Monday, June 17, 2013

The CC of Fear

It's obvious sentence time; communication can be hard for those on the autism spectrum. Okay, now that is out of the way let me expand on one of the reasons why this is.

I've also been hearing this a lot from parents and that is that one-on-one conversations can work great but if one extra person joins the conversation the whole are of conversing breaks down. Why is this? In my book Finding Kansas I believe I explained it by having the reader visualize a chess board. This is how I see a conversation; one person moves and the next person reacts. Now let's say a third player joins the game and the chess board becomes a triangular board but all the same rules applies. While that may sound cool think of all the possible moves for each other player in regards to your own.

In a conversation my brain is working like an overclocked computer trying to analyze everything; to put simply I'm thinking, "if I say A they'll say B and if they say B I'll say C unless they say D then I'll have to say E..." There is no off switch to this line of thought but there is one thing that will derail my confidence in anything I say and that is the CC.

For those that know e-mail the CC, or carbon copy, is how you can send an e-mail to a whole list of people and to me, this is the scariest of scariest things, especially in a conversation. The way my brain works, if I tell a person something I can't calculate the fact that they might go tell someone else. If I do think that then I'm having to play phantom chess, the board grows from two, to three, to maybe even more players but I can't see there moves right away. Also, in a future conversation, should the other person bring up what I said to the first person I will be caught off guard and then I will try and figure out what else they know and since there is no way to actually know my brain will be endlessly spinning and working trying to figure out the impossible.

This is one thing you have to watch out for as if too many instances of the "conversation circle" as I call it (circle because something said comes full circle and returns to the beginning) and I will hesitate and speaking. Now here's another important thing; you might have come to the conclusion that the stuff talked about within this blog post, as in something I say, might be something derogatory towards a person. This isn't the case; this full circle aggravation is done with anything. If I told person A that I went to a gas station and the pump acted funny and then that person told person B who then asked me about that incident that would be just as bad as anything.

What this all comes down to is processing. If I know what I've said in the order I've said it I can predict in my mind what is and is not known. If everything that is said is repeated to everyone else then I can't predict what may or may not be said. Perhaps this simply may look like a control issue, but it's more than that as my brain has to play the processing game of, "statement A=B unless C=D..." and if words are endlessly repeated then the mathematical possibilities are infinite and for a brain that has to be able to calculate the finite the infinite shuts the whole system down.


  1. Ok, first off, I've never grasped the nuances of playing chess. And what you describe sounds more like the 3D chess that Spock and Kirk would play during down time on the Enterprise. I've always been more of a "fly by the seat of my pants" kind of person. And I apologize if the metaphor escapes you. I do remember your recent blog about using those types of phrases to someone on the Autism spectrum. I simply mean that I'm pretty comfortable with changing situations and I do ok if I'm caught of guard. (See, I AM learning something from you and your blogs!)

    I think if I wrote a blog about working here it would probably be called Life On TOP of the Wall. Because I'm seeing both sides of the wall from my position here. But, for now, I'll leave the blogging to you since you do it so well.

    My wife, while not on the Autism spectrum, always "reherses" her conversations that she expects to have. If she knows she's going to have to have a discussion with a superior or a staff member, she'll try to anticipate every direction the conversation could take and what her responses would be to certain questions. It's a coping mechanism for many people. What I seem to get from your articles are that you experience things that most everyone else does and you have reactions that are actually quite common, BUT, the difference is that things are way more magnified for you. I'm not sure if that's the right word, but what I mean is, you like to figure out how a conversation will go, but it's ALL you will think about at that time. And it can be nearly crippling at times.

    After reading today's blog I do have to wonder, are you actually any good at playing chess? I'd think you'd be quite good at it.

    1. I'm not that good or that bad. I have a hard time putting myself in the opponents shoes and often times and blinded because of that.

  2. I have dealt with that recently- in form of a job interview. It started with the owner/director with a chiropractor. Midway through the interview, another person walked in and joined the duo who were interviewing me. That didn't phase me, even when that person also asked some questions about me, however.

    How I combat that is really simple. When I go somewhere, I should know the purpose of going there. When I know the purpose, I can pretty much be prepared of what kind of topics most likely would come up if people (one or more) approach me for conversations.

    In that interview, while the interviewers threw me some curveballs in terms of questions that I was asked. But, I remained poised. Sure, part of that was because of the situation, as I knew I couldn't screw up. But part of it was because I am used to it when I was at school or at church. Practice makes better.

    Typically in these situations, you can gauge what is appropriate to do, even if you only have seconds to react. It can be body language. It can be words. It can be both. I will give you another example.

    A few months ago in an OT conference, I met up with a couple ladies (who were OTA students) whom I previously connected on Facebook. After we walked around to check out the posters in the conference space, we walked out to a relatively quiet area to talk. While they took turns to ask me questions, my eye contact was evenly distributed towards both of them. What tipped me off? One, they walked together to meet me in the first place. Two, I could tell they were close to each other since they reminded me that they attended the same school together. Three, they both told me that they wanted to learn something from me. With that in mind, I knew I had to be nice and personable to both of them. As for conversational topics, I anticipated several topics, and I was right on the money. All in all, the conversation went super smooth and they enjoyed my company. Evidence? Two days later, when we met up again, we sat together to listen to a speech at that conference.

    If I have to teach other autistics in this department, I will have them focus on verbal and non-verbal cues. Rather than trying to get every non-verbal cue, I will try to help them spot more obvious non-verbal cues. On top of that, I will try to have them think about verbal cues (tones, words, etc.). Hopefully, they can improve slowly and steadily.