Max's shop of horrors

Warning: imagination testing site. Enter at own risk

Month: July, 2016

Tryumph

Like Yoda as much as the next guy I do, (even if he does bear a disturbing resemblance to the Gremlins. A distant hippie cousin perhaps?) but one thing I think he’s dead wrong about is the whole “do or do not, there is no try” line. I would argue that to try is to do. In fact, I’d go one step further, and say that trying is a victory in itself.

In my experience, summoning the courage and strength to have a go at something is usually harder than actually doing the thing. Getting over that initial barrier of fear and self-doubt is the real struggle. Once I’m passed that, even if I fail, it’s still a win, because I feel better for having tried.

Just having overcome that initial reluctance can be a huge confidence boost. It’s a demonstration to myself that I can fight the fear that holds me back, and win. Whenever I catch myself getting self-critical for not succeeding at something, I try to consciously turn it around and congratulate myself for being proactive and taking the initiative.

Just getting to the point where you can fail can mean you’ve already battled and defeated an army of potent endorphins, including ones that are specifically designed to undermine our conscious will. That’s an accomplishment we all too often don’t give ourselves credit for.

It’s like placing 4th in the Olympics; you may not get a medal, but the fact that you’re in the race at all says a lot.

Mental processing, explained with Pizza

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As far as I am concerned, Pizza is one of humanity’s crowning achievements. Its elegantly simple concept, essentially whatever food you want on an edible plate, transcends culture, creed, and nationality. Few human inventions are so ubiquitous, so versatile, or so ridiculously awesome.

Pizza is something almost anybody reading this can relate to, to some extent. As such, it makes for a convenient metaphor with which to explain challenging concepts. Today’s case in point: autism and mental processing.

It’s very common (though certainly not universal) for those of us on the spectrum to take longer to process a question or conundrum compared to our non-autistic peers. This is often wrongly interpreted as us being “slow” or “stupid”. But to simplify the issue as “fast = smart” and “slow = dumb” does a grave disservice for those whose brains have a different way of operating.

Let’s imagine for the moment that the slower-processing brain is a Pizza shop called Spectrum Specialties, and the fast-processing brain is another one called Pablo’s Pizzas.

At Pablo’s Pizzas, each cheesy creation goes through an eight stage production process, each of which adds a topping. 10 Minutes after being ordered, it’s ready to be served.

At Spectrum Specialties, things work a bit differently. First, the pizza undergoes a basic three part process where the dough is rolled, then tomato paste is added, then cheese is added. After that, however, the production line splits depending on the type of pizza; there’s a ten stage meat pizza pipeline, a nine stage vegetarian pizza pipeline, or a twelve stage gluten free pipeline. Finally, the shop’s special sauce is added. All in all, it takes 20 minutes for a Pizza to be made, cooked, and served.

Now, let’s say that halfway through making the pizza, the process is interrupted somehow, say if the customer changes their order. At Pablo’s Pizzas, if the Pizza is at Stage four, only those four stages of work are lost. They can quickly and easily start again.

At Spectrum Specialties, however, a Pizza getting cancelled halfway through the meat-specific pipeline means that eight stages of work are lost.

This is what it can be like for those whose thought processes are slower; being asked another question (or even the same question again) before they’ve finished with the first can derail the whole process and force them to restart a long and painstaking procedure from scratch.

At the end of the day, both shops produce marvelous Pizzas. Pablo’s will get your order to you faster, but at Spectrum Specialties, each individual pizza has more work put into it, plus that all important special sauce. It’s not that Spectrum Specialties is an inferior Pizza shop, they just have a different way of doing things.

“Creepy”

This week’s topic is a sensitive one, and I realize that by addressing it I’m playing with fire, not to mention a big damn powder keg. And so, in the spirit of Wile E Coyote, I figure I’d light it up and see what happens. All jokes aside though, I will attempt to be as considerate as possible.

“Creepy” is very commonly applied label, and there’s a good reason for that; a lot of people truly earn the title with their disrespectful and malicious behaviour. As somebody who is generally not the target of such conduct, I realize I’m not qualified to tell anybody how they should feel about it. In fact, I applaud the courage of those who deal with this crap, and I feel we should all call this behaviour out when we see it.

Having said that, I think it’s very easy for social awkwardness to come across as more sinister than it really is. People on the autism spectrum, for example, can find it very challenging to understand social etiquette and boundaries. They may be trying very hard to socialize appropriately, and may not realize that their behaviour is being interpreted as rude or “creepy”.

Now, I’m not saying this should get anybody a free pass. All I’m suggesting it that, in the case of someone who genuinely means well but may not be expressing themselves appropriately, all it can take is to explain their mistake to them. They may very well stop immediately, take this feedback on board, and be very apologetic.

Of course, you’ll get some who will refuse to accept they were in the wrong and try to blame the person calling them out; sadly, there are unpleasant people both on and off the spectrum. But while I firmly believe in taking a stand against “creepy” conduct, and that nobody should have to put up with it, I don’t think our first line of defence need always be unmitigated hostility. By giving somebody the chance to recognize that they are in the wrong and correct their behaviour, we can potentially de-escalate the situation, and address the problem without crushing those who may genuinely have meant no harm. Education can often get better results than punishment.

Conversational Tennis

I don’t know about you, but when somebody asks me about the things I’m interested in, they might as well be opening a vigorously shaken beer can. Few things make me as happy as talking about Godzilla movies, Nintendo games, or my stories, and I can get so excited and fixated that I could literally talk for hours.

Unfortunately, that may not be how the person I’m talking to would rather spend the next few hours of their life. As I have trouble reading social cues, I would often miss signs that they were becoming uncomfortable or bored and would rather change the subject. This led to a lot of one-sided conversations that were a real drag on my attempts to develop my social life.

In order to avoid this, I came up with a set of rules to stop myself from monopolizing the conversation. Firstly, I make sure to never stick to the same subject for more than a few minutes, unless the other person is clearly very enthusiastic about it too. Even if it’s something I really love talking about, I keep a conscious tab on how long I’ve been talking about the same thing, to stop myself from settling into a monologue.

Secondly, I try to remember to ask lots of questions. This is helpful on multiple levels; not only does it keep the conversation flowing and makes the other person feel included, but it also means the burden of driving the conversation is shared between us. Instead of doing all the work myself, I can hand over to them for a bit and take a breather.

I find it helpful to think of a conversation like a game of tennis; somebody asks me a question, (serves) and I “hit” it back to them by answering the question, and asking them one in return. The focus of conversation moves back and forth between us, like the ball. Sometimes we might mess up and it goes “out of bounds”, but that’s okay, just grab a new ball and start again.

To be honest, I still find conversation difficult. It moves so fast I feel like I don’t have enough time to properly process my sentences before I have to speak them, so I’m always analysing if what I just said was appropriate and proper, while also trying to figure out what to say next and how to say it, and process what the other person is saying, all at once. My brain turns into a traffic jam of information, and I get flustered or lost for words.

But the more I practice, the better I get. Even the best tennis players in the world have hit the ball out of bounds a million times. The important thing is that they kept trying.