Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Controlled Chaos by Little Bird

Controlled Insanity
Living with two Autistics (one of whom is a diagnosed psychotic), and two depressives

I came to New Orleans with one of my best friends, LP, on June 13th to visit his family. They welcomed both of us with open arms and sharp, sarcastic wit as they let us sleep on their couches and showed us around the city. In the days we spent exploring the French Quarter with his mother and gaming with his uncle, Kris, I noticed odd quirks that I brushed off as being normal human variance in behavioral ticks. That was until I learned that the two family members in question are actually high-functioning autistics. I was surprised at first because I couldn’t tell by their mannerisms. And for someone who has two Asperger spectrum cousins, I thought I had a decent handle on what autism can look like. But the longer I’m here, the more I notice things that fit with autistic behaviors.

So what is my purpose in writing this? Well, Kris has an ongoing blog about autism and how to deal with it…but there isn’t much on the blog from an NT’s perspective. I represent a unique look at someone who is(,questionably, normal) suddenly living on the couch of high-functioning autistics, and what is experienced on a day-to-day basis. For those of you that read this who are autistic, I hope this gives you some understanding of how NT’s think and act around those who are on the spectrum…and for those NT readers, I hope this helps you think about how you act around the autistic and start thinking about what they perceive.

To begin this series, I’d like to talk about one of the first things that happened when my friend and I arrived in New Orleans. As a small bit of background, it had been decided for about a month that would not be going to New Orleans with LP. You see, when I purchased the tickets back in February I convinced myself that the tickets were only reserved, not purchased…because I’m a smart human being. When my finances fell through I was convinced that I could not afford to pick up the ticket from the bus station, because I thought it would be an expenditure of a little over $200...which I just could not swing. Lo and behold, when I drop LP off, the tickets are paid for and I can suddenly go again.

While originally Kris, PKS, and the rest of the house was happy to have me stay there with LP, they had been told for about a month that I would not be there. Further, because we discovered that I could go at the last minute the bus we took was scheduled to arrive in New Orleans a day later than they expected. I had, unknowingly, made them worry about cleaning a space and having food for a second person with only two days’ notice. I felt bad about it, but we got the go ahead from them over the phone before we actually left. Oh, and one other thing…I looked nothing like my Facebook pictures. When I arrived in New Orleans I had short hair and smooth face, but most of my pictures on Facebook show me with shoulder length hair and a full beard.

Why did I bring this up? Think about it. Most people in this situation would be a little bent out of shape by such a sudden change in plans. With autistics, though, it can be so much more jarring to experience such a change…especially when it involves their home. When they had months’ notice of my arrival, they could prepare mentally for the strain that someone they didn’t know being in their home would bring. The status of my attendance changed twice in a month. Further, they were not expecting what I looked like. My appearance threw them off because PKS was mentally prepared for someone else…and at first, it really was as if I was a different person than who she had seen on Facebook.

The consequence of the short notice? A rather uncomfortable greeting at the bus station when LP and I arrived. I remember meeting PKS and immediately thinking that something was wrong. She seemed uncomfortable and a little upset. I understand that some of that was probably from being in the bus station as noisy as it was…but I also understand, now, that she had not gotten to prepare for my presence mentally. To make matters just a little more awkward, when Kris noticed that his sister was uncomfortable his posture and attitude became much more defensive very quickly. They have since told me that they were not in fact upset with me…they simply weren’t ready for me and didn’t really know how to proceed outside of going to the car and talking to LP. At the time, I thought they were angry at me…so I did my best to be quiet in the back seat while they and LP caught up.

Looking back, I think I made the right choice. Without realizing that either of them was autistic, I gave them control of the atmosphere within the car. For me, it was a show of good will…for them it allowed them to handle the person they had never met in person before on terms they had more say in. It did not take too long for them to begin actively including me in conversations (Kris turned to me in the car and commanded me to say something because the silence was getting uncomfortable), but that first step of being silent was important. Had I simply jumped into the conversation I would have run the risk of causing over stimulation by changing more parts of the situation than they would have found comfortable.

If there is a lesson to take away from this recounting, as amateur as it is, it would be this: if you are going to make plans with autistics, give them plenty of time to prepare. The problems many autistics face with social situations can be alleviated somewhat when they have time to mentally prepare. Have patience, give them notice far in advance if you are planning something, and generally don’t be a douche if they seem uncomfortable. Give them time and be supportive.

Until next time,
Little Bird

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