By James Christie
Network News Contributor
And the funny thing is, I usually witness proof that my approach is basically right and that those who fail to listen to the truths of travelling life when abroad will sooner or later be on the wrong end of a serious reality check.
In terms of communications it seems, funnily enough, that a focused high-functioning Asperger can outperform some neuro-typicals (NTs) because he or she sees things as they are (let us say objectively), rather than the way some NTs may wish to perceive them to be (that is to say, subjectively).
Roughly speaking (and I stress I am not an expert on autism), objectivity correlates with the “logic first, emotion next” function of the autistic brain whereas an NT is more likely to be subjective and/or emotional in his or her belief.
You could liken it to Joe Friday from Dragnet repeatedly dragging an emotional suspect back to her statement and patiently asking her just to provide “the facts, ma’am.”
Think that’s crazy and clichéd?
Then look to the tale of just such an Asperger, waiting on the borders of California for the night train from Needles to L.A., wondering idly if he was being a bit too hard on his fellow travellers…
I’d wanted to take another trip across the States while body and soul still held out, rather than get locked in my own literary history as part of Dear Miss Landau. My subconscious had suggested the title Cross At Needles for a companion novel to the original and I’d worked out this meant I should indeed cross the border from Arizona into California at the town of Needles, the exact route the Joads took in the film version of Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath.
I really did do that, and an observer at the time would indeed have seen a big blond Autist waiting for the 12.49 a.m. train to Los Angeles on December 2nd, 2013.
And just about to be presented with two incontrovertible pieces of evidence regarding the advantages of objectivity in communication.
I was chatting to a Chinese lady when two polite teens asked me where the 12.10 train to Flagstaff was. I explained there was no 12.10 train, just the 10 to 1 to L.A., most definitely going the other way. They didn’t really seem to get it so I asked to look at their tickets.
The answer soon presented itself.
The objective fact of the matter was that the 12.10 to Flagstaff was at 12.10 p.m., whereas the 12.49 to L.A. was at 12.49 a.m.
That was all there was to it. Any subjective perception of reality was ground to pieces as thoroughly as if it had fallen under the wheels of a three-hundred-and-fifty ton train. The two girls, polite but careless and a touch too full of casual assumption, were either twelve hours early or twelve hours late for their train, and as I said at the time, “there’s nothing I can do. I can’t just whistle up a trans-continental express.”
They wandered glumly back to their motel, I chatted on gaily to my Chinese lady, time passed and the 12.49 a.m. did indeed turn up.
The U.S. railway company Amtrak does not usually allow passengers just to turn up, pay on arrival and blithely get on board (not in the case of their long-distance trains, anyway). You should reserve your seat in advance and preferably have your ticket ready. I’d checked the facts, made the reservation, printed out three copies of my ticket to ride and kept an electronic copy to boot.
Almost before the conductor could ask to see said ticket, I’d presented it politely to him at close range and as a result was indeed waved on board, efficiently if without fanfare. My attention moved from the crucial fact of boarding, now successfully achieved, to my fellow passenger, and I got that old familiar feeling (call it a sixth sense or command intuition) that something was wrong. I headed downstairs but it was too late. The train was already moving out and my Chinese pal was spending the night in Needles.
She hadn’t checked the objective facts and now she was learning them the hard way.
In the end, I’ve found that effective communication largely involves dealing with the facts as they are and not as they are perceived to be; and sad but true to say, that’s why one Chinese lady and two confused teens were left on the platform at Needles that night while I went on safe to L.A…
Author James Christie was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome in 2002. He took an interest in Drusilla the vampire, a character in the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, inspiring him to write a trilogy of fan-fiction stories. He sent them to the actress who portrayed Drusilla in Buffy (Juliet Landau) and they began to correspond via email.