“Spot the Aspie.” It’s a game I play every time I’m out and about.
When I go to the corner store to get my weekly cheesy poofs (of South Park’s Cartman fame) and Matthew is working, I feel an unspoken kinship with him. Like me, he says little and eye contact is rare.
I so want to whisper, “You’re on the autism spectrum, like me, aren’t you?” I won’t because he would be unnerved at a customer say that at work. Also, he may not know he’s on the spectrum. Or, I could be wrong.
But, at the Minnesota Autism Society annual conference, I felt brave saying something while playing “Spot the Aspie.” I was there with my business partner, Jennifer, displaying our weighted blankets. Jennifer is not on the spectrum, so needless to say, she did most of the talking, which left me quiet on my chair observing.
I spotted children twirling or being intensely interested in an object at one of the tables, including ours. There were so many adults on the spectrum who I observed.
Now, ours was a popular table in the exhibition hall, so I spent a lot of time standing up and talking also. A man walked up to me and said, “You’re on the spectrum, right?” I saw his manner and realized that he was too.
“Yes,” I replied.
“Do you speak French,” he asked.
I responded, “Oui, un peu.” (Yes, a little.)
Since I emigrated to the U.S. from Canada and have been here for 20 years, I hadn’t spoken it since, except one brief time in San Francisco where I was vacationing with my mother.
I had lived in both Anglophone and Francophone areas, so I learned off and on, plus taking the required language instruction in school, plus using it at work to write press releases for the French media.
No small talk. No details of personal lives until later, just sharing an intense personal interest in languages, while we took turns not making eye contact. I was in heaven to speak my leftover French while discussing the differences in accent between Parisian and Canadian French. Our accents often confused meaning, so we had a great time learning the differences. Fascinating.
I was elated to be talking with a person on the autism spectrum like me. I didn’t want it to end, but it did. But, back to exhibiting and talk, talk, show, show.
I felt confident at the conference because if I were spotted as an aspie, it would be acceptable, even welcomed. Then, lunch came along in the atrium, and exhibitors could get a lunch for free. Again, like high school, I ate alone.
Later, when I had to take a quiet break, I walked hurriedly out of the exhibition hall that overlooked the atrium. I looked down, and there was my French-speaking, fleeting autistic friend sitting at a round, table-clothed table talking to two other men. I so wanted to talk with them, to be a part of the in-crowd.
I walked down the stairs holding the railing, while I looked down at each step, so I wouldn’t fall. As I walked down, I took occasional looks at the table. I stopped at the bottom of the stairs, wondering if I could sit down with them.
Others came down the stairs, so I felt rushed to make a move. My nervousness won, so I went outside to get my alone time then back to the exhibit hall.
I wish I had sat with them. At an autism conference, I was a part of the in-crowd. I could have sat at the Cool Kids table and would have been welcomed.
I suppose I had learned the lessons of the high school cafeteria too well. I will be unlearning it by hanging out with the Cool Kids once a month at the Adult Asperger/Autism Social Support Group in Uptown Minneapolis at St. Mary’s Greek Orthodox Church by Lake Calhoun.
Evidently, it is a structured social experience, not just standing dumbly not knowing what to do like I usually do. Larry, the group coordinator, gave me an example of what they do. Name tags have interests written on them, so I would write, “Writing, Language, Cats.”
I haven’t been able to go all these years because the group is in the evening, and my night vision is poor due to the early-onset cataracts I have been developing for some years. I brightened up when hubby offered to go with me, so I could go. I can be with John and my fellow Aspies at the same time! Now how good is that.