A few days ago I came for a shift to a care home I never was in before. The front door was open and led to a little waiting area with a ring bell for staff and locked door to the actual care home. Great idea, I thought, especially when it’s raining. I rang the bell and after good few minutes a staff member came; I wasn’t sure if it’s still the requirement to do covid tests before shift but he said it is. He brought me a test and I had to wait for the result in that waiting area.
After a few minutes I realised that the test appeared faulty as, instead of having a clear test line, it showed a blue stain. I immediately felt very distressed. I knew that I had to ring for staff attention to get another test, but I also know that staff in care homes are very busy; it also felt to me that the test shouldn’t be faulty to begin with.
I felt a strong urge to go home. Care home door is locked, I can’t disturb the staff, I can’t start my shift without a valid test. But the front door is open, therefore the correct procedure is to leave.
Obviously I was fully aware that this thinking process didn’t make any sense, but that’s what my brain was doing to me. I was trying to talk myself out of it, but I couldn’t and was only getting more and more distressed. Finally a permanent staff appeared for their shift so I asked them for another test, but that still felt really distressing; like if I went against the procedure.
I also knew that me not ringing for attention the moment I realised the test looks faulty may be interpreted as laziness on my side. Although a counsellor would most likely clasified it as lack of confidence. I wonder what Professor Baron-Cohen would say if we were on speaking terms. But it was just my brain trying to think in procedures to work out what to do in that new situation. Possibly if I worked there before, I wouldn’t react this way. Maybe I’d knew that towards the end of the shift staff is not really that busy as they already completed all necessary tasks and are waiting for handover?
The situation made me very distressed for good couple of hours. I don’t know what can be done to prevent similar situations in the future. I can’t change the way I think, however, at least now, when I know this is what my brain does, I can at least get closure when I calm down, instead of constantly asking myself what the f**k is wrong with me.
That however brings me to another important point: loads of autism advocates claim that we, autistics, always know what is good for us, and the problem is only that society doesn’t allow us to do that. I guess that applies to some situations, but not the above. What would happen if I left at the time? The agency would call me for explanation and I wouldn’t even be able to say anything sensible. If I told them the truth, I’d appear like someone who’s unable to cope with even simple problems.
It really seems like in some situations my instinct is getting things totally wrong, and even when I’m aware of it, I still can’t easily move on to do the thing that would be more suitable for the situation.
This is not to say that neurotypicals instinct is always right; they also get things wrong but in different situations: they assume that person with confident communication style is competent, they assume that someone good at social reciprocity is a good and empathetic human being (that’s why narcissists can so easily get what they want) and they use their social imagination to stereotype people. I can’t think of anything else right now, but it does make me think that neurotypicals could learn from us a thing or two. I wonder though if they’d became as distressed as me when trying to act against their instinct?