You’re In My Spot

Being upset when someone sits in “our” chair or takes “our” spot is an Autistic reaction that has moved from stereotype to joke. It’s a bad joke because it’s making fun of something that’s often involuntary and extremely distressing to many of us.

I realize that it can appear that we’re overreacting to those who only see our outward behavior, so I’d like to describe a bit of what it’s like on the inside for me to experience someone “taking my spot.”

First of all, it’s a very upsetting feeling to sit somewhere I wasn’t expecting to sit. That feeling overwhelms nearly everything else, even when I manage not to show any outward sign of being distressed because I’m in public and an adult now.

Everything feels wrong. I’m out of place. I try to reason through it in a logical manner. I tell myself something like: “I’m in a fine spot, it’s okay. I can do what I need to do right here. It’s all right.” But my attention is still divided, staying on the spot where I should be and being overwhelmed by discomfort and that out of place feeling.

This is hard enough when I’m left alone to mentally talk myself through it. I try to visualize me being in my current spot through the class or my time at the coffee shop or at a friend’s home and visualizing it being okay to remain here.

Sometimes this helps, but usually only after it’s been a good half hour or so. Often, even after I’m mostly settled in, I will still keep a close watch on my formerly expected spot, ready at any time to snatch it as soon as the other person vacates the seat or premises.

It’s even worse when someone else wants to talk to me because the only images and words in my mind are relating to this very strong sensation of being out of place due to that other person being in my expected spot. So, those being the only words in my mind means that those are the only words that can come out of my mouth. I can almost never manage to speak about anything else during this situation. Even a simple yes/no question may release a flood of angst.

In that situation I’m not complaining aloud to be a jerk – that’s literally all that will come out. I may mutter under my breath during my self-talk too, because otherwise I find it nearly impossible to logic through a situation with words.

And then I’m viewed as spoiled, entitled, controlling, overreacting, or the punchline to a bad joke.

The real joke is on me though because I don’t actually want to care about this. I wish I could sit anywhere and not care and not ever have to feel that overwhelmingly horrible sensation. I wish that I could work through it silently without the words bursting forth against my will the next time someone asks me a simple, usually unrelated, question.

Rather, I care about it because I can’t ignore it. The discomfort and distress are very real and very painful.

In fact, if I walk into a coffee shop and my expected seat is taken, I will frequently just walk back out because changing my entire plan last-minute is usually easier for me to handle than the torment I described in this post.

Someone sitting in “our” spot is not a small issue for most Autistics. Our reactions are not funny. It may seem like a very small thing to others, but it’s usually not a small thing at all.

6 thoughts on “You’re In My Spot

  1. I’m not making light of things, but would it help to mentally picture an alternative, back-up seat arrangement in case your prime spot is taken? Then you could put your backup plan into action when someone is in your seat. I need to constantly stim, so I can’t have people sitting in my rocking chair. In public, I need a seat close to anywhere there is a chance for quick escape. I only go out during times of day I will run into the minimum amount of people. Thank you for following my blog.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That method sometimes works, but I don’t always have the energy or foresight to picture enough possibilities to prevent it from happening. It also helps if I can purposefully sit in other spots – planning ahead – so that I can get used to different places gradually and on my own terms. But if my preferred spot is available, I end up sitting there and not trying out new spaces so the results are mixed from that.

      In the situation earlier this week (which inspired this post) I was in one of my preferred spots for a gym class (the spot where I’m supposed to start out), but it wasn’t the right spot for what was happening that day. I was the first person there and the second person who walked in, just as I was figuring out what the class plan was for the day and where I should ultimately end up, took my spot so I didn’t have time to move.

      Generally I just try to be the first person there or at a location when the doors open to avoid situations like this.

      Fortunately, in the case of earlier this week, I don’t think that specific person will take that spot ever again because it’s an Autistic sensory-friendly spot (no fans blow there, which is why I like it), but not a very allistic friendly spot since they seem to need the fans blowing on them in order to manage.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is one of the areas where, like so many others, I can look back and see how I trained myself to manage it. I have long deliberately made myself sit in different places in all sorts of places outside my home. When I found myself pulled to one spot, I would stop and deliberately pick out another one. I was aware of what I was doing, but just put it to myself as shaking things up (if in a group setting) or avoiding getting into a rut (if a solo activity). But it was actually all about creating a manageable amount of stress or tension in smaller controlled doses so I wouldn’t get overwhelmed. It’s a strategy I’ve used in different ways for a host of changes. I think I always have in the back of my mind the small child who would completely break down in inconsolable screaming fits when anything in my room had been moved out of place, even if I glossed over and hid those motivations even from myself.

    Of course, I slip up sometimes. I got in a habit of using a particular elliptical for cardio at the gym and one day, when someone else was using it, found myself disturbed and bothered the whole time I was trying to work out. I switched to using the treadmill after that day and make sure to use a different one every time. 🙂

    I have all these strategies I’ve developed over the course of my life. Even without a diagnosis, I had a sense of some of the things I needed to manage. And my childhood and early adult life was so extremely chaotic, I had to develop a lot of techniques just to survive.

    A diagnosis makes a huge difference though. I understand why, I can identify what’s behind certain reactions (at least some of the time), and my effort can be more directed rather than completely scattershot.

    But yeah, if I let myself acquire ‘a spot’, it’s always disruptive when someone else is in it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, that’s a good plan! I try to do that sometimes, but I don’t often have the energy to manage even the small changes when planned. It’s much easier to do if I’m with someone else so I’ll sit in different spots when I go places with a friend. My biggest issues are with places where I go alone and/or where the seating is very different all over the area. It’s also difficult at places where I’m already expending a lot of energy to be there in the first place.


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