Observations from a recent family trip.

I think I’m pretty good about not being to literal, but then some situations crop up like this weekend when we were loading up the car to get ready to come home from vacation. On the ground were a plastic garbage bag of dirty clothes, and a piece of luggage, which, of course, I know can also be referred to as “bag”. Dad told me to “put the bag in the car”, and without thinking I reached for the garbage bag. I noticed his disapproving glare and dropped it and picked up the luggage instead. Dad just shook his head like I’m an idiot and why would I think the one and not the other. Because if you wanted me to pick up the luggage you should say “luggage”, or use a distinguishing adjective “the brown bag” so I know more precisely which object you’re referring to. Little things like this remind me that I’m still an Aspie, regardless how many “coping strategies”, etc, I devise through the years. My brain just processes this stuff differently.
It also dawned on me this vacation trip that I really suck at composing a mental image based on someone describing something to me briefly. I get confused and panic.

It lead me to realize this processing problem was at the heart of many traumatic experiences I’ve had with my dad trying to teach me how to drive, etc. He would describe the steps he wanted me to perform, but I couldn’t visualize what he wanted, it didn’t make sense to me, so I would just freak out and shut down, demand he take the wheel and just do it himself, etc.

We had a milder event this trip where basically my dad wanted me to execute a three point turn so that we would be driving forwards out of a family friend’s driveway rather than backing out, as the angle is a bit treacherous and dad wanted us to go forward rather than in reverse.

But instead of saying “do a 3-point turn so we can drive out of here instead of back out”, he starts describing step by step the 3 point turn maneuver that he wants me to perform and I can’t put it together in my head what he wants and just blurt out that I don’t understand what the hell he wants me to do. After a moment of reflection, to pause and take stock and think, I realize that a 3 point turn would be the best way to do this and just up and do that. I complete the maneuver, ease us down the driveway and onto the street without any scraping or contact of the car body with the road, and we continue on our journey back to Sikeston, MO from Farmington, MO without further incident or comment on my outburst. It was only on later reflection that I realized this has everything to do with the way my Aspie brain processes stuff (or doesn’t, in the case of easily translating a word description into a visual image). If Dad had either said “do a 3 point turn” or actually pantomimed with his hands the direction he wanted me to move the car with his hands, I would have “got it” much sooner. Weird.

Another thing; My new car (a current model Honda Civic) has a rearview camera with a superimposed set of graphics on the image, basically showing boxes receding into the distance a ways, to help me gauge not only straightness of travel but also distance.  It has been absolutely fabulous for me.  I do sometimes still physically look backwards like I was taught in driver’s ed ages ago, but I prefer to take it a little slower while looking in the camera.  I always had a bugger of a time understanding how to steer in reverse and would frequently panic and have a mini-meltdown if I did it wrong.  It was just too complicated for me to visualize and make the connections in my brain as to how the car would respond going backwards while turning the wheel this way or that.  With the camera now, I can actually SEE it, and it calms me greatly.  I don’t have to think about it in my head, I can see it with my own eyes via the video screen;  It seems I have nearly 180 degrees the opposite problem of a “visual” autistic person like Temple Grandin.  There were many instances in the past, with my dad teaching me to drive a new vehicle (tractor, my first stick shift car, etc) that involved going in reverse and steering that pushed me to the point of meltdown.  Thankfully Mom’s car also has a rearview camera, too.  This was the car (Mom’s) we used on our trip.

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