A man at the grocery store was unknowingly blocking access to the shelf item I had my eye on. Common sense would dictate if I told him, “Excuse me”, he would have moved an inch to let me reach for it. But instead, I pretended to browse the shelves with the back of my eye on him. It appeared he was thoroughly reading the label on the item. I secretly hoped he’d take the item and not reach for another and here we’d go again with the label analysis. Just as I was about to give up and go roam another aisle, he moved a few inches and I went in for the take.
As strange as this sounds, I have to really ache for the item before I would succumb to asking a fellow customer to move ever so slightly. In fact, “excuse me” is a trigger phrase. When someone says it to me, I always move out of their way without complaint. I just wish I could pull a plug on the uneasy feeling of having been caught in someone’s path.
My diagnosis of being on the autism spectrum a little over a month ago has prompted me to re-evaluate past life episodes and how they may relate to my autism. But not only the past, but as I go about the business of living today. It is like seeing the world around me with a different pair of lens.
From the research I’ve done on autism, I understand why public places can be a minefield. Autism doesn’t stay in the car when I go inside to shop.
If I arrive in a parking lot where looking for an empty space is like going on a safari hunt, I will not bother stopping. If moving the shopping cart is like going through a maze with little space to maneuver in with lots of noise in the background, I’ll only endure it if what I came for is essential. Otherwise I’ll find my nearest escape route.
The checkout has its own boobie traps. Such as the clerk scanning an item and the price is not in sync with my expectation. The price has to be high enough and I have to be absolutely sure the price scanned is the wrong price before I’ll speak up. If I have any doubts or it’s a small difference in change, I will pay the price without question. Common sense would say the clerk isn’t going to reach across the counter and strangle me for questioning the price, but that’s the dark side of living on the spectrum. Social interaction, whether it be at home, work, marketplace, etc. is just hard.
Returning an item to the store may be just a burdensome task to some, but for me, it is an enormous task that I have seldom pulled off. A store’s customer service desk seldom sees the likes of me.
There was a rare occasion only recently where I showed up at the return/exchange desk of my local electronics store. I was anxious as I made my way to the counter, but I stayed on course and got an exchange. Ironically, it was an obsession, a common autism trait, that pushed me to the counter that day. I have an obsession with computers and other electronic gadgets. How bad is this obsession? Honestly, I don’t know what I would do without power strips. I’m a “mother hen” when it comes to my electronic gadgets. I was willing to endure going to the customer service desk because I wasn’t about to tolerate having a newly bought “lemon” tablet.
I have a vague childhood memory of being in the store with my Mom. I was pacing the aisle and acting out an imaginary story playing in my head. My Mom noticed and said, “Stop doing that.” Some five decades later, I know what the name of “that” was.
Sometimes I still retreat into daydream land when I’m in the marketplace and reality is a crowded store with noise galore.