Why Don’t You Take More Care?

My sister says it was always me who knocked over my coke in the Wimpy when we were kids. I remember exasperated cries of “it would be you” and “not again” and “why don’t you take more care?” But I never knew the answers. Over the years, I developed strategies to avoid knocking over my drink, but it still happens. It seems I was born clumsy, and there’s only so much I can do about that.

I can parallel park and I can sew, but I can’t walk through a door without colliding with the frame. Nor can I put a mug away in the cupboard without crashing it against the shelf. Nor can I drink a cup of tea without knocking my teeth (or spilling it). My limbs carry a dozen bruises at any one time, only a couple of which I can ever explain. As a child, I was on first-name terms with staff in the local A&E. In short, I’m accident prone. And my small girl is the same.

Proprioception, often referred to as a sixth sense, controls your ability to know where your body is without visual reference to it: proprioception is what lets you touch your nose with your eyes closed. It’s a sense we take entirely for granted; but imagine life without it*. Imagine having to watch your hand as it reaches to pick up that coffee: all the time you must make judgements – not only about where your hand is in relation to the cup, but where your hand is in relation to you. It would be like operating a remotely-controlled robotic hand, except that once you have the cup, you can feel it’s warmth against your skin. However, if you close your eyes, you immediately lose track of the cup’s position, and are unable to bring it to your lips, because you no longer know where it is. Imagine that.

Many aspies have issues with proprioception. This is not the same as spacial awareness – I can easily judge, for example, if my car will fit into that parking space – It’s only a problem with where the various parts of my body are in relation to everything else, including other parts of my body. Yes, I’ve smacked myself in the face by mistake. I’ve also stabbed myself in the face (and drawn blood) all because of poor proprioception.

I am teaching the small girl the strategies I’ve worked out: to keep her cup away from the edge of the table (and not in line with anything she might reach for); to tie back her hair and roll up her sleeves before a meal; to “concentrate on avoiding things in her way” (“look where you’re going” is not a useful instruction for an aspie). But still, she spills her drink, dunks her cuff in her food, and covers her limbs in bruises. Just like her mother.

It doesn’t help that she, also like me, is hypersensitive to touch. We feel more than other people. The oft-cited analogy, of the lightest brush feeling like an electric shock, is not far off. This led me, as a child, to be labelled a crybaby. I never understood why people didn’t understand how much it hurt (whatever “it” was). I gradually learned that an injury didn’t count if I had nothing to show for it, and subsequently never understood why things hurt so much, yet left no mark.

So I look at my daughter now, alerted by yet another wail of pain, and presented with yet another microscopic self-inflicted scratch to kiss and sympathise with, and I do sympathise. I know exactly how she feels. And however exasperating it is that this is a six-times-a-day occurrence, you’ll never catch me saying “why don’t you take more care?” because I now know the answer: she was born clumsy too, and there’s only so much she can do about that.

©2012 Life on the Spectrum

Some people find using weighted belts/blankets/lap pads help with proprioception issues. See sensorydirect.com and rompa.com. See also this great article about making a DIY weighted blanket.
*This topic is the fascinating subject of Oliver Sacks’s article, “The Disembodied Woman,” which is included in the anthology The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, (Summit Books, 1985. Picador, 2011).


5 thoughts on “Why Don’t You Take More Care?”

  1. Oh. My. Gosh. I never knew there was a name for this. I have struggled with doorframes, branches, and doorknobs jumping out at from no where and so many invisible ropes have tangled my feet while walking. I have scoliosis and always thought it was because of that. But then again, I drop dishes I swear were nestled in the cupboard, burned the heck out of my hand at work because I thought I had the rag around the steamwand on the espresso machine at work when in reality, it was more of my hand on the steamwand. I regularly break stuff, where my food on my shirt, smack my cup on the ground, repeated drop my keys and phone multiple times in a row, fall up stairs, knock over my plate with my boobs when I stand up at the dinner table, my friend (who scored a 32 on the AQ, I scored a 30 and once my insurance is active I’m planning on seeking an official diagnosis or not) anyways, my friend always makes sure that if we’re eating messy food at his house I sit at the table because he really can’t stand messes, and my clumsiness is a constant source of anxiety and amusement to him. I’ve been reading several articles on this site, and it’s just lifting the weights off of my shoulders to know that I’m not nuts or a bitch or spoiled or reckless or selfish or anti-social or bi-polar or insane or any of the other negative things I’ve been called during the 31 years of my life. To be understood, to find understanding, I can’t even describe the feelings I’m experiencing right now. Thank you for your beautiful website and for sharing your life. I can truly say it’s helping others.

  2. Another one who was given the “accident prone” label as a child, and wears it still. In my case, proprioception isn’t the main issue, but rather hyper-mobility. I bend and stretch and contort in a way that, although it lends a certain grace to my movements, also renders them unpredictable. I have learned strategies including keeping piles of towels and first aid kits arrayed throughout my house and workplace for the inevitable trips, crashes, stumbles and spills. I had a dance teacher who called me a “graceful klutz”, a label I wear with some pride.

    My youngest son is the same. A graceful, trippy, crash-y dervish. At 3, he has already learned the mantra “Not near the edge.” This applies to where he must walk, where he should put his cup or bowl down, and life in general really.

    You’ve been given the gift of insight, of understanding. With that gift, you can make the world a softer, more comprehensible place for your daughter. What a wonderful thing.


  3. I had to click on this when I saw it on my Twitter feed! I am not an Aspie, but having ADHD has caused many of the same difficulties. I was very clumsy and had difficulty knowing where things in my physical environment were at any given moment (proprioception, as you mentioned). I also didn’t have trouble with depth or spacial perception… I remember being yelled at so many time to be more careful. I think it’s great that you are teaching her habits to manage the effects, instead of lamenting something that is nearly impossible to change. High Five! ;)

  4. The more I read on here, the more I think that people are hard even on ‘normal’ children – even more so on kids who fall outside of what is considered normal. When J hurts himself so many people say things along the lines of ‘It’s OK’ or ‘that didn’t really hurt’ – and I want to say ‘but he’s crying, he obviously ISN’T OK and it DID hurt’. It’s hard as I know they just want to comfort him but it doesn’t work. And add being an aspie in…. it must be so hard.

    I am clumsy too. I hate how judgy people are about it. You know what, it’s not fun falling over and breaking things all the time. It’s worse when people laugh at you for it.

    Society is hard. I nearly typed ‘at times’ but it’s all the time really.

  5. What perfect timing to read as we learn about our son’s behaviors. As a child, I was the only child, so the sibling dynamic was not present. Yet, I was very clumsy. “Thoughtless” or “distracted” were my parents terms, but I was a bumbler. Mom eventually accepted my differences and helped me kindly. See saw the difference as unintentional and inherent to me.

    I commend your sweetness and acceptance to your daughter. We autistic parents are blessed to have a window into our children to help guide them through life with more compassion and wisdom.

    I applaud your story, when parnets learn their child’s perspective, I doubt they would want to criticize or harm. Maybe this is the heart of my love for autism acceptance instead of a cure. I cringe to imagine a homogenized world, where every one is trained to think and act alike.

    Thank you for giving me early morning inspiration!


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