Today I met up with an old friend from summer camp whom I hadn't seen since 1997. She came with her wife and three kids, and together we had a picnic in the park and then went to the pool to go swimming. The pool has two water slides-- one of which is a speed slide-- and so these kids were really excited. We were there for maybe twenty minutes when someone's toddler pooped in the baby pool. The entire facility was shut down (I guess all of the pools there are on the same filtration system) for the rest of the day. My friend's five-year-old daughter said, "Aww! This is so unfair!" But with a promise of ice cream and a game of mini-golf, everything was okay.
Had this happened when I was five-- or even ten-- I would have thrown a fit, maybe even cried. People like to dismiss such behavior from a ten-year-old as "immature." Actually, it's more complicated than that. These kids were probably very excited to go to the pool and go on the slides. They were probably excited when their two moms mentioned the day before what they would do on Saturday, but then they probably forgot about it until it was time to go. In other words, it was not on the forefront of their mind all the time. As you know, we Aspies tend to get hyperfocused on things. Had I been promised a trip to a pool with a couple water slides at age ten, I would have thought about it all week, non-stop. To put so much energy into thinking about something so intensely only to be disappointed is not something that is easy for kids with AS to let roll off their backs. At least in the case of the pool, my friend promised her kids another visit in a few weeks.
It can be even harder if nothing can be done about the situation, or if the disappointment involves a special interest. When I was thirteen, I was obsessed with The Rocketeer movie and wanted to find copies of the original The Rocketeer comics. There was no eBay when I was thirteen, and so I had to rely on the manager of a comic book store to see if he could track down The Rocketeer for me. On a Thursday afternoon, while I was at day camp, the manager called me and said that he found a copy of The Rocketeer. I was excited and the prospect of getting this comic book was on my mind all evening and the next day. I couldn't wait until the end of the day at camp on Friday so my mom could drive me to the comic book store. After nearly twenty-four hours of intense anticipation, the manager of the comic book store showed me the comic book that he had found-- an adaptation of The Rocketeer movie, which I already had. I had the wherewithal not to make a scene, and just told the manager that it was the wrong comic, thanked him, and left. Back in the car with my mom, I didn't yell and scream and throw a fit, but I was trying to keep the lid on some kind of outburst. I spoke angrily about how I got so excited for nothing, and then audibly wondered what was wrong with me that I was upset about this at all.
This situation is not an illustration of immaturity on my part but rather the results of a neurological makeup that caused me to be intensely excited about and hyperfocused on something only to have it taken away. Parents and friends of Aspies, how many of you had to cancel a vacation, for example, because of some bizarre circumstances that were beyond your control? I doubt it just rolled off your back. You probably didn't throw a fit, but I bet some of you cried. Just because a botched trip to a pool or the failed acquisition of a comic book may not seem as significant as a cancelled vacation to Hawaii doesn't mean the intense disappointment is any less real.
Stayed tune for "Maturity: Part II," coming next week!