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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Speeding and Tornadoes

There came a time in my life that I had a huge dilemma. Perhaps you would call this an ethical dilemma without common sense. Whatever it was, I can tell you I was a very confused five year old.

When I was five I was a stickler on rules. If my dad floated a stop sign I would let him know. If he changed lanes without using a turn signal I would let him know (I still do!). As minor as those were I was very concrete on speed limits. I was almost obsessed with speed limits, why they were in use, and why the limit on I-465 in Indianapolis was 55 and the speed in our neighborhood was 15.

As I learned about the safety aspect I began to believe 55 meant 55 no matter what. Then I had a thought that would plague me for months, "What would happen if a tornado was chasing us?"

With that question I combined my greatest fear with my greatest belief in rules. Severe weather used to terrorize me and if there was a "watch" of any sort, be it thunderstorm or tornado, I was sure to do everything I could not to leave the house so I could have quick access to the basement.

But there are times when I would be out and there would be a watch. What would happen if the watch turned into the warning and a tornado developed behind us? Our safety is important, but the speed limit is 55. What if the tornado was a fast mover? Let's say it was doing 70, 55 would not be enough to out run it.

Provisions to rules are difficult to teach. Being a five year old deathly afraid of breaking any rules I thought that a person had to always follow the speed limit. If the tornado got you then so be it, but at least the rules weren't being broken.

As the weeks went on I kept asking my dad about this scenario because I wanted to believe one could speed if their life was in danger. I wanted to believe, but if this rule, or rather law, could be broken then what about all the others? If one rule can be bent then I had to know what all the provisions were.

This was not an easy process, but I had to know. Slowly I came to the conclusion that it was okay to speed if one were to out run a tornado, but it was not okay to speed if there was just hail or a severe thunderstorm. Through my provisions I became confident that I had solved this conundrum. Doing this allowed me to understand that in all of life there are provisions to rules and this was a milestones as, if I had not worked this out, I might have always been 100% concrete in that the rule is the rule and that is final.

In my police presentations I use this example: There was a teenager with autism lost in a large park. The police located the person and asked him what his name was. The person froze and did not comply with or answer any commands or questions. The officers knew this was the right person and had to bring the parents to the person because they were getting no help or compliance on anything they asked of him. When the parents go there they asked, "Why didn't you help the officers? They were trying to help you. The teenager responded, quite flatly, "Why are you mad? You told me that I should 'not talk to strangers' and these people were strangers."

Concrete thinking is common for those on the spectrum and each person has a different degree of this. Some people can be flexible, others can not (I am not flexible when playing games. We either play by the rules or we don't play at all. House rules or you need to go to someone else's house!). I am so thankful my dad continued the discussion about speeding that when being chased by a tornado is okay.

Through the years I always came up with other possible situations, such as if we were driving down the road, and my dad had a health crisis, would I be able to drive him to the hospital? If there were a fire in my house could I break a window to get out? If other people are talking, if I feel very ill, can I say something and interrupt them?

I came up with nothing short of 15,000 possible reason to break the rules, but with each situation I worked through I developed a better sense of, well, common sense. I had to work through these to get to this point and had my "what if" situations had fallen on deaf ears I may be super concrete in all rules. I'm glad I'm not because my goal now is to talk to as many groups of people as possible about the autism spectrum and these groups are typically strangers to me and I was also told that I shouldn't "talk to strangers".

2 comments:

  1. I am impressed that you can articulate the process you go through in finding out how the rules work and when they need to be laid aside. We taught our daughter THE rules, and then taught her that when in an emergency, all rules go away and you must do whatever it takes to stay safe, even if you have to break the law to stay safe. She was not comfortable knowing that she might have to break rules to keep herself safe, and verbally tested out a lot of situations ahead of time. "What should I do if (insert situation)?" We ran through the situations with her, over and over again until she felt comfortable figuring it out on her own. The first time she had to deal with an emergency in real life, she felt comfortable dealing with the rule breaking and could tell us why she did what she did. She is not on the autism spectrum, and I can see from what you have written how you had a much harder time getting through the process into common sense. Thank you so much for sharing the process you went through!

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  2. Being flexible can be trained for individuals with autism. It needs to be trained at home so that there is carry over at community settings. Don't get me wrong... structure is important for individuals with autism. However, training them to be mentally flexible gradually is also important. My mom is extremely strict in this. Although she never did any formal exercises to work on my mental flexibility, but any maladaptive behavior related to being mentally inflexible were NOT tolerated. Therefore, now I can survive in occupational therapy despite having AS... as mental flexibility is an extremely important trait for an occupational therapy practitioner- because clients' status can change in a second and I have to be ready for that!

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