Thursday, September 2, 2010

Coping With the Crossings

The name of my book is Finding Kansas and I assure you it isn't a geography lesson. My "Kansas" concept is a metaphor that states, "If you were paralyzed in every state except Kansas, where would you want to live?"

What does this mean? This means that a place/item/conversation/everything is either Kansas and everything is great, or it is extremely difficult or disinteresting. I try to immerse myself in Kansas and also try and make it where there aren't any metaphorical border crossings. This, of course, is impossible.

The invasion is still ongoing as Rob is still here in Saint Louis and yesterday I had two places that had a crossing. The first place was Steak n Shake which isn't surprising as ordering from a waiter is always a difficult task.

I have been comfortable talking around Rob, but as soon as it was time to order words became harder to say. Just a simple, routine event like having an interaction with a waiter can create a road right out of Kansas.

When this crossing happens I do get frustrated with myself. In my mind I should have no issue, but the fact is I do and having to order just floods my mind with so many thoughts. Add in the fact that waiters/waitresses always look directly at me and then I start thinking about eye contact and the end result is a order in a voice a zombie would be proud of because I become almost lifeless.

After Steak n Shake, and as I began to regain my confidence, we went across the street to Gamestop. I was hoping for a smooth experience here, as I had already experienced my out of Kansas experience for the day, but the road would drive me farther are farther away.

From the onset of our entry into the store a clerk talked to me and I was unable to gauge if it was a joke, a greeting, or an insult. As soon as I have to process something like that the whole experience is going to be tainted because it takes me time, and while I am thinking I miss everything that goes on around me and also become fearful because I am unaware of where I stand at that point in time. Where I stand means in terms of an invisible social scoreboard meaning how much I am liked or hated at that point in time because I always have to assess this.

I found what I was looking for and walked to the counter where once again I was joked with and was completely oblivious to it. The other worker finished off the joke by telling me, "See, I ask for good help and this is what I get." What does this mean? Why am I being included? Was it rhetorical? How do I respond?

Question after question was being asked in my mind and if my mind had a visible state it would have been a small, quivering child in a corner that was scared and crying. I was so overwhelmed and so confused that I wanted nothing more than to turn invisible and walk home without anyone knowing who I was or that I was even there.

After the purchase the clerk began a monologue of "insider information" regarding future system tactics and banishment of hackers. I may have been interested had I not already been completely derailed.

Rob was with me this entire time and he noted that I never once made any eye contact with the clerk. This clerk has seen me many times and I have always gone into the store alone, yet this clerk talked to Rob as if he were me and he too did not look at me at all and simply made eye contact with Rob.

During this monologue I tried to make it seem as if I were interested, and disinterested all at the same time. I am always afraid of being rude because I don't know what is and isn't rude. Would it have been rude had I just said, "Well, I gotta run?" I couldn't say that because it wasn't true, and I knew it wasn't true then he surely would not it wasn't true. One of my favorite quotes fits this, "I think therefore you should/already know"

Eventually there was a brief lull in the amount of information being given to us and we made our break. The after effects lasted a while though. I tried my best to hide it, but I know I was a couple notches further down the "edgy" dial.

It is quite difficult living with these constant border crossings. One minute I am able and the next I have no ability to be without fear. One minute I am a master at the art of conversations and the next I am unable to speak. One minute I move with ease, the next I am in a positional warfare.

Living with the knowledge that I may go out of Kansas is tough. I'm not going to lie about this. It is hard and I am afraid, but I will not let this define me. I have to make a conscious effort to do this because there is fear, and I know that if I never left the house the chances of me leaving Kansas would be slim. But, if I never left the house the borders of Kansas would be very small. Knowing that there is a vast world out there that has so many unique things to see, and knowing that I have a place out there makes it easier.

To put it better, my ultimate Kansas used to be auto racing and when I raced I had to leave the house to do so. Now, while racing still is very powerful in the world of Kansas (I will be an assistant race director at the Rock Island Grand Prix this weekend), spreading the understanding of the autism spectrum through writing and speaking is my #1 Kansas. I would be unable to do this if I always stayed at home though.

Coping with the crossings is difficult, but motivation to spread awareness makes coping a necessity. I know I will be dragged out of Kansas, but I won't know when or where until it happens. This scares me, but not enough to prevent me from living my life.


  1. I am glad to see that you now place the newest blog first. I understand how difficult it must have been for you to change this format but it is a good change.

  2. I never freeze in these moments. I think that has to do with my parents "training" me to order the things I want at a very young age at restaurants. As I said in earlier comments, I also have been doing more sit down meals with OT professionals... and quite a bit of times is ME asking them out for a breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Looking bad in front of them is NOT an option for me.

    I will refer you back to the example I had yesterday with the girl whom I had spent 3 hours with. There are a few things that I did that you can learn.

    1. I came earlier than the girl did by a bit. I followed the rules as I wrote my name on the waiting list. But since the policy of the restaurant was that I shouldn't take up the space until all parties have arrived, even though my name was called a few minutes later, I told the waiter that the girl wasn't coming yet. Then, when the girl arrived 5 minutes after that, I immediately told the waiter that we are ready to be seated!

    2. I later learned that the girl had been to the restaurant a few times. So, I asked her what was best to eat. I took her word on the suggestion and asked another waiter what each of the variations of the dish entail. After the waiter explained the different variations to me... since I knew my preference, I smoothly told him what I wanted.

    3. I ordered cold lemon tea. However, it wasn't sweet. So, I asked the girl about the a syrup looking bottle to see if it was really syrup. Once she said yes, I put a little syrup at a time to my tea.

    4. I asked her right in the beginning on what language that she preferred me to speak. We agreed on Cantonese over English... which was not surprising because we both are from Hong Kong.

    #1- I followed the rules of the restaurant. When I was asked whether I wanted to be seated, I gave an appropriate reply in a second because I remembered the rules.

    #2- Asking questions sometimes can give me time to think (although processing what is explained can be difficult for some people), especially in a restaurant that I was there for the first time.

    #3- Although I had an idea of what something is, sometimes asking for confirmation is not a bad idea.

    #4- This is a polite thing to ask if somebody wants to meet me and I have a hunch that someone may prefer one language over another (as long as I have the ability to speak the language that he/she is comfortable in).

    All the things pretty much I have done instinctively because I was able to build on my past social experiences. As I will say a lot to the clients that I will see who have autism, the best way to fight fear is fear and that experience is our best teacher. In autism terms, this will be the fear of the unknown versus the consequences of NOT performing the task. The only way you can get better with social skills is to repeatedly take the plunge. Each social experience can teach you something- whether you are on the delivering or receiving end (and sometimes both) of it.