Q: What causes stress for a person with Autism?
Paul: My immediate response was … everything. And it’s probably true in one way or another. The world is just very stressful to me because uncertainty is stressful.
Q: What helps you relieve the stress?
Paul: Doing things I can control. That’s one of the reasons I got into video games in the first place. They take place in a controlled environment, they have rules, and they’re structured in a way where you can’t really break the rules. The game enforces the rules. When you play Monopoly with someone, they can slip money from the bank when you’re not looking, but if you’re playing the Monopoly video game with someone, they can’t do that — the game does not allow that to happen.
Video games gave me a controlled and predictable environment, that’s also why I like passive entertainment like books, movies, and things like that because they may have unpredictability, but I know that a movie can’t do anything, it’s just there on the screen. It’s a chance for me to avoid that unpredictability.
I get an anxiety spike every single time I hear the text message sound on my phone, every single time, no matter what. Just because … and it’s frustrating. I actually just get just a little bit angry every time I hear it, because no matter what it’s sort of interrupting my peace. But I also can’t just turn it off for the day because I will be anxious if I don’t know that there’s text messages waiting for me. It’s just one of those things where unpredictability is bad, but you can’t get rid of it. So, in short, it’s extremely difficult to relax.
Q: Why would a text message stress you? Afraid it might be bad news or something?
Paul: Oh, no, it’s not the content of the message; it’s just the interruption. It’s just that it was not predicted, it just happened randomly.
Q: How do you feel when you’re standing in line at the grocery store and it says ten items or less and a person in front of you has twelve items?
Paul: Drives me absolutely crazy.
Paul: It says ten items or less. For example, I fly Southwest a lot, and they just give you a number to line up. So I’ll be number A-18 and in front of me is supposed to be A-17, behind me is supposed A-19, and you hear someone say, “Well close enough,” or whatever. I’m like, I know that you’re going to get upset with me if I say, “Well, I’m supposed to be in front of you,” but at the same time it’s clear that it matters to you too, because if it didn’t matter to you, you’d just say, “Okay,” and move behind me.
It’s the same at the 12 items or less line in the grocery store. It’s clear they want to take advantage of it being the express lane, but they also want to get around that. If you said something to them, they’d likely say, “Well, why is this a big deal?” I would say, “Well, if it’s not a big deal to you, why don’t you go stand in the other line?” It’s clear that in some way there’s a little bit of hypocrisy there no matter what happens.
Q: Do you say anything?
Paul: Usually, no.
Q: Would you have when you were a child?
Paul: Almost certainly. Probably the main reason I don’t say anything today is I fear for my safety.
Q: But you’d like to say something?