Part of having Asperger’s for me is that I’m extremely sensitive to sensory input, specifically sound. Loud environments (and to me almost all environments are extremely loud) bring on confusion, disorientation, and can result in a general neurological “system crash.” Not only is that experience unpleasant in itself, the after-effects are lengthy and grim. The spillover from my last Asperger’s-related auditory-overload meltdown lasted a week. I wasn’t happy and I wasn’t nice to be with, to say the least.
I recently came across a computer simulation called Auti-Sim which gives so-called “normal” folks an idea of what such an experience feels like. It’s presented as a game, in which you, the subject, are in a playground full of other children. Moving towards any of those other children increases the level of auditory stimulation. Move closer and it gets worse. Get closer still – or stay in that over-stimulated space – and you break down.
I urge you to give Auti-Sim a try. If you know a child or adult who is anywhere on the autism spectrum (which includes Asperger’s), it’ll help you understand what that person goes through on a daily basis.
Warning! Auti-Sim is not fun. It’s not enjoyable. I’ve only watched it once, and will never do so again. But that’s partly because I can experience the real thing by going to a bar, a movie, or a concert. I can get a minor version of it simply by watching television, or even by going to the supermarket. To get some idea of what it’s like, check out this review of Auti-Sim, from game site Rock, Paper, Shotgun:
“Auti-Sim is a very short experience. But then, so is having a railroad spike driven into your ear. That’s the basic idea behind the horrifyingly overwhelming dose of auditory hypersensitivity disorder, which was put together as part of the Hacking Health Vancouver 2013 hackathon. The short version is, you’re an autistic child on a playground, and everything seems perfectly normal. Then more sounds start creeping in. Voices, whispers, screams, footsteps, swingsets creaking, merry-go-’rounds whirring. All distinct, yet inseparable, like the whole world is trying to stampede its way into your head, trampling your eyes and ears. Auti-Sim hurts. But it hurts for a reason.
Obviously, this isn’t a literal interpretation of what it’s like to have auditory hypersensitivity disorder. Rather, Auti-Sim draws on horror game tropes juxtaposed against a bright, idyllic playground environment, to rather brilliant effect. It’s more or less an approximation of what debilitating sensory overload would feel like, designed so that people who’ve never experienced it can come to grips with just how difficult seemingly mundane situations can be for autistic kids and adults.
For me, it started very slowly. I approached the playground, and then – little by little – my vision blurred and sounds bled together. Louder. Louder. LOUDER. I couldn’t take it. I had to escape. I stumbled and lunged for reprieve, eventually sighting a swingset way off in the distance, free from the faceless crowds. Only there was I able to get my bearings. It was quiet. It was nice. So I just sort of hunkered down. Alone.”
I’m not looking for sympathy here. I’ve learned to deal with auditory overload, and most of the time do quite well. It’s just that it’s very hard to describe what it feels like. Auti-Sim isn’t the real thing (the real thing is much, much worse), but, if it helps one “neurotypical” person understand what life is like for those of us who have to endure this, then this post will have done its job.
Your comments would be greatly appreciated.