The Anticipation Of Control

Browsing through some of my blogging from 2019 that hasn’t yet made its way over here, I found myself needing to revisit a 2021 post about predictive processing, which for some reason I used as a way to talk about my problems with algorithmic social media feeds but not more broadly about being autistic.

What brought this up was a post about something I’d come across in Caroline Criado Perez’s Invisible Women about the difference between “anticipatory” and “compensatory” control over one’s own movement, and in that case I specifically was citing the passage as a way potentially to talk about certain aspects of being autistic.

(Note: that link eventually will work, but not until that portion of my blogging history gets restored here.)

When you’re walking, you are in control of your movements. You know what’s coming. On a ship, or in a car, someone else is in control—unless you’re the driver. “The driver knows what the motion of the car is going to be and so the driver is able to stabilise his or herself in what we call an anticipatory fashion,” explains Stoffregen, “whereas the passenger cannot know in quantitative detail what the car is going to be doing. And so their control of their own body must be compensatory. And anticipatory control is just better than compensatory control. You know, that ain’t no rocket science.”

The funny thing about that example, looking back with additional knowledge, is that, in a sense, being dyspraxic is a bit like someone else is in charge of your walking, which would explain why the occupational therapist who evaluated me said that I walk very “methodically”: there’s a degree to which my movements aren’t quite entirely predictable if left to their own devices, and so my brain is doing a little bit of extra work.

Then, as near as I can tell, I never came back to the “anticipatory” and “compensatory” thing again; it clearly would have been worth bringing up in a hypothetical longer version of my predictive processing post. It’d have been relevant, too, in my post about pathology versus adaptation, where at least I very much was talking about being autistic.

It first came to mind when I was thinking about catastrophizing, which is something I do often enough that an outsider might find it concerning. What I realized is that for an autistic, catastrophizing sometimes merely is a form of scripting, a process through which we imagine in advance (in this case) potential negative outcomes of a situation. Our brains know enough about us to understand that the only thing worse than catastrophizing is the coming to pass of a potential negative outcome which we didn’t imagine, or for which we didn’t prepare.

That right there very much exactly is about anticipatory control being better than compensatory control.

Thinking again, now, about the example of walking versus riding in a car that someone else is driving, I feel like it’d be useful at the very least metaphorically when trying to explain to people who aren’t autistic what being autistic can be like—somewhat akin to many of people’s pandemic experiences. Many of the things we do are about being in control ahead of time, instead of flailing to gain some control after the fact.

Referring posts