Obstacles on the #Autism Spectrum

Window

 

 

When I look out of a window, I see things like trees, clouds, gardens, birds and that’s all I see, even when there are people.

What do you see?

 

The physical world

I remember reading that this kind of selective visual filtering is common with Autistic people.

This type of filtering is also consistent with the core notion of autism as:

A failure to consistently develop the ability to recognize others as special objects, as humans.

 

People who are not autistic will generally see people first, then and only then will they notice the physical world, which may go as unnoticed to them, as people do with me.

This also demonstrates itself in the idiosyncratic way in which I take photographs.

  • I rarely take photographs of people
  • and I tend to feel degrees of discomfort when people take my photo, even if it’s my family

When I travel I tend to seek out PLACES of interest and photograph those that are of most interest to me.

These photographs have to be completely free of people and I will wait for extended periods, until people get out of my camera shot. This is partly due to the fact that I just don’t know them, but I think this is also another example of my failure to consistently relate to others as special objects.

 

The retail world!

I also see this at work in me when I visit shopping malls.

I have written and tweeted about the sensory overload I experience in these places.

But  there is another aspect to the sensory overload and related anxiety I feel in these places and once again it is related to my failure to develop the ability to consistently recognize others as special objects.

Throw in some social anxiety and for me, a shopping mall is a combat zone!

 

The trips that I do make to the shopping mall are purely functional.

There are things I need to purchase and my objective is to complete the transactions as quickly as possible and then……..’get the hell out of Dodge’

I will typically make a list if I am intending to buy more than one item (an ADHD prosthesis) and sometimes even arrange the order of those items for maximum efficiency/minimum walking distance.

Oh yes!

This would be fine if there were just 3 of us in the mall, but alas………..

 

Obstacles at the mall

The problem is that the mall is filled with unpredictable obstacles, some of them are moving, some are stationery, some are arranged is such a way that I am unable to walk past them, some of them block the entrance to the retail unit I need to get into, some of them prevent me from walking up or down escalators…………

I experience these groups of people as a frustrating inconvenience – made worse by sensory overload and social anxiety – but I need to pause here to qualify this statement.

I am not making a value judgement here – I am simply describing the physical and psychological effect of having to navigate through an obstacle course in order to accomplish my mission of completing a series of purchase transactions.

Since most of the visitors to these cathedrals of anxiety are behaving the same way, I understand that:

  • They are not intentionally contributing to my anxiety, frustration and general distress
  • They are probably not responding and feeling the same way as I am
  • It would probably never occur to them that someone could respond and feel the way I do about crowds in the confinement of a building
  • Even if they knew, they might have difficulty understanding it

But unfortunately my analytical faculties are generally no match for my anxiety at the mall.

 

Epilogue

Since recognizing and writing about my ‘failure to consistently recognize others as special objects’ I am discovering more and more examples of this in my idiosyncratic life, some subtle and some less subtle and in doing so, making a lot more sense of my experiences when in  close proximity to others and particularly in confined spaces.

It’s a strange existence being like this and although there are days when I seem to be able to cope quite well, the fact is, on any given day, I’d rather just avoid this interaction completely.

 

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Shackled and Crowned
    Oct 24, 2013 @ 18:32:22

    This is a great write. I really enjoyed reading it and learning….thanks for sharing.
    Wish you would post more. 🙂

    Reply

    • spectrumscribe
      Oct 26, 2013 @ 13:36:56

      Thank you.

      I had been planning to switch my focus to #WorldAutismProject and my autism movie review project – thinking maybe I had overdone the ‘my story’ posts.

      I can see now that if I remain mindful, there is much more that I can write about that will be novel in terms of subject matter and perspective.

      Thanks for your ongoing support. It is much appreciated.

      Reply

  2. Mados
    Oct 24, 2013 @ 18:57:34

    That is precisely my “attitude” inside a mall too… minus the social anxiety and plus intense sensory overload from the acoustic ambience, loud beeps and chatter – signs – colours – flickering lights – goods on display – light coming from many weird angles – moving stairs – and most of all, teeming people.

    The problem is that the mall is filled with unpredictable obstacles, some of them are moving, some are stationery, some are arranged is such a way that I am unable to walk past them, some of them block the entrance to the retail unit I need to get into, some of them prevent me from walking up or down escalators…………

    I experience these groups of people as a frustrating inconvenience – made worse by social anxiety – but I need to pause here to qualify this statement.

