7 Modern "Conveniences" That Make Life Harder for Kids with Autism

Megaphone Too Loud
Megaphone Too Loud. Getty

Technology and entertainment are great -- but not when they create unnecessary road blocks for kids with autism.  Here are seven of the top offenders from my personal list (yours may vary!):

  1. Automatic toilets.  Yes, I know that they make flushing more reliable.  But setting that one advantage aside, they are among the most unnecessary, upsetting, and potentially life-undermining items in our modern world.  Why?  Think about it.  You can't go to the mall, the airport, or even, in some cases, your school without facing these contraptions. They rarely do what they're supposed to do (flush AFTER you get up).  They are incredibly loud, they splash, and they go off at what seem like random intervals. For a person with autism who has sensory challenges, they are overwhelmingly anxiety provoking.  Worst, if you have to go, you have to go -- which means you are FORCED to confront these monsters everywhere you travel.  Or...  carry masking tape to cover the sensors every time you go to the bathroom!
  1. High-powered hand dryers.  Even people who have no sensory challenges find these increasingly-popular devices to be overly loud and physically intense. It's bad enough to have to listen to them when someone else is using them -- and for some people on the spectrum, the noise is too much to face. It's far worse to be asked to put your hands into something that will assault your senses!  Of course, you can always pack Purell -- which puts this offender at number two on the list.
  2. Fluorescent lights.  Another ubiquitous evil of modern society, fluorescent lights are too bright, but more significantly -- they flicker. As they get older, they flicker more. Bright, flickering lights can make anyone anxious, so imagine how they can negatively impact a person on the spectrum.  Especially a child who is required to sit under them day after day in a school setting!
  3. Supermarkets and big-box stores. For many people, these enormous, cavernous, bright, loud, cold, visually overwhelming settings are just...  part of daily life. And you can't get through life without shopping for groceries or clothes, right?  But every time some people on the spectrum enter these bizarrely overwhelming institutions they feel that they've been assaulted.
  1. Talking, singing, beeping, and booping toys.  Back in the day, if you pulled a string, your dolly would say "mama." Now, it's a rare toy that doesn't make a huge array of very loud, strange noises. As the toy gets older, the sound system gets damaged -- and the sounds became stranger, more random, and harder to stop. Some kids with autism love these toys and play with them incessantly. Others can't stand them and hold their hands over their ears. Either way, they're a source of unnecessary stress!
  1. "Family" restaurants.  "Family" restaurants (Friendly's, Denny's, and so forth) may be cheap and quick, but the intensity of the lights, smells, and volume can be completely overwhelming. Hardly a great place for a youngster with autism to learn appropriate social behaviors or enjoy a meal!
  2. Birthday party "destinations."  In the olden days, people threw birthday parties in their own homes -- where a shy or anxious child could find a quiet spot.  Now, though, families typically choose venues like Chuckie Cheese -- a chain of "restaurants" where the visual, aural, and tactile sensory challenges are ramped up to the level of a war zone.  Giant characters suddenly appear from nowhere in massive, and arguable terrifying outfits. And children are expected to independently navigate sky-tunnels that are literally inaccessible to anyone larger than a ten-year-old. And we wonder why kids on the spectrum might have a tough time with "typical" social gatherings?!

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