Yesterday we had an interesting discussion about the word “intention.”  The word was brought up innocently enough.  It was used in the context of asking about a larger project Emma has been working on.  “What does having intention mean to you?” Emma was asked.  

“To have intention is a skill.  To have intention is a hurdle to jump over,” Emma typed.  

I was sitting in the room as this conversation occurred, but was not part of it yet.  I was surprised by Emma’s answer.  I have never thought of intention as a skill or a hurdle.  Instead I’ve always thought of intention as being goal oriented.  Then Emma wrote, “the mind does not always process it correctly.”  

And I realized I have a very different idea of intention.  An idea of what it means to set out to do something and then to do it.  I come at the word from the point of view of someone who has not grappled with intention as daunting.  I have not experienced the word as a series of frustrations, not typically.  Sure every now and then I intend to do something, I set out to do it and find I do not have enough information or am not skilled enough or realize I need to do a whole list of other things first before I can accomplish what I had hoped.  But this is different from what Emma was talking about.  

“Is intention easier for you while you’re going through it, or later afterward when you are looking back?”  Emma was asked.  

“If I think too much about it the fear is anxiety,” Emma wrote.  

Richard said that what he was hearing Emma say was that the word “intention” means something that we do not necessarily mean.  He went on to say that if someone who speaks and says things that they don’t mean a great deal of the time, he could see how “intention” would be anxiety producing.

And as I listened to this exchange I reflected on how I define “intention” from my perspective of relative ease with spoken language.  As someone who has never considered intention a “skill,” but instead as a given and even an expectation, one I’ve not spent much time considering, my daughter has once again given me a great deal to think about.  This is the very essence of privilege.  Having something, being so used to having it that I do not even know I have it…  unless it was taken away from me or when someone else reminds me of how much easier it is for me than it is for them.

“To have intention is a hurdle to jump over.”


14 responses to “Intention

  1. You all have given me something profound to think about as I go throughout my day. Thank you, Emma, for helping me better understand my grown autistic daughter.

  2. I’m currently reading Jill Bolte Taylor’s “A Stroke of Insight”, and am just *beginning* to get a sense for how it would be to have a differently-functioning brain. It is immensely humbling, and reminds me how arrogant we are being when we harshly judge anything our kids with autism do.

    (I’m a relative newcomer to this blog, and I’m deeply grateful to all three of you for sharing your life and reflections with us. It is making a profound difference to how I interact with my own son with ASD).

    • Hi R’s dad. Thanks so much for reaching out.
      I loved A Stroke of Insight! It was particularly incredible to read her ongoing analysis of what she knew was happening as a professional in the field of neurology, but also as the person experiencing it.

  3. Oh man . . . could you ask Emma if she might elaborate on this subject? I’m not sure I understand what she means by “intention,” but if it’s what I think she’s saying she’s describing something I’ve struggled with unbelievably my whole life. I feel she could potentially give me tons of insight into how my own mind works — or at least a much-needed sense of vindication.

    • I want to second this. I would love to hear Emma elaborate on how she feels and understands “intention.” The thing is, I think she’s talking what I have always struggled with (like Jo above me says) but never been able to articulate to anyone. Emma really has a way with words. It’s not her responsibility to educate others on how she operates, and I don’t mean to sound like it is. But wow, it she were able to do so – if she were able to put this feeling of anxiety and intention and hurdles and intimidation and trepidation (some are my words, I know) and she could let others like me borrow her words to help communicate with people who have never felt this way…that would be so incredible. I know I would be very grateful, and I don’t think I’m the only one. I’m already grateful for what she’s shared in this post.

      • notesoncrazy – note to Jo below… It’s interesting to read the comments here and on FB as I am needing to think about all of this more too. If Em writes more about this, I’ll either ask her if it’s okay to post as a blog or will add to the comments here.

    • Hi Jo,
      I’ll ask Emma later. We are inundated with other things though and as typing is laborious for her, she may decide she just can’t, but I’ll ask, I promise.

  4. ‘Intention’ for me, has always meant something I would like to do, but probably won’t because of all those hurdles and the anxiety they invoke. I find myself even resisting the thought of intention in the way you do, Ariane, because to me yours sounds as though there is no question of ever not accomplishing the task, and that is way too daunting, especially without support. There must exist an option of escape, to even get going for me, which is something I never even realised until now. It opens new possibilities! 🙂 What a great post!!xx

    • I know there have been times when I’ve intended to do something, have then attempted to do whatever it was and found it utterly daunting and even impossible… but usually throughout the day I take for granted that what I intend to say and mean is generally understood, or if I decide I’m going to tackle a new project (unless it’s the book I’ve been struggling with for a while now) I then figure out what I need to know or learn (if it’s a new skill) and then go about doing it. Even if I’m taking the word too literally, I still do not feel anxiety or fear when I think of “intention.” So I’m pretty sure what I experience MUST be different than what Emma (or many of you) is/are talking about.

  5. While I don’t fully understand what Emma might mean here about intentions being a hurtle, I think I may have struggled with something like this all my life and realized that, effectively, because of my communication skills limitations and my executive function limitations, I don’t have anything like the capacity that most other people have to act on my intentions, and, at least in the every day sense of the concept, I don’t have as much free will — ability to carry out intentions — as an abled person.

    So yes, I’ve learned that I am happiest when I can just go with the flow and accept what my body can and can’t do in stride, rather than be attached to being able to cary out my intentions. Thus I would have to say that, yes, having intentions really does sometimes get in the way of me just *being* in the world.

    • This is interesting… one of the things that came up in that conversation I wrote about was the idea of dreams versus intention. I’ll have to write another post about that when I have more time…
      Is the word “dreams” any less daunting?

  6. Emma has said in a nutshell what so many of us autistics experience but struggle to describe. Thank you, Emma!

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