Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Aspie Experience

The room is white with large doors on the left and right. Towards the back, there is a desk, a computer, a telephone and a chair. When you enter, you will sit at the desk and be given a series of tasks to complete.

The first is simple. Dial a phone number and carry on a ten minute conversation. What you discuss is not important. Talk about the weather, if you want to. Just pick up the phone and begin.

As soon as you begin your conversation, several people will enter the room from the left and right doors and they will begin to converse with one another around you. As many people do, they will move about and gesture within your line of sight as they talk amongst themselves. Because you are not an Aspie, you may be able to ignore them – to tune out their voices.

To ensure that you get the full Aspie experience, the people will make certain you can’t ignore them. They will ask you questions and poke you and invade your personal space as you attempt to complete your phone call. You may notice that is becoming progressively more difficult to listen to what the person on the other end of the line is saying. They may become impatient with you asking them to repeat what they’ve said several times.

Once the ten minute phone call is over, the exercise will be repeated. This time you will attempt to carry on a conversation with a person in front of you instead of on the phone. In addition to the multiple conversations around you, there will also be four televisions (one on each wall) turned up quite loud, each with a different program showing.

When this is over, you will be quizzed on the things discussed both in the phone and face to face conversation. It is likely that you will remember very little having been so distracted during both.

When this section is complete, we will move on to a different task. You will be given a series of basic puzzles to solve on the computer. Each has a time limit and will require intense focus to complete. Once the timer begins, you will experience the same distractions as before: loud conversations, questions, being touched, televisions, and so on.

The final test requires nothing from you but to remain calm and relaxed. The furniture will be removed from the room, but the other elements will remain. There will be additional people crowding the room and jostling you as they interact with one another. Music will be piped in over the voices and televisions and multi-colored strobe lights will go off intermittently. Other sounds, such as crying babies, cellphone ringers and barking dogs will add to the cacophony. Various smells will waft by – perfumes, cooking food, trash, etc. You will also be wearing an itchy sweater while the temperature in the room is increased. How long can you keep your cool?

I’ll be waiting for you on the other side. Maybe now you’ll have a little more empathy for me.

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