Being autistic has its moments. Sometimes it has its advantages, other times it can be an absolute bastard, to use a technical term. A lot of my life can be about keeping on an even keel, not getting too overwhelmed or indeed too underwhelmed, as sometimes happens. Some of the most difficult moments can be just walking along the street, trying to figure out a route along the pavement, weaving between people and other obstacles. Sometimes I get it right, other times very much wrong. When in doubt, I tend to walk around people and things, usually at a wee bit of speed as I walk a bit fast. I do that naturally, though, despite now and then just feeling uncomfortable and wanting to get through the city as fast as I can.
An example of a particularly difficult time was quite recently. I was doing a couple of bits of business in Glasgow city centre one Saturday lunchtime before heading for the football in Edinburgh. To get between the bank and Queen Street Station required walking up Buchanan Street. On a Saturday afternoon. In the space of a few hundred yards I not only had to get through a crowd of people but also to duck and weave between charity muggers, communists, performance artists, leafleters and poppy sellers, as well as a choir singing Christmas carols in early November. Of those, the least objectionable were, remarkably, the communists. I took off at top speed, deploying my very best negative body language, and soon reached my train. I just concentrated on moving through all the people, though I also took out a pen which I kept in my hand and clicked for the part between St. Vincent Street and West George Street. I landed in a seat on the Edinburgh train and breathed a deep sigh of relief.
Walking along the street involves very quick decision-making, usually with a mix of instinct and systematic choices. I try to keep my head up but I am usually looking around for gaps in people so I can get through. I usually yield to others, even when I don’t really have to. Being quite polite and also walking fast tends to make that the most pragmatic approach.
In an ideal world, I would simply travel at times which are quieter. Or have crowds part like Moses parting the Red Sea as I approached. I lack that power. That’s probably for the best, to be honest. Sometimes I just have to get on with it, making my way through, around or occasionally over. Being autistic does have its moments. As well as making getting through cities difficult, though, it also gives me the sense of curiosity that makes me walk down streets on quieter days looking at architecture. There’s always a reason I’m there, just as there are thousands of reasons other people have chosen to be there at the same time, and we end up co-existing, albeit, thankfully, briefly.