Of all the social rules there are the one that I hear most of that we break is our endless ability to argue. My parents often thought that I’d become a lawyer because my ability to argue any point, whether I was right or wrong, was superb. Okay, the word “superb” is my word, not theirs, but when it came to anything whether it was wanting a pack of gum at a gas station or wanting to stay up an extra 15 minutes I could always argue the point. However, it is one thing to argue with one’s parents which I think all children will do, Asperger’s or not, but we may carry this trait with us outside of the home.
One of my favorite sayings I’ve said at my presentations have been, “I feel there is nothing more tenacious than a person on the autism spectrum that knows they’re right when they are being told that they are wrong.” This played out in 4th grade to an extreme that my 4th grade teacher, wherever she may be, surely remembers.
My 4th grade teacher was amazing, she really was, but she had a habit of not using the test keys. And most of the time she didn’t need them. However, there was one test she gave us which was a common sense test regarding estimating weights, speeds, and temperatures that created a situation of hot water (sorry, I just couldn’t resist that joke.)
It was a basic 20 question worksheet and near the end there was this question:
How hot is the normal bath? Is it
A. 32 degrees
B. 72 degrees
C. 100 degrees
D. 212 degrees.
This was an easy one for me because I didn’t need to estimate as I went through a spree from 1st through the start of 4th grade of measuring the temperature of my bath water. I knew unequivocally that the answer was C. I may have been sure in my answer but so too were everyone else including my teacher who said it was B.
The next day, when I received the paper, I noticed that I got marked wrong on the bath water question I immediately went to the teacher’s desk to protest. I didn’t get far when she told me that everyone else said it was B but I became relentless in my protests. She kept saying that she was, “right” and I kept saying, “No, you’re not.” This lasted for a couple minutes and because I was always perfectly behaved I think she let me have this time and eventually I said, “I know I’m right because I spent a couple years measuring every bath I took.” This seemed so far-fetched in her eyes that she said, “No, you didn’t” and I responded with, “Yes, I did” and you can quickly see that this argument was getting nowhere. She eventually said, “Aaron, you’re going to have to drop this or I’m going to have to put your name on the board.” This was in the end of the world in my eyes so I went back to my desk but I already knew my next move.
When I know I am right there is no such thing as a wasted breath when it comes to proving I am right. I simply won’t accept the fact that a person is telling me that I am wrong and will go on and on and on in my debate. For my fourth grade teacher this meant that I’d have to talk to her outside the classroom where the jurisdiction of the chalkboard did not exist and it just so happened that I lived in the same neighborhood as my teacher and she was also a marathon runner and I just so happened to know her training route.
After school, when I got home, I waited an hour or so and then hopped on my bicycle. My teacher always ran the outer look of the neighborhood in a clockwise fashion which meant, if I rode counterclockwise I’d increase the chances I’d come across her. This strategy worked and as I passed her I did a U-turn and began riding next to her. I didn’t want to make it too obvious about my intentions so I waited a good, oh, five seconds and I said, “About that test?” She quickly responded with, “Aaron, we’re not going to talk about that test!” to which I became relentless in explaining my logic on why the average bath water could not be 72 degrees. I explained that the neighborhood pool closed if the water dropped below 75 therefore if everyone took baths at 72 then most of America would be freezing each and every time they took a bath.
For a marathon runner there is a certain mental zone they have to ascertain and when you’ve got a pesky 4th grader talking about a test and naming off facts and figures the way I was it made for that zone to not be obtainable. She eventually realized that I wasn’t going anywhere without her concession so she conceded and said, “Okay, Aaron, if I look at the test key tomorrow will you leave me alone?” I said “Yup” and rode off happily into the sunset.
The next morning I walked into my classroom, a bit arrogantly I must say, and I looked at my test I was holding and I proudly placed it in front of her. Not to my surprise, the red pen came out and my score was adjusted and the grade book came out and all was right with the world. Or was it? She only changed my grade when there were twenty or so other students who got it wrong and yet she kept their credit. I said, “Are you going to change everyone else’s scores now?” She just leered at me and said nary a word so I took it upon myself to talk to each student that day and I implored them to go to Mrs. Colvin and demand that she take 5 points off their test. No one did and I quickly lost any bit of popularity I had but it didn’t make sense; why would anyone take credit for something that was wrong? It was a fun week of arguing, but I quickly wore out the ears of all my classmates.
I got lucky that Mrs. Colvin was such an amazing, and patient teacher because my level or arguing might not have been accepted in another classroom because I would have been seen as trying to undermine authority or trying to disturb the classroom but I didn’t see it that way; the only thing I saw was that a right was deemed a wrong therefore it had to be fixed. Everything else didn’t matter. This goes back to the “To Feel and Emotion” chapter as, when I feel I’m right and being told I’m wrong, I must fight it to the ends of the Earth to prove that I am right and many teachers will not put up with this at all simply because of the same misunderstanding that happened in the last chapter with the police officer.
If you aren’t prepared for it our arguing may appear as if we are either control freaks or that we are trying to argue for the sake of being annoying. While we might actually be a bit on the controlling side there’s a reason for this; if everything that is stated is truth and if all the rules are followed my world becomes much, much safer. I don’t have to process if any given person is telling the truth or not. If everyone follows the rules I don’t have to worry about contingency plans. If the schedule is followed I don’t have to worry about something starting three minutes late. What may seem like an irrelevant argument to you might be the most important of things to me because it’s more than just this one thing. If people accept one rule to be broken despite protests then what’s stopping the same situation from happening again, and again, and again? And if this is the case when does the madness end? My understanding of social rules is more vague than those who are normal but what I do understand I expect to be followed and I can assure you that I will argue when anything isn’t according to plan because, often times, the only thing I have going for me is knowing facts and schedules and if you say I’m wrong on something I hold dear then look out because the arguing will commence. And did I mention, I’m superb at it?