Categories
Thoughts

Autism and loud environments

Reading Time: 4 minutes

This weekend I went out with the same group of friends on both Friday and Saturday night. Friday night was in a quiet bar and Saturday was a Christmas party we’d been invited to. Naturally I spent part of the time analysing the sociology of the nights, as well as drinking good beer and having a laugh with friends.

Friday was a quiet bar were I talked to people and had a laugh because I could. I could hear people. I could talk to them. That was until it became “loud music o’clock” and the bar staff turned the music up drowning out conversation. Obviously you’re just expected to sit there drinking silently while staring at the person across the table hoping they sense your pain and rise up to take over bar from our oppressive calm space hating overlords. We left at this point and found another bar. It was easier than revolution. By the end of the night I was concious of the fact that I had been chatty. I had remembered to put my phone away and not fall back on it. I had a fun night out.

Saturday. A November Christmas party. Closer to Halloween than Christmas. Ugh. The corporate world is weird. So at this event there was a DJ for most of the night. “Hello there boys and girls!” He shouts while I imagine I have a cybernetic brain like in Ghost in the Shell and can disconnect from the local environment to sit in a futuristic Slack channel with like minded folk. I think that’s all I could make out from the DJ. The rest was so loud I couldn’t process it. Table conversation was impossible for me. I could barely understand my wife next to me let alone try and enjoy the nueances of small talk.

I spent a good portion of the night on my phone. Epic fail. Do kids say epic fail anymore? Is that still cool? Anyway, fail. I felt like a failure because I couldn’t communicate with people. I sat there awkwardly hoping no-one would try and engage with me because I’m really sorry but being autistic means I cannot function in that environment. I’m not being shy. I’m disabled and this enviroment is highlighting my disablity. It didn’t help that there was also lots of flashing lights from the DJ booth. It’s like they hired JJ Abrams.

Lots of people at the party were having fun. What it must be to be normal? To simply rock up and party down. Must be nice. I blamed myself for not being normal and for failing to communicate with people. Yes I’m disabled but its an invisible disablity. What you see is a sad lonely 41 yr old playing with his phone like some kid at a family party. “Oh he’s shy.” bursts into flames You don’t see my inability to cope due to a disablity. You see a socially awkward person seemingly refusing to engage and have fun. So I failed. I felt like I failed.

It wasn’t until late into the evening that I remembered my Apple Watch has a new app called Noise. It’s a decibel meter and can monitor your surroundings all the time if you like. It will alert you when your environment is bad for your hearing. At this party it registered at 93 decibels and said it could be bad for my hearing. I sat there for 5 hours in this environment. It wasn’t constant. I get an alert if the volume is constantly over 90 decibels but it was loud.

I had actual data now. I wasn’t feeling down based on my own observations of the night. It was a scientifically proven loud environment. I had a scientifically proven disablity that is affected by this, except its an invisible one which in some ways is the real issue but lets save all that for another day. It was a shame I realised all this about 1 minute before the DJ pulled the plug on his decks and went home. I suddenly came to terms with the night and my issues. I let go of feeling like I was the little shy boy playing on his phone because I had evidence to say this is a harsh environment and I was using my phone as a coping mechanism. I felt less of a failure and left feeling happy because there had been some fun moments during the night.

Maybe it’s time we start thinking about noise. It’s possible that in a few years every Apple Watch user will have the noise app. People will be alerted to the fact that it’s a loud environment that is bad for your health. They won’t just go to gigs and parties blissfully unware of the issue. Their watch will be looking out for them. This could lead to more conversations about loud music at parties and gigs. Imagine a world where music is still at a level to dance to but also allows you to talk to the person next to you. Would that be so bad?

It’s a shame that on Friday we were invited to leave a nice bar because they decided they want loud music on and I guess if you’re not talking you’re drinking more which is good for profits. It’s a shame on Saturday the DJ was just too loud and made the environment uncomfortable for me so I felt like a social failure all night. Of course these are just my own personal issues but I just don’t understand the logic of it. Why go out with friends to a place where you can’t engage with your friends? Society is seemingly illogical. But that’s just my view as someone coming to terms with what being autistic means to me.

On a side note I found this lovely story about how the Noise app on an autistic kids Apple Watch helped him control the volume of his voice.

By Pete

Photographer and part time Spider-man.