Ability, Capability & Capacity

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When I was a kid I was always very aware that I was a different to other kids. I always found kids my own age very very confusing, but I also found my own body confusing.

Everyone around me seemed to be able to do the same things everyday. But I would struggle. It was like I forgot everything I had learned. I would sometimes need to relearn how to do something for a single day.

As I got older I thought I was just lazy or stupid. But then after talking with other autistic people I learnt that I was experiencing something very common.

I had made the mistake of confusing my ability, with my capacity.

Different things.

The way I think about it now is to consider my ability, my capability, and my capacity as three related but different things.

My ability is an absolute measure on if I can I do something. Do I have the skill. Eg I can definitely cross roads and make pasta meals. However I am unable to do other things, like drive a car on the road or travel to another country independently.

My capability is if I can do something right now. Eg, not just being able to do it in general, but able to do it now, with my current energy levels and situation. Eg, I am able to speak, but right now I am writing this in the cafe. It is loud and my speech isn’t work. I am able to speak, but right now I am now capable of speech.

My capacity is a measure of how much I am capable of within a day or week. For example, if I have slept well, I have the capacity needed to ride the bus into town. If I have slept badly, I don’t have the capacity I need to ride the bus.

What tends to change day to day is my capacity. What I can and cannot do is mostly driven by the amount of energy I have.

Using my capacity.

With this in mind I changed how I approached life. I started hating myself less and I stopped trying to relearn skills. In the past, if I was unable to do something one day, I would panic that I’d never be able to do it again. These days I know that if I relax and rest It will come back.

Learning how to manage my energy and pace my days has been key. In order to be productive and independent I have learnt how to make sure I have enough energy, at the right time, to do the things I want or need to do.

When I have a bad day or something goes wrong I ask myself. Was I unable, was I incapable, or had I ran out of capacity.

If I am unable, I will find someone to help me learn a new skill.

If am incapable then I work out what went wrong with that specific attempt.

If I have ran out of capacity then I will adjust how I pace my life so I have more energy next time I need to do the thing again.

It’s a small change but it has had a big effect on my life. By changing the questions I was asking myself I found new ways to make my life better.


Spaced Out & Smiling is about exploring the fun side of Autism, and trying to understand what it means to be Autistically Happy.

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Jamie: @JamieKnight
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