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Socializing Through Sensory Issues

By Aaron Tanner

· Ted's Montana Grill,Tallahassee,Aspergers,Socializing,Sensory

Last month, I visited my grandma in the Big Bend region of Florida. It was a very nice, relaxing vacation and catching up with her. The best part was visiting Homosassa Springs State Park on Florida’s west coast where not only did I see manatees, but I got in for free because it was Veterans Day.

However, there were some challenges during the trip. One of those involved stopping for dinner in Tallahassee, Florida. I had dinner at Ted’s Montana Grill, which is a steakhouse chain started by media mogul Ted Turner. He owns hunting land east of Tallahassee, which may be the reason there is a location in Florida’s capital city.

Because it was a Thursday night, I was hoping the restaurant would not be busy. I was wrong. The state legislature was in session, and as a result, there was a 30 to 35-minute wait. Despite the sensory stimulating environment, I wanted to eat there as I had a gift card and there is no Ted’s location where I live.

Fortunately, I had enough sense to ask if I could sit at the bar since it was just me and go ahead and order food. Usually, I am not very good with small talk and being in a loud environment typically does not bring out my social side. I did, however, bring my latest article in Alabama Living that I picked up at the Alabama Welcome Center in Dothan into the restaurant to read while waiting.

While at the bar, a middle-aged couple struck up a conversation with me. I believe the discussion was about the food at the restaurant and how much of a treat it is to eat there when I go see my grandma.

What got the conversation going was showing this couple my article about a civil war museum in Decatur, Alabama. It turns out the husband once dated a girl from Decatur and is amazed at the red clay that surrounds north Alabama whenever he flies over where I live.

Another fantastic thing about this particular man is when I mentioned to him that I had Aspergers, I learned that he is a neurologist that helps people in the Tallahassee area with Autism spectrum disorders.

The socialization did not end there as a young couple to my left noticed I had on an Auburn shirt. The husband, I believe his name was Mark, asked me if I thought Auburn had a chance against Georgia in college football that weekend. I told him that I was so sure that Auburn was going to get blown out by Georgia that I planned to visit Homosassa Springs instead of watching the game (by the way, I was wrong as Auburn blew out Georgia 40-17 at Jordan Hare Stadium in Auburn).

It turns out that despite growing up in Tallahassee, Mark went to college at Auburn. Mark and I struck up a conversation about Auburn football and my dad growing up east of Tallahassee. I also told him to sign up for Ted’s E-mail club as first time subscribers get a $5 off for an order of $20 or more.

Years ago, I would have melted down in an environment like this. If I had waited for a table, I might have been miserable. However, I was able to talk about my interests with confidence, which resulted in the two couples talking with me.

As a person with Aspergers, I realize that I cannot avoid all places with sensory overload for the rest of my life. For example, at my company’s Christmas party last year, although I wound up getting sensory overload, the social event was a lot of fun.

Although I did not have an alcoholic beverage at the bar, I attempted to make small talk to the bartender about football and going to my grandma’s. I made sure to give him a big tip.

If I let sensory overload stop me from eating at that restaurant that night, I would have missed out on meeting some fascinating people. Although I will probably never see the couples I met ever again; I am very thankful that they were able to distract me that evening from the noise and let me talk about my interests.

How did someone help you through a sensory stimulating situation? Comment in the section below.

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