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Thursday I went with my daughter to our local theme park. It’s been many years since I’ve been to one – after a couple of hours at Silver Dollar City in Branson, MO I remembered why I don’t go to them.
Between the crowds milling around, moving to and fro in no discernible pattern, and the noise hitting my ears from all sides, I was in autistic hell.
It was because I didn’t properly prepare for the day.
My daughter works for a large, high-end resort and got a smoking deal on season passes, so we each got one. I figured I would mostly use mine to go, walk around a bit, people watch and find a table where I could sit with my laptop and write.
But not this time.
It was our first ever trip to the park and we only were spending a few hours there because my daughter had to be at work. So we rushed from place to place.
That was my first mistake.
I should have gone to the park for the first time when there was no pressure to be anywhere anytime soon. That way, I could mosey along and find a quiet place to sit and take a break when things became overwhelming.
There was no time for that. I was trying to be a good dad so I followed my daughter from place to place, taking only small breaks while she went on rollercoasters.
Rollercoasters are a no-no for me since I had a stroke sixteen years ago, so I avoid them at all costs. I’ve been mocked by people for “being a grown man” and being afraid of roller coasters.
It’s not that I’m afraid, I just don’t need my equilibrium off center for at least the next few hours.
If you have never dealt with sensory overload, be thankful. It can be hell. This day wasn’t quite hell, but it wasn’t heaven either, so I’ll call it Catholic purgatory. That somewhere in between.
When we finally got home, I laid down for a couple hours and it helped a bit, but not as much as I hoped. I spent a couple of hours editing articles for Good Men Project, and then crashed for the night.
I woke up feeling much better and went about my Friday just fine. Until 6 pm. That’s when my Friday night ritual starts. It’s also the way you can tell that I’m single.
Friday night is what I call, Nerd Game Night at my local comic book shop. A bunch of my people gather to play Magic the Gathering, Dungeons and Dragons, Pathfinder or whatever else they want to play.
Normally I handle Nerd Game Night just fine, but this night was different. This night it seemed louder than usual and I needed a few breaks outside where it was quiet.
I asked Gail, the store owner, if it was louder than normal and she didn’t think so, which leads me to believe that this was residual from my day at the theme park.
The good thing is that every time I have an episode that overwhelms my senses, I learn something. This time I learned what I need to do when I hit Silver Dollar City the next time.
I’ll definitely have headphones, even if there’s no music playing, just to drown out some of the noise attacking me from all sides. I also learned that I can’t go on days when I feel rushed.
I learned that as I plan my day at the theme park, I also need to plan some extended down time the next day – possibly a little longer.
Being on the spectrum doesn’t mean that we have to stop doing things that most people consider a lot of fun. It just means that we have to sit down and use our out-of-the box thinking brains to plan our adventures properly, so that the day is fun for us as well.
Thursday wasn’t a wasted day, I look at it as a day of scouting and strategic planning for the next time.
If you deal with sensory issues, don’t let it stop you from spending time with friends and doing enjoyable things. With a little planning, we can enjoy the same things everyone else does, just in a different way.
If you have sensory issues, what do you do to help overcome them? Share your ideas with us so that we can all be better prepared for our next big day out!
This post was previously published on Good Men Project and is reprinted with permission from the author.