Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Opening Night Terror

And I thought the Mongolian grill story from yesterday was as bad as it gets! Last night was the start of the bowling season and I wanted to bowl before heading on the three hour drive to Osage Beach as I have an 8AM presentation there. Oddly enough this decision to bowl created an event I will NEVER forget.

This is my 13th season of bowling and for many years it was my only social outlet. My night didn't start off to well in the first game with a score of only 150 (my season high average was 212). It was at the conclusion of the first game that this story picks up as I was getting hungry so I went to the snack machine to get some Chex Mix. I put my money in, hit the number, and as it was trying to dispense it the bag got stuck.

Now how on Earth does a stuck bag create terror? It's been somewhat of a joke the past decade as every time I go to this machine I manage to get it stuck. Most times I go to the counter, but many of those times I get scolded for breaking it and have been told on numerous occasions to, "give it a gentle shake."

By giving it a gentle shake I forgo any personal interaction, so last night I decided to do this. By no means am I violently shaking it as I am just trying to create a vibration effect to scoot it out. This was not working so I looked over to the front counter and the lane attendant got the snack machine key and headed over my way.

He started to open it and I was about to make a joke that my season was not off to a good start in regards to bowling and snack machines when another employee came over, pointed in my face, and said, "What are you, stupid? Can't you read the sign? It says 'do not shake' you wear glasses right?" and he stormed off.

Shock? Despair? Hatred? Confusion? What was I feeling? I don't think my vocabulary has the right words to describe the intense rage of confusing thoughts and emotions I was feeling. I have never been pointed at and yelled at for anything much less for something I have been told to do in the past. I had no idea what had occurred except that I wanted to disappear.

The other employees that saw this looked dumbfounded at me and I started to walk back to my lane as the crushing avalanche of rage came full force. I hated him, myself, and everything. I hate to sound so negative, but at that moment I was through with everything. I didn't care. My mind could not make sense of the world I was in.

I walked down to my lane and as I was about to sit down I threw my bag of Chex Mix on the table with all my might and my teammate asked, "Did I miss something? Are you mad?" And I responded with just one word and that was the person who yelled at me.

That name I spoke would be the last thing I would say at the bowling alley. I tried to talk, but nothing was there. There was no ability to speak and when I did the only thing I wanted to do was to cry like I have never cried before. I was in emotional survival mode. It was an odd feeling as I rocked back and forth and kept putting my left hand near my mouth and sometimes both arms across my ears. Every movement I had may have looked random, but it was the only thing I had to comfort me in this world that had caused so much pain.

Just because I was a wreck didn't mean I quit bowling. If I am paying for something I am going to do it. Even though I was hyper-ventilating and my face was numb and I was sweating I went up to bowl and I got a strike in the first frame. The second frame too was a beautiful strike and it was at this point in time I sent a text to my dad concerning the three hour drive I would have.

Third frame came and another strike was struck. A member of the other team tried to talk to me, but I shook him off, literally, and he asked me if I was, "okay" and my team captain who is fully aware of my autism and fully aware of what was going on did a gentle hand motion I think implying that yes I was, but lay off because no I wasn't.

I honestly don't know how I was bowling so well. The anger within me towards the world and myself was immense and consuming. I also was fully aware of how awkward it must have been for all those around me as my eyes were teary, my body had odd jerky motions, and there were probably at least 1,000 other things that were different about me. Yet I bowled on.

4th frame was a strike as was the 5th and then my dad showed up at the bowling alley as he was concerned as I was not answering his calls. I had texted him saying that I couldn't talk and I guess any concerned parent would swoop in on such a text. He asked, "What happened" and just as I was going to explain it orally I failed. I tried again, got frustrated, and promptly turned around and headed to my seat where my phone was sitting and I texted it to him.

This medium of writing was my only method to explain what was going through me. The concept of talking about this was crashing my system. Through text, and actually handwriting, I said that this was the worst experience of my life.

I've been yelled at by irate drivers many times when I was a race director, but that's part of the experience of being race director. That event last night was random and without cause. Random breeches of our lives like this scare me because if it happens once it can happen again.

My striking streak slowed down and as fate would have it the bowling alley broke, well, 10 lanes broke in a sequence of events that no one there can ever remember. We were delayed and that gave me more time to think and as my dad was debating on what to do I took a pen he was holding and wrote, "Is this bullying? Is this what kids in school endure?" Even though I told myself I had given up on everything I was still trying to come up with a way to use this experience for the betterment of the world. My dad gently shook his head yes and I went back to shaking and trying to maintain my emotions.

The 2nd game was finally over and my score was a 220. Not a perfect game, but respectable considering the circumstances.

My dad had confronted the employees and left after the 2nd game. I still was in no state to talk because I didn't know what to say. After not talking for three hours what does one say? I still was in a state of shock and still had anger towards the world, but it was subsiding. I had to make a drive home to pick up more books and then I made my way towards Osage Beach at 11PM.

I always try and find the positive from this and from this singular event I can't say that there is one. Perhaps you could find one by saying that I didn't leave the alley and I continued to bowl, but I'm just that hard headed when I am spending money to do something. However, where I find the positive, as with yesterday's post, is that this furthers my understanding of myself. There are things I can tolerate and then there are things like the event last night that I simply can't endure. Many people would have issues with being yelled at and pointed at, but for me it was like blowing up a dam and a massive flood came across the landscape. Now here's the thing, when I asked, "is this bullying?" I never had social disasters at school. I now think if I had to go through that daily I would not have survived. What does this mean? This means the need is even greater than I can imagine.

