First off, I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who has commented on my 100th post – I really appreciate every single one of you, and thank you so much for reaching out. And if you haven’t yet, please do! Now, on to today’s post…
I drove a friend to something early this morning. This friend has helped me take my kitty to the vet a couple of times, and she’s not a morning person, so I thought I’d try to do something nice for her, and bring her coffee early in the morning. I asked her if she would appreciate and accept such a thing yesterday, and she said yes. So I asked her what she’d like. “Latte, with the highest percentage of milkfat they have available” was the answer. Easy peasy. No problemo. I can do this.
Except that coffee is a lot more complex than I can figure out. As a non-coffee drinker (I prefer my mint tea and hot chocolate), I’m not familiar with all the things that coffee involves. I’m not familiar with what the difference between a mocha and a latte and an espresso and a cappuccino and a regular coffee is. I’m not familiar with all the different components and questions that the baristas (I think that’s the word?) might ask to clarify the order. I’ve never ordered coffee before.
But I wanted to make this work. I made the offer fully aware of the confusion I knew I would face, and was happy to do so. In addition to being something nice I could do for my friend, this was a controlled chance to expand my abilities. So I spent an hour last night researching how coffee works. Trying to figure out what exactly it was that makes a latte. I made a list of potential questions that the barista might ask me to clarify the order. I figured out all the answers for them. I practiced scripting the conversation, so that I would know what to say and how to say it and when. All so I could bring my friend coffee.
Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to use my newly practiced skills – I realized belatedly, as I was busy practicing the social situation in my head, that the offer for coffee kind of fails, because I couldn’t carry it (still on crutches = hands occupied = not carrying anything that could possibly spill, especially not scalding hot things that stain). So I’ll have to wait and get her coffee at some later time. (Thankfully, my friend is of the understanding type.) But that’s not the point of this post. This post is yet another example of how something someone might take completely for granted: like walking into a coffee shop and ordering a drink, is not something that is trivial for everyone.
When I’m tasked with a new social situation, I need time to prepare. I need time to think about it, to script about it, to try and figure out what exactly I need to think about in advance so that I can function properly in the situation. For me, every single social situation like this is new. If I have to go into a store (even a store I’ve been in hundreds of times) to find something new, I need to practice my scripts beforehand, so that I know exactly how and what to say if I need to ask someone (or if one of those “helpful” employees comes up to me and talks to me – something I do NOT appreciate, because they’re interrupting my patterns of movement and thought.) This period of “pre-planning” is very important in my abilities to cope with new situations and old alike. I don’t like surprises, so practicing ahead of time to minimize them is super important. I imagine this is the purpose of “social stories” that are a common thing I hear about for autistic kids these days.
When I’m shoved into a new social situation suddenly, this is one of the reasons I can shut down. My brain instantly generates about 200 new questions, instantly, that I don’t know the answers to, that I don’t have any time to figure out the answers to, but that my brain is trying like mad to parse and develop the answers to. Add that to likely being in sensory overload and having people trying to talk to me, and I’m in trouble. If I’m already a little off-balance from previous events that day, it can be even worse, and just continue to compound. Is it any wonder that sudden new social situations have the potential to cause a meltdown?
And this isn’t to say that buying my friend coffee would’ve caused a meltdown. In fact, it wouldn’t have, I don’t think. I had time to prepare. Time to practice. Time to think. And time to acquire a brand new skill. Plus, the plan was to go into the coffee shop (that I’ve been in twice before) at 7:15am on a Saturday – quiet time. Sometimes I can generalize, like asking where something in a store is, but some things, like ordering coffee, which requires specialized information, don’t generalize for me. But I was able to trouble shoot and figure out what I’d need to know in advance. For me, that’s how these things build and develop. Now, if only I have the opportunity to use this new skill. Some time when I’ve regained the ability to walk with my feet instead of my hands.