Thursday, August 11, 2011

Autistic Story, Post One

In a post last week, I stated that I was going to begin a story about an autistic teenager.

So, let us now enter Chris's mind:
Like the rest of the class, I examined the problem on the board: You have four bins of tennis balls, and one of the bins is defective.  Each tennis ball is supposed to weigh one ounce, the ones in the defective bin weigh point nine ounces.  You have an electronic scale that you can only take one measurement with, how do you determine which of the bins is defective?
I finished reading the question and thought for a moment, my brain refusing to tackle the problem.  A line from a movie I had watched recently entered my consciousness.  The lines echoed in my head, Alec Baldwin's character following a trail of logic to solve a problem.  I tried to imitate that logic in my head and apply it to the problem.  I hit a wall, and thought about it some more.  I had a path to follow, but how do I distinguish between the bins.  Then it came to me, just like that.
I am a complete genius, I thought with triumph.
I quickly raised my hand.  I was the first one out of everyone in Mr. Ike’s statistics class.  I savored times like these like no other.
“Yes Chris?”  Mr. Ike looked eagerly at me.
I took a deep breath.  “I have the answer to the tennis ball problem.”  I said quickly then I stopped, my thoughts beginning to collapse.
“Yes, go on.”  Mr. Ike prompted me.
I was aware that the whole class was watching me.  I began speaking again, instantly my brain kicked into action: “First you have to label the number of bins as one, two, three, and four.  Next, we know the defective rate so we can use that to solve the problem.  Take one tennis ball out of the first bin, two out of the second bin, three out of the third, and four balls out of the fourth bin.  Place all of the tennis balls on the electronic scale and take the only reading we are able to.  Divide the weight given on the scale by the defective rate and you will have narrowed it down to the one bin with the defective tennis balls.”
There was silence in response to my answer.  I ducked my head, aware that every one of my classmates was staring at me.  Mr. Ike was staring at me too, but he was smiling.
“You are absolutely correct Chris.  Very good.  Now, did everyone understand that?”
There was more silence so Mr. Ike started explaining my answer to the class.  I wasn’t listening.  I was savoring the moment.  I had just solved the problem that no one else could.  And I did it all in my head.
*              *              *

I walked through the crowded hallways of school, keeping my eyes on the feet of the person in front of me.  I wanted someone to stop me and talk to me, with some sign of recognition, but that never happened.  Then I worried myself over what I would say if they did.  I always seemed to freeze up in social situations, I couldn’t help it.
I had received some appraising glances from my classmates as I let the Mr. Ike’s statistics class.  It had taken several explanations before the rest of the class understood.  I felt that everyone was watching me, wondering how I could skip several steps to solve the golf ball problem in my head. I just took a different caliber of thinking.
And yet, I still felt unsatisfied.  It didn’t make any sense to me how I could be so smart, and yet so…I don’t know.  Clueless.
I have autism, but at the same time it is not autism.  I know that doesn’t make any sense.  My official diagnosis is Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified.  It is basically autism that cannot be placed into any of the major categories such as Aspergers Syndrome, or anything like that.  I can solve problems like Mr. Ike’s tennis ball problem by skipping steps, performing mathematical analysis in my head.  And yet, it doesn’t seem like I have what it takes to approach new people in the hallways in school to make friends.  It was something that I would just have to accept about myself, over time.

(In Chris's story, he solves a problem first that the class is trying to figure out. I did not make up this problem, if anyone was wondering.  I did solves an identical problem in a college statistics course last year in my head.  I was told by the professor that his more advanced undergrad course, a Spreadsheet Modeling class, was unable to solve that problem in an hour, and I was able to solve it in my head in in twenty minutes while the professor went on with his lecture.  That event formed the basis for this story, which, I admit, was written long before I decided to start a blog about autism.  I tried the best I could to recall the process I followed while solving the problem, and put that process in a form that someone else could understand.   The second part of the story is not based off of any particular event, but through that I tried to imitate how I feel moving through large crowds, such as the hallways in a high school.)

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