Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Day 3: Thinking Outside the Bun; My Trip to Taco Bell Sunglasses Edition

For those that have followed my blog since the beginning I am sure you remember the original Taco Bell entry. For those that are new it is an entertaining read and can be found at http://lifeontheothersideofthewall.blogspot.com/2010/04/thinking-outside-bun-my-trip-to-taco.html.

20 minutes ago I went to Taco Bell to duplicate that experience to see if there was any difference and here is my experience...

I waited in my office as the lunch time neared and as it came I waited. I wanted to hear footsteps in the hall so I had someone to walk by. I waited, but then hunger won so I left my office.

Unlike in April, I walked down the halls with confidence. Even if someone sees me that won't truly see me. I do feel my confident in that I have more power on avoiding a lock-up due to eye contact. Should I come across someone, they won't get mad that I am not looking them in the eye.

When people's posture or tone changes due to eye contact I begin to fret and stress about it. I want to remain somewhat invisible, and if I am noticed due to lack of eye contact that means I will have more things to process and processing like this slows down all other activity.

Today I would not get any interactions in the hall, or the front part of the building as today was a clean break (How come I can't get a clean break when I want it, but when I want an interaction I don't get it? Life sure likes being funny like that!)

I proceeded to walk towards Taco Bell with the memory of the Escalade that stopped last time. I wondered how different that encounter would have been had I been wearing sunglasses, but today there were no cars about and I made it all the way to Taco Bell without seeing anyone.

Inside Taco Bell I maintained my rigidness on walking around the soda fountains and then through the little corral that forms the line. There was no need to do this and the sales clerk lady pointed me straight to he counter, but lines were meant to be followed therefore I am going to follow it.

Instantly the lady asked for my order and as she looked up I looked away. It truly is a reflex as if my life depends on avoiding that eye contact. As I looked up to the menu, my typical defense to avoid eye contact (I think they have seen through that defense because I order the same thing every time) I cracked a grin as I know they can't see me and still I look away.

Through my grin though was some self disappointment. I knew I was going to do that, but I tried to prevent it, but failed. All was not lost though as I caught myself and then made direct eye contact the reminder of the order.

Sustaining eye contact like that gave me a wide array of sensations. It truly was weird and felt like going down a roller coaster of emotions. I began to realize that this person was indeed a person and not just a figment out of the corner of my eye. I don't mean that to sound cold, but being so involved in protecting myself from the world I often forget that the world is filled with people, real people that are more than just persons whom I try to avoid. I know this paragraph may sound cold, and it is not, it's just that I become so enveloped in protecting myself that I forget that other people have feelings and each person has their own likes and dislikes.

I became lost in thought after the sustained eye contact and became confused. Sustaining that eye contact flooded my system with emotions and made me wonder if other people have thoughts like I had.

I took the cup the clerk gave me and got my drink and before I knew it my order was done and out I went. I spent maybe one minute in the Taco Bell and I was gone, but it felt like hours as the rush of wonder consumed me.

The walk back to the office was uneventful and I made another clean break into my office.

As I sat down I wondered about that eye contact. I was not anxious or stressed like I usually am regarding it. I felt confident in it once I got past the reflex, but was amazed at how much feelings are associated with sustained eye contact. Usually I will give eye contact in spurts, but sustaining it flooded me. Perhaps this is feeling a connection, or perhaps a sense of empathy towards another person? I'm not sure, but I think I am onto something and I can't wait to continue this experiment.

In a couple hours I will be driving to Indianapolis, only a 3.5 hour drive, to flag the USAC quarter midget "Battle At The Brickyard". The race is going to be held on the grounds of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and for me this is going to be one of the most moving events of my life. I will write about it of course as well as the continuing experiment. I may have an entry tonight should I have an interesting experiences on the road with my sunglasses. In any event I am beyond excited for tomorrow's event that will last until Saturday. It will be racing bliss!


  1. I just put "I don't mean that to sound cold, but being so involved in protecting myself from the world I often forget that the world is filled with people, real people that are more than just persons whom I try to avoid." on my Facebook as one of my favorite quotations.

    I know how that is from personal experience. Thank you for the reminder.

  2. Have you ever read a book on mindfulness? For a lot of people with autism like ourselves, if we are not mindful about making eye contact with the persons we are speaking to, our eyes are going to wander off to different places.

    Whenever I do my line of work as an OT, sustained eye contact is essential. If I am not making good eye contact, then I may not truly know what my clients are feeling... and that can be bad in some situations when the clients can be known as walking time bombs, have tendencies to pass out, or capable of any other sudden changes of state. Even if none of these worst-case-scenario stuff is happening, I still have to try to make good sustained eye contact because I have to assume my clients may not know much about autism. In these situations, however, these clients could care LESS about me having autism most of the time. The thing they want bottom line is good therapy. (What the supervisors and co-workers want are more than that.) Not surprisingly, I would come home tired because of the eye contact I was making all day.

    The message I am trying to send is- in community situations, individuals with autism have to give genuine efforts to make sustained eye contact as long as they possibly can. In some settings like mine, it is also one of the many job survival skills! If sustained eye contact is hard, then they have to have the responsibility of finding something that works for them AND are generally acceptable in society.