Wednesday 18 April 2018

Autism Acceptance Month 2018 Day 18: Q is for Quiet

BSL: quiet (right and bottom)

Q is for Quiet

Thank you to Helen and Alison for this one. There were several good suggestions but I was quite taken by the idea of this one because it's such an important aspect of autistic life. As I write this, the only sound I can hear is the tumble dryer (I'd like to put the laundry outside because it's a glorious day but the wind is so wild that I'd end up having to repeatedly chase the laundry across the communal lawns, and I've got better things to use my limited energy on). Before I put the tumble dryer on, the only sounds I could hear were birdsong and the occasional car or train. It's wonderful.

I like quiet. I need quiet. The same is true for pretty much every autistic I've ever come across, because the world is so often too loud and too overwhelming, too demanding. Quiet time enables us to decompress, to process, to calm down, to relax. If we are not given the opportunity to do this, we are more at risk of meltdowns, shutdowns and other problems. Quiet time is essential.

A quiet environment makes it much easier for me to think and process, because I don't have external auditory input distracting me or interrupting my train of thought (once my attention is away from that train of thought, it shoots out of the station faster than a Japanese bullet train, making it impossible for me to get back on it). When I study, I can't have the TV or songs on because I will end up inserting words from there into my work. Learned that the hard way with some Year 8 (age 13) history homework, which I handed in completely unaware that I'd written out two lines from Simon & Garfunkel's Sound of Silence in the midst of something about the British Civil War! Instrumental music is better but it can still distract me because I get caught up in the rhythms, tunes, etc and don't get on with my work. I find I produce my best work when I don't have other sounds cutting through my concentration. "Exam conditions" (no talking, no music, silence) are actually my favourite way of working!

I can be quite a social person. I like hanging out with friends, going ceilidh-dancing, roleplaying, doing wheelchair badminton and so on. Being around friends and doing things is fun, and it's good to get out and about. Never socialising can be pretty detrimental for me.

But this has limits. There is only so much socialising I can do, particularly if it's somewhere that has a lot going on, background noises, multiple conversations, people bustling about and so on, before it starts to get draining. It uses up a substantial quantity of my energy to concentrate, and the longer it goes on, the less I can cope, the harder it is to tune out background noises, the harder it is to ignore every tiny movement that catches my eye. It's taken a long time, but I'm now reasonably good at recognising my limits and the warning signs before sensory overload kicks in and triggers a meltdown, allowing me to take my leave and head off before I get overwhelmed.

And then quiet. Peaceful, blissful quiet. No external input, nothing to process, just calm and silence. Nothing bombarding my senses, nothing making any kind of demand of my body or my brain. It is one of the most delightful, soothing feelings you can experience.

It is essential that our need for quiet is respected, that "Just five minutes more" can be too long and demand too much of us. When we express our need to leave imminently, that needs to be heard and acquiesced to. Forcing us to stay in a situation that is overwhelming us is torture and unfair, and the fallout will horrible, for both you and us.

Venues that have quiet spaces are fantastic and there need to be many more of them. It can make all the difference between enjoying something or not, and can determine whether or not we even attend in the first place. It's something I often check before going somewhere because I know how much I need that silence at times.

Having the option of retreating to a quiet space is essential. Quiet time enables us to recalibrate, recharge, be ready and willing to engage with the world again.

Autism acceptance includes accepting that we need quiet time and that it is beneficial for us, and providing us with that space to allow us to recharge. When people do this, it makes all the difference in the world, and makes life better for everyone.

A useful analogy is batteries: the longer they are in use and demand is placed upon them, the less power and charge they have, and thus the less they are capable of. After a period of time of having no demands placed on them and being in a situation where they can be recharged, they return to capacity and can work again.

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