Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Harsh Apology at DIA

Today may be Tuesday but for today's blog I go back to Sunday and my experience at Denver International Airport.
I'll pick up the action right after the TSA checkpoint as I descended towards the trains that take a traveler from the terminal to their respective section of gates be it A, B, or C. I awaited a train and looked at my boarding pass and it read "B5." Right, so I needed the B gates.

Shortly a train came and we went to the A gates, then a few minutes later it was the B gates. I got off and went up two sets of escalators with two things in mind; find breakfast and find gate B5. I figured I should find my gate first so I knew exactly where I needed to go after I got my food.

I looked one way and it was gates 14-32 so I figured the opposite end would have the right gates. When I got over there though the gates were 33 to something that was much higher than 5. "Okay, I'll ask for help" I thought but when I walked past an information desk I remained quiet. If there's one good thing about being three hours early it's that if there is a problem, like being lost, there is time to fix it.

I did another lap of the circular concourse looking for a  B and a single digit and was having no luck then I made a connection; my boarding pass was what my boarding group was as Southwest airlines has open seating and the boarding process is done by letter group. I flipped over the pass and there it was, C 33.

So this journey home started off just great. I made my way back to the trains and I waited a few minutes and I got on. Just as my feet were planted the guy on the opposite side rotated around and his gigantic backpack hit me in the shoulders. This was just an annoyance but what was to come was a little too much.

After experiencing the contact with the backpack I'm sure my face had the look of being a tad bit angry as I am very strict about my personal space. A simple tap to the shoulders, as this post from April 2010 shows, can be much more than a simple tap to the shoulders. Anyway, I tried to stare off into the tunnel and the sensory candy that were hundreds of pinwheels that spun as the train neared but all of a sudden I felt a tap on the shoulder. But this was more than a tap as whatever was there was staying. Then it left, then it was back, then it left, and then it was back once again. I didn't know what was going on but every cell in my body was ready for war.

I slowly turned to my right and it was the backpack guy and once again he placed his hand on my shoulder and I tensed up as if I were about to be in a horrible road accident just as he said, "sorry." I silently wondered if he was sorry for the backpack or sorry for creating an adrenaline overload for me.

Obviously the answer was for the backpack as there was no way he could have known just how much of a reaction a tap, or multiple taps to the should would induce. It truly was too much. Just as that blog I referenced back to, I was having a hard time focusing and all I wanted to do was get away from that spot. My body has way too harsh of a reaction to being tapped on the shoulder, but knowing that and stopping the reaction are two majorly different things.

At this point in time the ride on this train felt like an eon. I wanted to run away but there was no where to go. I did everything I could not to show my level of discomfort and I began to think just how confusing it would have been had I shown any sharp emotions. To a normal person a tap to shoulder, or a lingering tap to apologize is a non-event. For me it creates the internal feeling of WWIII. As I say in presentations when this comes up though, I say the unfortunate thing is that we don't have any red flags that mark out points where we may have a sensory issue. Often times it will be after the fact that a person learns and even then it may confuse the tapper because this is something that, unless you've experienced or already know about the autism spectrum, a person just doesn't realize is out there.

Mercifully we arrived at the C gates and I was the first one out the doors. I took the escalators once more and was at a carbon copy of where I had just been. I walked for a few seconds and there it was, my gate. Thank goodness it was there because I don't think I was in a mental state to partake in the 1,000 gate dash.

So that was my travel story. I know Mr. backpack guy meant no harm by his actions, but my body didn't know that. Ill-timed taps cause such a harsh reaction and sadly the other person has no way of knowing this. The only thing I can do now is write about it and hope and know that the next time I get smacked by someone rotating with a backpack on their back I need to do everything I can to vacate the area because the easy part is being run into by the backpack and the hard part? Yeah, the hard part is surviving the apology.


  1. They say that silent waters run deep. Thanks for giving us a view of your world that most of us don't understand or comprhend. Your ability to communicate you struggles far exceeds what anyone else is doing.

  2. It's weird to read this, as I could've easily been that person with the backpack. This just shows that even though I recognise a lot from Aaron, the rule 'if you've met one person with Autism, you've met one person with Autism' still applies.
    When I want to say something to a stranger who has his/her back faced towards me, especially when I want to apoligise, I easily lose courage to speak up and have no idea how to begin the conversation. To get around this problem, I then usually just tap that person on the shoulder. I actually bumped into someone one time and did the exact same thing as the person with the backpack in this story did.
    I sure do hope the person I tapped on the shoulder wasn't as sensitive as Aaron is to that...

    That just shows: My social paralysis leads to the exact thing that Aaron's sensitivity makes Aaron freeze up.

    I'll remember this for if you ever manage to come to the Netherlands Aaron. I won't tap you on the shoulder. Although I probably wouldn't anyway, as you're not a stranger and I know your name. :)

  3. My kiddo, when he was younger, used to have this kind of reaction to people touching him or even to fans blowing air on him. At the time, it seemed like no one understood except for Judevine therapist. We ended up using a brushing therapy to help desensitize him. We also took him to Six Flags and would stand in the lines for the rides which meant close proximity and possible accidental touching--our creative therapy:) Some days he couldn't handle it and would stand between my husband and I but eventually he was able to successfully attend a very large Middle School with very busy hall ways. He never mentions it now but I also know he tries very hard to blend in and attempt to be like the other kids.
    Thanks Aaron for talking about this sensory integration difficulty that affect some that are on the spectrum. To me this was the one area the elementary teachers seem to understand the least.

  4. This is the best blog I'm so glad I found it. Reading this is like a Look at the inner workings of my son. It is helping me understand him better.

  5. thank you..i learn so much about my son and my fiance ( 46 years old and just admitted he's on the spectrum) explains a lot of things..just hurts to imagine how much undiagnosed people have suffered...the general public needs to know about these issues..and most don't..from where i live

  6. Could this be partly the reason why my little one so often rejects my hugs? I think you might have helped me to explain (possibly) my son's distaste for any close physical contact (hugs and kisses); particularly when there is a "task at-hand". Once again you have helped this loving dad to better understand his son. Thanks Aaron Likens.

  7. My wife has a workmate, who`s daughter has Asperger`s. The young woman has NO sense of touch or temperature to her skin. She also has a short fuse for what appears to be no good reason, often. If her Mother passed away, this would create a danger here. She has a baby. As the now Mother will not be able to detect skin or food temperature, this is serious for the child. Thankyou for your indulgence.

  8. I often wonder if some of the people I don't know that I find myself interacting with are also Aspies. I later wonder if what was painful for me was painful for them or if something else about the interaction was painful for them. I cannot tell if other people are Neurotyps having a hard time dealing with me either.

  9. Thank for sharing. My daughter, the special ed teacher, says I have "high functioning Asperger's". Unlike yours, my reactions are slow. It can take hours until the effect of a serious event to seep in. Then it can come like a sunami -- it comes and keeps coming and ...