    I am not making a value judgement here – I am simply describing the physical and psychological effect of having to navigate through an obstacle course in order to accomplish my mission of completing a series of purchase transactions

    I tend to get very frustrated and angry with the random people around me if I’m walking in a mall (which I rarely ever do any more since long ago), just because of their fast unpredictable movement patterns and that they are blocking my way to get the job done so I can get out asap, because I’m in a state of emergency… it is a bit as if there was a fire and people unintentionally, carelessly, blocked the access to fire exit.

    People are also hazardous objects: it can be hard to figure what way they intend to move around me if they come directly towards me, so I prefer to walk near edges to give them only one options and avoid collision risks (one could argue that I am the hazardous object).

    I too do fully understand that no one tries to bother me, people are just going about their own business and have no idea about the distress I’m in, but that doesn’t reduce the frustration, stress and aftermath… which is why I don’t enter a mall at all unless I can’t find anywhere else to buy the things I need / or do whatever I need to do.

    However, while in a mall or crowd I see people as objects/moving obstacles, there are other situations where I don’t. The “objectification” happens when I can’t cope with the inputs of a situation due to sensory or social overload or for other reasons. If I look put the window and there are people outside then I definitely see people, especially if I know them (like neighbours).

    Reply

    • spectrumscribe
      Oct 26, 2013 @ 13:49:59

      Thanks Mados,

      Being in a ‘state of emergency’ captures perfectly how I feel.

      A few weeks back I was visiting a museum and the exit route was a tunnel with displays on both sides. It was difficult to manoeuvre past the ambling are stationery visitors. My instinct was to sprint to the exit door, but I managed to restrain myself (despite what was clearly the early stages of a panic attack) and confine my ‘rudeness’ to walking through photo shoots and squeezing/pushing through the ranks of the living dead – at my height and build if I had sprinted I would have ploughed through them like a linebacker.

      When I finally got outside, I literally breathed a huge sigh of relief, free of the confinement and the walking dead.

      Reply

  3. jon bryant
    Oct 25, 2013 @ 03:32:40

    Your writing provides me both insight and inspiration, from my perspective realizing I might have some very minor autistic traits that I am discovering aged 59 you have a “beautiful mind” and a gift for sharing your world in a language that is concise and surprisingly so very connected to the non autistic world, where it not for the subject matter you write about your understanding of emotion and what it is to be a sensitive human being gives no clue.

    Took me a long while to see dyslexia as possibly more of a gift and less of a disability, yup its a pain, yes I have to have strategies, but I guess I learned to learn in a non book, written way. My dad was a copy writer which perhaps added to my frustrations. Discovering spell checkers in mid life opened up a whole new ball game that I thoroughly enjoy. Your ability to put down feelings and emotions in bullet points is a skill that I am intrigued by and admire, that’s in part why I find what and how you write an inspiration.

    Keep posting the postcards won’t you, I wonder if others with mild dyslexia also find your writing style so absorbing and easy to read?

    Jon

    Reply

    • spectrumscribe
      Oct 26, 2013 @ 13:31:30

      Thank you Jon. Your comments are helpful and encouraging.

      People rarely see themselves as others see them and I am no exception.

      It might surprise you to hear that I wrestle with myself with most of my posts, always wondering if my message is list in the detail, or worse still, perhaps completely overdone because I just stating the obvious.

      It would seem this is not the case, at least with some people, some of the time.

      I too am puzzled by the clarity with which I can sometimes understand emotions, both academically and practically – on my best days and even just good days, in the comfort of my own study room.

      How I wish this ability would transfer directly and in full to my IRL situations, in the social minefield.

      Reply

  4. Aspie Kent
    Oct 25, 2013 @ 16:29:26

    I found your description and examples of “obstacles” to be very enlightening, because in several of your examples you could’ve been describing my own reaction to similar situations. I am definitely more likely to take photos of places or things, rather than people. I have learned that, as a father, I need to take photos of my children, because that behavior is expected of a father by the allistic world. As I continue to learn more about my autism, I have experienced many “ah ha!” moments, where something about myself that I had previously been unable to explain suddenly makes perfect sense to me. In regard to shopping malls,if I’m not able to outright avoid them, I see that I do several things to avoid the “obstacles” inherent in them. I will go to significant lengths to avoid entering a shopping mall through a large retail “big box” store, because of my perception that the density of the obstacles is greater there than in other entrances. I will exit a shopping mall and walk around the outside of it to another entrance to avoid having to walk through the many obstacles inside. I make lists and plan my route and visit times carefully to avoid as many obstacles as possible. And with the advent of internet shopping, it is now only a very rare occurrence that I find I must venture into a shopping mall.

    Thanks for writing so eloquently about this topic!

    Reply

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