Monday, September 29, 2014

Autism and Street Smarts: Avoiding Trouble

No advice is perfect for everyone and this is no exception. This is aimed at the high functioning who may be able to take care of themselves. Still, this may be of use to anyone in variable ways.

My experience comes from being on my own in the streets from age 14. I survived a long list of things that people have told me I shouldn't have been able to. But I did. As a child in the streets of Barstow, California; I was offered a place in the darkest criminal elements, yet I avoided them. Knowing what I know today, it's hard for me to figure out how I avoided them, but saying no actually worked for me. I'm not giving a list of the things I was asked to do by creeps looking for street urchin kids because I would have to give a trigger warning. What's important is how I survived and how you can avoid getting into trouble by some basic rules.

I developed these rules as a means to survival where it mattered most. While I hope none of you are in such dark situations, perhaps this will keep you out of them.

Rule #1: "It's none of my business". This is what I would say to people who started talking to me about illegal things they wanted to do. When someone approached me about an idea that I knew would cause me problems or get me arrested or even killed; I would just say "that's none of my business" and excuse myself for some fake errand I had to do . Let other people go get themselves in trouble. Don't preach at them, don't try to interfere directly (anonymous calls to police are fine), just use the phrase and get out of there. The whole idea is to get to a safe place and away from the threat.

You might wonder why that worked on people who tried to recruit me for their dirty deeds. I may have been lucky, but it seemed to impress (weirdly enough). In several cases, I had someone say to me, "keep saying that and you'll live a long time". That was good enough for me.

Rule #2: Pay attention to whats going on around you. For those of us with sensory disorders that never shut up, this is actually easy. So long as you stay in well lit areas and practice looking like you know exactly what you are doing, you'll make yourself less of a target. Practice noticing what is going on around you so you can avoid spots that look like trouble. While you are paying attention and being alert there is a very important pointer here:  DO NOT STARE AT ANYONE. A passing glance or using your peripheral vision is good enough. Practice noticing things out of the corner of your eye at home. Noticing small details can save your life. Remember, the idea is noticing what to avoid. It's okay to change your entire route for this purpose. More on that in a minute.

Rule #3: Don't go where you don't belong.  Most of us autistics already dislike crowds so we have a great excuse. If you are about to walk down a street you don't know and it's got shifty looking people hanging out on cars, smoking and drinking and it even looks dangerous... don't go that way. Keep to well lit and public accessed streets. Don't be wandering around at odd hours of the night. Stay out of back alleys. You can usually research and find out where high crime areas of your city or town are so you can stay away. You can research online or ask a trusted source such as a police officer (believe it or not).

Rule #4: If you must walk through the dark, do it like you just don't care. This is an exception to rule 3. There may come a time where you just have no choice but to walk down that block past those dangerous looking guys. You have to act like it just doesn't matter to you where you have to go. Think of the coolest and calmest day you ever knew in your life and walk like that. If someone nods at you, nod back, but keep moving. Don't stop, don't get into a conversation if you can help it (remember rule 1). Don't stare at anyone and just keep moving until you are far away or safe at home.

Notation: Unfortunately some of us LIVE in these places. Hopefully home is safe for you.

Rule #5: Have alternative habits. As a general rule, autistic people (including me) are serious creatures of habit. Breaking habits and changing routines is not easy for us. I suggest we practice not thinking of it as breaking our routine, rather adding an alternative routine to protect ourselves. Sometimes, something bad will happen even on the safest street and you will have to alter your route. There could be a terrible accident, a fire, or even a police standoff. These are all  things that may make you change route. Having back up routines can keep you out of trouble. Your favorite grocery store is on fire? You will have to be ready to go to a different one. So have that plan already in place. When I was on the streets, I had to have several alternate routes I could walk to avoid people who were trouble. I got used to shifting quickly. You shouldn't have to do that with more than one or two back up plans. Just don't think of them as broken routines. They are shifted routines that are in case of emergency.

By following these rules to the best of your ability, you can avoid dangerous situations or even being involved with police while keeping yourself safe.

But what if you are trying to teach your child with autism how to be safe? I'll cover that in my next installment.

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