Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Perfect Storm: OVERLOAD

Friday night is one I am going to remember forever. Not for a short time, not for a while, but for the rest of my life.

The day started off great as practice for the USAC .25 series was ran and it was without a doubt the smoothest day of the year. That was great, but after the day's events the group decided on a place to eat and I didn't know what to expect. It was explained to me, but all I knew was that if a place has Mongolian in the name something is slightly askew. I was right.

Everything I knew about restaurants was wrong as I entered. It was noisy, and the menus were more for show than actually used. If you haven't been to a place like this what it is, to put simply, is you got over to these three bars and pick out your meats, veggies, and sauces and put them in the same bowl then go to the grill where they, well, grill it. What may sound simple was overload for me.

First, I have a real dislike of seeing raw meat. I don't know why, but it just makes me want to shake. Secondly, I believe food is never supposed to touch. Thirdly, I hate sauces. On top of all this the people that work the grill are loud. VERY LOUD! And they also have a VERY LOUD bell they ring at times that I couldn't determine why they were ringing it.

I had trouble deciding what to do so I eventually decided on just one bowl full of meat. I was being consumed by the loudness of the place and making decisions was quickly becoming a task I was not capable of. One person saw my food choice and told me that, "You can't do that, it will be to dry. You need to try some sauces."

After hearing that I went to the sauce bar and stared in awe of all the choices. Truly, there were more sauces on that bar than I had ever seen in my entire life. As I stared like a lost kitty in a tree an employee came and explained to me the logic in the display of the sauces. I was handed a little spoon so I could try the sauces and while she was talking I didn't process one word she said. The grillers were still yammering away and the music was blasting.

She told me to try some teriyaki sauce so she poured some out on my little white spoon and without thinking I tried it and it was a shock to my system. To say I didn't like it is to say one simply doesn't like a broken foot. No, it was more than simply not liking; it was a complete and utter violation of everything I thought about taste! Needless to say I didn't choose that sauce, and as she went away I stared in befuddlement as to what to do next. Do I break and try a sauce? Do I do some veggies? Oh, and why can't I get some quiet to think?

I began to walk in an erratic pattern and my mind started "thinking harder" which is always a recipe for a blog post. My thoughts were racing and I quite literally did not know what to do next. This was all new to me and I went from a lost kitty in a tree to a lost puppy on a busy interstate. I knew what was going on within me and yet I couldn't do anything about it. I was in the truest states of overload and I wanted anything, ANYTHING but to be me at that point in time. If I could have vanished I would have.

James, the USAC .25 series director, saw me and came over and asked if I needed any help. I tried to answer, but words weren't working. I tried to speak but nothing was there. In all my life I have never had this happen. It was awful, horrifying, and sad. There was so much I wanted to say, and yet not a single word came out of my mouth for almost 15 seconds. I tried, and tried, and eventually I said, "I...I... I don't know what to do."

My pile of meat in my bowl was taken to the grill where the cooks had a good time laughing about my selection. "Son, where's your veggies?" was the first question and I was not in a state to respond to it. Then, the cook saw me and my bland expression while I stared off into space and he said, "Dude, what's wrong with you?" Such a tragic question that was.

Eventually, after several more bell ringings and questions my way that went unanswered, I made it to the table with my food and I ate. It wasn't dry at all and I ate it, but within me was a storm of self-hatred that I haven't experienced in a long time. I felt as if I let everyone in the group down because I look forward to these dinners and I have been coming out of my shell over the course of the season, but here I regressed all the way back into my former anti-social self.

I ate quickly and retreated into my app on my iPhone. This was my defense; I had to get my mind off the events that had happened. What I try to do when I go out into the world is to not have my autism be visibaly noticed, but I failed in a big way and I was hating myself for it.

After a while James asked why I was so down and I said, "Because this shouldn't happen!" And he responded, "Why shouldn't it?" and with that answer I remembered that I am, in fact, on the autism spectrum. That sounds like an odd statement, but it's true. I don't go around in my head saying, "I'm on the spectrum... I'm on the spectrum..." It's only when there is an event that happens that I am reminded. Sometimes the reminders are small, and sometimes the reminders are on a gigantic scale like this one was.

As the night wound down I began to swing from hating myself to thinking about how good of a story this will be for my blog. The hatred went away as I began to think, and I told James this, that I am lucky in that I could explain what occurred. I could explain that it wasn't anything anyone did but simply that I was overloaded. It was a new place, and a loud one at that, and it was too much. Yes, I could explain what happened but there are those that stay in a state like I was in, with that being the state of not being able to speak to explain what is going on and why something is bothering them. It happened to me and as I write this a tear is coming to my eye as I think about the prison I felt I was in.

My mission in life is to spread awareness and understanding and I always try to put a positive spin on my stories and challenges. I'm not sure how to do that on this as this truly was one of the worst experiences of my life. Maybe the positive is this; once again my passion for my job has been increased. For a brief moment I lost my voice and some people, in the past, have thanked me for being that voice for those that can't speak. I thought to myself that, "There isn't anything more tragic than wanting to say something, and needing to say something, but being unable to." and I experienced that. However, as I said, my passion for this has increased. Thanks to my work with my blog those around me didn't think I was the oddest thing in the world and I don't think they now think anything less of me and that is what I was afraid of. When an event like this happens I am always concerned about how I will be perceived. This shows that awareness and understanding are critically vital to the well being of those on the spectrum. The need to know is great because imagine if they had no idea about the challenges a person on the spectrum face! What was a gigantic issue could turn into a cataclysmic event, but that didn't happen. Instead, space was given and over time conversation was slowly introduced. Yes, without a doubt, what was a perfect storm that induced a severe overload has know kindled the perfect storm within me to continue my journey in describing my life on the spectrum.


