What Happens When My Thought Process is Interrupted

A Shinkansen train

A Shinkansen train (source)

When you say my name while I’m in the midst of something, I’ll give a response of, “WHAT?” It sounds as if I’m angry, but here’s the thing: I’m not angry at you. I’m flooded with emotions and confused as to why the proverbial train stopped.

Proverbial train; let’s run with that…

Take the Shinkansen (better known as the bullet trains of Japan) known for their efficiency and high speeds. Let’s say you’re on an express train from Tokyo to Osaka. This, being an express train, has no stops between Tokyo and Osaka and when you’re on this train you’re expecting a quick journey. Let’s say, halfway through the trip, the train begins to slow and come to a stop at a station and the doors open. This isn’t supposed to be happening. There would be confusion among the passengers. Why did you stop? When will you be going again? Will you be stopping again? Of course the passengers will become irritated during this delay because it wasn’t planned for, nor was it expected. This is what daily life with Asperger’s is like.

In any thing I do, when I am doing it, I am like that Shinkansen express train. I am hyper-focused on the goal and when an unexpected interruption occurs, even mildly, my response is like the passengers on that train.

I mean no ill-will when I give a response that sounds angry. It’s easy for us to have tunnel vision and only see what it is that we are focused on. When I was in school, if I was working on something, I’d get irritated and annoyed at any person who spoke to me. Why? Let’s go back to the train example.

Let’s say the efficient Shinkansen wasn’t all that great at getting up to speed. Once up to speed all is well but getting up to speed is a challenge. That’s the way my brain is; once at speed I can focus with perfect clarity but that one interruption can bring about a complete change in ability to focus or achieve a task, hence why the unsuspecting interrupter is going to get what sounds like an angry answer.

This post isn’t to say that interrupting a person on the autism spectrum should be avoided at all costs. Quite the contrary; this post is to highlight the reason why you might get a response of annoyance and that we aren’t truly angry at you, we may just be angry at how difficult it is for us to change speed, to adjust our attention, and our fear of being unable to once again achieve the speeds we had been going.

Aaron Likens on a sailboatAaron Likens, author of Finding Kansas: Decoding the enigma of Asperger’s Syndrome, and the National Autism Ambassador for Easterseals, has spoken to over 80,000 people at over 900 presentations and has given to the world a revelation of how the Autism Spectrum Disorder mind works. His willingness to expose his inner most thoughts and feelings has unveiled the mystery the Asperger’s mind. Join him on his journey from hopelessness to hope.

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  1. Sarah Moorman Says:

    Thank you so much for this. I believe I have been on the autism spectrum for quite some time. Now 38, I wondered if there were a reason interrupting bothers me so much and have known for a while that one of the reasons why was because I have (as you said) a hard enough time concentrating on getting my point out quickly enough before it left my brain. Add the frustration of almost losing or losing a thought way more easily than others if someone interrupts on top of that and it can be very stressful. (Especially in arguments where one might have good points, all of which are lost by bullies who excessively interrupt.) 🙁

  2. Travis Says:

    This really puts things into perspective knowing someone on the autism spectrum. Thanks for sharing Aaron.

  3. Sydney Palese Says:

    Thank you so much for your message, Jennelle!

  4. Ryan Says:

    Wow, this train analogy is so simple and makes perfect sense.

  5. Jennelle E Says:

    This blog hits the nail right on the head. I know someone on the Autism Spectrum and I cannot tell you how spot on this is. I don’t know you Aaron, but I hope your voice gets heard throughout the world, and bless Easterseals for airing your stuff. I look forward to reading many more blogs from you and hope one day I can meet you.

    Thank you Easterseals for allowing me insight to someone I love dearly who can’t explain this themselves.

    Jennelle E.

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