Last week I had the opportunity to head to Washington, DC to attend the “Autism Speaks to Washington” summit. This was one of my first times in Washington since 2011 when I went to DC to meet with New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez to discuss the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act (CARA). It was a huge moment for me when I found out that not only would I be doing social media for the summit, I would be introducing Senator Menendez before his keynote address.
I have to say that the three-day event was a life-changing experience. As a self-advocate I believe passionately in the need for a national agenda and to get over 300 participants to share a collective goal for that was amazing beyond words. I could share a million high points from the summit, but something happened on the way home that both shook me up and reminded me of how far I’ve come personally. I was leaving early from the summit to get on an Acela train to head back to New Jersey in time for a book signing. I had to go back to my hotel to pick up my belongings, and then head quickly to the train station.
This is when my nightmare began. I ended up making it back to the hotel in plenty of time, but on the way to the train station got caught in a massive traffic jam. I was devastated to find what should have been a 20-minute taxi ride take over an hour. With a heart that was beating what seemed like a thousand times per second, I swung my luggage out of the back of the cab and ran inside. When I got to the Acela stand I read the time: 3:03 p.m. I had missed my train by two minutes!
These types of situations are always a bit tough for me. In the past I’ve never gone on a long train ride by myself. So I slowed down my breathing, rubbed my hands together (which I sometimes do in stressful situations), put on my headphones and listened to some music, and decided on my next move. I went to the information desk, found the front desk for ticketing and was able to get on a 3:30 p.m. regional train instead. Fortunately that train had no delays and I showed up to my book signing only 10 minutes late.
I think I learned an amazing amount about myself. If I were thrown into a situation like this a few years ago, I would have panicked and lost my cool. One of my mantras growing up was “No problems, just solutions.” I would chant this over and over to calm myself down. Public transportation will always be hard for me due to the uncertainty of situations, but I think some self-soothing skills I’ve developed helped me out in a tough situation. I encourage everyone—not only those with autism—to try to discover such coping strategies for yourself. Stressful situations will always come about in life and it’s how you act that will decide how it will go.
Always give yourself the upper hand by preparing and knowing how to deal with any problematic situation that may occur. When a problem arises look around, consider your options, ask for help if needed and find a solution. Not only will you solve the problem, but you will take another step toward self-sufficiency.