Typically, after I write a blog about a topic, I’ll feel better about it but all day yesterday the thoughts about empathy and other emotions made me rather, well, emotional. Perhaps thinking about this topic brought back thoughts of last December and all the hideous generalizations made about the autism spectrum. Perhaps it’s because I’ve experienced both ends of the emotional empathetic spectrum. Perhaps it’s both.
The title of this blog post, I think, sums it up best on anything having to do with emotions as all things are to the power of “E” which stands for extreme. There is no filter for emotions and whatever is being felt or unfelt is going to be to the strongest of levels. However, as with anything on the autism spectrum, I believe, if we study it enough we will have two answers and both can be right. In fact, in my life, this has held true.
When it comes to empathy I’ve done both; I’ve been overly and I’ve been cold and cut off. This story isn’t in my main presentation, but when I present to students I talk of an incident in 4th grade in which a fellow student, whom was the best kicker for kickball and I was the self-appointed chief umpire, and I had an interesting encounter. This kid always played and never missed a day until this one day. Being routine oriented I sought him out and he was by the door we were led out to go to recess. I approached him and right as I was about to ask him a question he looked up and saw me coming and said, “Oh… yeah… um… My dog died this morning.” If there were ever a time for empathy that would be the time, right? However, my response was one of, in which I sort of looked around in an aloof manner, and I said, “Oh… oh… um… Do you want to go play kickball now?” It wasn’t until three hours later that the emotions of his statement were processed and registered that I understood that my response was not exactly the best one.
Then, just five years ago in 2008, I had another incident of an apparent lack of empathy. My mom was getting ready to go to this two-day, indoor car race in Fort Wayne, Indiana held each year between Christmas and New Years and she was in the process of getting her shoes on when she took a step backwards, tripped over a ball, fell, and slammed her head on a table. She was knocked out and, as I say in my presentation, if you could freeze time and go back and be a witness to this you would probably think I was the most cold, callous, heartless individual in the whole wide world. What you couldn’t see, however, was what was going through my mind which was an extreme amount of “What to do’s.” I was essentially paralyzed by my own internal emotional response which coupled with my fear of doing the wrong thing that I was relegated into doing nothing.
Again, with anything, at least with me, whatever is felt is felt to the extreme. If you give me a scale of 0 to 10 on what I am feeling I will either be at a 0-1 or a 9.5-10. Middle ground doesn’t exist and there was an incident at the SKUSA Streets of Lancaster race that I showed a high level of concern unlike the previous two examples.
It was in our youngest class and I was displaying the halfway sign (a rolled up green and white flagged in a crossed manned) which at this race, being a street race and being in a potential impact zone, I rarely looked behind me towards turn one. During this race, after the top five had passed, I heard this loud thud and I looked behind me and saw a kart upside down up against the starting lights. I threw down my flags and radioed into control in a voice of high concern saying, “Control, serious crash, stand by.” I then ran full speed to get a condition of the driver and I was so worried that when I got there, as the visible signs of damage on the kart showed that this was going to be bad, that the driver was going to be severely injured.
I don’t know if I’ve ever ran faster in my life and all the while I never looked behind me. My sole concern was the driver and had another incident happened behind me sending a kart my way I never would have known. When I got to the incident the driver was practically swimming out of the hay bales and I knelt down and gingerly asked, “Are you okay?” I say gingerly but my voice certainly had a hint of quivering in it as I was sure this was going to be bad as I have never seen a rear of a kart so badly mangled. The kid’s face shield had been knocked open in the crash and he looked up at me and said, “Yeah… yeah I’m fine” which was hard to believe because he had tears coming from his eyes but without my asking he immediately explained, “but I’m very allergic to hay… Achoo!” I was speechless as he sneezed a couple more times but I led him to the finish line where he stayed for the rest of the race and I asked several more times, “Are you sure you’re okay?” by which at the end of the race I think he was glad to get away from my repeated questions.
As I fly to the world’s largest karting event today I’m reminded even more of the emotions I felt in that incident and it’s a great contrast that in two stories I was the classic image of the autism spectrum; cold, seemingly heartless and yet in the last story my level of concern, which I doubt I could ever properly convey, was about as high as it could be.
After writing what I’ve got so far this morning I still feel the same as yesterday and I still don’t know why. I want to say all the right things and explain it to perfection and I feel I haven’t. I don’t know if there is anything more important that understanding that, “if you’ve met one person with autism you’ve only met one” and that the way it plays out in each person can be radically unique. However, what is within each person, seems to be to the power of E. Middle grounds, grey areas, and things that aren’t concrete are in scarce rarity. If something is felt it’s going to be near a level of unfiltered chaos. If something isn’t felt then it’s going to be to trying to imagine what blue is like without ever knowing or seeing the color.
Speaking of the power of E, I’m going to be in my ultimate Kansas for the next five days as the SKUSA Supernats are about to commence in Las Vegas. This will be my sixth time as the chief starter of it and while these next five days are the five most physically and mentally demanding they are my favorite five days of the year. As with anything, if I enjoy something I don’t just enjoy it but the feeling of bliss is extreme, but in this case the scale is broken. I look forward to these days all year long and they are here! I’d like to write more but my 2nd flight (I wrote this in the air and have posted this from the Salt Lake City airport) is just about to take off. Again though, I feel there is so much more here, so much more to say, but right now I don’t know how to say it.