27 words for ‘stuck’

I’ve started on my PhD, and the first item on the agenda was to write a literature review. I thought that would be quite straightforward as there is virtually no research literature on autistic inertia so far. It has turned out to be a little more complicated.

Because of the lack of research specifically in this area, I have to outline the (rather large) hole I want to begin to fill, and justify why I think this is even an issue. So I went looking for anything to do with autism or related conditions and difficulty with doing stuff. In my travels, I have found the following terms for ‘failure to do stuff’.

Terms used by (or about) the general population (i.e. those without a diagnosis of anything non-standard about their brain): 

  1. Stuck 
  2. Lack of motivation 
  3. Laziness 
  4. Procrastination 
  5. Analysis paralysis 
  6. Avoidance 

Terms associated with psychiatric conditions: 

  1. Amotivation 
  2. Apathy 
  3. Avolition 
  4. Catatonia 
  5. Dissociation 

Terms associated with neurodevelopmental conditions 

  1. Executive dysfunction 
  2. Learned helplessness 
  3. Non-compliance 
  4. Oppositional defiance 
  5. Pathological demand avoidance 
  6. Prompt dependence 

Terms associated with neurological disorders: 

  1. Abulia 
  2. Adynamia 
  3. Akinesia 
  4. Athymhormia 
  5. Auto-activation deficit 
  6. Impaired mental self-activation 
  7. Endogenous-evoked initiation impairment 
  8. Hypokinesia 
  9. Initiative deficit 

And then there’s what autistic people often call it:

  1. Inertia 

As long as every researcher for every condition calls it a different thing, we are doomed to make little progress in working out to what extent these conditions are the same or different, what mechanisms may underlie them, and what we might do to help those who struggle with them.

Karen L Buckle

I am a PhD student studying autistic inertia. I am interested in this topic because I suffer from these problems and because I know that they are common and seriously problematic for a lot of autistic people. If you are interested in being kept up to date on my research, including participation opportunities and updates on findings, leave a comment or email me at karenleneh.buckle@postgrad.manchester.ac.uk.


8 Responses

  1. I tagged you in a post on Twitter, but I figured I’d ask more here.

    The way you describe it, “autistic inertia” might be kind of an umbrella term for all of these other words as they relate to autistics? I definitely have issues with initiating tasks, but also with other people telling me what to do, etc., and I’ve found a bit of a home within the PDA community. I’m actually reading Sally Cat’s book called PDA by PDAers right now to try and understand myself and my resistance to doing things a little better.

    Have you thought much about the difference between autistic inertia and PDA? Do you feel that PDA is under the umbrella of autistic inertia?

    Thanks in advance for your thoughts!

    • I have thought about it a bit, but I don’t think I know enough about PDA to get to any conclusions. I do know one person who has a lot of both PDA and catatonia, so when she experiences any demand, she freezes. I also know someone who is very avoidant and has just started to identify with internalising PDA. He gets motor-stuck less than I do, but will actually avoid things all the way past an important deadline, which I won’t.

      The other thing that confuses me is that PDA seems so very active – the profile I’ve heard of anyway (in children) often involves a lot of fighting, screaming, melting down, and other very energetic processes that seem very unlike inertia.

      So I guess I can see why PDA might make people get stuck (in response to demands), but I don’t think that’s the main/only characteristic of PDA, so I wouldn’t consider it a ‘type of’ inertia – more like an intersecting phenomenon.

      Does that make sense? Do tell me where I’m wrong.

      • Hi Karen, Your work here is really interesting! I am a mom of a suspected PDA kiddo (our wonderful autistic developmental pediatrician agreed he seems to fit the profile). I would say that in my research and experience, the meltdowns that occur with PDA are only when they’ve tried many other tactics to dodge the demands usually. I say they, but I do suspect I have a touch of this too. So I’m my son’s example, we are homeschooling and dropped a lot of demands, so his strategies are more like distraction, pretending he didn’t hear me, saying his legs don’t work so he can’t, etc. So I am sure some PDAers get inertia stuck but I also agree it’d be a mistake to assume too quickly that’s what’s happening.

        I don’t know if I have autism or adhd but I suspect both, my other son is classically adhd. I definitely have suffered from inertia, though. In particular in my car, sometimes I just can’t get out. I was wondering if you’ve thought at all about hyperfocus / hyperfixation in adhd and how that might overlap. At first I thought maybe that was what was happening, as I definitely hyperfocus sometimes, but I’m not necessarily focused in these situations and I can be thinking that I should get out of the car but I can’t.

        • I have difficulty getting out of the car a lot. One time I was in the supermarket car park and I had been texting with one of my children so I mentioned to them that I was failing to get out of the car. They texted back “Have you tried opening the door?” That sounds really sarcastic, but it was sincere and I tried it (because getting out is hard, but opening the door is a lot easier) and it worked. Once the door was open, quite quickly I was able to get out and then go inside.

  2. Thank you for all this. I’m 81 years old and only in the last few years have I become aware of my autism. Your ideas have helped free me from some of the guilt involved in the inertia I’ve had all my life, and given me another way to think about it. ( Still hasn’t helped get me to bed before 4:00 a.m.)

    • Hopefully at 81 your life is undemanding enough that you can sleep in after going to bed at 4am. I really sympathise with the problem. It’s probably the biggest single issue caused by my inertia because there are so many knock-on effects.

  3. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and research on the topic of autistic inertia. I am the mom of an adult daughter who has autism and when I discovered this concept of autistic inertia on twitter and started looking for more on it, I felt like I had received a gift from the universe because I had searched for something- anything- that could fit what my daughter has shown and seems to be experiencing for the last 12 or so years of her life (38 now). When younger she was very physically active– she loved to hike , climb a mountain, swim for hours, swing for hours, climb, etc. She was curious and was usually up for any adventure. She sought out new people and places and soaked up new information. Thank goodness because it gave her a solid foundation– because without it, I doubt she could gain it now. “Autistic inertia ” ( I didn’t know its name until last few. months) slowly and gradually set in and grew over the last dozen years and now she has no desire to go places, do things, meet people, even take a casual walk. Professionals have ruled out depression and/or medical basis but from what I have read on autistic inertia, it fits like a glove. I’ll just keep reading and researching, hoping for some tools for us. Thank you for your contributions. –Kate, New York, USA

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post comment