I'll be honest and say if I haven't experienced something it is hard for me to feel empathy. That's one aspects of the spectrum and because of this bullying is something I was aware of, but never truly felt. Now that I have felt it, or at least a form of it, I can't believe the effects of it. At the Mongolian BBQ place on Friday I couldn't speak for a brief moment, but this was hours. I was so hurt so deeply on so many levels I didn't talk for hours. This HAD NEVER HAPPENED TO ME. It scared me.

Moving forward, I want my message to be heard even more. Is there a cure for autism? No, but by preventing events like last night people on the spectrum are going to be able to be so much more. If I had to contend with that daily I WOULD NOT FUNCTION!

April, of course, is autism awareness month, but now I know even more so that this awareness is a thing that can't have a season. It is full-time and even I, I think, can become complacent with it. I mean, I give a presentation here, I give a presentation there, and then another one without realizing the true need. If there is a positive from this and Friday's events it is that it has kickstarted a deeper passion within me. On the right hand column of this blog I say that my life is dedicated towards autism awareness, and it is, but now it seems even more personal. To experience what I felt last night was something I want NO PERSON TO GO THROUGH. The only way I feel this can happen is through understanding and awareness. The impact society has on a person with autism is amplified. Yelling at person A may make them mad, but yelling at me in a situation like last night creates an event like a comet hitting a planet; it's catastrophic.

Last night I felt alone, isolated from the world. I was within the confines of a crowded bowling alley, but I was alone within myself. I am coming out of that now, and have a presentation today, and believe me when I say the terror I felt on lane 19 last night is going to fuel me. I know I keep getting better at presenting, but there's still room for growth and that terror I felt is going to be used. My voice is going to get louder, my passion for this has exploded in growth, and my empathy towards those that have been bullied is understood. I may have gone too long on this post, but this is something that NEEDS TO HAPPEN. The stakes are too high and the impact on people is too great. We can make a difference even if it's one person at a time. Autism awareness starts with us. Let's change this world for the better. We must.


  1. I am truely sorry that you had to endure this treatment! My daughter goes through this at school and even though they say they have a "zero toleralance" policy on bullying very little is done to stop it. Nobody should have to endure what bullies put people through. I have learned that there is no age limit to bullying. Children are not the only ones to bully. Adults bully other adults just like what happened to you. I spend my time trying to make people aware of bullying especially with ASD kids. Most of the time people tell me "she needs to toughen up." All I can do is shake my head because they do not understand people on the spectrum at all! God bless you and everything you do.

  2. I think it would be amazing if you could speak to school districts about things just like this!

  3. The college that my aspie son attends could learn so much from your presentations, starting with the Office for disabilities.

  4. Thank you Aaron for sharing your pain with the world to open eyes and hearts. Autism awareness does start with us and we can change our world, one person at a time! I am proud to call you a co-worker and a friend! Peace, Sheryl

  5. Aeon . my som goes through tjis almost once a week and this has been happening since primary school , now he's 16 . Life is very hard for him . He's been calm and happy all summerlong and as school time gets nearer he is gettin more nervous. He'll be startin role playing therapy this term to learn social abilities but I think " normal " kids should start a therapy too in order to be less harmful.
    We live in Italy and I can tell you that things here work just the same.
    Peace and harmony

  6. (Sorry Aaron, I've been to a convention last weekend. In fact, it's the biggest convention of the year for me! So I was too busy and exhausted to read your blog. Am reading up now.)

    That's horrible that you had to go through that. I wish I could hug you or something. Also, do you understand now that I got to the point of having to push myself to get to school, feeling sick just by standing in school, and that I couldn't even get myself to respond to bullying anymore most of the times?
    I've been bullied all my life. I really want to thank the few people who saw me sitting alone and decided to make friends with me, even if it was out of pity. It made my life somewhat bareable.
    I've always been told everyone gets bullied and I just need to suck it up. Also, that I'm overreacting on it.
    Isa: I've been sent to those things to learn to socialise too. For me it hasn't been very useful, since it didn't stop others bullying me. If they're really out to bully you, they usually won't stop by being social to them... I did hear a few people for who it did help, or it helped a bit, so I hope you're one of those few people. Don't give up. :)
    Also, yes, my school has been said to have zero tolerance as well. Don't know if you've read my guest blog, but I think I told there that my school used to say 'well we can't just expell them for bullying can we?' Well schools: Yes, yes you can. In fact, there's even a law against bullying most people don't know about. So schools: You ARE in your right to act, SO PLEASE ACT!

  7. Aaron, for you to be able to analyze and put into "big picture" context an incident that so profoundly affected you on the inside, is truly inspirational. You, like Temple Grandin, have this gift of being able to describe in words what it's like on the inside. So many autistic people are simply unable to even begin to paint that complex picture. All the more reason why your work is so needed.

  8. I can't say what is worse...withdrawing into yourself...or lashing out. My daughter was in big trouble for lashing out. But the bullying must have been pretty bad for her to actually notice it. She is a lot better at controlling her temper these days.