McDonalds, overcrowded and over stimulating, not my first choice for food. I sat there this morning in cloud of haze, feeling completely overwhelmed. Loud noises filled my ears, people talking, music blasting. Bright lights shone from the screens and children we’re running round aimlessly. This was my idea of hell, and drive through wasn’t an option.
I live in a small town, with not a lot going on, most times I can cope reasonably well, but this morning I was tired. I’ll be honest I don’t know of any autistic friendly places to eat where I live, and sometimes I wish I did.
I’ve heard that some places are intentionally noisy and busy to deter autistic people from entering, but this notion to me just seems crazy.
Organisations which work with autistic individuals and autism as a whole need to have an understanding that it is vital that they are autism friendly, however in some situations this is not the case. In the past I’ve attended Autism events, expecting them to be autism friendly, then turn up to find them completely overwhelming. One place in particular sticks out in my memory, an event I attend annually: an event for autistic individuals, parents and professionals, one which you’d expect to cater for actually autistic people – what you expect and what you actually get are the total opposite. An over crowded hall, bright lights, people expecting social interaction and loud loud noises. My idea of sensory hell.
A few weeks ago I attended an event just outside of Manchester, something that to me seemed interesting, Arboria. A place filled with wonder, a sensory heaven.
Arboria, a large inflatable tent filled with luminosity and colour, glimmering with shining lights upon the reflective plastic structures.
With a theme of ‘trees’, Arboria provided me with a sensory escape where I could be at peace with myself and my surroundings.
Upon arrival I was anxious to see a 40 minute queue surrounded by multiple groups of parents and children. I was aggitaited and some what frustrated with the idea of waiting. I decided that I couldn’t cope with standing in a noisy crowded queue, so I went to speak to a member of staff to see if they had any autistic friendly options, I wasn’t hopeful. Every single member of staff was polite and friendly, even allowing us to jump the queue straight to the front; as they could see the distress and anxiety on my cold pale face.
I was extremely grateful to the staff for allowing me to go straight into the inflatable tent of wonders, and what awaited me was incredible.
A large structure with an array of lights and colours encompassed me, all I could see was light, and my ears were filled with sounds from the Ecuadorian Cloud Forest.
Each section had its own colour, ranging from blue and red, to yellow and green, each with its own unique design, representing the theme of the trees. There was so much to look at, so much to feel, so much to take in, but my senses were overjoyed!
The lighting was dim, this suited my eyes, the temperature was just right, evertything was perfect except for the crowds.
If this event was only open to adults, or offered autistic friendly sessions it would be perfect. Instead it was full of little children running round screaming with happiness. Their faces full of laughter as they made their way around the tent.
For me this was overwhelming, as everywhere I looked I was greeted by a small child, and I found it hard to navigate with all the people inside.
This event ran for three days, giving people enough time to experience the magical wonders inside, and honestly 15 minutes was enough for me. I spent my time exploring each tunnel, sometimes stopping in small caves to take photographs and just breathe.
Overall this was an amazing experience, made ten times better by staff with great understanding and awareness. Without this I’d never have gotten a chance to experience the wonder. I’d have given up and gone home miserable.
More and more places are offering Autistic friendly sessions, allowing people to experience things without the crowds, without the loud noises, without the distractions. It’s important to ensure Autistic individuals have the chance to experience things just like their neurotypical peers, ensuring no one misses out. Its amazing how one small change can impact an event and create positive experiences for those on the spectrum. It’s really not complicated to achieve and be life changing!