Friday, September 16, 2011

Demand Avoidance and Executive Dysfunction

I sort of feel like my demand avoidance and my executive dysfunction are in conflict.

If I had executive dysfunction without demand avoidance, I'd do best in a highly structured setting, where my lack of internal organization is compensated for by a great deal of external organization. I've heard this kind of thing commonly recommended for people with conditions that involve executive dysfunction, such as autistic people, ADHDers, etc. And it often works.

But my demand avoidance makes me intolerant of structure. I panic under too much structure. I start fearing that there won't be room to be myself. That I will lose my identity when everything I should do is laid out too clearly. Or that they'll make me do something that's wrong, and I won't be able to stop it. I'm hyperaware of all the dangers of submitting to a high degree of external structure - a high degree of external control.

If I had demand avoidance without executive dysfunction, I'd do best with no structure at all. I've read that entrepreneurs often hate external structure, and that's why they strike out on their own. But I could never be an entrepreneur, because I'm too disorganized. If I tried to start a company I'd chatter to everyone about the company, take the first couple steps of starting it and then get bogged down and give up on it. Being an entrepreneur requires good executive function, which I just don't have.

When I'm in a completely unstructured setting, I do better than in a highly structured setting. I don't panic, and I can get some constructive things done in an 'accidental' sort of way. But I don't perform to my potential. I don't achieve many things that I could achieve.

So, it's a balancing act. Give me only as much structure as I'm capable of tolerating, and be careful to add the structure in the parts that count the most. And I'll do the constant mental negotiation. 'Can I fit myself into this role without sacrificing too much?' 'Can I tolerate this or is it going to trigger a crisis?' If you don't overdo the structure, I won't panic and reject it all. But it's a balancing act, like trying to pet a timid cat. Don't come too close, don't act threatening, or the cat will bolt.

I'm lucky. The average university seems to have just about the right amount of structure. After having to leave school because no one would consider any less structure than far too much, I've finally found a place where I can fit myself in the gaps. It's not perfect, but if I'd been taught university-style since childhood, I probably wouldn't have needed unschooling.


Blogger Jennifer Bartlett said...

Hi Ettina,

I discovered your blog through the Temple website. Your writing is thoughtful and engaging. I wanted to share with you information about a collection of poems and essays I just co-edited in the US by poets with physical disabilities. You can read more at

Best, JB

3:16 PM  
Blogger Andrea Shettle, MSW said...

Sometimes a person with executive function issues can make it in positions requiring organizational skills if they have the support of a really great administrative assistant who takes on the responsibility of reminding them of things to be done and so forth along with their other usual responsibilities of an administrative assistant. So I don't think it's necessarily impossible for a person with executive functioning issues to take on certain kinds of jobs that ordinarily wouldn't be a match for them.

But the challenge is-- if you're with a traditional organization, you have to be promoted to a certain level before you could ordinarily expect to have clerical support much less the authority to make your own hiring decision so you can ensure that the administrative assistant has the qualifications you need to give the kind of support you need. And if you're in business for yourself, not all businesses earn enough profits to support the hire of additional staff right away.

Also, you may still need to meet certain externally imposed deadlines (for example, to meet client orders for your product) to stay in business. Which might be okay if your executive functioning responds well to deadlines (which mine does, usually) but maybe not so okay if deadlines are problematic for other reasons (I'm guessing this would be a problem for the demand avoidance issues?)

3:45 AM  
Blogger Ettina said...

My reaction to deadlines is iffy...

Either I get the thing done well in time, and I'm fine, or else I panic and can't finish the thing.

5:35 PM  

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