Thoughts and illustrations on living on the autism spectrum.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Battling Bakugan, and Social Anxieties

It’s Friday night and we’re sitting on the floor underneath a sign that says “Neuroscience” in big block letters. I’m being given a crash course in Bakugan by a boy about 12. It’s teen/tween Aspie game night. The kids come to work on their social skills. We volunteers come to model appropriate behavior. But sometimes, it seems the roles get reversed.

I’m mystified. My young opponent has explained the rules, and he’s done quite a thorough job of it. Yet, I’m not picking it up. Cards with numbers, colors, symbols, something called G-power, and the little transforming action figures/game pieces, each with its own personality, folded up neatly into a sphere or other geometric shape. The cards are dealt, the pieces chosen; it's time to battle each other. My move. But clueless me, I still don’t know one piece from another or what my cards mean.

Here's where a neurotypical would ask questions. When you don’t understand, ask, right? But where to start? My own social skills come and go, and tonight I know I’m having “an off night.” It’s been a long week, and my brain hasn't been able to shift from work into play mode. So far, I haven’t managed much more than “oohs” and “ahhs” as my half of the conversation. I feel rather like a Bakugan myself, tangled and twisted into knots. Meanwhile, this boy has been patient, articulate, and eager to share his favorite activity. I can’t quit.

“I’ll roll this blue one,” I finally say. He looks at me, genuinely concerned. “I’m sorry to ask this, but, are you color-blind? It’s gray, not blue.” Oops. Well, the thing is clearly a blue-gray, but no need to argue the point, and I correct myself.

Next, time to play a card. I’ve got a red one and a bunch of green ones. Sensing my continued bewilderment, he comes to my rescue. “If you let me see them, I promise to help you!” I gratefully hand over my cards. “You want to play this one. It makes your guy stronger.”

So we go several rounds in this fashion, he doing the decision making for the both of us, me trying my best to follow along. I keep waiting for him to quit this hopeless game in frustration. But he doesn’t. My guy beats his guy. And then again. Before long, I have a pile of three cards in front of me. “You won!” He puts out his hand to shake mine. “Good game!” “Thank you for teaching me,” I say. Left unspoken is the thought in my head, “Thank you for not quitting on me.”

The game over and the pressure off, topics of conversation finally pop into my head, and we talk a little while about how many Bakugan there are (hundreds), how he learned to play (the Internet), and which ones combine to make a giant one. He stands up, ready to scan the room for the next activity. Then, to my surprise, he grabs my hand again, and with a strong tug, helps me up to my feet from the floor. Grinning, I say thanks once again. Anyone who says Aspies aren’t well-mannered, I’ve got a kid I’d like you to meet.

As a longtime volunteer, it’s happened to me before, and I find it to be true wherever I go. I catch myself wondering who is the mentor, and who is the mentee.

Photo credit: Flickr creative commons by Neeta Lind


  1. Hi Matt! Thank you for sharing on this blog. I really hope that you decide to continue it. I just got lucky when I was using google images to find Aspie cartoons for a presentation that I am doing next week. I am the mother of an 9 year old with Aspergers, and my husband has traits, and my dad and my brother... the list goes on... Anyway... Please keep sharing. Many can benefit from what you have to share... and keep drawing! You have a gift and a talent! May I please use some of your cartoons in my presentation? tku-Maleita Olson

  2. Hi Leia, I appreciate your comments. Yes, you're welcome to use any material from my blog. Thanks.

  3. ive been so amazed by what ive read so far...its been so...inspiring...and this is just awesome...thank you matt, thank you for writing this blog...

  4. There's nothing quite like kids to inspire and humble you!

  5. I think the lack of empathy is a big lie. A BIG FAT LIE...

    I'm pretty neurotic. I started a job as a teacher in a PMD classroom, but my anxieties got the most of me, and I was ready to quit as I had many times before. My son talked me into staying, "Do it for the kids, Mom." It was the best year of my life for all I learned about the beautiful souls in that classroom of kids who couldn't speak, or walk, or even eat without aide from someone else, totally dependent on others for their very lives. It happened because of my 12 year old son.

    It's just not the typical, "OH, I 'feel' for you." It's deeper. Not shallow, but real. You, in your cartoons, make people feel adequate. Like they aren't alone. Ben used to say, "People are over-rated." Many NT's aren't that kind at all. Sorry...I do go on...but...You started it with this story! Thanks. Back to your regularly scheduled program, ha!

    1. That's a nice story, I'm glad you stuck it out. It is tremendous pressure to feel "up to the job" of helping those you have genuine respect for. In my case, I also learned a lot, but decided it wasn't the setting where I could do my best helping.