Watching the virtual reality video of the autistic child being overwhelmed by sensory input was not easy. And for very good reason.
While I really appreciate someone making a video that can illustrate to neurotypical folks what it’s like to walk around in an autistic/Asperger’s experience, I have a real problem with folks who focus only on the challenges. Yep, it’s pretty miserable sometimes, dealing with the sensory overwhelm. I have gotten stuck in the cafeteria at work several times in the past week, when I needed to eat something, and the checkout lines were backed up, because of new credit card machines.
I usually breeze through there, only temporarily blinded and deafened by the lights and noise and movement. But the lines are moving at a snail’s pace, and I’ve had to stand in line for 5-10 minutes, minimum, just go pay for a little bowl of chili or a salad.
Holy smokes! That place is bright and loud! Oh. My. God. The fluorescent (LED?) lights overhead may be energy-efficient, but the light spectrum just cuts right through my eyes. The lights are recessed, and they have shiny silver rims (wouldn’t you know), so there’s all this flickering and flashing blinding me momentarily as I turn around slowly and try to figure out what I want to eat. The whole place is a vast cavern of hard surfaces, and all the noise bounces off the walls and ceilings. It feels like it comes right back to me, too. Yeah, thanks for that. And all those people! Good grief. You’d think they’d have better things to do at lunch, than mill around in the cafeteria chatting with each other.
Sounds of chairs scraping on the floor. Sounds of credit card machines beeping. The rumble of the HVAC overhead. The rising and falling waves of sound coming from the fronts of people’s faces… And all the while, I’m shutting down, bit by bit… praying — Please Dear God, Just Get Me Out Of Here — never mind that I’m agnostic at best, atheist at my most intransigent.
But enough about me. Let’s talk about that poor kid who was stuck with a mom? Babysitter? Aunt? Caretaker? who “just needed to get a ticket”. She was clearly not handling the ticket machine well, which was frustrating in itself. But she also left that kid just standing there, like everything’s all hunky-dory.
Look, the child cannot tolerate those sights and sounds. Everything intrudes on him. Everything. Why not put a hat on him, to block the overhead lights? Why not put sunglasses on him, to dull the glare? Why not stand him over in a corner, where he can feel safe, and possibly block at least 45 degrees of sensory input? But no – let’s leave him out where he’s fully exposed, ready to melt down…
And then — even worse — take him outside, into the full light of day, in yet another open space that’s not exactly a paragon of safety… with strangers around. And the kid probably feeling like crap enough, already, without his mom trying to talk him down.
Ho-ly smokes. I’m feeling shaky, just after thinking about watching it.
There are a million lessons right there in those few minutes of video. But do the lessons get taught? NO. It’s all about feeling sorry for the kid and hearing him explain what’s going on.
Stop forcing us to explain. Stop making us miserable and meltdown-y. Start taking steps to stop the input, to cut it off at the pass.
Why, oh why, is this so hard to understand?