(CN: Discussion of sensory overload)
Last weekend I took a very big step in my independence skills and went with a group to the People’s Vote march in London, UK. This is something that I really wanted to do but knew that it would likely be difficult for me. Before I go any further, this post is not going to be about Brexit nor any of the politics associated with it. Instead, I will talk about an experiment I did at the protest in relation to being autistic – trying out my new noise cancelling headphones as an accommodation.
Noise-cancelling headphones are a commonly touted accommodation for autistic people to help cope with the world around them. This can help minimise overstimulation. They block out ambient background noise which is usually what contributes to a sensory overload. In the case of the march this included the music and voices beaming from the speakers, the crowd chanting as well as the sounds of the transport I took to and from the event. This is an expensive accommodation as proper noise cancelling headphones cost hundreds of pounds brand new. However, I managed to get a pair (AKG N60, one of the recommended and cheaper brands) for a significant discount.
I went to the march. It was nearly two hours before we began marching due to the sheer amount of people attending hence there was a lot of waiting and a lot of noise. I also met some new people as well. With the event getting noisy and the risk of exhaustion, overload and more becoming a possibility, I put my headphones on and flicked the switch to trigger the noise cancelling effect. In short…It liberated me.
I was able to participate like everybody else as the sounds were at a consistent volume that I could handle easily. I could hear people talking around me at a louder volume than the background noise whereas without the headphones everything would sound the same. I was able to participate in conversations which even included discussion about why I was wearing the headphones in the first place.
Furthermore, I didn’t get overwhelmed at all and had the realisation that this will solve many of my problems traveling especially by myself. I’ve had occasions where I traveled by myself and have gotten exhausted during the trip which leads to me becoming more vulnerable and prone to a meltdown. In the past, I have had to had relatives pick me up and drop me off back home because everything just got too much for me.
I didn’t feel disabled at all during that day. While autism and its comorbidities are disabilities (and this is something that I accept), there are ways to deal with them so that they can be managed to allow for as much participation in society as possible. The wish of being “normal” and/or accepted by wider society is very strong among neurodivergent people of all support needs and beliefs. I include the neurodiversity crowd in this as it is easy to internalise ableism due to the dominant narratives and is difficult to unpack.
I think it helped that I had a supportive environment as well. I was able to make a good first impression to other people and thus allowed my confidence to show. This is the power of what accommodations and acceptance by others can do. It allows participation of disabled people in society just like non-disabled people. In the case of me and noise cancelling headphones the accommodation was relatively simple to implement (aside from the cost). This is not me “overcoming” being autistic but rather adapting my life around being autistic and accepting myself.
Maybe in the future I will be able to handle more loud events. I have had thoughts about where to go but am unsure when I will be able to try those environments with the noise cancelling headphones. Either way, I feel that so many new opportunities have opened up to me that weren’t open before and that makes me so happy. Although I’d prefer most events I’d attend to be accessible, the attitudes of many neurotypicals means we are some way off this becoming a standard. Until then, noise-cancelling headphones have liberated me and many others too.
That’s all for today.
Featured image source: I found the image and cropped it but realised it was from Braitbart after I had uploaded it and went to get the link. I’m not sourcing them sorry. I’ll aim not to do this again.