The Hard Part and the Easy Part

Mette Harrison
4 min readJan 28

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For most of my life, I’ve been baffled by the way that neurotypical people categorize things as “easy” or “hard.” What they consider hard is almost always the easy part for me. While the things they consider easy are hard for me. This has been a perpetual problem because when I’m asked (or required) to do easy things and I baulk, many times I’m seen as difficult. On the other hand, when I do things that are easy for me that are hard for others and do them well and quickly, I’m seen as a weird kind of genius. The combined evaluation of what is normal for me has made me feel like I will never fit in anywhere.

For instance, some supposedly easy things I find very hard:

1. Making eye contact and uttering the right greeting to people as we pass quickly in hallways or on walking paths. I can never remember what time of day I’m supposed to say and inevitably say good morning when it’s evening or the reverse. I’m just not fast enough on the draw and it’s not at all automatic. Probably because doing the eye contact thing takes so much more energy than it does for other people.

2. Small talk. I have some scripts for small talk that I’ve figured out how to employ when I absolutely have to, but I find them painful and annoying. I can only do them for a certain length of time before my brain explodes.

3. Dressing in a way that appears professional. I’m aware that female-coded people are expected to wear clothing that is uncomfortable (heels, tight skirts, bras with padding, etc) and makeup, but I cannot imagine a situation in which I’d be willing to do that anymore. I’m aware that this often makes people perceive me as “unprofessional,” but at this point, I just hope that my awesome choice of sweaters makes them remember me and that my other skills will make an impression.

4. Dealing with noise, lights, and smells in most social settings. Perfume at church or at public performances can be so overwhelming for me that I have to leave. No performance is good enough to make me able to stay through that. I’m always willing to wait to see a movie when it comes out later, purely because of the autistic sensory issues that are so bothersome to me.

5. Talking slowly and at a pace that people can understand. My brain moves very quickly and I have to practice to figure out where the parts are that other people don’t follow. Again, I don’t think this is because I’m smart per se. I just process information quickly. This can be useful as pure intelligence, but doesn’t help much with EQ.

And some of the things that are hard for other people that are very, very easy for me:

1. Things that are repetitious. Other people get bored by repetition, but I find it soothing. There are wide categories of things that fall into this group, like knitting or crocheting, which I generally find very soothing, but also bike riding and running indoors on a treadmill. I LIKE the fact that it’s boring rather than having constantly changing scenery. That makes it EASIER for me, not harder.

2. Pattern recognition. Any kind of test that has this as a component isn’t just “easy” but “fun” for me. I find all kinds of tests to be soothing and fun to do while other people find them stressful and difficult. This doesn’t make me “smart,” at least not in what I think of as smart. It just means my brain works differently.

3. Word puzzles. In games where I am asked to guess at letters missing or words missing or almost any kind of word game, I’m king. I am made up of words. It I’m extremely tired, I may not be as fast as usual, but if you’ve got this kind of game (Hey, Survivor), I’m going to be an extremely useful asset to the team.

4. Memorization. I don’t have a eidetic memory, nor is my memory of things perfect, at least not anymore. In high school and college, if I heard a teacher lecture, I would be able to remember every single word of the lecture perfectly, which made tests very easy, since teachers tend to test on lecture material rather than textbooks. I’m afraid that if I didn’t like a class very much, I wouldn’t open or even buy the textbook. Or take notes. I’d just show up for class, listen, and get nearly 100% on every test. My memory isn’t as good now, but it’s still astonishingly good compared to most people. Except when it comes to simple stuff, which I forget all the time. Like where I put the remote control to the television.

5. Rote math. In high school, I could easily do most math equations as pure equations. But story problems? I couldn’t translate them into the math without significant effort. I just like the pure numbers and relationships between them. Real world applications were just a difficult puzzle for me. Luckily for me, most standardized tests heavily weight towards equations rather than story problems. Again, this doesn’t make me smarter than other people.

The longer I deal with autism and learn about my own version of it, the more I’m aware of the reality that almost everyone’s brain has ways in which it is brilliant (according to a bell curve of “normal”) and ways in which it is delayed. I suspect that this is because of early childhood interest in certain things, so that those pathways in the brain become more used and easier to return to. But I’m not a neuroscientist. I’m just a writer.

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Mette Harrison

Autist, Ironman Worlds triathlete, Writer, Right-Brained