Have you ever wondered how to spot an aspie adult, at a distance, without having to get too close? It would be so convenient, wouldn't it? To be able to detect the aspieness before you are drawn in, before there is any danger of becoming part of their mad world and waking up one morning, trying to work out where it all went wrong and what happened to all your socks.
Bearing in mind there are always exceptions that prove the rule, here is what you should look for.
In the supermarket I often wonder if I have spotted a fellow aspie. Walking along the aisles, it's easier to people watch than shop, usually because I've forgotten what I need. The supermarket is a good open space where you can spot aspies as they grapple with the complex practicalities of staying alive by food shopping.
The walk: Yes, from a distance or as they pass by, the walk is a dead giveaway. It seems to veer towards extremes, either a fast paced booster effect from A to B, or a meandering wander with no visible pattern.
I'm a meanderer myself, able to get in people's way as I divert, lazily, like the Queen Mary, at the last second. I drift along the aisle, knowing I need something down there, just not sure what. Deciding, as I play with the hand soap bottles, that I couldn't have needed anything important and moving on to the pizzas, totally forgetting my anti-histamines. Again.
In contrast, the go-getter aspie will leave me in their wake. They shoot past, a blur of ad hoc hair and billowing coat, the very epitome of the single-minded shopper, knowing exactly what they want and where to get it.
You might admire the determined attitude of this aspie, but don't be fooled. Their pursuit of beans comes at a price. They will have a mental list and know what they want, but will miss the things they forgot to put on the list or which go with what they have left at home. They will leave the store only with what was on the list and nothing else. The sense of accomplishment will fade away as they realise what they missed and they may even repeat the whole process before leaving the car park.
The attitude: This is a big one. Although not exclusively aspie, an odd attitude is also top of the list for spotters. Again, with the extremes. Your go-getter aspie, having powered through the store will wage war at the tills (self-service only), often grumbling aloud when it goes wrong. They know it's nothing they have done, they are highly intelligent and know how to use a self-service till. And yet, like lesser mortals who have more time and a less pressing schedule (private server meet up with the Minecraft group in 20 min), they have to wait for the assistant to come and put in their code.
The shopping will be thudded onto the till, the bags will be bullied into submission; everything will be done with an air of authority that belies the fact the go-getter aspie is completely detached from everything they are doing and the outwardly purposeful actions are an automatic response. This is how you behave in the shop to get in and out as quickly as possible, while your brain is utterly engrossed with a much more interesting problem.
And here I come, the meanderer, angling for my beloved self-service tills, tied to them like a love-hate relationship of Shakespearean proportions as I cling to the idea of being served without human contact, only to have them turn on me at the end.
I struggle with the bags, they seem to re-close against me. I tear them as I put my shopping in, I drop my money, forget which slot is for notes and which for coupons. I get distracted by the shoppers on the other side of the tills and forget I'm meant to be pressing the screen.
The inevitable moment comes when I'm approached by the assistant, their training having identified me as the perfect shopper-in-need. I stand back and let them deal with whatever problem I've caused and smile distractedly, having memorised their pass-code.
Social: When there is no option but to be served at the human checkout, our two aspies stand out from the crowd in little ways. The go-getter is still on auto-pilot and could be confused with any busy person wanting to get in and out of the shop.
There are little signs the rainbow spectrum is close by: the slight twitch as they have to make eye contact with the assistant, the sudden fascination with the overhead lighting, the need to bend forward to have a look in the till, the scrutinising of the receipt as if there is something terribly wrong, holding up the queue and worrying the checkout operator, before moving off with a grunt that sounds like a satisfied bullfrog.
The meanderer, seeming so adrift as to not care, is in fact intensely impatient once in a queue. The relaxed manner around the store evaporates as soon as there is any suggestion whatsoever of A Wait. But the meanderer is good at pretending to be normal and still attempts to put on the show.
Having reached their turn in the queue, the feckless expression and worried air will mean the meanderer is probably helped with the packing without being asked. Those pesky bags will be opened and the shopping bundled in.
At this point, the stress levels rise as the shopping may be put in the wrong bags, in the wrong order, with too many things together. But the checkout operator is being kind in packing the bags, which means the anxiety is instantly ramped up because you can't upset them by unpacking the bags again, can you? You'll have to struggle until you get outside or re-pack it all in the back of the car.
This is where the pretending to be normal falters, pushed aside by the anxiety of the bags, or the queue behind, or not being able to remember if you have coupons, or if you are paying by cash or card.
The meanderer will try to keep up the conversation, saying whatever seems appropriate, only realising too late that one person's appropriate is another person's so-far-off-the-wall-it-might-as-well-be-the-middle-of-the-floor.
Having gathered up the unsatisfactory bags, hoping they don't break on the way to freedom, the meanderer picks up speed and exits the shop in a state of panic, vowing never, ever to be served by a human being again.
Outside, sitting in the cars, both types of aspie come together in a common goal. Whereas other shoppers pack quickly, jump in and leave, the aspies sit behind the wheel, glowering at the receipt, sure they missed something, or overpaid. Positive that they'll have to go back in and run the gauntlet of customer service.
Go-getter or meanderer, at this stage they are both plagued by the idea that the trip to the supermarket could have been so much more efficient, if only they had planned better before going in. Next time it will be different. The next time will be when they stream through the shop like they are meant to be there, with a trolley no less, filling it like other people do, with a week's worth of shopping.
The aspies believe that, the next time, it won't matter that they can't bear to be in the shop long enough to do a week's worth of shopping, or that they are so used to using a basket they won't know how to fill a trolley. They forget that the best of lists relies on the person fulfilling it and not the act of writing it in the first place.
Relieved that next time will be a brilliant success, both aspies leave, driving happily away, once more focused on the whole of life, all ahead and involving small things, glad to leave behind the mundanity of the tortuous supermarket, full of tricks and dangers and never the same twice.