When I first heard of “Autism Friendly” theatres and events, I thought it was great. When I mentioned it to my therapist at Autistry Studios, she said she had mixed feelings about it; though it sounds great, it also segregates us. She also reminded me I would have a difficult time being with a roomful of autistics as I do not tolerate sudden movements and noise very well. I laughed, but on further reflection, I had to agree. I am with other autistics at Autistry; the rest of the time I am in the world at large or, most often, alone in my room where I prefer to be.
Though I was identified as autistic young and received various interventions such as speech therapy, I was also included in many mainstream situations, as well, and am now grateful because I never felt myself to be unduly shunned, and participated in many normal activities, such as sports.
When I was growing up, there simply was not much awareness regarding autism, and I was often the only autistic in any given group, so I had a lot of instructing to do and grew accustomed to doing so. Most everyone responded with patience and intertest. The ones who do not understand or desire to learn, I reject without rancor; not everyone makes my cut.
I was never very social and continue to be a loner, so venues like the movies have never appealed to me. Yes, an “autism friendly” movie theater may lower the sound and lights, but what about the noise and activity produced by a room full of autistics? Intolerable and undesirable for me. I make wherever I go “autism friendly” by modifying it for myself; for instance, I only go to stores on off hours when they are less crowded, and I burn and watch movies by myself so I can take breaks when necessary, which is often. I wear noise cancelling headphones, often with no music playing to dampen external sounds. Sometimes I wear my weighted vest – a conversation starter, as I fashioned it myself with a lead film bag inside a wildland firefighting dozer pack. I carry my squishy toys and could not care less if people think my flapping and other behaviors are strange. If about to decomp, I leave the area. I have a program on my phone and a QR code dog tag in case I need assistance (when very upset, I am nonverbal).
It took many years and a lot of hard work on my part to accept my differences, and sometimes am still self-conscious, but I live in this world alongside others and actually prefer to be with average folks.
I refuse to use autistic jargon – my friends are “friends” not “neurotypicals”, and I am “me”, not “autistic”. It’s interesting: on Twitter yesterday when I had reservations about expressing these views, but went ahead and did anyway – I got 7 new followers and many positive comments.
I will continue to go my own way, refusing to be categorized, or self segregate by interacting mainly with other autistic people; being myself gives me as much autism as I can handle. That and going to Autistry, though I love my peers there.
Here is hoping the autistic population who is still bitter and angry can see the way to understanding and inclusion – of normal people!
(I do not put “normal” in quotes because that is what they are – the norm, and there is nothing wrong with that. They are my tribe, and yours, too – the tribe of humanity.)