is the mechanism by which an individual commits an action without
awareness. Most people do this on a regular basis and would understand
this in terms of being on "auto pilot".
We generally reserve auto pilot for tasks which are dull, repetitive or
for those tasks which we have done a million times and no longer need
to think about the mechanics of it.
For example, once you know how to ride a bicycle quite well, you no longer
need to think about how to push the pedals, maintain your balance, hold
on to the bars, sit on the seat, turn, use the brakes etc....you can
just hop on, ride and concentrate on the scenery around you...your main
focus of attention only returns if something happens to cause a wobble
or problem. However, there is part of your attention which is dealing
with the mechanics of riding - this is where the first part of the
"auto pilot" comes in.
Ok now how does this impact on us? Well for some people, due to the MS damage,
memories, cognitions (thinking abilities) attention, concentration and
awareness is altered, damaged or in some ways changed.....so where we
once could have "split " attention - i.e., the main focus plus the auto
pilot to conduct tasks, we no longer can....
The part of our functioning and attention that is MOST problematic is the auto
pilot....therefore when you and I conduct tasks that we have done a
million times we make silly and unexpected mistakes. This is because of
all the cognitive functions,eg., attention and concentration abilities
(of which the auto pilot is the biggest) are the first to become
Sooo, you are writing something - the auto part is supposed to be doing the check
on word arrangement and letter arrangement, movement of the hand,
holding of the pen, observing the paper - spacing and such, spelling
and syntax and grammar....the conscious part of attention is focused on
the "story line" and to a certain degree the spelling and word order.
You are not aware of mistakes as you make them, and often until you
re-scan or leave and come back later to check - you do not "see" any
problem....because you do not EXPECT there to be a problem and that is
the second part of the auto pilot.
you see all our lives we have learned to do things....learn well enough and
eventually certain components of the task will become "automatic" - ya
do not have to think to hard about washing a floor or eating.....and
because of this fact, we learn to TRUST ourselves, our auto pilot our
brains to function PROPERLY....in the past we did not need to check and
recheck what we had done, we did not need to focus all of our attention
on the task...BUT now that has changed - but our awareness hasn't...we
KNOW we have problems, but give us a task and we will still try to do
it as we always have...forgetting that not all the wheels are on the
We are for the most part still under the assumption that the auto part is fully
functional, we also forget that we forget, lose focus, see things
differently etc....so on the one paw, we are trying to function as we
always have with most things, and on the other paw we are aware of our
deficits, but have not yet re-learned how to compensate? So if you
think you are paying attention to something - you are actually
So what to do??? well for starters try to remember that you can no longer TRUST
yourself, you can no longer automatically assume that the pedals will
go around, just because you are on the bicycle! lol...
For important tasks...try to do them in 3 stages...
stage 1: complete the task...
stage 2: disengage the whole attention system - the control focus and the auto
pilot and...go for a quick walk, make a phone call, have a drink or a
bathroom break, stare off into the distance - whatever is needed to
break the attention focus away from the task.... it can even be just
for 20 or 30 seconds....
then stage 3: return to the task with the purpose of looking for mistakes and
ASSUME that there ARE going to be mistakes - do NOT assume that there
will be none...pretty much like checking someone ELSE's work!
However, if you start to assume there will be none because there hasn't been in the
past, chances are you are going to be one of two things....
1) devastated all over again because you realize your inability
2) blind to mistakes because you are only "scanning" instead of really reading or looking.
Whether mistakes occur more frequently due to progressive MS or not, please be kind to yourself, remember even
able bodied people also make mistakes!
The key to coping with growing concerns with ability is to acknowledge the problem and work toward
ways of over coming it if possible