The Life Autistic: Crowds are Terrible (but not Impossible!)

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“Hunter,” said my mom, “you would have hated this.”

We were trekking through the Denver Zoo a few weeks back; I’d taken my parents and Mo (my oldest) for a morning excursion – t’was a gorgeous day that needed a zoological touch.

Since my dad’s into reptiles, snakes, all the fun animals – we made a beeline to the Tropical Discovery exhibit, a cavernous building replete with tunnels and dankness.

This exhibit’s attraction was also its detraction: with it right by the entrance, it was subjected to bus load after bus load of elementary schoolers that day, class within class, children of all walk and ilk cramming, compressing into the exhibit, packing the floor and the walls full of scamper and cacophonous voice, echoes, agitations, exclamations —

Loud place, tight space. Uh oh.

The parents of autistic kids are nodding right now. Classic meltdown recipe here: overstimulation plus lack of release valve = explosion or implosion (or both)!

Hence, Mom said I would have hated this.

Would have.

I looked at her, managed a small smile, coaxed out a polite laugh.

“I’m good.”

/record scratch

/freeze frame

Yeah, folks – you read that right: crowds were a challenge for me. My mom remembers me devolving into a miniaturized, stroller-bound fire engine wailing at emergency levels when I was forced to endure a trip to a shopping mall (a lost artifact of the 80s and 90s).

Now?

I have mastered crowd control.

How?

Acclimation. There’s still a bit of latent anxiety, but I’ve done crowds and chaos so many times that I’ve just learned to roll with it. Try, try, and try some more.

Predictability. If you know you’re going to get wet in water, so to say, then it takes the shock out of it. That’s key! It’s also why I’ve gotten along well with whitewater rafting – I know I don’t go to stay dry.

Enticement. I like the zoo. I like concerts. I like events where there’s a thing. I like things I like, irrespective of crowd. Now, if I’m getting dragged through a TJ Maxx stuffed to the gills with fervid bargain hunters, then yeah, I mightn’t be the best there.

Crowds took work and take work, but now they do work.

Of course, they’re still terrible, even if tolerable. 🙂

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