Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Square of Fear

Today's blog was fun for me to create because once again I am able to use visual aides to assist in my telling of the story. I do warn you though that I have very limited artistic abilities and my diagrams using MS Paint is certainly lacking, but I still enjoyed making it.

Yesterday I attended a quarterly meeting of agencies that assist or do something with the Special School District. The meeting was in the boardroom and the seating arrangements were a square, and looked something like (I am the light blue X)

These arrangements always terrify me and from the moment I sat down I was wishing, no, deeply yearning for my sunglasses. The head of the table, or rather the speaking portion, was the right side of the square.

What is so hard about this arrangement? Eye contact runs wild in a square and I don't know the appropriate place to look. My anxiety levels rise which further lowers my ability to make eye contact so it is just a downward spiral that feeds upon itself.

At one point in time the conversation shifted to me and Matt, the TouchPoint Community Liaison, set up a perfect pitch for me to state what I have heard at my book signings and in public (the constant thing is that so many parents are told by doctors/schools that autism "disappears" at the age of 16.) They always say 16) but because I was so out of my element in this square of fear my mind was so jumbled that I didn't catch it. In fact, I didn't hear most of what was said because I had to tune everything out to manage my emotions in this square.

I tried to answer the question by trying to go to the audio replay in my mind, but the files were not there because of the amount of processing that was going on trying to 1. manage where I was looking and 2. manage the anxiety and adrenaline that had me on edge. I had to ask Matt, "What am I answering?" and he once again gave me the set up and I was able to give the answer, but after the answer I went right back to fearing the square.

In my diagram above I have X's for each person, but in all reality the X's should be "?" because I don't know how many people were there outside my field of vision. What was my field of vision? I'm glad you asked because I have another visual aid to show it:
The light blue lines were the extent of my eye level views. The only time I scanned further left was to look at someone, for a brief second, when they started talking as to acknowledge that someone was there. For the most part, I'd say 95+% of the time my eyes were only in that small cone. When I could not take looking at eye level I resorted to the red lines. At the top I have "Exit Sign" in green and this sign was of great comfort as there was a green and yellow light that flashed on it. I spent most of the meeting looking up at it as the lights that flashed seemed to have no rhythm as to why they flashed when they did so being able to absorb myself in that instead of the room and square I was in truly helped. Also, there was a television monitor and a projector screen (the blue lines) that I could stare into without fear and without worrying about making eye contact. When all else failed I stared into the ground at the corner because I found that to be the point in space that had the least amount of people in it.

After an hour I got into my "positional warfare" and could not settle in on how I should be seated. I went from folded arms, to hands on the table, to crossed legs, to reversing the way my legs were crossed and it was just uncomfortable. My eyes became glued to the exit sign and I began to plot this blog entry of all things.

I find it so unique and mysterious that I can speak in front of a massive group of people with no problems, yet a room with an arrangement like this crashes my system. This has to be because of the amount of things that can be seen all at once. I mean, if I were to look at eye level at the center of the room I would be able to see most everyone at once and for my brain it is too much.

When it was time to go the moment it happened couldn't have come any sooner. As I usually say in all the things that have happened to me, I am glad this happened because I am able to write about it and even though I have been in the square of fear before I wasn't self aware enough to be able to translate all the emotions and feelings that come along with it.

Next time they have that meeting I do want to go along and I want to bring my sunglasses along to judge if that would have helped me. I know I said I wished I had them with me, but I am unsure if they would have done any good because it just wasn't the eye contact but each person's movements were seen and then processed. Seeing so many people at once was too much and that's why I narrowed my field of vision.

So that was my experience with the square of fear. I hope my MS Paint skills were enough that you could understand where I was seated and where I was looking. I hope they were good enough because this, I feel, is very important to understand because in a classroom setting, or a public place for that matter, if we on the spectrum are looking at a fixed place in space, or are looking away from everyone, it may not be because we want to, but rather because we need to. If there's too much input we HAVE to manage by looking away or looking at the place with the least amount of input. We aren't trying to disrespect the group, we are just trying to get by the only way we know how.


  1. Oh wow, everytime I think you have covered a lot of things already and then you still manage to think of something to wright about I didn't even think about. Even though it's a big factor of my life.
    So yes, I can totally relate to this. Squares or circles... :/ Last year I was in a school where we sat in a square in class every time we had theoretics and our teacher was explaining. Oh how I longed to him/her finish quickly and have us seated behind the computer, where I was allowed to put on my mp3-player and focus on a screen...

  2. Do they seriously say that autism disappears at age 16? That's crazy. I was actually 16 when I was diagnosed with AS.

  3. I will give you a pointer. Next time you are in such an arrangement, imagine you are swimming. What I mean is- if you prepare notes for what you are going to say, then you can use this technique. You look down at your notes, then face the general direction where most of the people are at until your next point or when you think you need to remind yourself. Rinse and repeat until you finish what you say. If you don't have notes, though, then try to think of your head like water coming off a sprinkler at a park... as you make eye contact with far right/left of the room (as long as there is people) for like 30 seconds to a minute, then you gradually shift towards the opposite direction (again as long as there is people) for 30 seconds to a minute... as you repeat the cycle until you finish talking.