Everyone needs time to recover from a long, stressful day at work or school. We take that for granted. But do some days require more rest than others? Do some people require more recovery time than others?
At work, we take it for granted that conversing is easy. That being polite to others – and listening to their stories and meandering conversations – comes naturally and doesn’t produce a “deer-in-the-headlights” feeling. That the buzzing noise the broken light overhead keeps making is only mildly annoying at times, when everything else is quiet. That working and talking and answering the phone – in other words, multi-tasking – helps enliven an otherwise dull day.
This is not the world that people with sensory issues and/or Asperger’s Syndrome live in.
Once, I heard a good analogy about eating in a cafeteria. For someone who’s sensitive to people and noise, it’s like trying to eat lunch in a crowded elevator for the rest of us. Too many people. Too loud. Uncomfortable. Thoroughly unpleasant.
Imagine spending a day like that. Longing to accomplish some work in peace, but constantly being interrupted by smelly, loud people. Working in a place with the lights turned up too high. Being hemmed in – as with the elevator – by too many people in too small of a space. Feeling like you had to be “on” and charming all the time, and that the workplace background noise amped up several notches until it resembled loud, annoying, grating music that never stopped. Oh, and all that work still needs to be done!
Anyone would need a break after a day like that. Time to flee and recover.
And yet this does resemble what someone with Asperger’s Syndrome goes through. Not once, on a stressful day, but every work or school day.
Is it any wonder, then, that our loved ones disappear for a few hours to recuperate? That our children need more downtime from school and activities than others? That they get irritable, overwhelmed, and have trouble keeping it together if they do not get the chance to recover?
At this point, I’d love to write about solutions. I’d love to say reduce the noise, fix the lights, make the chairs and clothes comfortable, create a safe, quiet place the person can flee to from time to time… but, of course, we usually don’t get to influence these things on a large scale. Schools and work run things their way.
But we can influence the downtime.
Quiet, plain rooms help recovery. Less clutter. No pictures on the walls. This doesn’t have to be in every room, but in the sanctuary place, like a kid’s bedroom, back room, or private office. Noise reduction. And, of course, respecting their need to be left alone for a while.
It also means cutting down on busy schedules. Less after school activities, to fit in that necessary downtime. If homework is overwhelming, that needs to be addressed. Seriously. It’s one of the first questions our CARD Center rep asked at our IEP meeting.
For adults, it means clearing up the social calendar a little. Having a relaxed, happier family is more than worth a few nights at home. And my family appreciates the consideration. They will go places and attend social events for me when I absolutely feel we must be there. It’s a balance of needs and mutual respect.
So, as to the day or the person… well, it’s a little of both, isn’t it? Every person has a different kind of day. Everyone sees things a little differently, even if the same event has occurred to each person. It’s why witnesses often have varying – and conflicting – accounts.
The question we should really ask is: If I had the same day – blinding lights, grating music, rude people, deadlines – would I feel the same way? And should my family respect my need to recover, or demand that I go attend an event? How about the next day? And the next day, and the next…