Sunday, 20 March 2011

An Asperger's Man Goes Paintballing

Yesterday I did went paintballing. A friend decided to organise a piantballing day and booked a number of tickets. I wasn't sure whether to go at first. I was nervous about doing an activity which has the potential to cause a degree of hurt and potential injury, especially as I did not know exactly how paintballing worked, apart from the fact that you're shooting at each other with guns loaded with paint dressed in a safety outfit. However I was definitely keen on the social element of the day. Most importantly I knew that it would give me something to talk about in the future, something that might help me to relate to other young people better and help me not to become old before my time. I have learnt over the years that to succeed socially it is best to say 'yes' to as many new experiences and opportunities as possible (within reason), as it broadens your perspective on life and enables you to join in more conversations and share your experience.

I was picked up by a friend at 7:30am, very early for me to be up on a Saturday morning. Usually I overprepare myself for things. However on this occasion, for some reason I thought this was just a morning activity. When I heard in the car that this was an eight hour day I was a little nervous as I hadn't brought any lunch with me, and that's something I like to be in control of.

The Feeling of Weakness

Another thing that made me nervous before the event and made me anxious early on in the day is finding myself in the weak position of not really knowing what I am supposed to be doing. When this happens, I am liable to feel like I am retreating back into the 'special needs' zone which I have been battling to move away from, needing help from others in understanding what's happening, highlighting my weaknesses and feeling vulnerable towards someone saying something that I may find humiliating. Although I survived the day unscathed, both physically and emotionally, I did find myself feeling a little lost after getting out of the car and arriving, knowing where to fill out our registration forms, where to post them, where to get out safety clothes and equipment, what I needed, having to ask people lots of questions etc. However I got through it well enough managnig to pull of a level of competence, and fortunately the venue sold pizzas so my lunch was sorted too.

The Paintballing Itself

Another thing I was nervous about was if I was going to make any serious mistake and unwittingly break any of the rules and get told off, which would be an enormous humiliation which would have shock me for the rest of the day. I was a little anxious after reading the consent form which made a reference to the rules and dangers involved (don't hold us liable, you paintball at your own risk etc). At about 10:00am once everybody was ready and had been put into teams, we were all called for a brief introduction explaining what was going to happen and presented with the rules. Listening to the instructors shout loudly with strong warnings about breaking rules gave me memories of uncomfortable moments of doing large games events in my school days, the kinds of things I tended to opt out of.

The most nervous part of the day was when we first left the 'safe zone' and walked into the 'danger zone' with our helmits in place, collecting out guns. The sound of guns being fired, as we were being directed to the area of our first game, got me in a bit of a panic, and I felt on the verge of saying that I cannot cope, and walking back to sit out of the games. However I did my best to listen to the instructions and managed to somehow play along, surviving the first game.

It must be noted that I wasn't aware exactly how the day would be organised until around about this point, when I realised it would be made up of several games with two teams playing against each other, lasting around fifteen mintues.

One problem I had was understanding the games and the rules and object of the game. It was explained in about two minutes without any demonstration, and I simply was not able to picture the whole thing being done this quickly. One problem was that when you were shot you were supposed to walk towards the 'dead zone,' but this 'dead zone' wasn't marked clearly, the staff pointed to where it was but when you're out on a large battlefield, how can anyone be expected to remember where the dead zone is? Another thing I noticed was how some of the other guys on my team, who I did not know, immidiately after the game was explained, started discussing tactics on how to win the games and where to shoot. How do they digest the rules of the game and visualise it so quickly as to be able to do this?

In the end my game plan was simply to survive the whole experience unsacthed, both physically and emotionally, never mind winning anything. During the games I spent most of my time hidden in the castles or behind trees, tagging along with the friends I had on my team, just trying to look like I had some idea what I was doing, and where possible follow others going to the dead zone when I had (or thought I had) been shot. I couldn't always tell if I had been shot or not, as I couldn't see everything properly with my mask on, but I would give myself the benefit of the doubt if I thought I had, just to make life easier for me. Hearing the combination of bullets being fired and instructors shouting instructions from a distance during the games made me feel a little uneasy.

An irony I found was that we were told not to shoot anyone in the face. However in most of the games opposing teams were facing each other so you couldn't aim for their backs, and you were too far away to avoid their face or be able to target anything really (maybe that's due to my lack of any shooting experience - we don't have the 2nd ammendment in the UK).