  1. What an honest and genuine piece of work this was. It must have been an awful time for you but as usual you have tried to bring the positive to light. You did. Those of us that are not on the spectrum are truly learning from you. Thank you. I do believe we all have something we have to overcome but the spectrum is indeed a challenge. Thank you for your honesty and candor. It is also wonderful that your friends do understand you.

  2. My wish as a parent of a child on the spectrum is to know how best to comfort my child when she goes through these exact same things. She experienced an "overload" on her second day of 7th grade last week when a boy who picked on her began again this year. She immediately went to the VP of her school who said she would look into it, like always. My daughter was so overloaded with the whole events of the day, not to mention everything that happened with the boy, she ran to the bathroom and locked herself in. When she was found they pulled her to the office where she hid behind a plant in the corner and couldn't talk. It took all five office employees to pull her 77lb body from behind the plant. As, I heard my daughter re-tell how she felt during this overload my heart just broke and I cried. I want to be strong for her as her mother. My prayer is to know how to comfort her during these times. The way you express your experiences is much like how my daughter does, albeit you have much more insight into ASD than my 13yr. I find myself longing to read what you have to say and hoping to understand more of what to do to comfort her. May God bless you.

  3. I just read this to my husband with tears rolling down my face. This is my son. This is my son to a T. You are a blessing to us Aaron. I am sorry life's tasks can be overwhelming. It is for everyone...specturm or not. God bless you and thank you for your honesty. Keep sharing. Your goal of spreading the word is working. People are listening and awareness is occuring.

  4. Thanks for your insight into the ASD world. Our 17 yr old son is non-verbal and it is sometimes so stressful for both him and us as his parents when he can't communicate with words. We generally can figure out what is agitating him so we can react accordingly to prevent a meltdown or him being upset. But sometimes, especially when trying new things, things "happen". Here is an example, also in a restaurant, where we just couldn't anticipate everything. Our son loves pizza. We decided that due to his recent maturation, we would try to take him into a pizza place and sit and eat a slice of pizza. We chose a place in a small outdoor plaza in the middle of the afternoon so there would be less people. We got him to bring his water bottle in as he loves to drink his water. We prepped him beforehand with photos of pizza. When we walked in we brought him up to glassed-in counter where many pizza were displayed. We pointed to the pizza with the toppings he loves and bought him a slice. We sat down and he ate his pizza. He had a bit of difficulty eating it because it was triangular and he is used to squares (next time we will bring a knife to cut it into more square-like pieces). But the part we did not anticipate at all was what happened at the end. He indicated he wanted to leave so we closed the box it was in and said we would bring it to the car so he could eat it there. He got up but instead of coming to the door with us, he went up to the glassed-in counter and kind of "hugged" the glass as if to say, "I want more of these pizzas, they are my friends". We had to gently disengage him from the counter and kept showing him the pizza that he would be bringing to the car. He was fine then but when we were driving home he started to sob!(a fairly recent thing that he does when he is really upset)As our hearts were breaking we kept trying to reassure him that we would be home soon. By the time we got home about 10 minutes later, he had calmed down but was not himself for quite awhile later. We think the best thing for next time, will be to take him in to get a slice but then sit outside to eat it or eat it in the car (far away from the counter). Then as time goes on we will try to eat inside once again especially as the weather turns cold. This is our life with our son-trying to keep things the same to reassure him but also trying new things to keep him challenged. Often, a tricky balancing act!

  5. I think this blog entry (and several others) sends one consistent message- without professional help, adults with autism are more prone to relapses in social skills and community integration skills.

    I will give you and your readers a better way to handle this situation.

    A few weeks ago, I was at a busy sushi restaurant that I had never been to before with a friend. To my surprise, the sushi bar was loud, too. Once we got seated, we ordered our own sushi. The first few plates I selected went fine. However, as I was on my 4th or 5th plate, I realized I got something I didn't like. I spitted it out and explained to my friend, "Man, this one is awful!" He then said to me, "Pick another one, then." So, I proceeded to pick another one and on we went. After we ate our sushis, we talked about business for an hour or so. The only time we talked about autism was about the presentation my friend thought it would be a good idea to make and I made decent eye contact in the process.

    Why did I handle myself well? Going in, I knew I had never eaten sushi from a sushi bar before. So, on my way driving there (about 10 minutes), I subconsciously thought about what I might like to eat and what I might not. Also, I thought about what I would do if happened to make a bad choice. Lastly, I knew because it was a business sit down dinner, I can't look bad in front of my friend (even though it was just him).

    These community skills are important for someone like you to polish up. If you want to be "big time" like you said a few blogs ago, community skills is another way to give people who might give you the next opportunity a good impression... as this is the wisdom I got from my OT mentors... and now I am passing it down to you.