Monday, February 14, 2011

Seeing Everything and Aaron vs. The Bird

To start this blog entry I want you watch a video. This video is from the racing game iRacing, and I am driving:

Last week the IndyCar series in the game was at this track known as Mid-Ohio. Now there is a reason I wanted you to see a lap around this track and it wasn't to show off the game's physics or the ultra-realistic track. What I wanted you to show you I bet you didn't notice the first time you viewed it.

I have a problem in this game, and many games for that matter, because I tend to see everything. Pinpoint focus of my vision is something that is difficult for me and perhaps this has led to some of my, ahem, mistakes behind the wheel.

What do I mean by saying I "see everything"? I'll run down a list of things I see every lap whether I am looking for them or not:
(You might want to write these down and re-watch the video to see if you see them.)

At the 0:04 mark a tower can be seen to the right, On top of this tower I always wonder if it is a cell phone tower.

At the 0:05 the JEG'S yellow billboard always stands out.

At the 0:27 mark I am amazed that there is no wall. What I mean is that you can see turn one over there and if a car were to spin off it would be possible to cross onto the straight that this car is currently on.

At the 0:29 mark I always laugh about the hut that is atop the starter stand.

At the 0:39 mark I can't help but be transfixed by the golden tent.

At the 0:47 mark there is a bridge and I always refer to this as the Honda bridge corner.

From 0:56 to 1:04 there are multiple sights. First is the Westfield Insurance bridge which leads to a very annoying visual sight in the distance. There is a cloud on the horizon that very much could pass for a mushroom cloud. As that disappears and the track turns I then notice all the holes in the fence on the left.

I noticed all of these things on the first lap I eve drove at this track, and I still notice then hundreds of laps later. It isn't a choice and I was amazed that Ryan, the friend from Massachusetts, didn't notice any of these things. In fact, he wasn't even aware of what sponsors were on the two bridges I mentioned. I was shocked at this, but he was even more shocked that I do notice all these things.

It isn't a choice for me to see all these things and I am sure I would be more consistent on my times, and perhaps faster, if I wasn't noticing everything. Seeing everything has always been a problem for me and it happened once when I was racing for real.

The year was 1998 and I was racing karts in West Quincy, Missouri. It was Saturday, a practice day, and the skies were clear. We were racing up in West Quincy because the club track in Saint Louis was currently flooded and the track up in West Quincy was much faster than my home track.  I for one loved this track with the increased speeds, but on one lap seeing everything bit me in a big way.

Driving down the main straight I noticed a bird in the air off a bit on the horizon. I watched the bird in awe and I was unaware that my kart was slowly drifting to the right. Eventually I ran out of pavement and dropped a wheel onto the grass. The bottom of my kart bottomed out and the kart instantly spun. I crossed the pit entry road sideways which threw my kart into the air and up on two wheels. I came real close to rolling over but thankfully I landed rightside up but I was still spinning.

I continued to do two more revolutions before coming to a rest beside the end of the fence. The practice session was almost over so I hopped out of the kart and my dad was right there. He looked puzzled and asked me, "Uh, Aaron, what was that?" Being honest I instantly stated, "I was watching a bird."

From that point on I no longer was distracted behind the wheel of a real racing vehicle, but on this virtual racing game I still am seeing the whole picture instead of focusing on where I should be braking and where I should be turning. One race last season at Phillip Island I had a spin on the main straight because I became transfixed on a cell phone tower.

Again, this isn't a choice. I don't consciously think, "I do want to win this race, but I do want to sightsee as well." Is this linked to having Asperger Syndrome? I am confident it does in someway. I am able to process the whole picture even when attempting to have pinpoint focus. Perhaps this also plays into eye contact issues because to make true eye contact one must have a pinpoint focus and if a person is still seeing the whole picture it will create too much input.

I do know it has been a struggle because I cannot get my consistency down. Every track on the game I notice things that other people surely never have seen before. It isn't a choice and I don't want to see the hut on the starter stand or the JEG'S sign in turn one. Most drivers are focused on lowering their lap times, but I have the added struggle of trying to get my mind to not take in the scenic routes of iRacing.


  1. Aaron,

    Every time I read your blog it's like a window is opened into the world of understanding autistic perception. I know there are a million windows, and I can't ask you to open all of them for me, but I want to say thanks.

    I often wonder of my son is driven by the pleasure of being a detail fella, of by a compulsion for detail. I'm understanding now that perhaps I should be thinking somewhere in between - that he just sees the detail, and that insight is the driving force for what comes next.

    I could spend a lifetime exploring the insights you help me find, and I fully intend to find the time to do just that.


  2. I play iRacing with Aaron a lot, and we pretty much always run laps together. He kept asking me what gear I take a certain turn in, mentioning that it was after the "Westfield Insurance Bridge." I kept telling him I have no idea what he was talking about, because I just don't see it, or it doesn't register in my brain that it says "Westfield Insurance." This from someone (at least to my knowledge) not on the Autism Spectrum.

  3. Sounds bang on the money Aaron, interesting to discover this way of looking at the world.. Makes sense too. I reckon it will be a continuum from one end to the other. It has been said that the best drivers have immense concentration to be so consistent lap after lap, e.g. Greger; it must be an intense focus. Cool to see you are analysing this well in a quest for self understanding and also helping others.

  4. My driving instructor told me she has a student who has PDD-NOS and that she has the problem of constantly fixating on everything too, but it's starting to get better with some guidance.
    I don't have that problem as much. I'm actually scared of looking around too much, since the other things I'm doing (like steering?!) immediatly get worse. Which is bad, since I HAVE to look around. But with every lesson I seem to improve. Let's hope it's a matter of learning...
    But for now I'll have to hold driving lessons for a few months (don't know how much exactly), since they want me to get officially approved that I can drive first... Let's hope I get approved... I'll feel terrible if I can't even drive. I love(d) driving! It's a whole new freedom! I hope they don't take that away from me!

  5. I really don't know how you drive at all while taking all that in. The moment I'm through a turn, I'm preoccupied with a post-mortem on my last turn-in and acceleration phase, and then giving myself a talking-to about not messing up the next bend the way I did last time etc. Maybe on the long straights, if it's scenic, I like to look around. Although I think iRacing tracks aren't very attractive (too computer generated looking). I hadn't noticed a single thing you mentioned. However, I agree now about the wall and T1. LOL BTW, didn't even realise T1 was there!

    I think 'normal' eye contact isn't an exact focus on the eyes so much as it's more looking at them but monitoring the whole facial expressions and even moving off to look in detail at those when they do anything interesting. I have trouble with it too, but when it works that's what I think goes on. I've wondered if I'm on 'the spectrum', but after your lap observations, maybe not. LOL

  6. I noticed the signs (couldn't read all of them but did read the Honda one and the Insurance one...don't know if too fast or if they are just blurry...or if my eyes are blurry?) Um...I was following the power lines. I did glance at the steering wheel but the clouds were so pretty...Luckily I don't do that when I'm driving!