Growing up I watched a lot of news and many times I heard the reference of a “Mike Wallace ambush”. This, of course, was 60 Minutes’ Mike Wallace and I’ve been trying to come up with a situation that you could relate to on what processing is like. I’ve come up with several things in the past but nothing compares to the situation you’re about to read.
Processing can take longer for us on the autism spectrum even if it’s a simple question such as, “What’s your name?” To the outsider this seems a simple question, but adding to the previous post about being interrupted it isn’t as simple as it seems. Now, the struggle has been to let you in on what it feels like so let me introduce you to a new gameshow I’ve created. I’m calling this “Street Corner Millionaire” actually, that’s a lot of money so let’s call it, “Street Corner Thousandaire” just in case any person would win. How is this game played? It’s simple! All the contestant has to do is answer one simple trivia answer. Easy, right? Here’s the thing, however; the contestant doesn’t know they’re going to be a contestant. Contestants will be chosen at random in a downtown area of any major city and all of a sudden a host with a confident voice and a crew consisting of three cameras will ambush the contestant to be and the host will rattle off, “I’m and this is Street Corner Thousandaire!” At this point the contestant will be a bit confused but still have their wits about them, “We’re here at the street corner of Elm and Main and let’s choose this person…” Now the host quickly turns to our unwitting contestant, “You have two seconds to answer this question for $1,000. Name me three parts of a door.” A door? Parts? A door has parts? “Oh, sorry, time’s up! You don’t win $1,000 but here’s a consolation prize in a stopwatch that counts to two so you can remember your short lived time on Street Corner Thousandaire!”
I doubt many people would be able to be successful on this game show I’ve created because by the time the person realizes a question has been asked they will just be at the part of processing that there are cameras there and that a game show is actually being filmed. They will be aware of a question but will not be able to process the fact that they need to answer. Under a normal environment a person might be able to, in ample time, give three parts of a hinge, a frame, and a knob but under the pressure and lights of the ambush I doubt you or anyone could respond.
This is what daily life is like for many people on the autism spectrum. The answer is there but the ability to get the information out in a timely manner is now. Processing takes place and it takes longer and the anxiety of knowing an answer is expected just compounds the amount of time it takes to process. In my gameshow example the same would be true; you’d be trying to think harder to come up with an answer but the lights, the host, and the prospect of $1,000 would make it impossible to get the proverbial car from spinning its wheels going nowhere to making forward progress.
I had to create an extreme example scenario to illustrate the difficulty we may have. Most if not all would struggle on my gameshow but this is the life many people in school deal with each and every day. My gameshow was designed for the contestant to fail whereas a school is designed for a student to thrive. The student, however, is only going to thrive it there’s understanding and it can be confusing for teachers to understand that the person may know the three parts of the door, and may be able to talk in great length about how all the mechanisms work, but under the right environment such as the ambush the ability to process and respond is not going to be there.