Afraid to try.
Afraid of making mistakes.
Meltdowns after getting it wrong.
Obsessed about fixing errors.
Incredibly high standards.
Does this sound like anyone you know?
I’ve lost count of the number of times Max has rubbed through the paper trying to erase all evidence of a spelling mistake. If an art project doesn’t quite work out or a Lego model is put together incorrectly, it must be completely destroyed. If there’s so much as the tiniest imperfection in his food it gets thrown away. Colouring outside of the lines? Factual errors? Spelling mistakes and typos? These upset him greatly. Committing thoughts to paper causes him so much anxiety that he can’t even get started, yet suggestions or constructive criticism strike like daggers to his self-esteem. He strives for perfection, and won’t accept anything less.
And I understand him completely, because I’m exactly the same.
There are two sides to the perfectionist coin - striving to make everything perfect and getting upset when it's not. So while on the one hand setting high standards for yourself can create an admirable work ethic, the fear of making mistakes can also cause so much anxiety that it leads to frustration, depression, embarrassment, social isolation and meltdowns.
So why is it common in autism? Why is it so stressful, and what can you do to help?
Anxiety about change
Attention to detail
Confusion about cause and effect
|Cue the screams of perfectionists everywhere...|
What can you do to help?
Reframe thinking about mistakes
Set an example
Reduce the stress
Reward the attempt
Introduce some grey
Break the cycle
Make success easier
Teach them to prioritize
Talk about consequences
The bottom line
Remember that no matter how frustrating it can be to live with a perfectionist, it’s a hundred times more frustrating to be one.
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