However it was not a bad day my any means. It was a positive day socially, as doing these kinds of activities helps you to interact with others more easily, despite the fact you couldn't idenify people so easily with masks on. But the most important thing I got from it was the knowledge and experience gained from paintballing that will hopefully lead to more conversation opportunities and a greater awareness of such things. If I go again I would be much less nervous and far better prepared for the day. But would I go paintballing again? Maybe if someone give me a big enough incentive to do so....

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Review of an Organised Social: This One Was A Real Let-Down

I am not feeling too good right now. I was really looking forward to going to an organised social tonight, especially after having read such a helpful e-book on talking to girls. I was hoping to have a chance to put some of what I had read into practice, and had my notes I devised with me on the back of an envelope in my coat pocket. I was feeling optimistic on the train, not terribly energetic, but looking forward to the night.

It was quite a long walk to the bar from the station. It was raining and I had my umbrella with me, and I was a little tired when I reached the venue. There were fourteen people due to attend this social, including some I was really looking forward to seeing. However I walked into the pub, which was a small, cramped venue, and I found our table that had been reserved for us was situated in the back corner. I had to excuse myself in walking to meet our group, and at this point I was not so optiminstic. The social was due to start at 8:00pm, and by the time I had arrived it was at least 8:20pm. Out of the forteen people due to attend, there were only four people there, and they weren't people I was particularly keen to socialise with. Being in their 40s and 50s, they also looked like the oldest in the pub as well. As I mentioned in a previous post, there are times when I want to avoid a social situation simply because its too much effort.

So I found myself stuck in a cramped corner with four middle-aged people I didn't really want to socialise with (please note I have some great middle-aged and older friends so I am not ageist its more that these were not people I really was drawn to or felt like hanging out with). I waited for a while, wondering whether to buy a drink (that would involve excusing myself through an obstable course of people to get to the bar) or whether I should just leave this social and find something better to do. The music was also loud and I couldn't hear people too well, which added to the effort involved.

I put my mobile on, pretended to make a few texts etc, and really wanted to find some excuse for leaving this social, I was wondering if other people would turn out, but couldn't see any signs of it and I even wondered if they would find us stuck in the back corner. After about 10 minutes, I said to the other guys, excuse me, almost pretending I had a problem that I needed to deal with. I went to the bar and was hoping to chat up a few girls there, but when you are tired, and when the place is loud and busy, you just cannot think straight or think about what to say and find your right moment to approach. The bar was crammed full of people, so I decided to leave the venue. I thought about going elsewhere for a while and coming back to see who else might be there, but because of the location of the pub that wasn't too easy, so instead I walked back in the direction of the station.

It was raining harder now and I was losing my bearings. A man who looked homeless approached me. His right eye was stitched up and he said he'd just had some accident that he said had made him blind in one eye. His appearance was a little distressing, but he said he needed a small bit of money to buy some food. On this occassion I felt I ought to help, so I gave him a £2 coin. I then proceeded to walk back to the station, trying to find my bearings, taking advantage of this my asking a few girls for directions periodically, getting a bit of practice in approaching girls. There was another organised social taking place at the other end of the town and I thought about trying to go along to that, but as I was feeling tired and with my socks getting damp in the rain, I decided to head back off to the station for an early exit back home. I very much felt like a man with Asperger's Syndrome at this point, walking back on my own to the station whilst seeing so many people around having a great night, feeling somewhat like I am not fitting in.

All in all a very frustrating and disappointing evening. For some reason I am keen to find opportunities to try to chat up women, and possibly find a girl the hard way. I feel after years of delayed social development, I am finally becoming able to do things I couldn't do when I was in nmy early twenties. But sometimes it gets frustrating finding the right means and places to do this.

Well at least after a bad day I can blog about it...

Friday, 11 March 2011

My Letter to Stealth Security

Following the incident I encountered with the security officer as described on my previous post, here is a copy of my letter to the Stealth Security organisation to complain about my treatment. As you will see I have put (name) where I named in the letter the name of the stealth security officer:

Dear Sir,

I am writing to issue a complaint about the way in which I was dealt with by one of your security staff. May I first explain what happened to me, and then I will tell you why I am complaining, and how I believe this incident should have been better handled.

