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Why some (autistic) people do not like spring

April 27, 2017

I know that for many students at Bowdoin, the onset of spring’s warm weather is welcomed with open arms. For others (namely, myself), the warm weather is not so welcome. In Maine, warm weather and insect life come hand-in-hand, and there are few things I find more bothersome than insects.

To be fair, it is not exactly the insects themselves that are the issue. I have no personal grudge against our fellow organisms of class Insecta. Nor is it just the more commonly bothersome insects that I have a problem with. I doubt that I am alone in my dislike of mosquitos, ticks and black flies, and there aren’t many outside of the biology department who would call the drosophila an intimate friend. I just wish that they would stay in their own corner of the world, preferably far away from mine.

No, my issues with insects relate—like many things do—to my being autistic. Like many on the spectrum, I have sensory difficulties. There are certain noises, tastes and touches that I find unpleasant and overwhelming in a way that others don’t. While insects might be annoying to most, the buzz of wings next to my ear or the crawling of tiny legs along my arm is to me a jarring and unpleasant sensation. The presence of such insects elicits a powerful fear response that wrenches my attention from whatever is on hand, preparing me for a threat that is not so threatening (or large). While I am better at dealing with the presence of insects now with years of practice under my belt, as a child I found the sensations so overwhelming they would bring me to tears. I could sometimes be seen in my front yard, running around and swatting at my head with the frenzy of a gazelle trying to outrun a cheetah. I find no shame in admitting that some may see me on the Quad this spring doing the very same thing should I be stupid enough to try and enjoy the warm weather.

The changing of seasons, in all their myriad varieties, can often raise challenges for the autistic. I have a friend who, like myself, doesn’t like the warm weather, but unlike me, finds the feeling of sunlight unpleasant on her skin. Another friend, quite unlike myself, much prefers the warmer months, because they find wearing heavy clothing overwhelming. I suppose there is no one place that would work for all of us.

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