismiss other religions. When you get down to it, to seek God and live in unity with God and other people is a very common theme in most religions that I have observed. But I think that's a different topic.

Thomas Thomas, I used to use the term Anxiety Alert too. That was when I only recognized when a huge, melt-down level panic attack was approaching.I've only recently been able to recognize the various levels of anxiety, which I then assigned colours to. I did this so that I could say "I'm at Red" or "I'm at Late Orange" and not make a big deal out of it when in social settings.

"Cube Demon, that's a pretty interesting post. It is a circular reasoning that makes sense from a faith perspective. Usually, I'm under the impression that faith is fairly illogical, since it is trust and belief in that which has no proof, but from what I've seen, you have been able to apply logic to understanding faith. "This is because the dualisms and dichotomies are an illusion. Break through the dualisms and the dichotomies and you will see the circular nature to everything. Once you break through faith and logic become one. Faith and logic are two sides of the same coin. Contradictions are also 2 sides of the same coin. This is what the ancient egyptians believed as well. I think they may have been right on this. "It makes me wish my Grandpa was alive, so that you two could have theological discussions (he was a minister and had a doctorate in Theology, wrote a textbook on the church in Africa and enjoyed long talks with door-to-door evangelists). "I think I would've been honored to meet him. May he R.I.P. "However, I wouldn't say that only reading the Bible is the way to seek God. From a historic and literary standpoint, the Bible was written not by God, but on human interpretations of God, passed down by an oral tradition. This means that while historic events may be more or less true, there is a lot of room for interpretation. Let's just look at how many different Christian churches there are, for example. Churches tend to be, from my perspective, communities where the people more or less agree on a common interpretation and deliverance of the Bible. "You're right about this. "From my upbringing, I consider two parts of the Bible to the closest of God actually writing: the Ten Commandments and Jesus' teachings. This doesn't mean that the rest of the Bible isn't valid; certainly it contains historical information and good moral teachings, but I wouldn't count it as the only method to seek God. Some people reach and seek God in a variety of ways; this is why I'm not quick to dismiss other religions. When you get down to it, to seek God and live in unity with God and other people is a very common theme in most religions that I have observed. But I think that's a different topic."Again, I think you're right.

I think my internal batteries are broken. I am consistently drained and even an 8 hour day of simple labor is draining my batteries excessively. I wish I could adapt the color scale but I don't think anyone would take it serious from me and since I have 2 kids, they care very little about what color my battery is in. I'm sure I can even expect sarcastic remarks for making such a claim. Great idea and great post though.

(Yet another) Great piece, Corina. I get what you're saying there, IBM Laptop Batteries — with kids, i can't believe your batteries ever get a chance to recharge. I fake NT mannerisms and behavior quite well, most of the time. But when I'm tapped out, it ends quite abruptly. I just turned 41, and it's my opinion that being adults on the spectrum are given substantially less slack (and also have less support available) than children. As such, even friends of mine who are fully aware of my/unique needs for space, time away, rest, etc., can often fail to "get it." I don't have kids — I can only barely imagine what a battery-drain that can be for you — but I wanted to let you know, in some small way, that you are not alone. Best wishes to you.

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  • Anonymous: I think that it is about time something is being done federally to help those with ASD to get much needed therapies for their disability and YES I do
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