On Saturday 26th February, at approximately 12:45pm I left the Superdrug store in Worthing, South Street, after having browsed through the store and having not purchased any items. I had however, previously entered the store about an hour earlier in the day to purchase just one bar of soap, for 56p.

Immediately after walking out of the Superdrug store at 12:45pm, I was approached by a man, who later informed me his name was (name) from SLR Stealth Loss Reduction Services, who immediately asked to have a look in my bag. I was carrying with me a Topman plastic bag, which had one broken handle. The bag contained a few items, the soap I had purchased previously, plus my wallet, a Lloyds bank paying in book and a used envelope.

When the man (name) asked to see my bag, I asked for his ID, for which he opened up a wallet to show a card. Because of the way he was dressed (in casual clothing) and his manner, I suspected him to be a potential thief who was out to steal my money, so I refused to show him my bag and I ran as fast as I could. In response, (name) chased after me, alongside a security officer, apparently from Marks and Spencer opposite.

Naturally I was in a state of shock over all this. I have never before been stopped by the police, and everyone who knows me knows I am a responsible, law-abiding member of the public. (name) and the assisting security man seemed convinced at this point that I had stolen something. He claimed that he was doing this because of CCTV footage in the shop, which appeared to show me dropping items such as batteries, into my bag and then walking out without paying.

As someone with Asperger’s Syndrome, I am inclined to panic over things easily, and hence I was in a terrible panic over what was happening. I was threatened with arrest and being sent to the police station. Fortunately a work colleague and her family passed by and when I called upon her, she tried to help me to explain my position. I showed them the soap I had purchased, and also showed them the receipt I had for it, which had been purchased earlier on in the day. It eventually became clear, with the help of my work colleague, that I had not stolen anything. (Name) then apologised to me but then told me I should be more careful in future, as the CCTV appeared to show me trying to slip items into my bag. He gave me his name and told me he was from SLR Stealth Security Reduction.

My Complaint

Whilst I understand that a company such as Superdrug needs to prevent theft from their stores and challenge any suspected theft, I wish to take issue with the way this was handled and make a few points.

Firstly, (name) from SLR was dressed casually, and he did not look or sound remotely professional. When I asked for his ID, he just got out his wallet to show me a card but it contained nothing to make it look authentic. In short I could not safely allow him to look into my bag despite the fact I had not stolen anything, because I suspected he might be a thief, and I had to therefore run away in panic. The fact I ran and panicked made me look like I had stolen some goods, and as a result he and the security officer appeared to accuse me of stealing without any evidence (guilty until proven innocent?), not realising my panic was due to the sheer shock of the incident and fear of the unknown and had nothing to do with me having stolen something. It was a catch 22 situation for me, either I offer up my bag to a suspicious looking man, or I ran away and look like a criminal guilty of theft.

How It Could Have Been Better Handled

If instead I was approached by a person who was very clearly identifiable as a security officer, dressed in uniform, who would greet me with a polite “Good afternoon Sir”, and explain to me properly who he was and what he was doing, and who went onto state along the lines of “we are not accusing you of anything but we have seen you on CCTV and we just wish to check that you haven’t stolen anything…” regarding me as innocent until proven guilty, I would have had no problem showing him the contents of my bag, including the soap and the receipt. He would then have been able to say “thank you very much Sir have a good day” and all the difficulties would have been avoided. Although as I mentioned, a man dressed in uniform did come into the scene, by this time I was in complete panic over the incident and unable to think rationally.
I cannot see how any individual could feel comfortable in showing the contents of one’s bag to the SLR officer on duty that day. Consider that, if you or I wished to get hold of people’s money or possessions, it would not be at all difficult for us to go out and pose as a stealth security officer with a fake ID, stand outside any shop, ask people leaving the shop to open up their bags in the name of security, and then immediately snatch their bags and steel their wallets.

I would also like to raise awareness of Asperger’s Syndrome. Asperger’s Syndrome is a social communication disorder, and whilst individuals with the condition vary, one of the symptoms of it can be an increased tendency to panic over unknown or unexpected things, and increased reactions to things. Naturally because of this, it made the officer’s suspect that I was guilty of theft, even though my panic was due to the whole incident occurring and the unknown involved.

