When I went back home to my parents few weeks ago, there were two flats undergoing renovation at the same time. I was still trying to grapple with the onslaught of emotions then and the renovation works weren’t helping at all. To make it worse, the government is constructing a new subway line in the area where I live so there are major construction works nearby although thankfully our apartment is not in the direct vicinity. The picture below shows a construction site which lies directly outside a block of public estate. I feel so so sorry for the people living in these estates, especially the ones at the lower storeys. Imagining waking up everyday with all that dust and noise and not seeing the light of day for the next 2 years, at least. I could die, seriously. I don’t think it’s too far-fetched. I wonder how many families are going to be affected by the construction, not just physically but psychologically and mentally. How are they going to stand all these pollution? I’ve lived in the area since I was a child and the existing bus network was convenient enough so I wasn’t at all impressed with the plan.
On the topic of auditory sensitivity, Temple Grandin wrote:
“My hearing is like having a hearing aid with the volume control stuck on “super loud.” It is like an open microphone that picks up everything. I have two choices: turn the mike on and get deluged with sound, or shut it off…I am unable to talk on the phone in a noisy office or airport. Everybody else can use the phones in a noisy environment, but I can’t. If I try to screen out the background noise, I also screen out the phone…Autistics must be protected from noises that bother them. Sudden loud noises hurt my ears like a dentist’s drill hitting a nerve…I still dislike places with confusing noise, such as shopping malls. High-pitched continuous noises such as bathroom vent fans or hair dryers are annoying. I can shut down my hearing and withdraw from most noise, but certain frequencies cannot be shut out. It is impossible for an autistic child to concentrate in a classroom if he is bombarded with noises that blast through his brain like a jet engine…Even now, I still have problems with tuning out. I will be listening to a favorite song on the radio, and then realize I missed half of it. My hearing just shuts off…” Temple Grandin, An Inside View of Autism
Luke Jackson describes his auditory experience as follows:
“I have a strange kind of hearing and can only concentrate on listening to things if I know I am meant to. Distinguishing between background and foreground noise has always been a problem, so however loud they shouted I would have presumed that it was background noise. This is a difficulty of AS because I get told off so many times…” Luke Jackson, Freaks, Geeks & Asperger Syndrome
There are other examples which illustrate how auditory sensitivity affects individuals on the spectrum but what really impresses me is the vivid insight these autistic individuals possess regarding their own sensory experiences. They demonstrate a high level of self-awareness in describing their experiences, something which I seem to lack. In my diagnosis report, I mentioned having a low tolerance to noise. At the time of assessment, I wasn’t aware that sensory sensitivities are a characteristic of autism but growing up, noise has always been a problem for me. I can’t talk on the phone because the background is noisy; I can’t work in the library because I can hear people whispering; I can’t concentrate at home because I can hear my neighbours’ footsteps; I can’t hear what the lecturer was saying because other people were talking at the same time; I hate going to the malls because it’s noisy. However, if you ask me why, I’d say it’s noisy. I won’t be able to explain nor describe nor tell you I can’t talk/hear/concentrate etc. because my ears have difficulty filtering the background noise from the foreground noise, or if I screen out the background noise, I also screen out the phone. Hence, I was really impressed by the insight these autistic individuals display, not just of their own autistic experiences but the insight they have of how the NTs function too.
When I read biographies written by autistics, there are times I can relate as well as times I don’t. It bothered me for a while because just when I thought I found my ‘tribe’, I realise I don’t actually quite fit in. In Aspergirls, Rudy Simone quotes a girl with Asperger saying:
“What really makes me uncomfortable is when Aspie campaigners couch that “leave us alone” argument in the myth that all AS people are super intelligent mathematician science savants and some sort of master race. That makes me feel, as an Aspie who doesn’t have any of that, I’m a double fail – I fail at being normal, and also fail at being AS.“
For this reason, I personally don’t see the world out there as NTs versus Autistics. I’m reluctant, if not averse, to framing issues or debates as NTs versus Autistics; or Us versus Them. I have problem with human beings in general, NTs and autistics alike so I don’t discriminate between NTs and autistics in this respect. However, I’m not saying that differences don’t matter ~ I like to know how NTs and autistics differ in terms of their biology, functions, behaviours, responses etc. This has to do with me trying to understand myself better, it is my attempt at self-awareness. My intention is not to pit one group against the other. And as I grow older and my desire for solitude increases, I have less desire nowadays to identify myself with any group nor wish to belong to any tribe. Ultimately, I am not you, I’m just one person you met with autism. However, we can still be kind to each other even if you do not hear what I hear.