November 9, 2018

Whenever I drive to a place where I’ll need to act social, I spend a few minutes alone in my parked car before I go in, trying to mentally prepare and gather strength. My dad caught me doing this when I visited recently, and was confused by my delay.

I wasn’t able to explain it very well at the time, but later I realized that it’s connected to something I posted recently – about the difference between “Safe Mode,” where I’m free to focus deeply, and “Flexible Mode,” where my brain is prepared for surprises.

When I pause in my parked car, what I’m trying to do is transition from Safe Mode to Flexible Mode.

This weekend, I told my dad about the two modes. I said that the solitude of my car feels like Safe Mode, while the need to respond and interact requires Flexible Mode.

He related to my explanation, saying he experiences those two modes as well. But he said that over the years, Flexible Mode has gotten easier for him, because the thing that makes it hard is caring what people think.

He said: Forget what people think of you. Just be kind. Unpredictability is less stressful if you don’t try so hard to react “correctly,” only to show people that you care.

Maybe it really is that simple, or maybe it’s easier for my dad because he’s had more years to practice. In either case, I’ll try it.

(Here’s my original post on Safe Mode vs. Flexible Mode.)

P.S. I write from my personal experience as an autistic. What I share is not a substitute for advice from an autistic medical professional. Also, some of my opinions have changed since I first wrote them.