Have you ever been in a restaurant and hated the background music (that was anything but background)? Or been overwhelmed by someone's cologne? Or got a headache from flashing lights at an arcade? Good, you're human. Now, take all that together, in one place, and multiply it by 10. Now you're a human with autism.
This is the message of a new video put out by the National Autistic Society that asks viewers to put themselves in the shoes of a child with autism. "Can you make it to the end?" the video challenges as it shows how the noises, lights, smells and other stimuli of a normal mall trip appear to those with with the neurological disorder. Things that would seem minor to most of us, like bags rustling or signs flashing, combine into an overwhelming sensory cacophony until the poor kiddo has a meltdown in the middle of the store.
As people stare disapprovingly at the boy and his mother, he says, "I'm not naughty, I'm autistic. And I just get too much information."
It's a very relatable message, and it makes a beautiful point about how we can't understand what's going on inside someone just based on what we see on the outside. This is true for adults with autism as well, as shown by the documentary about the making of the short film. Even though it might not be as apparent that a teen or adult has autism, especially if they're high-functioning, they still experience the same sensory overload.
"For autistic people, the world can be a really terrifying place, and for their families the looks and stares make it a really lonely one, too," explains one of the filmmakers as autistic adults talk about the difficulties they have managing everyday tasks like going to the store or riding the bus.
According to the National Autistic Society, 99.5 percent of people say they've heard of autism, yet a mere 16 percent of autistic people and their families say that the public understands how autism affects behavior. And it's this gap that leads to painful, embarrassing and even potentially life-threatening misunderstandings, like an incident several months ago where Alaskan police used pepper spray to subdue a 28-year-old man with autism because they caught him trying to get into a locked car.
"His mom told me [he] was autistic and usually goes inside cars because he likes cars, but does not steal anything," reported an officer later.
At first they thought he was simply being aggressive and non-compliant, but once the police recognized he was autistic they dropped the charges and the court found the officers handled the incident properly. Yet it still ended with a man getting pepper sprayed, so clearly there's a long way to go in bridging the gap between knowing about autism and knowing people with autism — and knowing how to help them and their families. This video is a start.
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