May I request that you consider the issues that I have discussed in this letter, as on this occasion your stealth security procedures forced me into a threatening situation which I know could have been avoided if they were done differently. I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

(my name and signature)

Thursday, 10 March 2011

When Asperger's Customer Meets Plain Clothed Security Officer

At around midday on Saturday 26th February, I was caught up in some real drama in a frightening encounter when I waas accused (wrongly) of stealing and almost got myself arrested in the busy town. When I told my friends about what happened on Tueday, they thought it was a classic story, yet I neglected to mention a bit abuot my thought process on the day that will make it even more 'lengendery' as some will describe it. So pay attention and read on:

On Saturday morning, I had the subject of girls on my mind. Despite not feeling terribly well, I was feeling like I wanted to chat up some girls but couldn't find an opportunity soon enough on the horizon. So I decided that I would attempt to put some of what I have learnt in recent times to practice and see if I could chat up any attractive girls in the town centre. At around 12:00pm, I walked into Superdrug ad bought a bar of soap, as mine had run out. In the store I saw a girl who appeared to be promoting something, I thought of something I could say to her, but as usual, I was nervous and unsure about my 'window of opportunity.' So I left without approaching her taking just my soap and receipt.

About half to three quarters of an hour of wondering around town (didn't have much to do that day), I walked back into Superdrug thinking of chatting up the girl, this time a little better prepared. I was nervous though and I didn't want to appear to have entered the store just to approach her, so I spent a bit of time wondering around, browsing items, whilst trying to keep an eye on the girl periodically. I spent a bit of time around the batteries, as these are more of a male item in a feminine kind of shop.

Now the bag I was carrying was a Topman plastic bag, and one of the handles was broken. All I had in it was my wallet, a bank paying-in book, the soap I had bought, plus a pen and paper. After about ten minutes I decided not to approach the girl, and walked out of Superdrug without purchasing anything, and therefore not going to the checkout.

Immediately after leaving the store, I was approaching by a man, approximately 40 years old, rather scrffy and weathered looking, who stopped me and quickly said "I'm from security can you open up your bag?" I was immediately a bit concerned, as I thought this might be a criminial out to steel my money (especially as I have been mugged in the past) so I asked the man to show me his ID. He got out his wallet and showed me a card saying this was his ID (he didn't get the card out he just showed me what out me anyone's business card) and then told me to open up my bag again. I was not convinced by his ID, and suspecting I was being approached by a thief who wanted to snatch my wallet (containing my credit card and other essentials), I ran away as fast as I could for my own safety.

However, the security officer, alongside another security officer from another store who was in uniform chased after me and restrained me by a bench. I was in panic mode at this time - what was going on? I don't think I had even worked out at this point what they had thought I had done. In a panic I yelled and screamed at the security guys as I genuinely thought they were picking on me for some unjust reason. When I asked them, they told me they were doing this because they had seen me on CCTV in the store, and the CCTV cameras showed that I been slipping things like batteries into my bag. I told them and insisted that I hadn't stolen anything. I was threatened with being sent to the police station and being arrested, and this put me in even more of a panic, and I was desparate to phone up my parents and get them to come and get me out of this situation. As one might expect, everybody around was watching the proceeding.

After a few minutes I was about to agree to go back to the store with the security men to show them I had nothing in my bag (they were adament that I had nicked something, when I had not) however at this time I was abuot to be rescued from the situation. A work colleague of mine and her family here walking past (including her husband, children and Mum), and I called upon her to see to the situation. My colleague explained who I was, and that I had Asperger's Sydrome (which makes me inclined in panic more), and when the security officers were about to take me to the store, she said that they would come with me if they were to do that. At this point the securtity guys dropped the case. I did show them the soap I had in my bag, plus the receipt to prove I had payed for it and told them I bought it earlier. The security officer from Superdrug gave me his name and organisation, and I made clear to him that I was going to write a complaint. After a brief chat with my work colleague, and another man standing behind me, who was watching the proceeding (and knew I was innocent because he saw me in the store) I walked home. At least it gave me a story I could share no Facebok.

My work colleague, told me the following week, that I was looking very pale at the time, her family were worried about me. She said she had never seen someone so pleased to see her before and was glad she was in the right place at the right time.

How does this incident related to Asperger's Syndrome? Well the main issue is that by immediatlely runnning away, the security officers immediately assumed I was guilty of stealing. If they had known anything about Asperger's Syndrome, they might have considered that noe with the condition may be inclined to panic more and not been so quick to jump to that (wrong) conclusion. I have written a letter of complaint which explains my thoughts and views on the incident further, and which I will post on this blog very soon.