Railroad Track. Digitally generated image isolated on white background

All Aboard

It can be hard for others to understand what it’s like to be someone else, I know I find it difficult.  Recently I’d been struggling to describe an aspect of the way I think to a friend.

For many different reasons I have been under a lot of stress and have been trying to cope with many changes and uncertainties.  I have had to adjust my view of what was happening in my life several times of late and without warning. This has been very hard.  People who are not on the spectrum find this difficult, but for us it’s often more so.  I was trying to explain why it is hard for me to manage change and uncertainty.

At first I tried to explain this to her in medical terms.  How it was about executive functioning, weak central coherence, perseverant thinking and so on.  I felt that I had to justify my struggles by using the words I’d been told by my psychologist or read in text books to describe something that to me just is and could be no other way.  In the end I helped her understand by explaining it thus:

My mind is like a train station.  This station has many platforms.  Each platform has a train.  A ‘train of thought.’  Each train represents an idea, a project or plan.  These trains take a lot of energy to get moving.  This can take a while and it’s very difficult to stop the process once it has started.  It can be done but it needs to happen quickly, ideally with lots of warning and here is why.

Although there are many platforms and many ‘trains of thought’ there is only one track.  So once a ‘train of thought’ has left the station it’s nearly impossible to turn it around until it has reached its destination.  If very stressed I feel pressured to get several trains to leave at once but then the line gets blocked ‘trains of thought’ collide and the whole system goes into shutdown or sometimes even meltdown.

It can take hours or even days for the ‘trains of thought’ to start running again.

In time we can learn to manage our thoughts better.  As you get older you’ll start to create mental turning tables so that your ‘trains of thought’ can be returned to the station easier.  You’ll develop sidings so that trains can pull over and wait when a more urgent ‘train of thought’ needs to use the line.

My friend found this explanation helpful and now understands a little better why I can find change and uncertainty stressful.  She pointed out that it’s this ability that means I can focus on things I want to learn without distraction and with an intensity she wishes she could muster.

As she said, ‘sometimes, having a one track mind is a good thing.”  How right she is!

© Paul C Siebenthal April 2013

Paul C Siebenthal is a 42 year-old Aspie who was diagnosed at 25.  Started blogging and tweeting last year as Aspienaut, working for NASA (New Autism Spectrum Awareness). He is passionate about creativity and helping young people on the spectrum to see just how amazing they are and how great it can be to be Wired Differently.