Recalling an Instance of Extreme Sensory Overload on VacationOctober 18, 2012
I’m one of three autistic members sharing a body.
Being autistic, I often have problems with sensory overload. Loud noise, lots of stuff going on at once….lots of movement, trying to listen to someone and do something else at the same time……it’s hard. And sometimes I exhibit behaviour that is disturbing to others. This happened recently on vacation overseas. I was very overwhelmed already the last full day of vacation, and to top it all off, there was an entire table of noisy kids in the dining hall where I was eating with my family and a couple of our relatives. I sort of threw a fit….after being told several times to go get food, I got up, STOMPED over to the buffet, picked up a plate, walked over to the noodle bin, and took out a huge scoop and slapped them onto my plate in a huff. Then I turned around, STOMPED past where my family was sitting, reached the exit, yelled something to the effect of “finally some peace and QUIET!”, and ran off to find a table far enough away from the dining hall, outside. Then I cried. I was overloaded, disgusted, embarrassed, irritated, all at once.
And then the criticism came. I come from a family of neurotypicals. People who do not have outbursts after the age of 5 just because of loud noises. Basically that’s what my mother told me, that I acted like a young child when I glared at the noisy children and stormed out of the room. This event happened about three years ago, and I can still feel a lump in my throat as I finish writing this post. I can feel the pain in my head and my ears from the auditory assault I faced from the table full of children. I can feel the anxiety spiking. It was through the roof on that evening. I almost feel like crying right now while writing this. I couldn’t possibly think about how my actions would appear to anyone else in the dining area. This was at a hotel in Ladakh, which is a region of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, in extreme Northern India.
I already had a feeling that the criticism would come but I still couldn’t prepare myself for it. All I was able to think about that evening was making sure I remembered to grab food and then GETTING THE HELL OUT OF THERE. AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE. I was in tears because I was humiliated. I shouldn’t have been but I was. Probably because we have all grown up learning and hearing that grownups don’t behave like that. Ever. If they do then clearly something is wrong. Well, that much was TRUE! Something was VERY WRONG that night. My ears and brain were brutally violated! But in the neurotypical world that sort of thing doesn’t seem to count.
This is still very difficult for me to think about even 3 years later.
Parents, siblings, relatives, family friends: the next time your autistic child/adult/sibling/relative has a meltdown on vacation, please do consider possible triggers for those meltdowns. Try not to project your feelings of exasperation onto the autistic person. Chances are they are probably feeling poorly enough about the situation as it is. I know I was. I have learned to become pretty hardy over years of action-packed vacations. But we all have our breaking points.