Airports…

I’ve just been reading through a twitter thread from It’s Not Shrodinger’s Autism in relation to her experience with travelling recently.

Until reading her post today, I was not aware of The Hidden Disabilities scheme. The scheme serves to recognise and promote the fact that, as the name suggests, not all disabilities are visible. Providing a free lanyard and allowing staff to recognise and offer additional support or patience with people who have difficulties. The scheme also operates through some supermarkets and other such places. As yet, it does not appear to be internationally recognised, but may be persuasive and the more people use it, the larger the scheme will gain recognition.

Having recently flown from Manchester airport to Geneva early on a Saturday morning, I can state that on this occasion, as someone who used to fly weekly from Manchester that I have never encountered crowds like it, in any airport anywhere. I used to fly a lot from Gatwick, Southampton, Geneva, Manchester and I’ve flown from some of the busiest terminals in the world.

We were only away for a period of three days so travelling could be simplified by use of only carry-on luggage (which we were offered to stow in the hold at no extra cost) an option which we took on the return flight. Security were excellent, despite stopping, taking swabs and ‘wanding’ me. I explained metalwork in my body and was processed with courtesy and professionalism.

However it was impossible to get a drink or something to eat without monolithic queues. Fast food outlets (I fail to recall due to the stress of the experience but I think that it was Burger King) had tills down and faulty self-service screens. In the end, my partner and I managed to settle on a bland sandwich and I had a glass of wine which was far more expensive than any glass I had whilst in Switzerland (the bar staff serving had the gall to tell me to “Smile, you’re on holiday” to be given the response that I that I paid for a bottle and got a glass and couldn’t wait to get a bargain at Swiss prices*)

Anyway, I digress. The lanyard scheme allows use of something called the Sunshine Room, which in Terminal One, Manchester Airport is located behind the fast food outlets. These areas are quiet zones, with reduced lighting and an escape from the pandemonium of the airport terminal. If only I had known about them. Personally, I do consider myself high-functioning, I currently live alone and generally manage to maintain myself and my small flat. However in the throng of crowds I struggle. I really could have used the solace of a quiet area for just a few minutes.

I won’t go into details of our holiday, at least at this point as it would be going off at a tangent which even I would be alarmed at.

We arrived back at Manchester Airport on Monday at around 23:30, having retrieved bags, gone through passport control and all of the usual rigmarole. Having spent suitable time in consideration of transport back to Bradford from the airport, the earliest (and quickest) and fastest option was National Express at about 03.20. A four hour wait in Manchester Airport Arrival lounge. Whereupon there was one shop open. Yes, one! It’s not like airports operate on a 24 hour basis is it! Oh, yes… An utter farce, absolutely nothing to do, for hours on end. The options for food and drink in the arrivals lounge is poor at best, but at least keep them open for pity’s sake. Here there wasn’t a quiet area. People lingering around plug sockets trying to power phones and generally one of the more miserable environments to spend time in.

In summary, I really must look into the Sunflower Lanyard Scheme as I felt that having a few minutes of quiet time would have made the experience more enjoyable.

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In contrast Geneva airport:

Welcoming, helpful. The nearest to a stressful experience was my partner showing me a watch which costs more than I would consider spending on a house, several watches, several mountain bikes and an Aston Martin. Thankfully, she was only looking and the staff joked that there was a defibrillator nearby.

*If you’ve not been to Switzerland, I can state, having lived there, that it is not known for bargains. 

Differences

I had a conversation last night about a potential collaboration project with a friend who has an autistic child. She asked me for advice in relation to meltdowns. As I’ve said before, I am not an autism expert nor am I a professional working in a clinical field. I am, however, a keen advocate on equality and integration for all and I have an understanding on how my own autism affects me and my life.

Where does my autism stop and my personality begin?

This is something of a difficult question to answer. Like anyone on the spectrum, the impact of living with a neurological difference impacts upon us in a myriad of different ways; each of being different but sharing some common ground, insofar as difficulties in communication, social interaction and compulsive or obsessive tendencies.

 

Brookdale Triad Diag UpdatedI don’t often have catastrophic level meltdown, in which things get thrown and damaged. I blame slam doors and such, but the only real damage is to myself. Meltdowns are hell, but we, as autistic people don’t have control over them, or our behaviour during these moments.

In reality, I am much more passive and I tend to simply ‘shut down’, this is my brain telling me to simply disengage in order to protect itself from over stimulus. The effect of this from the outside is that I appear to become sullen and disinterested in my environment. I’m neither, my brain has just too much processing and I need to take a mental downtime.

Some things which help me.

  1. Knowledge:

The old adage about knowledge is power, I’m not sure that it’s actually power, but it is empowering. I try and learn as much about the condition as possible, this allows me to understand why I react to things in the way I do and helps me to begin to find coping strategies. 

2. Headphones:

Good headphones and music to help reduce the impact of the environment upon me. Music is very important to me, and as a former DJ I have a lot of it. Music is very subjective so I wouldn’t claim to have much in the way of bad music. If I’m using public transport, I will have music on. This allows me to have some control over the level of noise. 

3. Fidget toys:

I have several items which allow me to move my hands and fingers. 

4. Compression clothing:

I favour clothing which fits close to my body. If I’m entering a high stress environment, I will wear a t-shirt which applies pressure to my body. It’s like being hugged, I much prefer a firm hug. 

Again, any or all of the above may help some people. It really is a case of trial and error. As an adult, I am finding coping strategies which reduce the sense of being completely overwhelmed.

I hope that this helps with further understanding.

Things I can’t control

People with autism need and form patterns, plans and routines. I’ve always tried to plan everything to a high degree of detail. I meal plan, I plan my working day, I plan my training and relaxation time. Basically, I’m a logistic dream or nightmare, depending upon ones perspective.

I’m currently waiting on my girlfriend to arrive back in the U.K. from Sweden. She’s had a fun trip, visiting a friend and I’m very much looking forward to spending the weekend together; and, yes I do have meals planned.

However, the fly in the ointment takes the form of Norwegian Air deciding to change her return flight and no one thought to notify her of this change. Not the website she booked through or the Airline themselves. The flight was moved forward, by a matter of five hours. I’ve spoken to the website and been informed that the next direct flight to Manchester is at 07:00 tomorrow! Or she can get a flight tonight and have a nine hour layover in Heathrow airport.

I now can’t get hold of her to find out more information. I hate not being able to do anything more than I have done and feel utterly useless. I write this as a means of trying to avoid the alternative, which is simply to have a meltdown.

Meltdown

I’m often stressed or anxious. I sometimes have shutdowns, however, a full blown meltdown is rare for me these days. Let me clarify something, there is a huge difference between a tantrum or sulking and a meltdown. Whilst all of the above may result in challenging behaviour; a tantrum is something conscious, which the person exhibiting the behaviour has a control over. Compare this to a meltdown in a person with autism; this happens when there is too much stimulus or stress and the person literally cannot process.

This happened to me on Thursday night, quite late when the cat decided to trash my wardrobe (one of those canvas affairs). Wardrobe crashed down and clothing everywhere, just as I was about to retire to bed. I then couldn’t find one of the supporting plastic lugs which holds part of the thing together. Cue, overloading and the first major meltdown in a while.

Aside from the mental exhaustion, the physical feeling of incompetence and frustration as well as feeling emotionally and physically wiped out, pretty much meant the anything I did on Friday was impaired by fatigue. In order to combat this, I decided to follow my obsessions and went for a ride but refused to attempt anything technically challenging. Anyone interested can find a link to my Strava account in the links pagep_101237901