It was several years ago, before I’d even learned about autism, when we took a family road trip up to visit some friends in a different state. A little over two hours into the trip, when we were driving through one of the nearest Big Cities, we stopped at Trader Joe’s (an American specialty grocery store) for lunch.
I love Trader Joe’s and, in true Autist fashion, there are several types of food and tea that I can only enjoy consuming if they’re the Trader Joe’s brand. Unfortunately the closest store to us is well over an hour away which means that we make certain to stop at a Trader Joe’s location when we’re driving anywhere near one. I painstakingly plot out our trip routes based on wherever the closest Trader Joe’s happens to be on any given trip.
So we stopped for lunch and I got an amazing salad. I was studiously plotting out my path through the salad when my husband reached over and took one of the pieces of chicken from the top of my salad.
I exploded at him. He was taken by surprise, he hadn’t expected his action to upset me that much, but he did put the piece of chicken back. He asked why he couldn’t have a piece of my salad chicken, but I was unable to tell him for a while.
For one thing, I didn’t really care if he had a piece of the chicken. That wasn’t the problem. The problem was that he had disrupted my process – the process I didn’t fully realize that I had been engaged in.
But I didn’t know that was the problem and he wanted an answer to his question so I eventually gave him an answer to that question, “Well, there’s only a certain amount of chicken and it needs to last for as long as the lettuce does.”
His response wasn’t very enthusiastic or understanding, so I deduced that the different components of food lasting to the end and making perfect bites to finish the meal weren’t nearly as important to him as they were to me.
Finally, about halfway through the salad, I realized that I could easily give him a bite of chicken along with the allocated bits of salad that went with it. I gave him a bite, he thanked me, and we continued on our road trip.
My initial reaction probably looked very irrational and even mean or selfish, but under the circumstances, it was actually self-protective and had nothing in the world to do with not wanting to share. I simply needed to eat my food in a certain way and he had disrupted it.
Now my husband asks first when he wants a bite of my food and is patient while I determine which, if any, bite he can have. Sometimes I can figure it out quite quickly, but other times it takes a few minutes. If I’m not up for sharing at all, I can generally tell him that immediately.