More than once since my diagnosis, I’ve referenced Spoon Theory, posited two decades ago by Christine Miserandino in the context of lupus. It was picked up broadly in chronic illness communities, and adapted for use in autistic and other neurodivergent communities as well.
(Before I go any further: no, the title doesn’t make sense, technically-speaking, but it’s what we’re going with.)
Early on in my autism blogging, as I learned about autistic inertia, I also came across Splines Theory, posited a decade ago by Luna Corbden as something of a corollary to spoon theory to describe cognitive transitions.
This past week on Bluesky, I was introduced to Ticket Theory, posited more recently by Hilary Knutson to expand beyond spoons, which too easily are seen as essentially interchangeable, in order to describe what it feels like sometimes not to have full freedom of choice as to how to spend your spoons.
In essence, if you had five spoons and there were three things you’d like to get done but they each cost two spoons, you have to make a decision based upon your priorities. Ticket theory complicates this picture by use of tickets that represent access to certain things but not others. For example, you might wake up and find you really need to do laundry but for whatever reason your brain has issued you only a dishes ticket and a grocery errand ticket.
This is one of the trickiest things to explain to people who don’t experience it. Spoons they often can get a handle on (no pun intended), but the idea that resources are not interchangeable mostly sounds to people like laziness, like petulance, like sloth. Sometimes I forget this lack of fungibility myself.
It occurred to me today at some point that Ticket Theory in part helps explain so-called Pathological Demand Avoidance, in that one’s will often has nothing to do with it.
It’s about capacity, and it really is ground truth that we can have all the will in the world to do a particular thing but if our brains haven’t issued us the proper ticket that day, it’s simply not going to happen—even if, much to the chagrin of those around us, we seem quite easily to do something else that to lay eyes (read neurotypical ones) costs the same number of spoons.
A couple of days ago, in advance of summer not leaving before hitting Portland with a heatwave, I suddenly one night before bed had a ticket for cleaning my kitchen counter, sink, and stovetop. None of them had been cleaned for longer than I can even guess. I didn’t plan it. I was just thinking of things to see about taking care of before the heat and this turned out to be one I could do.
Something I don’t think many people appreciate is that those of us with so-called Pathological Demand Avoidance (I really do admire the reframing as Pervasive Demand for Autonomy) ourselves often get angry at our PDA. It really is not sloth, and we really aren’t being petulant.
We just didn’t get that ticket today.
But can I interest you in a ticket for a blog post?