Happy Fourth of July to everyone in the good ol’ US of A, with the exception of the high functioning autistic (HFA). To them I say, try your best to hold it together and get through today.
I say that as a male adult with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of high functioning autism. What non-autistics, or neurotypicals, call a happy day full of barbecues, apple pie and fireworks, the high functioning autistic (HFA) sees as a lot of socializing, which many of us don’t feel comfortable with, apple pie (always a good thing), and that which scares us more than it does the labra doodle next door—the fireworks show.
The first thing you have to know about HFAs is that there are probably a hundred different traits we could have, though out of 100 of us in a room you would probably have 75 different variations of those traits.
There are some that are almost universal, such as a lack of social skills, which leads to fear of being put in situations you know you’ll have to socialize. Neighborhood block parties and family BBQ’s are full of small talk, chitchat and assorted BS. Though there’s usually great food, those events frighten most HFAs and me in a huge way.
It’s a similar situation when everyone packs up to go to watch the fireworks. You typically have crowds of people milling about in no logical pattern (we’re logical people and can’t understand why people can’t form lanes). There’s a ton going on including conversations hitting your ears from every direction, music playing, and then ultimately the booming of the fireworks.
As if that isn’t enough, you’re trying to keep track of those you came with and avoid looking at any strobe lights or sparklers swirling, for fear you’ll fall from dizziness.
As we wake up this morning we either have our plans made or we ponder what choices the day offers. The reality is that we have a choice to go and participate or to hide out at home all day and binge watch whatever is next up in our queue.
The reality is that most of us choose the latter and hunker down for the duration. If we do find the courage to go to the neighborhood shindig, it’s usually a quick in and out, much like a cat burglar. Grab a couple burgers and some beans and hope no one tries to talk to you.
FYI, headphones work well. You don’t need music on. The people you’re trying to avoid won’t know if you’re listening to anything. When they see the headphones, they’re less likely to talk to you.
We’ve talked about the bad parts of this holiday, now let’s touch on the good, because it doesn’t have to be a bummer summer day.
If you decide to do the whole block party thing and will be over-stimulated or in an uncomfortable situation, build in some downtime. If you’re in your neighborhood, go home every so often and relax quietly for 20-30 minutes and then go back. If you’re at someone’s house, find a quiet spot or sit in an empty bedroom for a few minutes.
Just closing your eyes and trying to allow no data to come in through your eyes or ears is going to quiet down your brain and lessen the overstimulation.
When you get to the fireworks show, put on your headphones, this time with the volume turned up so you don’t hear the booms. You can even close your eyes and don’t have to watch the show. Maybe you could have a friend or loved one give you a tap if there’s a particularly good blast to see so that you don’t miss out on the show entirely.
So that’s it. That’s why this patriotic holiday that I respect because of what it stands for, is also one that I avoid. Because, like Superman, if I know Kryptonite is somewhere, I want to be somewhere else.
God Bless America. Canada too.
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Superman-Autism logo courtesy J.R. Reed