Imagine loving movies, but avoiding movie theatres at almost all costs. The sound is inevitably too unpredictable both in tone and volume, and, strangers are constantly in your space. Even if they are technically in the seat next to you, and therefore in their space, you still feel like you’re drowning in a box of humans.
The stress of going to the movies is just one of thousands of everyday annoyances that result from living in a neurotypical world. The only option is to cope. Learn to be on guard for loud noises and other unpredictable sensory input. Reset expectations and avoid situations that are uncomfortable. These adaptations allow neurodiverse people, especially neurodiverse women to ‘pass’ or at least reduce the socially-unacceptable disturbances that are your honest reactions. You learn to carry the constant low grade anxiety that results from a world not made for you; a world not made for autistic individuals.
If my friends ask me to go to the movies with them, I will sometimes say yes. But when I do, we both understand the sacrifice I am making and, as a result, they may not be able to talk to me for the next day or two because I need to recover in a place that makes no demands of me. My home. My room. My space. Made for me.
Ironically, I am a huge nerd when it comes to fundraising and nonprofit development. I love connecting people – and a gala is the culmination of connection. It strengthens a connection to a mission, a connection to impact, and a connection to each other. But, like movie theatres, I avoid galas or at least require a lot of time to recover from them. It’s just another place that would cause anxiety and deplete my energy.
So when I heard AANE was hosting an “autism-friendly” gala, I was curious. A gala is structurally not perfect for an autistic person, but the fact that AANE is trying is a good sign, and it makes me feel comfortable to volunteer and do as much as I can. I know I will still have some level of anxiety at the AANE gala, but maybe a little bit less than usual because there will be a place to decompress, and there will be nametags — among several other modifications AANE has put in place to make the night more autism-friendly. AANE is demonstrating that there are some tangible ways the neurotypical world could make spaces more inclusive for autistic people like me with very few alterations.
Being connected to AANE and being a part of the first-ever autism-friendly gala has helped me recognize even more ways that the world is not designed for me and, as a result, start thinking more critically about what autism-friendly means. What would a fully autism-inclusive format be? How can we make other things that are required in the world/life be more inclusive? AANE is giving me and my neurodiverse friends an opportunity to problem solve around things I don’t like and also help other people or institutions (like movie theatres) make the experience more inclusive for neurodiverse communities.
Thank you, AANE, for being a leader in making the world a little more autism-friendly. I’m excited to go to the AANE gala. And I hope to see you there!
The AANE Uncommon Gala takes place on Saturday April 27, 2019 at the Charles Hotel in Cambridge, MA.