I remember when I was fifteen, being asked to vacuum the living room. I got yelled at because I hadn’t done it well enough, and I was told that I had to sometimes move furniture. The next time I vacuumed, I moved all the furniture, including the heavy bookcase. Then I got yelled at again because I had no “common sense” and this was obviously not what had been meant by moving furniture.
It felt to me as an autistic teen like there was no way to win. I was always desperately trying to figure out what people expected of me. I wanted so badly to do what I was supposed to do, to get things “right.” But it felt like no one would ever tell me what the rules were plainly enough that I could figure them out. And then I got blamed for not having “common sense,” which seemed so unfair to me. Common sense didn’t seem at all common to me. It seemed mysterious and magical, a set of rules no one would say out loud or even admit existed.
I didn’t have common sense when it came to dating, either. I was told as a young teenage girl that I was supposed to say yes to any boy who asked because it was rude not to go out with someone who had shown the courage to ask me. So I said yes to every boy who asked, including several boys who frightened me and then touched me inappropriately. I told them no to any second dates, because that was allowed, but I could have gotten into a lot worse trouble. I suspect now, looking back, that the people who told me the rule about saying yes to everyone would have said that of course they didn’t mean to go out with boys I was afraid of. But no one told me that part of the rule. I didn’t have any common sense about this, either.
I lacked common sense even as an adult, when I went to a local “museum,” where there were signs about a mystical beast that could create gold out of rocks. I repeated the story to my parents and they laughed at me. They couldn’t believe that I had thought that story was real. But how was I supposed to know that a museum would lie to me? A museum was an authority figure to me, and I implicitly trusted their information. I didn’t engage my critical thinking skills because it was a museum. It is hugely embarrassing to me to think back to that mistake, to how easily I was fooled. I didn’t understand it was a joke because no one told me it was.